Thursday, February 1, 2007

The 'axis of fear' is born

A Good Article
By Pepe Escobar

"The Bush administration, in a sense, is getting what it wants in the wider Middle East. To battle a fictitious Shi'ite crescent (a construct by Jordan's King Abdullah), it has emboldened even more a reactionary Sunni crescent (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates), thus exacerbating to a paroxysm the "strategy" it has already applied in Iraq: sectarianism as the golden parameter of imperial divide and rule. Historically, Sunnis and Shi'ites have co-existed amid social tensions. But never have these tensions been so cynically exploited - by Washington - as in post-invasion Iraq and the wider Middle East.

The administration of US President George W Bush was forced to acknowledge that the monumental disaster of occupied Iraq had to be blamed on a new scapegoat. Thus the umpteenth twist in the "war on terror": exit al-Qaeda, enter Iran.

The Sunni Arab "axis of fear" is merrily playing along. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia even complained in a Kuwaiti newspaper that Iran is trying to convert Sunni Arabs to Shi'ism. Even Israel is now by all means allied with Saudi Arabia against Iran - Mecca/Jerusalem against Qom; Muslims and Jews battling Muslims.

It's enlightening to compare this development with how Iran's ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Hassan Akhtari, sees it - as nothing other than a replay of the British Empire's divide-and-rule. Washington is once again sowing the seeds of discord among Muslims: "Bush and his allies are in favor of further unrest, turmoil and crises so that they can justify deployment of their troops in the region."

Shi'ites also happen to live in the midst of the "axis of fear" - such as in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies. Beyond sectarianism, Arab popular perception is alert enough to identify this for what it is: a war of the US - supported by dictatorial Arab regimes - against Islam. And the target is not only Iran: the Saudi/Israeli link is also anti-Hamas - an obvious point as the House of Saud is little else than an annex of Washington.

A recent survey of Arab public opinion by the British YouGov group revealed that Israel (88%) is the "greatest threat to the security and future" of the Middle East, followed by the US, al-Qaeda and finally Iran (33%). This has not prevented the bulk of Arab mainstream media from engaging in a systematic anti-Iranian propaganda wave.

But as Iran strives to position itself in practice as the key supporter of the Palestinian national-liberation movement, it is bound to solidify its pre-eminent popular role in the Middle East. Washington, once again, will not be amused.

Patriot games
As even the mineral kingdom is aware, the Bush administration's war on Iran is already on. Escalation and provocation are fast reaching fever pitch. This includes:
* The - bogus - White House claim that Iranian "networks" are helping to target US troops in Iraq.
* An imminent Bush administration-peddled dossier detailing alleged Iranian "subversion" in Iraq, which is bound to include the surrealistic notion of Iranian "agents" collaborating with the Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) in an anti-American orgy.
* US Special Forces destabilizing Iran on the ground (especially in Khuzestan and Sistan-Balochistan provinces).
* United Nations sanctions.
* The blacklisting of Iranian state-owned Bank Sepah.
* The deployment to Israel and Gulf states of defensive Patriot missiles (theoretically to shoot down any retaliatory, incoming Iranian Shihab-3 missiles).
* The deployment toward the Gulf of the USS John C Stennis nuclear strike force plus the USS Eisenhower nuclear strike force - in practice two huge floating airports accompanied by guided-missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers, and submarine escorts and loaded with a deluge of missiles and helicopters. In the event the Nimitz strike force - currently in San Diego - also heads to the Middle East, the attack on Iran will be a certainty.

And there is the non-stop disinformation avalanche. As in 2002, pre-shock and awe, where the focus was shifted from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein, in the 2007 remix (with a nuclear twist) the focus is being moved from the quagmire in Iraq to the Iranian "threat".

The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies has joined the fray, insisting Iran "could" be only two years away from building a nuclear bomb. This curiously ties with Likud supremo Benjamin Netanyahu claiming that Iran is "1,000 days away" from going nuclear. CNN and Fox News are mercilessly slugging it out to get prime Pentagon handouts - the best ringside view to watch the next war.

Meanwhile in Tehran, everything hinges on a crucial decision to be made by the nationalist theocracy's leadership. What path to choose: cooperation with the US, or confrontation? President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his faction favor confrontation. Hashemi Rafsanjani, in practice the regime's No 2, favors cooperation (as does a crucial player, reformist Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri). Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali al-Khamenei has taken steps to isolate Ahmadinejad. But it may be too late: whatever the path chosen, the Bush administration is already on a war footing. Options abound.

As under the new White House-defined rules the guerrillas in Iraq are now led by Iran and not al-Qaeda, Iran can be attacked with no further authorization. The crucial missing piece is how to fabricate the new (Persian) Gulf of Tonkin incident, as in 1964 when Vietnamese naval vessels attacked US destroyers, setting in motion the impetus toward the Vietnam War.

