Conflicts and colonisation

Print edition : December 14, 2012

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. No one has to this day presented credible evidence that Iran is working on a nuclear bomb.-MIAN KHURSHEED/REUTERS

The popular aspirations that gave rise to most of the uprisings of 2011 in West Asia have been contained by a right-wing restoration, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, across the region, and the eventual beneficiary of this shift appears to be the Euro-American imperium.

WEST ASIA is a tumultuous zone, and momentous shifts in prevailing situations tend to come fast. When I began drafting the following analysis, Israel was bombing Gaza mercilessly, with over a hundred people dead and roughly a thousand targets getting pounded from the air, in the Strip, barely 140 square miles, where roughly a million and a half Palestinians are crammed in conditions that resemble those of an open-air prison. As I prepare to send the text to the press, sketchy reports appear of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules Gaza.

For almost two weeks, as tensions became explosive in Gaza and the people there came under yet another blast of state terror from Israel, attention was shifted from the even more momentous, simmering civil war in Syria, which is said to have taken some 30,000 lives since it began in 2011. Yet, it was during these very days that the European Union and Britain recognised a motley group of Islamists, academics and businessmen as the true representatives of the Syrian people even as the government of Bashar al-Assad continued to rule from Damascus.

Participants at the "Syria National Dialogue" held to reconcile official and opposition positions, in Tehran on November 18.-VAHID SALEMI/AP

Both these situations illustrate this particular moment in West Asian politics when the popular aspirations that gave rise to most of the uprisings of 2011 have been defeated and contained by a right-wing restoration across the region, and what appears to be afoot now has the semblance of the very last mopping up operations. This is the historic moment of the arrival of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates to dominance in much of the Arab world, together with their counterparts in Turkey, in alliance with the Gulf monarchs and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) chanceries, and in amiable dialogue with their Zionist neighbours. They may yet face surprises, but they hope to stabilise Islamist rule across West Asia and North Africa. A host of other countriesfrom Pakistan to Somalia to Maliare in the eye of this Wahhabi-inspired storm. One of the more consequential outcomes is the emergence of the monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to a position of dominance in regional affairs, even more at times than either Turkey or Egypt, thanks to the purse strings they command. By contrast, Iran today is more isolated than it has been in the past. The Euro-American imperium is the eventual beneficiary.

The war of destabilisation and regime change in Syria is funded and weaponised by a remarkable combination of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Libya and the United States, in what appears to be a joint project of the GCC and NATO. Weapons of all kinds are being brought in through three neighbouring countriesTurkey, Lebanon and Jordanand more furtively through Sunni channels in Iraq.

At the start, Turkey was the primary host for potentates of the emigre opposition who provided a convenient cover for Islamists of the Brotherhood and other such factions in an umbrella organisation of the Syrian National Council. Qatar has now emerged as a major, and in some ways competing, host. Even so, these various patrons of war on the Syrian regime have yet not been able to put in place a stable enough group of clients that can be anointed as the new government of Syria. So far, the U.S. has been shrewd enough not to extend recognition to any such grouping.

In Iraq, the U.S. preferred to topple the militantly secular Baathist government, bomb much of the country to rubble, destroy much of its social fabric, economic infrastructure and institutional networks of governance, in order to replace all that with a brand new dispensation comprised of an ever-fractious regime of three minoritiesthe ethnic one of Kurds, and the confessional ones of Shias and Sunnis. This internally corrosive and permanently weakened central authority would necessarily form a kind of client regime in which foreign sponsors would play the one component against the other while dominating and directing them all. The same kind of dispensation is now sought in Syria, where the Muslim Brotherhood itself is a major client, among a host of lesser ones.

Israel dare not invade Gaza by land for fear of heavy losses in street-by-street fighting or in a war of attrition in case of prolonged occupation. However, the inflicting of death, destruction and collective terror from the skies is expected to deliver many dividends that we shall detail below, not the least of which is working out the modalities for a joint Israeli-Egyptian management of the Palestinian Resistance that is led mainly by Hamas.

A MEMBER OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD and supporter of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsy punches an anti- Brotherhood protester at Tahrir Square in Cairo on October 12.-MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS

On the international plane, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be putting U.S. President Barack Obama in his place. He had openly supported Obamas opponent, Mitt Romney, during the U.S. presidential election. In launching this aerial invasion of Gaza immediately after Obamas re-election, he dared Obama to condemn or even distance himself from the Israeli action, forced him to offer unconditional support, and thus demonstrated to the world that regardless of who rules the U.S. it is Israel that determines U.S. policy in West Asia. We might recall here that when Israel invaded Gaza in 2008-9, killing over 1,400 people and injuring thousands, that too was immediately after Obama had just been elected and he was glad to endorse the Israeli invasion.

