Middle East Online From the worsening of the Middle East to the worsening in the horn of Africa; from the potential of an Israeli-American attack on Iran to the overarching anarchy from a lack of global leaders with vision and influence, Patrick Seale offers a dire look at the problems in the New Year.
Although peering into the fog of the future is always a hazardous business, it would not be rash to say that, of all the potential man-made catastrophes that might afflict the world this coming year, for sheer destructiveness none would surpass an American/Israeli attack on Iran.
To be effective, an American/Israeli strike against Iran would have to destroy its nuclear facilities but also its ability to hit back, meaning its entire military-industrial complex.
Is such an attack probable, or even possible? Regrettably, it is.
In the current confrontation with Iran, the military option remains very much on the table. In both the United States and Israel, the same military planners, political lobbyists and armchair strategists that pressed America to attack Iraq are now urging it to strike Iran -- and for much the same reasons.
These reasons may be briefly summarized as the need to control the Middle East’s oil resources and deny them to potential rivals, such as China; the wish to demonstrate to friend and foe alike America’s unique ability to project military power across the globe; and, last but not least, Israel’s determination to maintain its supremacy over any regional challenger, especially one as recklessly provocative as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad.
To be effective, an American/Israeli strike against Iran would have to destroy not only its nuclear facilities but also its ability to hit back, that is to say its entire military-industrial complex. The attack would have to be so devastating as to rob Iran of the will and the means to retaliate. This could take weeks of air and missiles attacks and, because of the size of the country and the dispersal of its military assets, would be exceedingly difficult to achieve
It seems more than likely that, if attacked, Iran will, one way or another, manage to strike back -- against U.S. troops in Iraq, against Israel, and against U.S. bases and U.S. allies in the Gulf
Of all these targets, the Arab states of the Gulf -- the most prosperous, modern and forward-looking of the entire Arab world -- are perhaps the most vulnerable and could go up in flames. The impact on the future of Arab society would be incalculable
The impact would also be devastating on U.S.-Arab relations, on Israel’s long-term security, on the flow of oil from the Gulf, on the oil price, on the economies of the industrial world and on the already highly fragile dollar. And yet, some influential voices argue that the only way the United States can hope to ‘win’ in Iraq is to destroy Iran.
President George W. Bush is due to make a statement of his Middle East strategy early in the New Year. All the indications are that he will reject the advice of the Iraq Study Group, led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, to engage Iran and Syria in a dialogue and to give top priority to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, Bush seems to be heading in the opposite direction
There is talk of sending more troops to Iraq, of tightening sanctions against Iran and Syria, of mobilising “moderate” Arab states against “extremists”, of arming the Fuad Siniora government in Lebanon against Hizbollah, and the Fatah forces of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, against the democratically elected Hamas government.
In the Horn of Africa, the United States is lending its tacit support to Ethiopia in its war against Somalia’s Union of Islamic Courts, all this in the name of the ill-conceived Global War on Terrorism, which continues to create more terrorists than it eliminates
Instead of calming passions and bringing peace to a deeply troubled region, American policies are feeding the flames of civil war in Iraq, exposing American troops to still greater danger, forcing Iran and Syria to look to their defences, exacerbating conflicts in Lebanon and Palestine and opening a new front in Somalia, which risks destabilising much of East Africa.
Still in the grip of the neo-con cabal, which has destroyed his presidency by its insane belligerence, Bush continues to see the Tehran-Damascus-Hizbollah-Hamas axis as the main enemy to confront and bring down. The real danger this coming year is that Saudi Arabia, alarmed at the rise of Iran and at the self-assertion of Shi‘a communities in Lebanon and the Gulf region, will be persuaded to side with the United States against Tehran. It would be wiser for the Kingdom to engage Tehran in a wide-ranging dialogue leading to an agreement on mutual interests, and even to the conclusion of a Saudi-Iranian security pact which alone could stabilise the region without the interference of external powers.
The real problem is a world-wide lack of leadership.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to play cat-and-mouse with the international community, pretending to make concessions to Mahmoud Abbas, like removing a few checkpoints and releasing a fraction of the funds it has sequestered, while blatantly establishing a new illegal settlement in the Jordan valley and pressing ahead with its infamous separation wall. The message is clear: Israel’s land grab on the West Bank will continue whatever Washington or anyone else might say
Last summer’s war in Lebanon confronted Israel with a clear choice: whether to continue to seek to dominate the region by military force and to expand its territory at the expense of the Palestinians, or to make peace with the entire Arab world on the basis of something like its 1967 borders
The Olmert government in Israel has chosen the first option: It has rejected Syria’s offer to reopen peace negotiations for the return of the Golan Heights; it is not ready to end its occupation of Palestinian territory or allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state; it is rearming and retraining its forces in anticipation of a "second round" against Hizbollah in Lebanon; it continues its cruel war of attrition against the Hamas movement in Gaza; and, it is determined to maintain its regional monopoly of weapons of mass destruction. Various influential Israelis have stated that if the United States does not strike Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities, Israel must do so itself.
If one considers the likely impact of these American and Israeli policies, it is clear that the coming year is likely to be a hot one in the region.
The real problem is a world-wide lack of leadership. There is hardly anyone around with the power or the vision to end the current state of international anarchy. George W. Bush has de-legitimised himself and squandered American authority by his blunders. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has managed to hoist his country back into the front rank of international powers, but his focus is still on reasserting Russian state control over oil and gas resources, while keeping neighbours like Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia firmly within Russia’s orbit
The European Union is a magnificent example of how 27 nations can, by mutual agreement and by means of carefully crafted laws, give 500 million people a life of peace, stability and considerable prosperity. But in terms of a common foreign policy, the Union has been a failure. Its members have pulled in different directions.
Britain’s Tony Blair has marginalised himself and his country by his slavish attachment to the United States. He will, in any event, be leaving office in 2007. President Jacques Chirac of France -- an experienced and sober Middle East hand -- will be out of office by May. Neither of his potential successors has much foreign affairs experience, and both are committed to mistaken policies.
The right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy wants to keep Turkey out of the European Union -- a mistake of strategic proportions -- while the socialist Ségolène Royal has pledged to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology, even for peaceful purposes. Of the two, Sarkozy is the more dangerous, because he is likely to depart from Chirac’s independent posture in international affairs and align himself with the United States and Israel
In the Middle East, three men will bear a heavy burden of responsibility in the coming year. They are King Abdallah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. They all have great problems at home, but if they were to get together, pool their considerable resources and jointly exert their political influence, they could protect the region from some of the risks, perils and potential catastrophes of the year ahead. ENDS MIDDLE EAST 311206
Editor’s note: Mr. Patrick Seale is a leading British journalist, political commentator, and analyst and writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
This article was first published on 29 December 2006 by the Middle East Online
Highlights are by IPS