|#1234||14402||August 06, 2014||By Amarjit Singh|
The fate of the Middle East has changed many times in the past one thousand years and more – for better and worse. But, the recent string of events from Afghanistan to Libya owe their origin to 9/11, and are a direct consequence of the unprovoked attacks on the twin towers. The world can scarcely find many incidents in world history that have profoundly changed the world. Surely, the assassination of Duke Ferdinand launched WWI which led to WWII, but its adverse effects are now generally considered buried. In contrast, 9/11 has affected the security in every country of the world, where every airport and harbor is under siege, the effects of which still linger 13 years after the event – permanently changing the security landscape in every nation, and the way we commute and visit public places. This landscape will continue in its present form till such time as terrorism, especially Islamic terrorism, is not destroyed – a tall order.
Soon after the invasion of Afghanistan by US Forces in Oct 2001, Gen Wesley Clark, former NATO Commander during the Kosovo bombing campaign, and one-time presidential candidate, appeared on a TV show and announced that he had heard - apparently from Henry Kissinger - that the USA had a further plan to destabilize Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya in the coming years. This was to be final retribution for 9/11, given that lesser animals cannot expect a lion to keep quiet when his lair is attacked. Reports that the USA did this to exploit the petroleum wealth of the middle east does not stand ground because (a) the US imports hardly 10% of its oil from the middle east – a small percentage, and (b) nearly half the countries listed above don’t produce oil, with Libya producing a miniscule million barrels a day[i]. Therefore, the more likely scenario for the US action is (a) retribution, (b) a good opportunity and excuse to neutralize the enemies of Israel, (c) destroy the central nervous system that produces jihadi terrorists across the Middle East, and (d) assert military dominance in that part of the world to prevent future events such as 9/11, and also check the future influence of Russia and China in the region.
Indeed, the presence of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan made it easier for the USA to run covert operations throughout the Middle East, and quietly eliminate terroristic opposition in Yemen and Pakistan. Lebanese revolted against Syria’s presence in Lebanon in 2005, and Israel fought a war there against the Hezbollah in 2007; Somalia was constrained to boil in its own sweat; the Arab Spring started in 2010 which soon overthrew or changed governments in Tunisia, Eqypt, and Yemen; ramifications were felt in Jordan, which sacked four governments, and in Sudan, where Omar al-Bashir announced he would not seek reelection after 2015; Sudan was divided into two in 2011; the Kuwaiti Prime Minister resigned in 2011; Libya was overtaken by NATO bombing in 2011, in a most fantastic operation planned months ahead but kept secret till the last; and Syria has been destabilized since 2011. These are most profound in their impact across the whole region.[ii]
The world must understand that from the Israeli perspective nothing better could have happened. Israel has surely shared immense intelligence with US intelligence agencies to destabilize the Middle East. But, that is what any country under an existentialist threat would do if it is in its rational mind. Of course, India has never been rational in its past six decades, opting for peaceful non-alignment, non-interference in Pakistan and Tibet, and singing a swan song on non-violence even when being bled daily by a thousand cuts. Actually, Israel shares common enemies with India. These enemies are the jihadist fighters who can be called upon any time by any zealot to fight anywhere for Muslim dominance, imposition of sharia law, intolerance of other religions, and denial of women rights, among other repressive beliefs commonly considered uncivilized in common law countries.
ISIS is another strange animal – constituted of multiple organizations with often opposing ideologies. For starters, the US offered initial material assistance to Syrian opposition forces to bring down Bashar Assad, seen as a protégé of Russia. Syria was seen as strongly opposed to Israel, not recognizing its right to exist. Destroying Syria, which has the most formidable military against Israel east of the Jordan River, and has gone thrice to war against Israel, was a high priority item on the Israeli-US agenda. But then, Al-Qaeda elements crept into the ranks of the opposition fighters. While Bashar Assad sounded warnings to the world that Al-Qaeda was active in Syria, the West thought that Assad was bluffing and trying to distract everybody’s attention. Thus, Hillary Clinton recommended that more potent armaments be supplied to opposition fighters, and she left office still sticking to her opinion that opposition fighters should be armed by the United States. It was lucky that further intelligence arrived in Washington just in time for Barrack Obama to decide against supplying potent armaments to any opposition force.
