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 -
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
- 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,
Syria's drug-money and
counterfeiting infrastructure in Lebanon, all of which focuses on
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
- Work closely with
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."[]
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
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 of Lebanon.
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,
Meanwhile the Arab states such as
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
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
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."[]
So 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
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
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." []
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
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
Cards on the
The invasion of Iraq by US and unsuccessful invasion of
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
Iranian cards include its major
influence in Iraq,
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
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.
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
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
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
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 Hamas. All these point only to one direction:
negotiations between US, Iran
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 Hamas), 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
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.
 Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies
^ | 8 July 1996 |
Richard Perle et al
... Payvand News - 3/19/07 ... --