Root Causes of the Middle East Crisis

Written By: Senator M. Akram Zaki (R)

Iran and Gulf countries of the West Asia or the Middle East are very important for Pakistan as with them we have historical, cultural, religious, economic, political and strategic relations. Unfortunately, this energy rich, strategically important Muslim West Asia is in turmoil and facing multiple conflicts in which major world powers, regional powers and non-state actors of various shades are fighting many battles in different dimensions. It is difficult to identify who are allies and who are adversaries. Since 2011, Syria has been in the eye of storm. Some recent developments in and around Syria and Trump’s more aggressive attitude towards Iran have rung alarm bells for a major global conflict.


Pakistan has high stakes in the area; Iran is our next door neighbor with a long historical background. In the Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, millions of our nationals are gainfully employed and are contributing to Pakistan’s limited foreign exchange balances. To really understand the multi-dimensional crisis of this most unstable region, it is necessary to have a look at the background of the involvement of major powers.


After the defeat and breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the European powers established themselves in the Middle East. England and France divided spheres of influence in the region under Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and later acquired mandate from the League of Nations to run those countries. Palestine was one of the countries that came under British Mandate. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised homeland to the Jews in Palestine and a fair deal to the Arab majority of Palestine. Thus they sowed the seeds of conflicts in the region.


Before WW I, United States had limited contacts with the Middle East, confined to education, missionary work and business. American oil companies became active in the Middle East during the interwar period starting in 1920s. Israel was established in 1948 and Israel’s support and protection has remained an important element of American foreign policy since then. The policy of strategic control started after the Second World War, preventing any rival political power from entering or emerging in the strategic region (whether USSR/Russia, Arab nationalism or Islam) has been the top priority. The United States appears to have three important interests in the Middle East: 1) Oil; 2) Israel; and; 3) Control of the strategic region.


Oil had already been discovered in the Middle East. With Anglo-French control of the Middle East, several European and seven American oil and gas companies entered in the region and there was tough competition between them in quest for obtaining petroleum concessions. In 1928 the Red Line Agreement was signed to avoid conflict and petroleum war between major companies, and areas of operation were demarcated.


The United States of America emerged as a major global power as a result of Second World War. In August 1944, Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement was signed, and President Roosevelt told the British Ambassador, 'Persian oil is yours, we share oil of Iraq and Kuwait, and Saudi Arabian oil is ours'. The USA firmly established itself in Saudi Arabia and used it as a base for promotion of its interests.


American policy makers and scholars started saying that Middle East was strategically the most important area of the world and one of greatest natural prizes in world history. The USA began to extend its influence in the region with full determination.


Israel. In 1947, the UN decided to partition Palestine. Israel got established and the USA was the first country to recognize it. The war started and Palestine was not allowed to become a state. Israel gained strength with American economic and military support. It almost became America’s forward military post in Middle East. Rising nationalist sentiments were posing problems for Western powers in Syria, Iran, Kurd areas of Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and elsewhere.


Iran. In 1951, Dr. Mossadegh, the Premier of Iran nationalized Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The United States intervened to restore the authority of Raza Shah and the influence of United States was established in Iran also.


Egypt. Naguib-Nasser revolution was friendly to USA from 1952 to 1954, but later Nasser turned to the Soviet Union for obtaining arms.


Bagdad Pact (CENTO). In 1955, Bagdad Pact was formed to check Soviet Union’s expansion in the Middle East. After the revolution of 1958, Iraq left the Pact and it was renamed CENTO. Pakistan also came under U.S. influence along with Iran and Turkey.


In 1956, Syria signed an agreement with former Soviet Union, providing Russia a foothold in the Middle East (from 1958 to 1961 Syria remained united with Nasser’s Egypt). The nationalization of Suez Canal provoked England and France to attack Egypt in 1956, President Eisenhower of USA sided with Egypt. The United States established its foothold in Egypt, too.


During the Six Day War of 1967, Israel defeated the Arabs, occupied the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Syrian Golan Heights and other Arab territories. In 1973, when Egypt took the initiative and recovered large area of Sinai, United States intervened on the side of Israel, and became more deeply involved to strengthen Israel. Meanwhile, in 1971, with retreat of Britain from the Gulf region, American influence also spread in those Gulf States. In 1978 U.S. arranged Camp David Accord. In 1979 Egypt and Israel established diplomatic relations, undermining Arab unity.


The year 1979 was a very important year, The Islamic Revolution of Iran in February 1979 deposed the Shah of Iran, who was an important ally of USA and Iran was a major center of American Power. The CENTO was dissolved and Sadam Hussain became the President of Iraq, who was used against the Islamic Revolution. In December 1979, the Soviet army intervened in Afghanistan. The United States developed a new concept of “Greater Middle East”, which also included Pakistan and Afghanistan. The next decade was the decade of war, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Iraq failed in defeating Iranian revolution and began to be looked upon as a threat to Israel.