Inside Israel, the war hysteria generated by its daily bombardments of Gaza and the thousands of Palestinian rockets falling into Israel, as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, has served to garner immense support for the government of the far-Right led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Avigdor Liberman, in view of the forthcoming elections to the Israeli Knesset. Regionally, meanwhile, this defiant action is designed to show up Turkey, Qatar and Egyptthe pivots of Sunni Islamist power in the region who have waxed eloquent on the question of Gazaas mere paper tigers, great founts of rhetoric, who will not retaliate against Israeli terror. The new government of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, led by President Mohamed Morsy, shall in fact be shown to be a friendly conduit.

A nexus of U.S., Israel and Egypt

This is interesting for several reasons. For one, Hamas itself is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It turned against its Syrian allies in the Bashar al-Assad government in solidarity with the Egyptian and Syrian branches of the Brotherhood, thus cutting itself off from the very country that had supplied Hamas with rockets and weapons from its own stockpiles as well as from Iran. Instead, Hamas shifted the offices of its Politburo members such as Khaled Meshal from Damascus to Doha, in homage to the growing power of the GCC, with the Qatari Emir becoming the worlds first head of state to visit Gaza as a guest of Hamas. In launching its aggression, Israel sidelined Turkey and Qatar, despatched senior diplomats to Cairo to open negotiations swiftly to show that it would eventually be the Brotherhood-ruled Egypt that would make Hamas sign the ceasefire deal on essentially Israeli terms. Khaled Meshal, the external face of Hamas, who gave press conferences for so many years in Damascus, now duly gave his press conference from Cairo. In the final hours of the negotiations, Hillary Clinton flew in. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr and the U.S. Secretary of State together announced the ceasefire. The terms of the deal are yet not in full public view, but it is clear that a new, post-Mubarak U.S.-Israeli-Egyptian nexus is in the making, with Saudi and Qatari blessings.

All this is connected, for Israel, with a more complicated strategic objective, the heart of which is the obtaining of a long-term cessation of armed resistance on the part of Hamas and an agreement by Hamas to prevent other armed groups such as the Islamic Jehad from carrying out attacks inside Israel. It is now well known that Egypt favours such an arrangement and that the head of the armed wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jaabari, who had previously implemented such understandings for brief periods of time, had received the draft of a long-term ceasefire from the Israeli side just hours before he was assassinated by Israel itself. The question arises: if Israel was within reach of such an agreement, why kill the one man in Hamas who was most able to get it implemented? Israel seems to have calculated that it should get such an agreement only (a) when Hamass stockpile of the more advanced rockets has been depleted as much as possible, through Israeli attacks and through Hamas own use of those stockpiles, and (b) when the Egyptian government, together with the trans-national Muslim Brotherhood as a whole, can be forced to openly guarantee that agreement. The moment would then be right because with Syria destabilised and Egypt becoming a partner to such an agreement, Iran would have no channel through which to supply Hamas, except the Lebanese Hizbollah which is, however, very much on the defensive itself, thanks to the Syrian situation. With Hamas thus committed to cessation of armed resistance, under Egypts supervision, Israel would be free to accelerate the further colonisation of the West Bank and, especially, East Jerusalem. In lieu of all that, Israel may relax its siege of Gaza, allow more food and medicines to go in and ease the conditions of travel in and out of the Strip. The Morsy government can play up this latter part for propaganda purposes, as if it imposed these conditions on Israel.

The point here is not that Israel would necessarily succeed in achieving its maximal objectives. It may not. It is important, however, to understand the objective as well as the logic behind the timing of this military action. Hamas has proved that Israel is in fact far more vulnerable to its rockets than ever before; Morsy, the Egyptian President from the Brotherhood, knows that if he is seen as selling out Hamas, he runs the risk of getting outflanked by the Salafists inside Egypt where emotions on the question of Palestine run high; and, given the highly unstable situation in Syria, Lebanon and even the Sinai, resupplying Hamas with fresh weapons may not prove to be quite as impossible in the near future as Israel imagines. We shall return to such issues presently. Events, neither in Gaza nor in Syria, can be understood, however, without grasping the essentials of the momentous changes that have occurred in the two overlapping regions, West Asia and North Africa, over the last many years but especially over the last two, since the onset of the so-called Arab Spring.

