[DEHAI] Is the “New Middle East” Off the Table?

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From: wolda002@umn.edu
Date: Tue Mar 31 2009 - 17:57:07 EST

Is the “New Middle East” Off the Table?
A Message to the Global Peace Movement

By Ali Jawad

Global Research, March 30, 2009

There has been a lot of hustling and bustling in the Middle East lately, so
much so that you might be forgiven for thinking that the promised winds of
“change” are firmly on their way. Not since Condi Rice’s now infamous
heralding of a “New Middle East” -- whilst bombs rained over Southern
Lebanon in the summer of 2006 -- has there been so much activity on the
Middle Eastern chessboard by virtually all of its players.

Despite being trailed closely by the starkest drift to the right in Israeli
politics, the election of President Obama by American voters on the
declared pledge of “change” has indeed led to a changed mood of
diplomacy. The recent four-way ‘mini-summit’ concluded in Riyadh
involving the heads of state of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt and Kuwait, and
an earlier visit by John Kerry to Syria, following which, he discussed the
possibility of “loosening certain sanctions” on Syria “in exchange
for verifiable changes in behaviour”[1], are supposedly indicative of
this new wave of diplomacy.

Given this milieu of unprecedented regional diplomacy, it is easy to be
deluded into thinking that the much awaited departure of former US
president Bush has not only invigorated a new dynamism into diplomatic
forays, but has also changed the political set of cards in play. In this
respect, an immediate threat that faces the global peace movement is
precisely this self-consoling expectation of dramatic change that would at
once signal an end to all the precedents set by the previous Bush

If history is anything to go by, then promises of change should be viewed
with a measure of suspicion. When these promises emanate from an edifice of
empire, a level of mistrust given age-old historical experience to the
contrary, is justified.[2] Yet, the global peace movement and wider
grassroots activist circles were never informed by the subjectivity of
suspicion when they rose against the failed policies of Bush and his
cohorts, rather, their principled stands for justice were driven by a
pursuit and appreciation of reality. It is therefore necessary to
objectively analyse the conditions surrounding the “New Middle East”
experiment that was openly declared in 2006, and contrast its basic
frameworks against the early moves of the Obama administration.

In the summer of 1996, an Israeli thinktank, the Institute for Advanced
Strategic and Political Studies, issued a paper entitled: ‘A Clean Break:
A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’.[3] Contained in it was not only
the blueprint for the invasion and overthrow of the Saddam regime, but also
a more comprehensive strategy of “redrawing the map of the Middle
East”. Amongst the “prominent opinion makers” who contributed to the
paper were the usual hawkish neo-cons and pro-Zionism advocates in the US
-- Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, James Colbert, David and Meyrav Wurmser,
the latter of whom was a co-founder of the MEMRI project. More
significantly, there remain three markedly relevant features in the
substance of the so-called ‘clean break’ strategy that have the
potential to decisively influence the shaping of the current Middle East.

Firstly, the ‘clean break’ strategy was specifically formulated for
implementation by the Netanyahu-led Likud government, which has now been
elected by the Israeli electorate. Its major premise of throwing aside the
“land for peace” track for a romantically phrased “peace for peace”
paradigm effectively dovetails with Netanyahu’s vision for how
‘peace’ is to be achieved in the Occupied Territories, with Syria and
the wider Arab world.

Secondly, the paper places central importance on the role and strategic
position of Syria. In it, its destabilization is suggested with the aim of
undoing the nation’s perceived role as a lynchpin in this connected chain
of “dangerous threats” in the region stretching from Iran to Southern
Lebanon. Particular detail is given to this factor so much so that the
paper moves from offering a geostrategic appraisal to providing a surmised
methodological framework on how to destabilize and/or overthrow nations;
suggesting an assortment of military direct/indirect strikes, using
anti-Syrian proxies (both politically and militarily), embarking on a
regional strategy to effectively ostracize the country, and finally
launching a massive PR campaign that would demonize Syria and would thereby
“remind the world of the nature of the Syrian regime”. As peace
activists, it is worth storing the above points in our deeper recesses
because in addition to being expressly illegal according to norms of
international law -- not that we are under any delusions about whether or
not the neo-cons respect any law -- they also outline the general methods
that are employed by empires in dealing with adversaries.

Finally, the role and efficacy of regional neighbours that are allied with
the US, in fostering the right conditions and pretexts for implementing
this new strategy is to remain paramount in achieving the desired results.
These regional players can play a significant aiding role in shaping the
“strategic environment” by “weakening, containing, and even rolling
back” the threats posed by the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance.