In Afghanistan, the resistance was organized and supported by United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many others under the cover of UN Resolution. It was glorified as Jihad and thousands of fighters from 43 countries were brought into FATA and Afghanistan to support the Afghans against the Soviets.
The Soviet Union was forced to withdraw from Afghanistan and was badly weakened and split into 15 States, leaving America as the sole Super Power, in which hawkish thinkers and politicians began to make plans for global domination and a New World Order.


Post-USSR Period. In 1992 Paul Wolfowitz of the U.S. defense department proposed new concept of Global Domination by USA which is known as Wolfowitz Doctrine. He wrote: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia.”


With the rise of nationalist sentiments in Muslim countries, Western writers and thinkers started writing against Islam as a potential threat to Western civilization and values. Even the Secretary General of NATO, after the fall of the Soviet Union, in order to justify to continue NATO far into the future said, the next threat and challenge was going to be posed to the Western civilization by Islam. Although red has been removed, now green has to be removed from the map. So this is the thinking, this is the background. If we ignore this, we can’t understand what is happening in the Middle East.


In 1997, a new think tank was established in Washington D.C. by two neocons, Robert Kagan and William Kristol, under the name of ‘A Project for New American Century’. This was the think tank of the neoconservatives, whose aim was that the advantages USA had gained by becoming the only super power in the world, should be further enhanced, by increasing the military power of USA to establish USA’s hegemony over the global affairs.


They issued in June 1997 a statement of principles, which was signed by 25 neocons, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowiltz, who later became the senior members of President Bush's team.


Rebuilding America's Defenses. In 2000 a project of modernization of defense forces was launched to be able to place powerful armed forces in all theaters of crucial operations e.g., the Far East, the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. The aim was to prevent the rise of any rival that could challenge the U.S. hegemony and have the capacity to fight wars on various fronts.


The fundamental essence of PNAC's ideology required America to create the global empire. Therefore it suggested the following:


* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East;
* Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing fighter aircraft, submarine and surface fleet capabilities;
* Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a strategic dominance of space;
* Control the "International Commons" of cyberspace;

* Increase defense spending by additional 15 to 20 billion dollars every year. 

 

This PNAC document described “Core Missions" for the American military. The two central requirements for American forces were to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars," and to "perform the 'constabulary' duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.” The military must fight these wars one way or the other to establish American dominance for all to see.”


The Bush Administration. With the election of President Bush many important neocons and promoters of the ideas mentioned earlier became his cabinet members and global domination become the official policy. The policies of pre-emptive strike, regime change, preference for military approach over diplomacy became manifest. Pressures for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq and even Iran began to unfold slowly. Unfortunately in 2001, 9/11 happened (or was made to happen as some people believe). And provided excuse for invasion and removal of Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had been planned earlier by USA. Under the UN cover, ISAF – a coalition of NATO and non-NATO countries invaded Afghanistan. In 2003 NATO assumed the leadership of ISAF.


Sadam Hussain who was initially used against Iran, was now considered a threat to Israel and his removal from the power was recommended. This recommendation led to the policy of regime change in several countries, including Libya and Syria.


In Iraq, the Saddam regime had been kept under pressure since the first attack in 1991. The imposition of sanctions and no fly zones, as well as bombing from time to time, had weakened Saddam, falsely accusing him of having WMD. Saddam was overthrown in 2003 and Iraq was destroyed. The results were unfortunate for U.S. policy makers, because the Shia majority, whom Saddam had controlled came to power, and developed co-operative policy towards Iran. A new arc or power area developed connecting Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, where Hezbollah was defying Israel, and fought a major battle to expel Israel from Lebanon. In Afghanistan also, the objective of destroying Taliban’s strength failed. The Taliban are still a major force, controlling large part of Afghanistan.


In 2006, the Bush Administration started another project for the “New Middle East”. This project was introduced publicly by Washington and Tel Aviv with the expectation that Lebanon would be the pressure point for re-aligning the whole Middle East and thereby unleashing the forces of “constructive chaos”. This “constructive chaos” – which generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region – would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives.


The “New Middle East,” was announced at a press conference by the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during the Israeli siege of Lebanon. The Israeli attacks on Lebanon – which had been fully endorsed by Washington and London – exposed the existence of the geo-strategic objectives of the United States, Britain, and Israel.


Anglo-American military buildup wanting entry into Central Asia via Middle East, Pakistan and Afghanistan later called Af-Pak policy was the stepping stone to extend U.S. influence in the former Soviet Union and the Soviet Republics of the Central Asia. Brzezinski, who was Foreign Policy Advisor, said, "We should balkanize the Middle East and reshape it completely and create a crescent of insecurity and chaos, through which it would be possible to reshape the Middle East". This is Brzezinski and that was Condoleezza Rice. Both wanted to generate creative chaos, which would be helpful for reshaping Middle East as desired.


A new map was issued on June 2006 as to how the new Middle East should be made to look and that was issued by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and it was published in the Defence Journal of the super power. This map has been shown and introduced in several military training institutions in some of the NATO countries.


The Obama Administration. Under Obama Administration the policies of President Bush continued. There was, however, some noticeable change of attitude regarding Iran and Cuba.


