At this point, early 2013, here are some guesses.
1) Israel is long overdue to hit Hezbollah in Lebanon. Once that happens a lot of the local infighting among Muslim groups in the region will start to look outward and Jordan will probably start the final process in its decay.
2) Pakistan is just waiting for some version of an "Muslim Spring" event. When it happens NATO troops will no longer be able to remain in Afghanistan.
By now it seems pretty clear that there will be a major war soon in the Middle East that will eventually involve Asian and European powers. This page will try to clarify the motives of the various players / blocs, and speculate about likely outcomes.
February 19th, 2012. Chance of war within 2 weeks at least 50%. [oops]
The root of this developing war is Israel's realization that it does not have reliable defenses against predictable threats, going forward. It's only hope is to see a regional war that reduces the strength of its enemies. From a strategic point of view, it is obvious to any observer, anywhere, that Israel's strategy is deeply flawed. Nevertheless the psychological climate among Israel's leaders allows this approach.
A parallel root is the desire of the Muslim bloc (led politically by Saudi Arabia, militarily by Pakistan) to see Jerusalem under Muslim control.
Important background. There has almost always been significant high level cooperation among countries, even enemies, in modern times. The only exception arises when a countries national leaders do not have firm control of their own policy. So, for example, high level visits have been made, whether publicly or secretly, by Israel to its major enemies at regular intervals, and those visits are genuinely cordial.
In a conflict the great advantage always goes to the one with greater awareness of the situation and to the one that must take a shorter step from peace to war. So, if a country must make a protracted run up to war, it gives itself a disadvantage. In that sense the advantage is always with the one attacked and against the attacker. In this case the reference is to the fact that the bloc that is being attacked has an overwhelming advantage. The bloc that is attacking, i.e., Israel, America and any others, have a seeming advantage in terms of weaponry but a significant disadvantage in every single other arena of the conflict.
How the war is likely to develop.It seems pretty likely that a small scale strike on Iran will be the superficial start of the conflict. Once that strike happens there will be occasional periods of calm, lasting perhaps weeks, but the threshold will have been crossed and the conflict will not actually end until the new status quo is defined.
Following the strike on Iran, Saudi Arabia and its allies will have less reason to be assisting toward the United States. A neutral or even anti West stance by countries like Saudi Arabia will strengthen their regimes against "Arab Spring" pressures as well as furthering various religious objectives. In other words, the flow of oil from gulf states will slow considerably once the first step in conflict has been taken. The obvious result will be more serious economic pressure in the U.S. and Europe.
Militarily, there is no doubt that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are the single greatest, and most likely, threat to America. Pakistan's small nuclear weapons are almost certain to be used at some point, and the most likely targets will be American and British, for historical reasons. In a conflict like this, with religious undertones, it is attractive for the underdog to use visible symbols in their attack, for example targeting the World Trade Center in 9/11. In this case that taste for symbolism would suggest that the first major shot at America will come not from the east (i.e. toward N.Y. or D.C.) but from the west (i.e., toward California).
There is no doubt war is approaching. This is another attempt to figure out how it will start.
The two main motivators in the war are a) Israel's need to level the region sufficiently that it will gain perhaps another decade of time and b) the realization by Muslim countries that they are in a winnable position now. Without a major war involving the United States against the major Muslim powers, Israel is on its deathbed. The obvious problem there is that a war by the United States against major Muslim powers probably will not end well. Still, that looks like what is developing.
An Israeli and U.S. strike on Iranian facilities looks unlikely now. The strike would have little credibility or effect, but it would have probably initiated the war Israel needs.
Looking at the "Neocon mindset" and the interests of all those involved, it now looks more likely that an attack involving Pakistan will be used as the trigger. It's very hard to guess exactly how it will develop, but at this point it is important to take a step back and look at some elements of the bigger picture.
1) Pakistani military leaders have always encouraged conspiracy theories about an American strike. All of the evidence is that they, the leaders, consider the threat real.
2) Pakistani leaders are also fully cognizant of Israel's situation, and how America fits into that scenario. They are fully aware of the potential usefulness of a Muslim country, especially one perceived as unstable, with nukes.
3) Rational people on every side do not expect this conflict to end well for Israel, and by extension, for the United States. It's only necessary to look at the region. Pakistan shares a border with its primary ally, China. Pakistan's primary rival, India, almost certainly would stay far out of the fight, even if provoked. Muslim countries in the region are tending toward forming some sort of cohesive bloc. In the shadow of Iraq and Afghanistan, a military adventure against Pakistan would be a strong catalyst.
4) The central choice Israel has had, for some time, is between a secure arrangement with the Palestinians and a defining war. Time has run out on a potential two state solution. The region has become too unstable and it would last as long as it took the Palestinians to arm adequately. A one state solution would solve all of the problems, and eliminate the need for war, but many Israelis consider it a threat to their prosperity. Plus it would involve facing some extremely hard questions involving land and history. Thus, the simple, default, choice is war.
5) American politicians are literally candy in the hands of Israeli leaders. Corruption among high ranking American military leaders is endemic. Those few that aren't somehow connected to a defense industry lobbyist are easily controlled in other ways.
At this point, here are some warning signs that suggest conflict is close.
1) Pakistani nukes will almost certainly be a major part of the public face of America's first step. The small group of relevant leaders in Pakistan is playing along with their role, because they see a strategic benefit. In other words they see what every country on the planet, besides Israel and America, sees. One likely scenario would be a news item in the Pakistani press about a nuclear scientist or technician gone missing. Several days or weeks after that would probably be some report in western media suspecting that some Pakistani nukes have been taken by extremists.
2) The next step might be some version of September 11, probably in Afghanistan (i.e., at a NATO base).
3) Britain is a key side player in this drama as it unfolds. More than any other country, Britain has cause for concern from several of the powerful regional groups. British leaders, and those who have the best information, will probably consider their best strategy to stand as close as possible to the U.S.
4) Saudi Arabia is basically an extension of Pakistan (or vice versa). They understand how the conflict is developing largely because they have been directing it. Six months after 9/11 the Saudis came up with a comprehensive "peace plan" to resolve issues between Palestinians and Israelis. The Saudis have been clever for a long time.