Deconstructing the “New Middle East”

George W. Bush’s failed promise of a “global democratic revolution”
following the “watershed event” of the “establishment of a free Iraq
at the heart of the Middle East”[4] did not only fail miserably, but
instead led to several inescapable eventualities that remain a symbol of
this grand strategy. Firstly, the politicization of Iran’s peaceful
nuclear program in order to exert pressure on Iran and to contain its’
perceived threat to the stability of the region (read: desired geopolitical
order). Secondly, the saliency of sectarian and ethnic divisions on the
Middle Eastern socio-political landscape. Thirdly, the formation of a
so-called ‘Moderate-bloc’ of nations constituting regional players that
act as a front against the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance. Finally, the
declaration of a “New Middle East” created an almost mythical worldview
in the Israeli mindset, whether by design or accident, which believed that
the Arab-Israeli question could not only be settled on unilateral terms but
also decisively, once and for all, with sheer Herculean force. On all four
accounts, the Obama administration has yet to hint at any significant
“change” that requires the altering of these yardsticks which remain
symbolic of the “New Middle East” agenda.

In spite of the deep economic crisis that has gripped world capitals, the
historical ‘prerogatives’ (i. Natural resources, ii. Security of the
state Israel, iii. Preservation of a certain regional geopolitical order
which thereby realizes a significant chapter in wider US preponderance in
the Eurasian space) held by the US for securing the strategic Middle East
region remain firmly in place. The Middle East will thus remain a focal
point of Obama’s foreign policy efforts. A recent talk by Zbigniew
Brzezinski, a top foreign policy advisor to Obama, provides a keyhole
premonition of the continuity of an age-old policy of confrontation and
threat of military force against Iran.[5] Writing for the Asia Times, Pepe
Escobar disclosed this new US position, contained in a letter to Russian
president Dmitry Medvedev, as follows: “if you help us get rid of
non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons, we’ll get rid of our missile

The verbose politics of “clenched fists”[7] should not leave the peace
movement under any illusions about the nature of things to come, just as
much as new Secretary of State Ms. Clinton is under no illusions about the
next steps on the empire’s to-do list: “We’re under no illusions. Our
eyes are wide open on Iran.”[8]

Heightened sectarian saliency in Middle Eastern politics cannot be viewed
independently from a strategy of isolating Iran from regional politics.
Selling anti-Iranian rhetoric to Arab kingdoms necessarily determines the
nature of discourse toward the sizeable and strategically positioned Shia
populations across the Persian Gulf rim. When Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak pronounced in April of 2006 that “Shias are mostly always loyal
to Iran and not the countries in which they live”, it was by no means a
slip of the tongue but rather a well calculated move that even lead one of
the ‘clean break’ strategy’s “prominent opinion makers” to label
Shias in the Persian Gulf as “Iran’s Levant clients”.[9]

It is altogether not surprising on the back of this grand regional
strategy, for the tiny emirate kingdom of Bahrain to accelerate a process
of ‘demographic engineering’ by providing citizenship to extremist
anti-Shia hotheads from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, to undercut its
majority Shia population.[10] Although the systematic marginalization of
Shias reflects a deep-rooted policy of the Bahraini Al-Khalifa monarchy,
nevertheless, one can neither ignore current justifications for this
suppression on rationales of the “New Middle East” agenda, nor
intentional American indifference to grave human rights violations which
take place in a nation that hosts the central base for the Naval
Command’s Fifth Fleet.

In the aftermath of recent clashes in Saudi Arabia, in which three Shia
Saudi citizens were killed in the close precincts of the second-holiest
site in Islam, a prominent Shia leader latched on to the occasion to
highlight the deep-seated discrimination and marginalization of Shias. He
also issued a resolute warning to the establishment by declaring in no
uncertain terms that the “dignity” of the Shia population “is greater
in worth than the unity” of the Kingdom.[11] Mai Yamani, a Saudi national
and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, whilst writing
about these clashes notes that the suppression of Shias constitutes “part
of the Kingdom’s strategy to counter Iran’s bid for regional

With respect to rising political sectarianism, the policy of the Obama
administration has thus far been virtually identical in both respects,
namely; in its sustenance of a political agenda that leads to heightened
sectarian tensions on the one hand, and its deliberate disregard of
sectarian-motivated agendas by regional ‘allies’ on the other, which
effectively cement these divisions.

