NEW STRATEGY IN THE CONQUEST OF THE MIDDLE EAST
By Dr. Chandra Muzaffar
A strategic shift has taken place in US-Israel policy in the Middle East. The new strategy seeks to isolate, emasculate and decimate Iran. Through this shift, the elite in Washington and Tel Aviv hope to achieve their ultimate goal which is ‘the conquest of the Middle East’, to borrow a phrase from Robert Fisk.
The Washington-Tel Aviv elites thought that they would be able to accomplish their objective through the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They would have gained effective control over one of the richest oil reserves in the region and would have eliminated a government—- the Saddam Hussein leadership—-that was an impediment to Israeli dominance of the Middle East.
Their strategy failed for two reasons. Armed opposition to the occupation mainly from the Sunni Arab community has turned out to be more organized and more determined than the occupiers had anticipated. The Shiite majority that was in a sense empowered through the invasion and the subsequent elections, has also become increasingly critical of the occupation and a segment of the community under the leadership of Muqtada Sadr has chosen to take up arms. What is even more significant, Shiites as a whole including the government of Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki appear to be more inclined towards Shiite Iran. This is what prompted the American academic Juan Cole to make that cryptic remark, “The Iraq war is over and the winner is Iran”.
If Washington and its allies have lost out in Iraq, the situation that confronts them in other countries in the region does not look much better. In Lebanon, they had hoped that the Israeli armed forces would crush the Hizbullah in the 34 day war in the middle of 2006. The Hizbullah not only thwarted the Israeli aggression but also succeeded in enhancing its stature throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Since it is allied to Iran, the Hizbullah triumph has multiplied the woes of Washington and Tel Aviv. At the same time, the Syrian government, which is also an ally of Tehran, refuses to succumb to pressures from Washington and continues to defend its integrity and independence. Add to this the mass support that Hamas commands which in spite of all the odds remains faithful to the Palestinian dream of restoring lost dignity through the liberation of their motherland. And Hamas receives unflinching moral endorsement from Iran.
Then there is Iran itself which will not surrender its right to nuclear energy—- a right which dozens of other states exercise——in spite of the sanctions imposed by the powerful under the sway of the US. Iranian defiance is a challenge to the US’s drive for hegemony in the region. This is why Washington has redirected its strategy under the watch, it is alleged, “of Vice President Dick Cheney, the deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador) Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national security adviser”.
In Iraq, redirection means strengthening certain Sunni groups with military aid in the hope that they would be able to check Shiite power. It is this alleged role that has fuelled speculation that elements from American intelligence and the military are actively involved in the Sunni-Shiite feud. Besides, it fits neatly with the classic divide and rule tactic of imperial powers.
The Sunni-Shiite schism is also being exploited in Lebanon. Since the middle of 2006, new, armed Sunni groups heavily financed by individuals in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have emerged with the explicit goal of checking Hizbullah’s influence. Some of them are ideologically linked to Al-Qaeda and are reportedly involved in the on-going clashes in northern Lebanon.
There is a different game plan in Syria. Through local proxies, US intelligence, it is alleged, is courting individuals in the banned Syrian Ikhwanul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) with the aim of destabilizing the Bashar Assad leadership. In the early eighties the Muslim Brotherhood had launched a violent campaign to overthrow the Syrian government and is held in opprobrium by large segments of the Syrian public.
In Palestine, money and arms are being supplied to groups within Fatah which is locked in a nasty, bloody feud with Hamas. According to analysts, Fatah backers are hell-bent on eroding the strength of the party’s Islamic rival. Their feud feeds into the Israeli agenda of ruling over a hopelessly factionalized, badly divided Palestinian society.
With Iran, the US and its allies are for the time being relying upon diplomatic manoeuvres. The United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are the conduits for revving up pressure upon Iran to abandon its nuclear program. However, Cheney had hinted on more than one occasion that a unilateral military strike by either the US or Israel or both is also an option.
What all this shows is that through overt and covert action, the ruling elites in Washington and Tel Aviv are going all out to ensure their hegemony over the Middle East. There is no need to reiterate that they are aided and abetted in this enterprise by local elites who often view Washington-led hegemony as guarantee for their own power, position and wealth. In the eyes of the people some of these elites are nothing more than lackeys of Washington, devoid of any credibility.
This is also why Washington’s new strategy will not succeed. The individuals and groups associated with it lack moral authority. For the people of the Middle East nothing is more abhorrent than the hegemony that Washington and Tel Aviv represent which has caused death and devastation on such a massive scale in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine in recent years, and generated much pain and humiliation.
Nonetheless, the new strategy will undoubtedly lead to a widening of the Sunni-Shiite schism in the Middle East and elsewhere. It will further weaken the global Muslim community. This is why the underlying issues in the centuries old schism should have been resolved a long time ago. The Muslims have only themselves to blame for this.
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST). Malaysia. http://www.just-international.org