However, the US has been assisting jihadis themselves since the time of Dwight Eisenhower, who first met with the Muslim Brotherhood in Washington DC. The training and military equipment supplied by USA to the Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan is common, overt knowledge. Obama’s speech in Cairo, preceding the Arab Spring, for all of Arabia to become democratic is well known. Consequently, Saudi Arabia and Qatar funneled billions of dollars to the Syrian Opposition forces, largely because they were Sunni fighting against an Alawite, which is a branch of the Shias.[iii] This explains why Iran came quickly to the assistance of Assad.
But, Saudi Arabia was visibly annoyed last year at the US for failing to overtly arm the Syrian opposition forces. The reason is simply that by then Saudi Arabia had gone so far out in its support of the Sunni jihadis, fighting against their hated Shias, that Saudi Arabia feared for the consequences on itself if the Shia forces were not fully defeated. This whole issue is a complex equation of control of the Muslim psyche and exertion of influence over all Muslim sects, as well as control of the Muslim holy sites. Saudi Arabia wishes its Wahhabi version of Islam to prevail over the whole world, and it is but natural that Saudi Arabia and its Sunni proxy fighters will come into conflict with the Shias and the rest of the world.
ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) – now renamed The Islamic State (IS), of which the devout believe there can be only one in the whole world - has become a major threat to Shias anywhere, and an existentialist scare to Iran[iv]. IS is also a tremendous scare to the USA whose gains in Iraq stand to be totally reversed if the IS is allowed to succeed. And strangely – as the quirks of preservation of interests would have it – Iran and the US now share common interests and are “allied” against IS expansion, seeking now to destroy the IS. In a twist of destiny, this also strangely allies Bashar Assad with the US, because the IS is a bigger threat to the US than is Syria.
Nevertheless, the nexus between IS and Taliban is close. They were both funded by Saudi Arabia, with Saudi Arabia being only one of two countries to ever recognize the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before 2001. They share the same stock of jihadi fighters. So, let India not feel that the IS issue is distant to its borders. A raging fire ten houses away can get fanned by winds to yours. India’s alertness has to increase.
The IS fighters have little more than Toyota trucks, rifles and small arms obtained from the Peshawar arms market, and headgear scarves they use as masks. They ride high on passion and rhetoric, but which cannot compare to the discipline and training of a professional army. Even the unreliable Iraqi army, which regained Tikrit last week is better equipped and trained. With Iranian advisors helping the Iraqi government, just as they are doing in Syria, the Sunni fighters of IS will find it extremely difficult – perhaps impossible – to overcome the government of Nouri Al-Maliki. With even minimal US assistance of 1,000 troops and helicopter support, the 15,000 Sunni fighters are practically impotent to expand. Thus, one foresees Iraqi government forces prevailing at the end of the day.
This does not mean, though, that Iraq will necessarily retain its integrity. It is still highly possible that Iraq will split into three parts – the Kurds in the north, the Shias in the south, and the Sunnis in the west. Indeed, in this melee, Kurdish forces seized control of Kirkuk, a major oil field of Iraq, thus securing their financial survival, which is fundamental to military survival. Recall also that US Vice-President, Joe Biden, had called for the trifurcation of Iraq way back in 2003, so it is entirely possible that the US is covertly working towards that goal.
The battle between the Shias and the Sunnis is more than a thousand years old, but in recent years the US has added fuel to their rivalry by strongly arming Saudi Arabia with advanced fighters and tanks, with an aim to serve as a counter to Shia Iran. Slowly, Saudi Arabia has been building its fighting arsenal to take on the mighty numbers of Persia, a formidable task. Yet, the dominant desire of Israel is to see the Sunnis and Shias fight it out to the death amongst themselves, so Israel watches with glee. The USA also would have much less of a headache if the Moslems simply killed and weakened each other through infighting. This, in essence, is the narrative that explains the US approach to the present crisis. The USA and Israel definitely have the economic might and intelligence network to pull this off. Thus, from Afghanistan to Libya, the Middle East has been destabilized by design. The geopolitical defense of Israel and USA in the Middle East are right on target, much as it should be to counter fundamentalist jihadi terrorism.
The author is an independent security analyst. Views expressed are personal.
[i] Maher Chmaytelli, “Libya Daily Oil Production Exceeds 700,000 Barrels, Awami Says,” Bloomberg News,
[ii] Arab Spring, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring#cite_ref-nytimes_35-0, accessed July 2014.
[iii] Aijaz Ahmad, “Mother of All Battles,” Frontline, July 25, 2014, 4-15 pp.
[iv] How the tables turn, in that one should not throw stones at others when they live in glass houses themselves. Iran’s threat to eliminate Israel has now come back to bite Iran. The Sunnis now knock on Iran’s door.