Late last December, Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal charted out his ‘path to
peace’ for the Middle East in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post.[13]
The central concerns outlined in his vision for peace are not only
symptomatic of those shared by the wider so-called ‘Moderate-bloc’ of
Arab nations, but they in fact also provide a good indication of the
changing tides in the Persian Gulf that have been the cause of much
unsettling for the likes of Saudi Arabia. In particular, these concerns
revolve around two core headings: i) the future of the Arab Initiative, and
ii) the growing influence of Iran.

Viewed from another angle, the apparent urgent emphasis provided to the
Arab Initiative and the closing window of ‘opportunity’ for its
implementation, reveals an interesting reality that reflects the successes
achieved by the path of Resistance; a path that evidently stands starkly at
odds with the gifted job-roles given to the so-called ‘Moderates’ in
the region. The highly agitated Saudi-Jordanian-Egyptian alliance views a
resistance that has forced concessions upon a hereunto invincible Israeli
adversary as a major threat to their own thrones. These realities are not
hidden from the Arab street, and the growing grassroots support for
Hizbullah and Hamas are a testament of this shift.

The second concern i.e., the growing influence of Iran or what Prince Turki
Al-Faisal conveniently terms ‘Iranian obstructionism’, bears many
commonalities with the first but transcends it in one vital respect: Iran
symbolizes the possibility of the success of the ‘alternate path’. In
the Arab consciousness, Iran provides a successful paradigm of a state that
is self-dependent and stands up to imperialism in spite of long years of
imposed wars and backbreaking sanctions. The findings in last year’s poll
carried out by the University of Maryland and Zogby International hardly
come as a surprise in this regard.[14] Additionally, Iran has not been shy
to recognize the path of resistance and in showing its’ unreserved
support for it, whereas the standard position of the so-called
‘Moderate-bloc’ of Arab nations has been to undermine the path of
resistance. This factor has also played a major contributory role in
developing a positive view of Iran on the Arab street.

On the basis of this outlook, the geostrategic importance of Syria as a
nation that stands by the side of the resistance, as well as an Arab state
that positions itself outside of the so-called ‘Moderate-bloc’ and its
chosen political agenda, becomes not only apparent but very significant.
When President Bashar Al-Assad announced in the Doha Summit (during the
height of the brutal war on Gaza) that the Arab Initiative was “dead”
and all that remained was to “transfer the registry of this Initiative
from the registry of the living to that of the dead”[15], it left the
likes of Saudi Arabia shuffling their cards as they weighed their next

In very crude terms, the death of the Arab Initiative would at once spell
the exclusion of the Saudi-Jordanian-Egyptian alliance from the Middle
Eastern chessboard or at least mark their modest insignificance. The recent
overtures made to Syria by the US and the Saudi-Jordanian-Egyptian alliance
thus need to be viewed against this context. From the standpoint of the US
and its Arab allies, the popular ‘public anarchy’ on the Arab street --
in support of resistance movements -- can no longer be contained except by
fragmenting the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance, even if this were to require
swallowing bitter pills.

The victory of the Netanyahu-Liebermann coalition in Israel presents an
immense challenge to the Arab coalition’s attempts to effectively sell
this façade of a viable ‘peace track’ to Syria and to the Arab world
in general. Even by the shoddy standards of truth that we have become
accustomed to in our times, the sudden metamorphosis of a racist-bigot like
Liebermann, whose comments about the ‘transfer’ of Arabs are not
concealed from the Arab world[16], into a ‘kingmaker’ for a track of
peace comes across as simply ridiculous. In this respect, one of the
salient but less spoken about roles that is presently being played out by
the Saudi-Jordanian-Egyptian alliance, is its transformation into a
mouthpiece replacement for Israeli silence.

Nevertheless, it is important to underline the mounting support within
Israel for engaging in Syrian peace talks as evinced by the recent advice
offered to Netanyahu by a panel consisting of “prominent figures who
formerly served in key posts in the defense establishment, government and
the business community”.[17] Writing in a Ha’aretz op-ed, diplomatic
editor Aluf Benn emphasised the need for Netanyahu’s government to accede
to the track of the Arab initiative -- a stance that is antithetical to the
classical Likud position -- by noting:

“Netanyahu can go further than previous prime ministers and announce that
the Arab initiative is an unprecedented opportunity for closing ranks
against the threat of Iran and the extremists in the region…”[18]