II

It was almost two years ago, in December 2010, that what came to be wistfully called the Arab Spring first began, in a remote Tunisian town. The initial impetus for the explosive uprisings that materialised so quickly across large swaths of Arab lands, from the south-western Mediterranean to the Gulf of Aden, came from young, urban, secular, anti-authoritarian, tech-savvy, politically inexperienced youth who knew what they opposed but had little idea of what they actually wantedother than some vague, nave notions of democracy. As millions marched on the streets of countries that had been brutalised by dictators and monarchs, the euphoria was immense, and it did seem for some weeks that much of the Arab world might yet make a secular, quasi-revolutionary transition. The flamboyant French philosopher Alain Badiou quickly published a thoughtful book on the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings, The Rebirth of History, the title itself reflecting an almost delirious sense of expectation.

I, too, was caught up in that moment of hope, for about six weeks, and it seemed to me at the time that the Arab world stood, in the first few months of 2011, at a historic crossroads ( See Autumn of the Patriarchs, Frontline, February 25, 2011). If the uprisings could succeed in overthrowing the dictatorships and creating secular-democratic polities, there was a fair chance that they could also recover the socially radical and anti-imperialist thrust of the secular Arab nationalism of yesteryear and thus pose a dire threat to the monarchical regimes of the Gulf as well as the Zionist project in the historic land of Palestine. Several Arab countries, notably Iraq and Sudan, once had large Communist parties and Marxism was very much in the air throughout the region; it seemed reasonable at the time to expect labour movements to grow again in the new environment if the secular uprisings of 2011 were to succeed. It was also clear that, as I put it then, if these uprisings of secularity and democratic demand are beaten back Zionism will then have the opportunity to move toward a Final Solution for the Palestinians [and] millenarian Islamist extremism will probably spread like wild fire. What eventually came to pass was closer to this dire warning than what one had hoped for in that moment of a historic opening, before the shutters came down.

TUNISIA'S PRESIDENT Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (left) visits Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old who set himself on fire when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit. He later died. His desperate act touched a nerve with educated, unemployed youths nationwide and eventually led to the Arab Spring protests across northern Africa and West Asia.-AP

Two dictatorships were toppled quickly, in Tunisia and Egypt, both to be succeeded smoothly by governments of the kind of Muslimsright-wing, pious, conservative, NATO-inclined, corporate-friendly, demagogicwhom the Americans like to call good and moderate. The socialist Left had either been decimated in all these countries or functioned in the most adverse circumstances; the best were marginalised, while the rest became defunct by virtue of having made their peace with the dictatorial regimes. The tens of thousands of young people who were at the forefront of the uprisings and who acted with heroic energy and couragemany sacrificing their liveswere, nevertheless, mostly products of a new political climate represented by social movements and the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in which activists were to work for social change without trying to take power, where one could be for democracy but not squarely for socialism or communism, and where they subscribed to no historical legacies based on the idea of building political parties before walking out into the streets with the heroic intent of even giving their lives for democracy. Most seem to have thought that once enough mass pressure was applied, the regimes would melt away, a festival of liberty would begin and they would have enough time to discuss and debate what kind of constitution they now needed, how to hold elections, create new organs of local power, and so on.

In sum, they seem to have believed that this organisation-less democracy would somehow give them the sort of parliament they deserved. Since they believed in democracy, they inevitably believed in electoral politics; indeed, democracy for countless among them essentially meant the replacement of dictators by electoral processes. Two things they seemed not to grasp. First, that modern states never leave a vacuum unfilled. If one dispensation falls, the next must come in immediately, and if the transition gets drawn out over time, a series of dispensations, modified from time to time, would guarantee a basic continuity. Second, they seemed not to understand that electoral politics is designed, intrinsically, to favour the already powerful, and that if there is no formidable movement of the Left, parliamentary elections after the fall of dictatorships will necessarily favour those who command great financial resources and who are able to build deep-rooted, widespread organisational structures during the period of the dictatorship itself.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood, which had crafted an understanding with the Mubarak regime, was the only organisation that could have walked into the vacuum as the very core of the regime began to crumble, especially since elections was the key demand raised by the young militants and their followers in Tahrir Square. The Brotherhood went into a huddle with the military high brass and, together, they worked out the various steps of the transition, some misunderstandings here and there notwithstanding. The young militants were sidelined and isolated through a subtle combination of concession and coercion. Caught in their own rhetoric, the young militants had to settle for whatever the elections brought them. During the uprising, some 15 million Egyptians, roughly a sixth of the population, had participated in the mammoth marches. As the dust settled, the vote got divided among the Nasserists, the remnants of the Mubarak regime itself, the Salafists, but most of all, the mainstream Brotherhood.

