Is It Time For War Or Peace In The Middle East?
Is It Time For War Or Peace In The Middle East?
By Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar
“Approach each new problem not with a view of finding what you hope will be there, but to get the truth, the realities that must be grappled with. You may not like what you find. In that case you are entitled to try to change it. But do not deceive yourself as to what you do find to be the facts of the situation.”
- Bernard M. Baruch (1870 - 1965)
I believe that in every war, truth is the first casualty; and as such is usually reported long after the war is finished, and even then only as a foot note. Churchill once said that “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Although others and I have repeatedly written about the reasons behind the Iraq invasion, people tend to forget. And people who forget tend to repeat the same mistake over and over again. The invasion of Iraq was not because of WMDs. It was about oil and Israel. Today the US is on the verge of starting another war again, this time with Iran, for exactly the same reasons.
But is it necessary? Can US have access to oil without dominating the region? Can Israel accept the fact that others also feel insecure and need guarantees for their security? US by trying to exert total control over the region has lost control and paradoxically made Israel less secure. Should US engage in a new war to reverse its setbacks and address Israel’s insecurity or should it try to accept the facts on the ground and work towards a new arrangement, where other countries interests are also taken into account. This is not easy, especially for the US who sees the Middle East through the Israeli eyes. Let us not forget how we ended-up in Iraq in the first place. It is a sin to say this, but at times, it appears that indeed the tail wags the dog. For example look at the Israel’s stated strategy for the 2000 and beyond with the events that have taken place.
In 1996 the
newly elected prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu
commissioned a study group called ”Study Group on a New
Israeli Strategy Toward 2000" to craft a strategy for Israel
in the coming decades. The Institute for Advanced Strategic
and Political Studies’ which included Richard Perle,
James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks, Douglas Feith, Robert
Loewenberg, David Wurmser, and Meyrav Wurmser, created the
Israel’s strategy paper titled: “A Clean Break: A New
Strategy for Securing the Realm” . The paper contains
six pages of recommendations for Benjamin Netanyahu and some
of the more relevant suggestions were:[ 1]
• We have for four years pursued peace based on a New Middle East. We in Israel cannot play innocents abroad in a world that is not innocent. Peace depends on the character and behaviour of our foes. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood, with fragile states and bitter rivalries. Displaying moral ambivalence between the effort to build a Jewish state and the desire to annihilate it by trading "land for peace" will not secure "peace now." Our claim to the land —to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years--is legitimate and noble. It is not within our own power, no matter how much we concede, to make peace unilaterally. Only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, "peace for peace," is a solid basis for the future.
• Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by:
• striking Syria’s drug-money and counterfeiting infrastructure in Lebanon, all of which focuses on Razi Qanan.
• paralleling Syria’s behaviour by establishing the precedent that Syrian territory is not immune to attacks emanating from Lebanon by Israeli proxy forces.
• striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.
• Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats. This implies clean break from the slogan, "comprehensive peace" to a traditional concept of strategy based on balance of power.
• Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defence into all Palestinian areas and nurturing alternatives to Arafat’s exclusive grip on Palestinian society.
• Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan "comprehensive peace" and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting "land for peace" deals on the Golan Heights.
• Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions. Jordan has challenged Syria's regional ambitions recently by suggesting the restoration of the Hashemites in Iraq. This has triggered a Jordanian-Syrian rivalry to which Assad has responded by stepping up efforts to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom, including using infiltrations. Syria recently signalled that it and Iran might prefer a weak, but barely surviving Saddam, if only to undermine and humiliate Jordan in its efforts to remove Saddam.
When the Neocons and their fellow travellers came to power, having drafted Israel’s strategy for the new century, were more than happy to include it as part of their new US doctrine. What was that doctrine? The new US doctrine was about pre-emption and keeping US, by force (if necessary), as the world’s sole superpower for ever.