Pray and then I'll kill you
The US-stoked Sunni-Shi'ite divide had to involve oil. Saudi Arabia is directly confronting Iran inside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Traders take for granted that the Bush administration is once again allied with the House of Saud. Iran wants oil to be sold for at least US$70 a barrel. Saudi Oil Minister Ibrahim al-Naimi, on the other hand, keeps repeating that oil prices are going "in the right direction", ie down.

The US/Saudi nexus pulls no punches to squeeze Iran economically (fewer oil sales, less hard currency, mounting problems for Ahmadinejad, whose notoriously incompetent administration has not managed a better distribution of Iran's oil revenues). To top it off, to extract a barrel of oil Saudi Arabia may spend as little as $2. Iran, on the other hand, may spend as much as $18. And it will get worse. Iran is barred from buying the best exploration and drilling equipment, which is basically made in North America.

No wonder Tehran is proceeding with extreme caution - while bracing for a possible attack. Diplomatically, Tehran has invited International Atomic Energy Agency scientists and diplomats from the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and the Arab League to visit Iran's nuclear sites. Ali Larijani, the head of the Supreme National Security Council and chief nuclear negotiator, went to Saudi Arabia and personally talked to King Abdullah - conveying the Supreme Leader's offer of Iranian help to stabilize Iraq. But this won't be enough to appease Bush.

Bush's green light for the assassination of Iranians inside Iraq has been no less than absurd - apart from being illegal. The majority of Iranians in Iraq are pilgrims, who go predominantly to the holy sites in Najaf and Karbala (Iran is actually financing the construction of an airport in Najaf). Anyone now can dub the pilgrims "spies" or "terrorists" or worse, and engage in targeted assassinations. What Iranian agents do is sell mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades to Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army commanders. The Mehdi Army is not killing Americans - at least not yet.

American casualties are not produced by Shi'ite pilgrims. The killers are Sunni Arabs - from al-Anbar province to Salahuddin, from Mosul to western Baghdad. These Sunni Arab killers are sponsored by none other than wealthy individuals living in the "axis of fear" - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the Emirates. Of more than 10,000 prisoners in US jails in Iraq, the majority of foreigners are Saudis, followed by Jordanians. There are practically no Iranians.

In a January 19 interview with the Arab satellite channel al-Manar, Hezbollah secretary general Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah sharply analyzed how Lebanonization is linked to Iraqification and to the larger Sunni-Shi'ite divide in the Middle East. It all has to do, of course, with Bush's "New Middle East".

In Nasrallah's view, "In short, the 'New Middle East' signifies a collection of statelets that are divided along religious, sectarian and racial lines from Lebanon to Syria to Iraq to Iran to Turkey to Afghanistan to Pakistan; all the way to Saudi Arabia and Yemen and the rest of the Gulf states, reaching North Africa. And here ... I would like to warn everyone in the Arab and Islamic world, whichever sect or religion they identify with, whether they be Muslim or Christian, Shi'ite or Sunni or Druze, whichever race they belong to, Arabs, Kurds, Turks, etc ... Whoever believes that the 'New Middle East' will grant him his own independent state, that may be the case, but they should not ignore that a founding pillar of the 'New Middle East' is continuous conflict between these statelets."

Reality proves it. The Bush administration thrives on chaos - internal sectarianism and state-to-state sectarianism. It orders an Iraqi client regime (the Nuri al-Maliki government) to kill Sunni Arabs (or nationalist Shi'ites, such as the Sadrists). It orders a supplicant client in Palestine (Mahmoud Abbas) to kill people from Hamas. It orders a client regime in Lebanon (the Fouad Siniora government) to kill people from Hezbollah. This is what Washington calls "democracy". Compare it with the fact that Nasrallah, Khalid Meshal from Hamas and Ahmadinejad are the three most popular Muslim leaders among the Egyptian masses.

If "Sunni solidarity" were something more than a meaningless slogan in the war for the soul of Islam, the "axis of fear" would have had to support the Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq to drive out the US. They could never have summoned the courage, of course - unlike their populations - so they fabricated the threat of a "Shi'ite crescent". The US is more than comfortable attributing to hardcore Sunni Saudi Arabia the role of key "axis of fear" player in the war of the US against Shi'ite Iran. Taliban-friendly Pakistan may soon join.

The fact that both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan fabricate "terrorists" in industrial quantities is a minor detail. What matters now for the Bush administration is yet another wild bunch of even more evil "terrorists" who threaten "civilization" with (non-existent) nuclear weapons.

Should a mini-September 11, 2001, come, the US will blame it on Iran. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the US Congress will have to say "yes" to US bombs. And meanwhile, Muslims will be killing Muslims all over the Middle East for the United States' greater benefit. "

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