Struggle for the Middle East

Amman, Jordan

We read a fascinating article this week for our first hour of class, which has been devoted to topics from the news media and politics, and has focused thus far mostly on the Iranian nuclear issue, including the recent military exercises Israel executed over the eastern Mediterranean in early June. The article in question, from moheet.com, was a summary of a new book published by Syrian journalist and writer Rana Abu Dhaher ar-Rifaa’y titled The Iranian Nuclear Issue and the Struggle for the Middle East. It’s not available in English at this time, and I think that’s a shame; although I don’t think that her conclusion is a new one, it’s one that bears repeating for American audiences.

She begins with a common theory floated in the Lebanese media, particularly in the newspaper “an-Nahar,” which says that the real reason behind the current crisis between Iran and the United States is the increasingly critical situation in Iraq, where the U.S. would like Iran to play a positive role in the future of Iraq. On the other hand, the Bush administration is eager to be seen as playing an important role in securing Israel against threats to its borders, especially in the Palestinian Territories to the east and west, from Hezbollah from the north, and from the spectre of Iranian nuclear missiles.

As far as Iran’s nuclear program is concerned, ar-Rifaa’y goes into great detail over the state-of-the-art missile defense systems that Israel has developed over the years, including early warning systems and other technologies that make it virtually impossible for any missile attack on Israel, conventional or nuclear, from Iran or elsewhere, to even penetrate Israeli airspace. Furthermore, it’s no secret that any attack on Israel would be met by an immediate, devastating counter-attack by Israel. Or, as Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday in response to accusations that his country is developing nuclear weapons for use against Israel, any attempt to crush Israel would only crush Israel’s attacker. In ar-Rifaa’y’s opinion, the chances of Iran actually launching an as-yet theoretical nuclear attack on Israel, or even a conventional attack, are minute and would be prohibitively costly to Iran.

Nevertheless, the crisis between Iran and Israel continues. Why? I don’t find at all credible those who say that Iranian President Ahmedinijad is crazy, and there’s no predicting what he’ll do. For one thing, he doesn’t hold the real power in Iran. Mostly, however, I don’t believe that he’s suicidal, and for Ahmedinijad to attack Israel would be tantamount to committing actual, not just political, suicide. Nor do I believe, and neither does ar-Rifaa’y, that it’s in Israel’s interest to attack Iran, because the outrage over such an attack would go far beyond the borders of Iran. It would enrage the whole Muslim street, ar-Rifaa’y says, from Baghdad to the Palestinian Territories to Lebanon, and if Israel attacked Iran, it would also have to be prepared to simultaneously do battle in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.

Ar-Rifaa’y concludes that the current accusations by Israel and the U.S. of an Iranian nuclear threat is not about Iran and Israel; it’s about a much larger struggle by the U.S. for influence and power in the Middle East. I find her conclusion compelling. I remember, during the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, a great deal of talk of the conflict actually being a “proxy war” between the U.S. and Iran. The same accusations have been made about the struggles between Hamas and Israel, or Sunni and Shi’a in Iraq. In fact, I might even go so far as to say that we are witnessing a new “cold war” between the U.S. and the nations of the Middle East, but it’s not about democracy and communism this time. The stakes here are simply the right of Middle Eastern nations to self-determination. Will the people and countries of the Middle East be afforded the right to build their own futures, or will they continue to be pawns in a chess game in which the very real victims are the uncounted Iraqi families and Palestinian youth and Lebanese children who are dying and suffering, physically and mentally.

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