“The Bush Doctrine proclaimed "the duty of the US to pursue unilateral military action when acceptable multilateral solutions cannot be found". It went further and declared it US policy that the "United States has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge". The US would take whatever actions necessary to continue its status as the world's sole military superpower. This resembled British Empire policy before World War I, namely that the Royal Navy must be larger than the world's next two largest navies put together.”[ 2]
The rest is history. As soon as Neocons came to power, Israel scrapped the Oslo “land for Peace” agreement, declaring that it no longer had a peace partner. US invaded Iraq and occupied the country. Syria was exceedingly isolated and pushed out of Lebanon. The whole world protested United States’ naked aggression against a weak country without any results. It seemed that the hidden and subtle form of neo-colonialism that was exercised in the Middle East was about to become an overt and transparent one.
By 2003, everything was going according to the Neocons’ plan. Having occupied and destroyed Iraq, it was time to focus on the next target: Iran. The propaganda machine that was used to convince the people about the righteousness of the Iraq war, was now employed to prepare people for invasion of Iran. (I have explained this in “The Great Deception: The propaganda that we pay for”).
But things started to go wrong.
Iraqi insurgents started to mount an increasingly effective
challenge to US occupation. Russia and China began an ever
closer military cooperation. Iranians having seen the US
actions in Iraq kept their military on constant alert and
increased their military training and rearmament programs.
Syria and Iran feeling the heat from Israel and US signed
several defence pacts and increased their aid to Hezbollah
Russia especially saw itself as a target and therefore increased its military aid to both Syria and Iran. Russia saw the expansion of NATO as a clear sign of US aggression and began to re-arm itself. The other player China also felt threatened. According to the Bush doctrine and the pre-emption philosophy, US would never allow China to become a true superpower. The easiest way for the US to do this was to control the Chinese access to oil. China therefore backed the only power in the region that was willing to check the US hegemony in the region, Iran.
Meanwhile the Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan were caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. Although they assisted the US in its invasion of Iraq, they never approved of it. They correctly foresaw the chaos that would follow. Never-the-less, having supported US invasion they had no choice but to continue their support, hoping that their support will be rewarded by some movement on the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian cause has been and is an open sore for the Arab and Muslim world and over-time it has become a major source of instability for the governments of the “moderate” Arab states. So any possibility of a resolution to this conflict is always welcomed by all Muslim states, especially the US allies in the region.
Of course, as usual they had miscalculated. Not only the US was not going to pressure Israel to change its policies, it was going to help Israel to weaken the Palestinians even further. The Israeli concept of “Peace for Peace” meant a unilateral acceptance by Arabs of the Israeli demands and conditions and nothing else. One must remember that the Israeli strategy document states clearly that “only the unconditional acceptance by Arabs of our rights, especially in their territorial dimension, "peace for peace," is a solid basis for the future”.
When Hamas won the Palestinian elections, the EU, US and Israel boycotted the Palestinian government. Hamas was not going to play according to the Israeli rules and as such was seen as an enemy. US had declared Hamas a terrorist organisation and was not going to deal with it. So from the very beginning Hamas government, although democratically elected, was shunned by all. For years Israel had said that it had no negotiating partner. Even Mahmoud Abbas was not accepted as a suitable partner. But suddenly, US and Israel demanded that Hamas be removed so that Israel could start negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas. No-one ever gave Hamas a chance to prove itself as a responsible government. From the very first day, Hamas was boycotted by Israel, US and EU.
Once again, the “moderate” Arab countries were told that if they helped in removing Hamas, Israel would be willing to negotiate. So these countries (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan) obliged. They joined Israel and US to remove Hamas from power. They started financially strangulating the Palestinian population to force them to change their mind about Hamas, while at the same time helping Fatah to rearm and prepare it to seize power by force. I have explained this in details in two articles “Palestine: Civil War or Coup d’etat” and “A coup attempt that started a war”.