At any rate, selling an image of Israel as the sincere peacemaker at times
and expansionist war-monger on others does little to straighten out any
‘path to peace’. On March 2nd 2009, the Israeli advocacy group Peace
Now released a report saying that the Israeli Ministry of Construction and
Housing had plans to build 73,302 housing units in the Occupied West Bank
-- of which 15,000 units have already been approved. The report noted that
if all the plans are realized “the number of settlers in the Territories
will be doubled”.[19] In a confidential EU report leaked to the Guardian,
Israel was noted to be “actively pursuing the illegal annexation” of
East Jerusalem with present settlements expansion progressing at a “rapid
pace”.[20] In the face of these terminal threats to the two-state
solution, the Obama administration has responded with a timid and pathetic
characterisation of Israel’s actions as “unhelpful”.[21]

The Challenges Ahead

Whether this geopolitical tug of war to redraw the battle lines in the
sands of the Middle East will end up in the favour of the US, Israel and
their Arab allies is yet to be seen. Recent comments by Syrian top
officials indicate that Damascus is not about to be moved by mere words and
promises of change.

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem underlined that Damascus would not accept
any less than a complete return to the 1967 borders and respect for the
natural rights of Palestine: “Syria would be willing to renew only
indirect talks, on two conditions: Israel’s commitment to withdraw to the
1967 borders, as well as its commitment that the Syrian channel will not be
used to harm the Palestinians.”[22] Muhsin Bilal, the Syrian Information
Minister, was less reserved with his choice of words when he declared that
the victories exacted by the Lebanese and Palestinian resistances against
the “Zionist” entity had botched the “New Middle East” agenda.[23]

Regional developments such as the growing mediating role of a pragmatic
Qatar and increasing Turkish buoyancy, have also worked in the favour of
the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance by somewhat distorting the traditional
‘power blocs’. In addition to these regional changes, a sense of Syrian
‘realism’ in dealing with a ‘defeated’ Israel, augmented by the
natural dynamism and unequal grassroots support for Iran and resistance
movements in the region, present a formidable and hitherto undefeated

To peace activists, the success or failure of this political squabbling is
insignificant when placed against the grave human price that is almost
certain to result from the pursuit of such a political agenda. For Western
politicians who still value rational strategic planning; the analysis of
‘facts’ -- and not engineered ‘truths’ – and their synthesis in
forming a balanced perspective of reality, the inescapable calamities that
would be the necessary resultant of adopting this aggressive,
confrontational political agenda cannot be overlooked.

At this juncture, it is important to highlight a common fallacy that is
epidemic in the Western media and unfortunately, one that has also trickled
into the discourse of certain sections of the peace movement. Neo-con and
pro-Zionist voices were quick to highlight that any sort of engagement with
the likes of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas (collectively homogenized as radical
‘Islamists’) poses a high-risk to the ‘civilized world’. These
radical Islamists, we were told, can simply not be engaged with; talks with
Iran would run parallel to the building of the ‘bomb’, talks with
Hizbullah would create a ‘state within a state’, engaging with Hamas
would signal the exclusion of (the illegitimate) president Mahmoud
Abbas.[24] Although the truth is far distant from these sensationally
irrational spurts, unfortunately, the ‘radical Islamist’ tag has
remained firmly embedded in building perspectives towards the likes of
Hizbullah and Hamas within some quarters of the peace movement.

In addition to being a classical tactic to ‘otherize’ the enemy if a
process to ‘dehumanize’ it fails, we should note that despite adhering
to a different kind of politics, these entities are neither irrational
political players nor is their existence qualified by a ‘culture of
death’. For the sake of example, the Hizbullah resistance movement
overlooks an extensive social programs network that is virtually unequalled
throughout the entire Middle East. Its longstanding record of peaceful
coexistence and a highly-advanced integration paradigm (infitah) within the
public sphere of a multi-sectarian Lebanese topography are doubted by none.
The same however, cannot be said of US-Saudi sponsored Salafist client
groups in Lebanon for whom the tag ‘Islamist’ fits rather well.[25] All
in all, resistance movements like Hizbullah and Hamas enjoy a great deal of
popular support on the Arab streets. They have also shown a great degree of
tolerance towards the West in spite of the long list of grievances that
have resulted from negative Western interference in their countries. Here,
it is highly beneficial to refer to a speech delivered by Nadine Rosa-Rosso
at the ‘International Forum for Resistance, Anti-Imperialism, Solidarity
between Peoples and Alternatives’ that was held earlier this year in

In summary, the politicization of the Iranian nuclear programme and the
recycling of false pretexts by Israel to launch regional wars should not be
viewed as haphazard aberrations, but rather as logical consequences of a
grand regional geopolitical strategy. The “New Middle East” agenda is
the infrastructure upon which an imperial superstructure of hegemony,
sustained by the disregard of law and rule of brute force, is raised to
control this region. Human rights activists and lawyers who advocate
against the innumerable abuses that have occurred so far in this “War on
Terror” cannot ignore this political agenda which is in fact the origin
of all ills.

