The Middle East is a smouldering mess that could erupt into a regional conflagration this year among Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Israelis. That's the assessment of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs.
The UN warns that 2012 could see an escalation of conflicts in Syria and Iraq that could spill over into Lebanon and even impact Iran. If Syrian dictator al Assad is toppled analysts believe it would weaken Hezbollah which might present Israel with an irresistible opportunity to take them out.
Iraq is heading back to where it was in the first years following the ouster of Saddam, namely civil war. As discussed before the New Year, Iraqi Kurds could fuel the Arab Iraqi conflict in the south.
Food and water shortages are expected to worsen throughout the Middle East, a problem compounded by corrupt and incompetent governments. With their economies still in tatters, the nations of the Arab Spring still have no solutions to that other flashpoint, youth unemployment and inequality, particularly among unemployed university graduates.
The best hopes for a spread of democracy throughout the Arab world may have passed. This year could see counter-revolutions and the restoration of authoritarian governments, particularly in Egypt.