The huge expenditure incurred in two useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to global economic and financial crisis, which started in USA in 2007, and spread to Europe and other regions in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, China’s economy continued to grow and China also helped to protect countries in East Asia against economic meltdown. The geo-economic center of gravity gradually moved from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration started policy of “Pivot to Asia” and re-balancing.


The neoliberals floated the ideas of “Humanitarian Intervention” in the name of supporting democracy and human rights, and that destabilized the Middle East and North Africa. USA has been supporting co-operative dictators and rulers and destabilizing regimes seeking to follow independent polices.

 

The huge expenditure incurred in two useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to global economic and financial crisis, which started in USA in 2007, and spread to Europe and other regions in 2008 and 2009. Meanwhile, China’s economy continued to grow and China also helped to protect countries in East Asia against economic meltdown. The geo-economic centre of gravity gradually moved from Euro-Atlantic to Asia-Pacific. The Obama administration started policy of “Pivot to Asia” and re-balancing.

Any regime whether a democracy, dictatorship or a monarchy, which supports imperial policy is accepted and patronized. But any regime, even if democratically elected, which follows independent policy is subjected to pressure, for policy change or to subversion, even intervention for regime change. The neocons have their doctrine of dominating by military power, neoliberals have developed the theory of “Humanitarian Intervention” on the declared aim to promote human rights and democracy.


Arab Spring. Economic pressures and political discontent pushed the youth in Arab countries towards protest and demonstrations against long established ironfisted regimes. By use of social media, protests developed into mass movements. Starting from Tunisia and Egypt, these movements spread to many Arab countries and were given the name of Arab Spring by the U.S. Magazine Foreign Policy.


The neoliberals evolved the concept of humanitarian intervention claiming to support the human rights and democracy, and tried to turn the movement to serve the imperial interests. We can see what has been happening in Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The destruction of Libya and coup against the elected leader of Egypt, explain the point how humanitarian intervention destroyed innocent human beings and their homelands.


Non-state actors are an instrument of policy of regime change. By 2012, Arab Spring had been reduced to Autumn or Winter of Arabs, except in Syria, which is now in the eye of storm. Many terrorist groups, regional countries and big powers are all involved in Syrian civil war.


Syria. In order to understand Syria, we re-call the story of Afghan Jihad. We know how Al-Qaeda was created, and who brought and trained fighters from 43 countries to FATA and Afghanistan. We know how they were later given the new title of terrorists, and encouraged to move to different countries, and to set up their cells or centers.


In Iraq developed an Al-Qaeda of Iraq, (AQI). Some ex-soldiers of Saddam joined it against the present regime. It was an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, and it was split into two parts, Al-Qaeda of Iraq and Al-Nusrah. They both were fighting with each other and somebody was supporting both sides. Who was supporting both the sides? I have not found the answer yet. Al-Nusrah later on became the resistance force in Syria and it was banned by the Syrian government. So part of AQI or Al-Nusrah became the favourite “popular resistance” to the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, whose removal is now the declared aim of USA and its allies. AQI was converted into Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), from the year 2008 to 2013. Then after 2013 or in 2014, it became Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Daesh. i.e., from ISIL to ISIS. Most of us know how original Al-Qaeda got created and by whom.


The U.S. claims that it has made a coalition of 65 countries to fight Daesh/IS; Saudi Arabia has a coalition of 39 countries for that purpose, then one wonders, who is supporting Daesh? Iran and Russia, who support Bashar al-Assad, are obviously working against Daesh. When Russia bombs Daesh, why do only a few nations protest, if they really are against Daesh? Turkey was getting involved in Syria and against Russia, but after the failed coup attempt, Turkey has changed its policy.


The Trump Administration. During his election speeches, Donald J. Trump had given some indication that he would improve relations with Russia, act against Daesh and try to settle the Middle East Conflict. However, the Deep State has forced President Trump to be on the defensive by starting investigation about Russia's involvement in U.S. election. The situation has forced for launching missile attack in Syria and to complicate the situation further.


Iran has remained under great pressure and tension for its peaceful nuclear program. Now, there has been a fifteen year agreement between Iran and Western powers, but long term objective of regime change in Iran has not really been abandoned.


Clash of Civilization theory of Huntington has been modified to promote clash within the Islamic civilization on sectarian basis. Recently, an effort has been made to raise this clash to the level of states, i.e., between Saudi Arabia and friends against Iran and friends. What else is needed to destroy political Islam? Now, President Trump is taking a hard line against Iran, even raising doubts about the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement and enhancing the chances of war.


Unfortunately, the strategic partnership between the global hegemon and two regional hegemons Israel and India, will continue to pose serious security problems to the Middle East as well as to Pakistan. Russia, China, Iran and Turkey have a good prospect of working together to settle the crisis in Syria and the Middle East. Pakistan must continue to participate in these efforts for peace and stability in the region.

 

The writer is a former senator, Secretary General and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Pakistan The views expressed here are his own.

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