Many throughout the Muslim world and beyond are asking this question: What are the real reasons behind the US invasion of Iraq and its wish to overthrow the governments of Syria and Iran?
For all their grandiose posturing, in truth, Iraq, Syria and Iran have never posed a direct threat to the US mainland. Put simply, they’re too far away from the neighbourhood. So why would the US be willing to expend so many human lives and so much treasury on changing the regimes of countries it doesn’t like?
Theories abound. At the top of the list is America’s quest for oil, a shrinking, non-renewable resource. But, in reality, the US gets very little of its oil from the Middle East and the Gulf. Most comes from South America and Africa.
Another theory revolves around the petrodollar monopoly, which both Iraq and Iran have sought to disband by trading their oil in Euros. There may be something in this one but it doesn’t explain why Syria is in the firing line.
The US says it wishes to export ‘democracy’ to the region but its reaction towards the Shiite government in Iraq, led by the Dawa Pasrty that has close ties with Iran, and the way that the democratically-elected new Hamas-led Palestinian government has been isolated, hardly lends credence to this. Democracy will not bring US-friendly governments, which is what the Bush administration really seeks.
A premise, which many in the Arab world believe, should also be dissected. Is the US manipulating and remoulding the area so that Israel can remain the only regional superpower in perpetuity?
This is not as fanciful as one might imagine on first glance. Read the following strangely prophetic segment from an article published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation’s publication Kivunim and penned by Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Yinon’s strategy was based on this premise. In order to survive Israel must become an imperial regional power and must also ensure the break-up of all Arab countries so that the region may be carved up into small ineffectual states unequipped to stand up to Israeli military might. Here’s what he had to say on Iraq:
"The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern frontIraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.
"An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.
"In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and Shiite areas in the South will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north."
Now let’s focus on the reality, 24 years on.
The eight-year long Iran-Iraq War that ended in 1988 was responsible for over a million casualties but did not result in Yinon’s desired break-up. Iraq still stood as a strong homogenous entity.
Iraq was, however, severely weakened in 1991 as a result of the Gulf War brought about by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Still, the country remained unified.
It took the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent occupation to destabilize Iraq and split the country on sectarian lines. Indeed, its new constitution is drawn around a loose federation with partial autonomy for the northern Kurds and the southern Shiites, and the country is now rife with sectarian, religious and ethnic strife. Some say "civil war".
Turning to Syria, until the March 2003 invasion of Iraq Syria under President Bashar Al-Assad enjoyed reasonably good relations with the West. We should also remember that Syria fought alongside the US-led allies during the Gulf War. Syria also voted, albeit reluctantly, for the UN resolution that oiled the invasion, and was a strong partner in the so-called ‘War on Terror’.
Then, lo and behold, Syria could do no right. Suddenly, it was accused to all kinds of ‘crimes’ from hiding Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, harbouring insurgents and terrorists, and allowing the free passage of fighters and arms into Iraq.
Heavy pressure was then put on to Damascus to end its de facto occupation of Lebanon following the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and, now the Syrian government is being investigated by the UN, accused of involvement.
Today the US is actively engaged in weakening the Al-Assad government and is supporting opposition parties. If it is successful, experts predict that Syria, like Iraq, will fall victim to sectarianism and internecine conflict.
Lebanon, which had been recovering from a long civil war and an Israeli occupation, and was on the point of finding some semblance of unity, is also in danger of being destabilized with parties lining up into pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian confederations.
Yinon described the Arab-Muslim world as a temporary house of cards put together by foreigners and arbitrarily divided into states, all made up of combinations of minorities and ethnic groups which are hostile to one another.
He then goes on to bemoan Israel’s relinquishment of the Sinai to Egypt under the Camp David Peace Treaty due to that area’s reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources.
"Regaining the Sinai Peninsula is, therefore, a political priority, which is obstructed by Camp David" he writes. "And we will have to act in order to return the situation to the status quo which existed in Sinai prior to Sadat’s visit and the mistaken peace agreement signed with him in March 1979."
Yinon then predicts that if Egypt is divided and torn apart, some other Arab countries will cease to exist in their present forms and a Christian Coptic state would be founded in Upper Egypt. Presently there are growing problems between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts, perceived by some hard line Egyptian Muslims as being more loyal to the US than their own country. This has resulted in open clashes often with resultant deaths.
Apart from Muslim-Copt divisions, Yinon was wrong in his calculations concerning Egypt. He believed Cairo would break the peace treaty with Israel giving the Israelis the opportunity to drive their tanks straight back into the Sinai and other coveted areas. However, the Egyptian government under the ever pragmatic President Hosni Mubarak has stuck to the letter of the treaty and has become an important US ally over the years.