One cannot speak of dealing with the looming threat of military strikes
against Iran without first dealing with the “New Middle East” agenda.
Similarly, one cannot speak of a post-Bush era or lavishly mark “new
beginnings” without first doing away with the lasting remnants of a
policy that has brought on so much suffering to the region, and continues
to leave it on a knife’s edge. Strangely, most would say criminally, the
experiences of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq appear to have done
little to develop a more informed US foreign policy in its dealings with
this region. If there is any special disgust within the global peace
movement with respect to these failed wars, it lies in the fear that a
repeat is as likely to occur.

With the proclaimed advent of a “new beginning” by the Obama
administration, there is a pressing need for the peace movement to engage
in a comprehensive study of the “New Middle East” agenda in its
different aspects and dimensions. Our collective failure to critically
examine this agenda on the one hand, and to circulate its underlying
assumptions and necessary consequences to the Western public on the other,
will inevitably expose the peace movement to accusations of adherence to an
outdated, dogmatic discourse.

The “New Middle East” agenda is inherently confrontational and raises
the spectre of war in the region. For as long as it remains on the table,
the whole Middle East will teeter on the brink of unspeakable calamities.


1. ‘Kerry calls for easing US sanctions against Syria’, The Boston
Globe, March 5th 2009

2. ‘Generic Invader Nonsense – Obama on Iraq’, Media Lens, March 5th

3. ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’, Institute
for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, June 1996

4. ‘Bush demands Mid-East democracy’, BBC News, November 6th 2003

5. ‘US-Russian partnership will end shield row’, Press TV, March 16th

6. ‘The Obama-Medvedev Turbo Shuffle’, Asia Times Online, March 5th 2009

7. ‘From ‘axis of evil’ to ‘clenched fist’’, Asia Times Online,
February 28th 2009

8. ‘Hillary Clinton offers handshake of friendship to Syria’, The
Times, March 3rd 2009

9. ‘The Iran-Hamas Alliance’, Hudson Institute, October 4th 2007

10. ‘Bahraini rulers importing extremism’, Press TV, February 15th 2009

11. ‘Thank Sheikh al-Nimr instead of imprisoning him’, Rasid News
Service, March 17th 2009

12. ‘Saudi Arabia’s Shias Stand Up’, Project Syndicate, March 2009

13. ‘Peace for the Middle East’, Washington Post, December 26th 2008

14. ‘Nasrallah most admired Arab leader’, Press TV, April 17th 2008

15. ‘President al-Assad at Gaza Summit: Gaza Destiny is ours, Arab Peace
Initiative Dead, Standing by our People and Resistance in Gaza with all
Available Means’, Syrian Arab News Agency, January 18th 2009

16. ‘Liebermann, Avigdor – Israeli politician and deputy prime
minister’, Electronic Intifada

17. ‘Netanyahu advisors tell him to push ahead with Syria track’,
Ha’aretz, March 16th 2009

18. ‘A way out for Netanyahu’, Ha’aretz

19. ‘The Ministry of Construction and Housing is planning to construct at
least 73,300 housing units in the West Bank’, Peace Now, 3rd March 2009

20. ‘Israel annexing East Jerusalem’, says EU, Guardian, 7th March 2009

21. ‘Criminal Unhelpfulness’, Agence Global, 18th March 2009

22. ‘Syrian FM: Still at war with Israel’, Ynet News, 22nd March 2009

23. ‘Bilal: Arab solidarity in confronting challenges’, Syrian Arab
News Agency, 18th March 2009

24. ‘What do the financial crisis and US Middle East policy have in
common?’, Jerusalem Post, 6th December 2008

25. ‘The Redirection’, The New Yorker, 5th March 2007

26. ‘The Left And Support For Anti-Imperialist Islamist Resistance’,
Counter Currents, 11th February 2009
Ali Jawad is a political activist and a member of the AhlulBayt Islamic
Mission (AIM); http://www.aimislam.com/

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