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The Great Game

by Uri Avnery

Some weeks ago, something curious happened: Israel discovered that Iran is the Great Satan.

It happened quite suddenly. There was no prior sensational news, no new discovery. As if by the order of a drill-sergeant, the whole Israeli phalanx changed direction. All the politicians, all the generals, all the enlisted media, with the usual complement of professors-for-hire, – all of them discovered overnight that Iran is the immediate, real and terrible danger.

By wondrous coincidence, at exactly the same moment a ship was captured that, allegedly, carried Iranian arms to Arafat. And in Washington Shimon Peres, a man for all seasons and the servant of all masters, accosted every passing diplomat and told him stories about thousands of Iranian missiles that have been given to the Hizbullah. Yes, yes, Hizbullah (included by President Bush in the list of “terrorist organizations”) is receiving horrible arms from Iran (included by President Bush in the “Axis of Evil”) in order to threaten Israel, the darling of the Congress.

Does this sound mad? Not at all. There is method in this madness.

On the face of it, the matter is easy to explain. America is still in a state of fury after the Twin-Towers outrage. It has won a amazing victory in Afghanistan, hardly sacrificing a single American soldier. Now it stands, furious and drunk with victory, and does not know who to attack next. Iraq? North Korea? Somalia? The Sudan?

President Bush cannot stop now, because such an immense concentration of might cannot be laid off. The more so, as Bin-Laden has not been killed. The economic situation has deteriorated, a giant scandal (Enron) is rocki ng Washington. The American public should not be left to ponder on this.

So here comes the Israeli leadership and shouts from the roof-tops: Iran is the enemy! Iran must be attacked!

Who has made that decision? When? How? And most importantly – Where? Clearly not in Jerusalem, but in Washington DC. An important component of the US administration has given Israel a sign: Start a massive political offensive in order to pressure the Congress, the media and American public opinion.

Who are these people? And what is their interest? A wider explanation is needed.

The most coveted resource on earth is the giant oil-field in the Caspian Sea region, that competes in scale with the riches of Saudi Arabia. In 2010 it is expected to yield 3.2 billion barrels of crude oil per day, in addition to 4850 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year.

The United States is determined (a) to take possession of it, (b) to eliminate all potential competitors, (c) to safeguard the area politically and militarily, and (d) to clear a way from the oil-fields to the open sea.

This campaign is being led by a group of oil people, to which the Bush family belongs. Together with the arms industry, this group got both George Bush senior and George Bush junior elected. The President is a simple person, his mental world is shallow and his pronouncements are primitive, bordering on caricature, like a second-rate Western. That is good for the masses. But his handlers are very sophisticated people indeed. It’s they who guide the administration.

The Twin Towers outrage made their job much easier. Osama Bin Laden did not comprehend that his actions serve American interests. If I were a believer in Conspiracy Theory, I would think that Bin Laden is an American agent. Not being one, I can only wonder at the coincidence.

Bush’s “War on Terrorism” constitutes a perfect pretext for the campaign planned by his handlers. Under the cover of this war, America has taken total control over the three small Muslim nations near the oil reserves: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The whole region is now completely under American political-military domination. All potential competitors – including Russia and China – have been pushed out.

For a long time, the Americans have been arguing among themselves about the best route for piping this oil to the open sea. Routes that may be under Russian influence have been eliminated. The 19th century, deadly British-Russian competition, then called the “Great Game”, is still going on between America and Russia.

Until recently, the western route, leading to the Black Sea and Turkey, seemed most feasible, but the Americans did not like it very much, to say the least. Russia is much too near.

The best route leads south, to the Indian Ocean. Iran was not even considered, since it is governed by Islamic fanatics. So there remained the alternative route: from the Caspian Sea, through Afghanistan and the western part of Pakistan (called Beluchistan), to the Indian Ocean. To this end, the Americans conducted, ever so quietly, negotiations with the Taliban regime. They bore no fruit. Then the “War on Terrorism” was started, the US conquered all of Afghanistan and installed their agents as the new government. The Pakistani dictator, too, was bent to the American will.

If one looks at the map of the big American bases created for the war, one is struck by the fact that they are completely identical to the route of the projected oil pipeline to the Indian Ocean.

That would have been the end of the story, but the appetite grows with the eating. The Americans drew two lessons from the Afghani experience: (a) that every country can be subdued by sophisticated bombs, without putting any soldiers in harm’s way, and (b) that by military might and money America can install client governments anywhere.

And so a new idea came up in Washington: Why lay a long pipeline around Iran (through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan) if one can lay a much shorter pipeline through Iran itself? One has only to topple the Ayatullah regime and install a new pro-American government. In the past, that seemed impossible. Now, after the Afghani episode, it looks eminently practicable. One has only to prepare American public opinion and to acquire the support of the congress for an attack on Iran.

For this, Israel’s good services are needed. It has an enormous influence in the Congress and the media. It works like this: Israeli generals declare every day that Iran is producing weapons of mass-destruction and threatens the Jewish State with a second Holocaust. Sharon announces that the capture of the Iranian arms-ship proves Arafat is a part of the Iranian conspiracy. Peres tells everybody that Iranian missiles threaten the whole world. Every day some newspaper tells its readers that Bin Laden is in Iran or with the Hizbullah in Lebanon.

President Bush knows how to reward those who serve him well. Sharon got a free hand to oppress the Palestinians, imprison Arafat, assassinate militants and enlarge the settlements. It’s a simple deal: You deliver the support of the Congress and the media, I deliver the Palestinians on a platter.

This could not happen if America was still in need of allies in Europe and the Arab world. But in Afghanistan, the Americans learned that they don’t need anybody anymore. They can spit in the eyes of the pitiful Arab regimes, that are always begging for money, and disregard Europe altogether. Who needs the negligible armies of Britain and Germany, when America alone is mightier then all the armies of the world combined?

The idea of American-Israeli cooperation against Iran is not new for Sharon. On the contrary, in 1981, when he was just appointed Minister of Defense, he offered the Pentagon a daring plan: in the event of Khomeini’s demise, the Israeli army would immediately occupy Iran, in order to forestall the Soviet Union. The IDF would turn the country over to the slow-moving Americans, once they arrived. For this purpose, the Pentagon would stockpile in advance the most sophisticated arms in Israel, under American control, to be used in this operation.

The Pentagon did not accept the idea at that time. Now, the cooperation is being established against a different background.

What conclusions should we draw from all this?

First of all, that we shall be located on the frontline of this coming war. Beyond the exchange of curses between the “two Persian Chiefs-of-Staff” (as the joke goes in Israeli command circles, alluding to the fact that Shaul Mofaz was born in Iran), an Iranian reaction to an American assault may hurt us grievously. There are missiles. There are chemical and biological weapons.

Second, that those of us who desire an Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot rely on America. Now everything depends on us alone, the Israelis and the Palestinians. Our blood is more precious than Caspian Sea oil. At least to us.

Uri Avnery lives in Israel. He has written extensively about the life and career of Ariel Sharon.

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URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

CounterPunch Magazine

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