Yinon’s solution to the ongoing Israel-Palestine problem was to herd the Palestinians across the Jordan River and label Jordan a Palestinian state.
He rejected the land for peace principle, saying, "It is not possible to go on living in this country in the present situation without separating the two nations, the Arabs to Jordan and the Jews to the areas west of the river.
Genuine co-existence and peace will reign over the land only when the Arabs understand that without Jewish rule between the Jordan and the sea they will have neither existence nor security – a nation of their own and security will be theirs only in Jordan."
Yinon, and others of like mind must once again be disappointed. Jordan gave up any thoughts of Pan-Arabism long before the demise of King Hussein and his son King Abdullah is now America’s staunchest Arab ally in the region. With a two-thirds Palestinian majority in his country, Abdullah has chosen self-preservation by hanging on to US coattails.
The idea of packing 4.5 million Palestinians across the Jordan is no longer being openly touted, although this option was on the table in 2002 according to an article by Professor van Creveld in Britain’s Daily Telegraph.
A then Gallup poll showed that 44 per cent of Jewish Israelis favoured the expulsion of Palestinians across the River Jordan.
Professor Creveld believed Ariel Sharon favoured this plan too. Sharon was quoted in his article as emphasizing Jordan’s Palestinian majority and referring to it as the Palestinian state. "The inference that the Palestinians should go there is clear," wrote Creveld.
If you feel the idea that the US would put itself on the line for the sake of Israel is far-fetched, then it is worth remembering the words of the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who claimed in his book that the Israeli government was, in fact, responsible for the design of American policy in the Middle East after the 1967 ‘Six Day War’.
Yinon’s essay does not focus on Iran, but let’s look at comparatively recent statements coming out of Israel on this subject.
During a visit to Washington in November 2003 two years before the US government turned its fire on Iran – the Israeli Minister of Defence Shaul Mofaz told US officials that "under no circumstances would Israel be able to abide by nuclear weapons in Iranian possession.
During the same month, Meir Dagan, Director of the Mossad, told a parliamentary committee that Iran posed an "existential threat" to Israel, assuring members that Israel could deal with this threat.
Last year, the rhetoric out of Israel was ratcheted up with the Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom telling the press that "the idea that this tyranny of Iran will hold a nuclear bomb is a nightmare, not only for us but also for the whole world."
Israel’s Prime Minister designate Ehud Olmert is continuing the tradition of hyping the Iran threat, assisted, it must be said, by fiery rhetoric coming out of Tehran’s reckless leader Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.
An article in the Daily Telegraph dated February 18 headed "America would back Israel attack on Iran" clearly indicates that it is Israel leading the charge against Iran.
The article quotes George W. Bush as saying,
"Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I’d listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I’d be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we’ve made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened."
A year later and the US government is no longer portraying Iran’s purported nuclear ambitions as a threat to Israel, but a threat to the United States. In this way the case against Iran and the possible repercussions emanating from that, can be sold to the American people. Suddenly Israel’s concerns have become theirs. Interestingly, more than 55 per cent of the US public say they would back strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, according to a recent poll.
As the columnist Doug Ireland writes in his expose "The Real AIPAC Spy Ring Story It was all about Iran",
"Bush’s slip-of-the-tongue that revealed his real intentions was front-page news in Le Monde and other European dailies but received little attention in the States-side major media."
Justin Raimondo wrote in September last year,
"This case has received relatively little publicity in relation to its importance. It isn’t just the fact that, for the first time in recent memory, Israel’s powerful lobby has been humbled. What is going on here is the exposure of Israel’s underground army in the US covert legions of propagandists and outright spies, whose job it is to not only make the case for Israel but to bend American policy to suit Israel’s needs) and in the process, penetrate closely-held US secrets."
Back to the question of whether the US is, indeed, waging wars on behalf of Israel. In short, we can’t be certain and we may never know since the Bush White House has sealed its private tapes and papers for 100 years.
There is one thing that we do know. Oded Yinon’s 1982 "Zionist Plan for the Middle East" is in large part taking shape. Is this pure coincidence? Was Yinon a gifted psychic? Perhaps! Alternatively, we in the West are victims of a long-held agenda not of our making and without doubt not in our interests.
LINDA S. HEARD is a British specialist writer on Middle Eastern affairs based in Cairo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: A version of this article first appeared in Al Shindagah magazine, a Dubai-based periodical.