This of course did not succeed. Palestinian people, despite tremendous suffering, refused to bow to the pressure and stuck by their elected government. Israel realised that it needed to militarily go into Gaza and unseat Hamas by force. It started a campaign of terror to goad Hamas into giving Israel an excuse for an invasion in support of a coup by Fattah. Israel started shelling villages, arresting/kidnapping civilians, assassinating Hamas members etc. Hamas finally obliged by kidnapping an Israeli soldier. As soon as Israel started its incursion into Gaza, Hezbollah stepped in to help Hamas.
Hamas kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for prisoners, some of which were assumed to be Hamas members in Israeli jails. Israel which had already plans for invading Lebanon, saw this as an opportunity that it could not miss. According to the recent reports Israel had planned to invade Lebanon 3 months before the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers.
“Ehud Olmert's decision to go to war in response to abductions of soldiers was taken as early as March 2006, according to a leak of his evidence to the Commission investigating the war.
The report, which Israeli officials said was broadly in line with what the Prime Minister has already told the Cabinet, means that the military strategy was decided more than three months before it was triggered by Hizbollah's abductions of two soldiers on the northern border in July.”[ 3]
Israel invaded Lebanon with the aim of destroying Hezbollah.
It assumed that once this was accomplished it could
finish-off Hamas. But this also failed. Not only Israel did
not manage to destroy Hezbollah, it made Hezbollah one of
the most popular resistance groups in the Muslim world. It
also shamed Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan; three Arab
countries that were supporting Israel in its wars against
fellow Arabs in both Palestine and Lebanon.
Arabs in every country poured into streets in support of Hezbollah and Hamas. There were large demonstrations in nearly all Muslim countries including Jordan, and Egypt (demonstrations in Saudi Arabia were forbidden by the government). In Egypt, the popular and respected Muslim Brotherhood announced that it had 10000 volunteers ready to go to Lebanon.
“Muhammad Mahdi Akif, the general guide of the outlawed "Muslim Brotherhood" (MB) in Egypt, has launched a violent attack on Arab leaders saying: "Had they not made the declaration of the faith, we would have fought them because they are more oppressive to us than the Zionists and Americans."
Akif reignited the argument that has not stopped since his announcement that there were 10,000 MB members ready to go to Lebanon to fight there "with Hezbollah." Speaking at a mass rally attended by around 2,000 MB members at the Egyptian Lawyers Association headquarters in central Cairo the night before yesterday to mark the night of Prophet Muhammad's ascension to the seven heavens: "The latest war in Lebanon exposed the falsity of the lies of the impossibility of confronting Israel and war with it." He added: "The resistance negated all these false claims forever." [ 4]
The Arabs have sat helplessly and witnessed invasion of Iraq, the constant suffering and humiliation of the Palestinians, the death and destruction in Lebanon; while their leaders not only have not done anything to stop this, but also have at times approved of the actions. These events have only increased the anger of these people. The Arab people’s frustration has reached to such a level that it is now threatening the survival of these regimes. The popularity of Hezbollah and Iran as Islamic bulwark against the US and Israel is creating a situation where various groups are starting to exert pressure on their governments to follow suite and at the very least severe their ties to the West.
To redirect the pressure, Both US and the “moderate” Arab governments have tried to portray Iran as a Shi’ite country bent on dominating the Sunni states. In other words, they have tried to redirect the people’s attention from Israel and US to Iran as the main threat. This has not worked, simply because people know that sectarian division may lead to civil-wars in many countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, UAE, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Now the leader of the “moderate” Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, is trying to arrest the march towards chaos in the Middle East by trying to once again persuade the US to pressure Israel into accepting its peace plan. This plan is not a new one and is basically the same old “land for Peace” agreement that Israel had rejected before. But this time, the Saudis think that they have a stronger hand to play.
Cards on the table
The invasion of Iraq by
US and unsuccessful invasion of Lebanon by Israel has
changed the Middle East. The old players are dealt a new
hand and everyone is trying to bluff as best is it can.
However, by now all the cards are laid face-up on the table.
