The week in review
Winds of Change has a superlative roundup of news related to international conflict around the world. It's a huge canvas, but a number of subthemes can be highlighted. The first point of interest is the attempt by Russia to rehabilitate Hamas to clear the way for renewed funding from Europe and perhaps even the United States.
- Russian President Vladamir Putin has angered Israel by inviting Hamas to Moscow for discussions and for stating his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist organization. In response the U.S. State Department reminded Russia of their obligations as a member of the "Quartet". France has come out in support of talks between Russian and Hamas, believing it could help advance the peace process.
The idea behind this is to get the "peace process" back on its track to nowhere by transforming Hamas into a respectable "partner for peace". Both Iran and Syria have historically sabotaged the any possibility of a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel for strategic reasons; Iran because it sees peace as a victory for the United States aimed at frustrating the goal of destroying Israel and Syria because a comprehensive agreement will mean Tel Aviv will be free to deal with Damascus; and Damascus is too weak to deal with an undistracted Israel. They've done this by sponsoring terrorist organizations which, when not rivaling Fatah, broke as many ceasefires as possible to keep the pot boiling. Probably nobody in the region except the Palestinians, the Americans and the Israelis actually want a peace agreement. The Palestinian cause is a milking cow of the first order. Supporting the Palestinian struggle provided a source of legitimacy for otherwise illegitimate regimes and an alibi for soliciting money from the oil-rich countries of the Gulf. Palestinians were always far too useful as martyrs to be allowed to become prosperous citizens. But now the danger is that both Syria and Iran have done their work so well that the Israelis may be losing their faith in Roadmap for Peace -- despite the eau the cologne sprinkled spread by Russia and France on Hamas.
Ironically this may encourage what no one really wants -- a regional war -- not only from despair over the Palestinian problem but by the seemingly unstoppable Iranian drive to acquire a nuclear weapon. An imminent Iranian nuclear weapon would come close to realizing Saddam Hussein's greatest fear: an Iranian-driven empowerment of Shi'ite communities throughout Middle East. So great was that fear it made Saddam launch a pre-emptive war on Teheran in 1980, calculating he could destroy Teheran before it's superior potential could be mobilized. Where Jimmy Carter hesitated to pursue a rescue of US hostages the Iraqi dictator had no compunctions in starting the Iran-Iraq war, which was fought to a draw. Now, with a Shi'ite majority government in Iraq, Syria being pushed out of Lebanon and the possibility of an Iranian bomb, Saddam's old fear is close to coming true.
The Winds of Change stories that speak to this issue are:
- Former Syrian Vice-President Abdul Halim Khaddam is certain the current regime in Damascus will collapse and Syria will see a move to democracy this year. On Saturday the regime reshuffled their cabinet.
- Saad Hariri, son of slain Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, returned to Lebanon on Sunday and vowed to fight terrorism and "prevent another assassination." Hariri also accused Syria of trying to provoke sectarian conflict in Lebanon.
- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implicitly warned on Saturday that the Islamic republic would leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if forced by the West to limit its disputed nuclear programme.
- In a speech marking the 27th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution Saturday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the west and Israel over the Danish cartoon controversy, saying "the people of the U.S. and Europe should pay a heavy price for becoming hostages to Zionists."
The most interesting thing about rogue regimes and terrorist organizations is their ability to form tactical alliances against a common enemy despite daily murderous competition against each other. Jordan might expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Syria jail Yasser Arafat, Iraq and Iran expend half a million lives fighting each other and yet coalesce to unite against Israel and the Danish cartoons. Through the 80s and 90s the United States tried to manage this toxic stew using diplomacy, sanctions and multilateral action. But after September 11 it decided to acquire what it heretofore lacked: a ground presence in the Middle East and a ready source of proxy combatants of its own. In a way OIF was a buy-out of the Saddam Hussein concern as a way of entering the market.
It would be natural if America also started playing both ends against the Middle. Austin Bay speculated in March 2005 that after Operation Iraqi Freedom Syria might be "next". Why? Possibly to attempt on a regional scale what occurred in Iraq: to disequilibrate balances so that all sides become dependent on America for survival. The stakes are at an all-time high. The Palestinian game may now be at a dead end. Without any real prospects for peace the Arab countries face the possibility that Israel will abandon the search for a negotiated settlement and draw the sword. Saudi Arabia together with Turkey are nervously eyeing Iran as it reaches for nuclear weapons, one from a sense of religious rivalry and the other out of a sense of national danger. Neither wants to see Iran become the regional hegemon. Yet everyone fears the steps that may be taken to prevent it. There has been widespread speculation on the feasibility of Israeli air strikes on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. But the really effective pressure on Iran will involve what nobody even wants to think about: as Saddam Hussein demonstrated in the Iraq-Iran war, coercing Teheran involves blockading its oil exporting facilities and igniting a naval war the Persian Gulf. One of the most innocuous news items in the Winds of Change roundup is really the most telling.
- Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami warned on Saturday that world oil prices would rise if the United Nations imposes sanctions on Tehran, saying “the price of each barrel of oil is 70 dollars and this high price has created many difficulties for the industrialised world. The first effect of a sanction against Iran will be that this high price will even increase higher.”