It is now the time for action, win or lose. The players are
US, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and China.
The US cards are the following: its armada in Persian Gulf, 140000 troops in Iraq, its forces in Afghanistan and its enormous economic muscle. US has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran if Iran does not suspend its uranium enrichment activities. However, the halt to Uranium enrichment is just a first step in a long list of demands by the US. Stopping Uranium enrichment is just the start. Once Iranians agree to this, others will follow: such as the demand for a halt to all nuclear R&D, long-range missiles development, space activities, support for Hezbollah and then considerable concessions in Iraq. In other words, if Iran succumbs to the pressure, they are not sure where it will end. Iraq is a good example of this. UN was allowed to inspect even Saddam Hussein’s palaces, yet it did not satisfy the US. Anyway, as far as the Iranians are concerned the US has made-up its mind in destroying Iran and has already started the war. I have described the US economic warfare against Iran in “The Plan for Economic Strangulation of Iran”.
The Russian cards include its close military relationship with China, Iran and Syria. Russia is building Iran’s first Nuclear power plant in Bushehr. Russia is also present in Syria, having leased a port from Syria for its Mediterranean fleet. Russia also provides Europe with gas and is a major oil producer. It has tried aggressively to use its energy resources for political ends and the Europeans are keenly aware of the power that Russia is wielding over them. They are not pleased with how things are developing with regard to the new assertive Russia. I have explained US-EU relationship with Russia in “Cold War II”.
Iranian cards include its major influence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Syria as well as its minor influences in Pakistan, Bahrain, Yemen and UAE. In addition they have been preparing themselves for a possible military confrontation with the US for quite some time and are fully mobilised for a long and bloody conflict (explained in detail in “US vs Iran: The Hybrid War”). Their main card however is the threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz. Another card is the possibility of attacking the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf or their loading terminals in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf. The American bases in Bahrain and Qatar, not to mention the 140000 US troops in Iraq are also seen as targets should hostilities break-out. Iran can also directly attack Israel with its long-range missiles from Iran or shorter-range missiles from Lebanon. It can also leave NPT and follow the North Korean example.
Saudi Arabia and the “moderate” Arab states have very few cards to play with. They can support US (as usual) and risk a major upheaval in their region and countries, or they can support Iran and risk the wreath of US and its support for their governments. They have so far tried unsuccessfully to play the American card without any results. However, now they have finally got an Ace to play with, and that is Iran. They can use the Iranian card to force the US to pressure Israel into making the necessary concessions. They can demand that should their latest peace initiative be ignored by Israel, they would support Iran. This seems plausible, since after King Abdullah’s discussion with Iran’s Ahmadinejad, both countries stated that they would try to stop the sectarian rift within the Muslim world, and more importantly, Iran quietly backed the King’s proposed peace plan. At the same time the Lebanese crisis seems to have quieted down and a Palestinian unity government has been created. All these indicate that Saudis and Iranians are trying to reduce tension and concentrate on getting the Palestinian peace plan started. However the tension over Iraq remains.
Should the Saudi peace plan be rejected, the Arab trio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan will lose any credibility that they have left in the region and with their own populations. They will then have no choice but to take a very hard stance against the US and Israel or risk losing power.
Israel, despite its recent reversals of fortunes in Palestine and Lebanon, still has a very strong hand, namely its supporters in US (AIPAC and others). To understand the situation one simply has to look at AIPAC. The US presidential hopefuls (Republicans and Democrats) have to appear before AIPAC and declare their undying loyalty to Israel’s security and interest before they can even hope to be nominated by their respective parties. So if the Iranians or Arabs think that somehow, they can pressure Israelis through US to withdraw to 1967 borders, they are sadly mistaken. History has shown that only an Israeli government that wants peace above a greater Israel or a beaten Israel will be willing to withdraw from the occupied territories.
Anyway, the rulers of Jordan and Egypt are more sensitive than Israel to pressures from US. They also lack credibility. Currently 4000 Hezbollah fighters have more credibility than half of the Egyptian army.
One can say with certainty that no single group in US has ever damaged US interests as badly and as seriously as the Neocons have. What started as a grand plan for securing Israel and oil reserves has turned into a bottomless basket for the US treasury and prestige. By destroying Iraq, US destroyed the existing balance of power in the Middle Eat and now by being stuck in the Iraqi quagmire, it has given countries such as Russia and China the opportunity to spread their influence and power beyond what was feasible only 5 years ago. It has also destroyed the myth of invulnerability and military superiority of both US and Israel. Iraqi insurgents and Hezbollah fighters have shown that the brute force is not the answer and no amount of fire-power can secure an occupied territory without the cooperation of the local population. Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq are good example of this.
By now all the players have laid their cards face upward. The US has displayed its armada in the Persian Gulf and gotten its UN sanctions approved. Iran has displayed its military preparedness by conducting dozens of military manoeuvres and has shown its influence in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. Russia by using Iran and its gas and oil supplies has shown itself as a major player in international arena and hence has forced others to once again take it seriously. India made deals with US and got itself accepted as a Nuclear power. Pakistan using its position in the war on terror also got-off scot-free and joined the nuclear club. China has shown that as long as others do not interfere with its commercial interests, it is willing for the time-being, to stay semi-neutral. The “moderate” Arabs, so far, have played the follow the leader strategy. In the process they have lost both influence and prestige. The only cards left to them is to play US against Iran (or vice versa) and Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. Israel has played its hand in both Lebanon and Palestine and lost. The only card left to it is US.
By now all players know what they can and can not do. US knows that it can not control Iraq and has to withdraw. Iran knows that it can not replace US in Iraq and needs the support of either US or Saudi Arabia. Israel knows that its security depends on coming to terms with Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Hammas. All these point only to one direction: negotiations between US, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
There are already rumours of secret negotiations. It makes sense for US, Iran and Saudi Arabia to come to some kind of agreement. This agreement will most likely require Israel to vacate Golan Heights, Shabba Farms, and major parts of the West-Bank. In return Hezbollah will become a purely political party, Palestinians get their state and thereby ending their hostility towards Israel; all Arab states will recognise Israel (including Iran and Syria and Hammas), Iraq will stay united with more money going to the Sunnis; US will be able to leave Iraq without losing face; Iranians will be allowed to have a monitored nuclear fuel cycle and finally Saudis can claim the credit for arranging all this.
The major loser in all this will be the Russians. With Iran brought in from the cold, the Europeans will get access to an alternative gas supplier. They no longer have to worry about Russian supplies. Countries such as Georgia and Azerbaijan and others bordering southern Russia will have another rout for their imports and exports. Iranians will no longer have to rely solely on Russia for some of their armament, aircrafts or nuclear reactors. In other words Russia will lose most of its strategic weight in the Middle East.
The Russians must be very nervous about this. For them having Iran and Syria as friendly, dependent and anti-Western is both profitable and necessary. It should not therefore be surprising to see the Russians trying their best to stop any warming of relations between Iran-Syria and US.
China’s position will also weaken. Iran is now allowing Chinese unlimited access to its market and is agreeing to sign long-term contract for the supply of oil and gas to China. These could be diverted to Europe or US. American and European companies could also replace Chinese and Russian companies.
There are already many in Iran talking loudly about advantages of an agreement with the US. But this can only come about if all sides are willing to sit, negotiate and compromise. Today the best way out for the Middle East is a negotiated settlement between US and Iran. If that doesn’t take place, then war is inevitable.
1. Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies ^ | 8 July 1996 | Richard Perle et al
2. F William Engdahl, “The US's geopolitical nightmare”, 9 May 2006
3. The Newzealand Herald, “Olmert 'planned Lebanon war last March'”, 9 March 2007
4. Asharq Al-Awsat, “Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Guide Slams Arab Leaders, Calls for Israel's Expulsion”, 21 August 2006