Almost a century of organisational endeavours and roughly half a century of the protection and money that had been funnelled to them from the Gulf monarchies delivered the elections to the Muslim Brotherhood as we now know it, the only serious challenge to it coming from the Salafists, who are actually the other face of the Muslim Brotherhood, the original face in fact, who had split off from it when the main body of the organisation chose to become less extreme, more bourgeois.

CAIRO, JANUARY 25, 2011: Demonstrators, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia, demand the end of President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule. It was the largest demonstration Egypt had seen for years.-AP

Today, the choice in Egypt is, using the American parlance, between the moderate Muslims of the official Brotherhood and the bad Muslims subscribing to the Salafist doctrine. To the extent that the Egyptian Salafists, too, have committed themselves to electoral politics, they may also graduate to becoming good Muslims. In any case, those wonderful young people who propelled the uprising in the first place were, after the Mubarak regime fell, never a serious contender for significant power in the dispensation that would succeed the dictatorship through impeccably democratic elections. Tunisia, where it had all begun, went through roughly the same process, with the difference that the armed forces remained very much in the background, the left-liberal forces were better organised and therefore better represented in the eventual dispensation, and An-Nahdathe Tunisian version of the Muslim Brotherhoodwon not an outright majority but a plurality of votes and therefore had to work in cooperation with some secular forces as well.

We have analysed those developments previously (See Rebellion and Reaction, Frontline, February 10, 2012) and need not dwell on them much. A few salient points deserve reiteration, nevertheless. First, the U.S. in particular, and the European powers more generally, have been in close, sympathetic dialogue with various organisations and guises of the Muslim Brotherhood for over half a century, since the very onset of the Nasserist Revolution in the early 1950s. They were always seen as a viable and pliant alternative if the client dictatorships of Mubarak and company were to crumble. Second, the close relations between the Gulf monarchies and the Brotherhood were always seen as a further guarantee of their good behaviour within the imperial design in case they formed governments. Third, as the more extremist Jehadi Islam came to threaten many of the U.S. interests across the region and beyond, the value of the moderate Brotherhood rose proportionately.

Fourth, and crucially, the most important break for moderate Islam had come much earlier, not in the Arab world but in what was until then the most secular of all Muslim-majority countries, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan led his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to electoral victory in Turkey in 2003, initiating a gradual Islamisation within the predicates of NATO and liberal democracy. That process was already eight years old when two variants of the Muslim Brotherhood formed governments in Egypt and Tunisia, and the West could very well see that this kind of political force would give them stable, West-oriented, business-friendly right-wing governments in which Islamic democracy would be the West Asian/North African equivalent of European Christian Democracy. If Turkey had once been the model for secular, liberal Muslims, the same country was now the model for Egyptian and Tunisian Islamists.

This is not to say that the Western powers brought the Brotherhood into these governments but to suggest that their rise to power did not perturb the West, which knew perfectly well that with some minor adjustments the patron-client relationship will continue. As Egypt moved in to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas, its officials were entirely mindful of the fact that Egypts application for a loan of over $4 billion was pending with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and they needed Hillary Clintons support for it. Indeed, the Brotherhood can detach Hamas from Iran and the Syrian Baath and get it to withhold its armed resistance in a way that Mubaraks Egypt never could.

III

None of the other uprisings in the so-called Arab Spring was so lucky or took quite the same form. If a sixth of the population participated in the Egyptian uprising, perhaps as much as three-fourths did in the tiny sheikhdom of Bahrain, in wave after wave over roughly a whole year, seeking a modest degree of democratic rights and an end to sectarian oppression. That alone was seen as an acceptable challenge to monarchical absolutism of the GCC as a whole. Since the vast majority of the population is Shia, with hardly any rights under a Sunni autocracy, the uprising was portrayed in the corporate media as a conspiracy hatched in Iran. It was crushed again and again by Saudi armour at the height of the rebellion. The popular unrest that engulfed the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia itself and which was also crushed with similar brutality, was hardly reported in that media. In Yemen, at the immediate periphery of the network of Gulf kingdoms, which has experienced drone attacks and targeted assassinations under the Obama administration, the uprising was proportionately larger than in Egypt and quite as large and persistent as in Bahrain, but was also crushed, ending with minor modification within the existing regime.

In Libya, Benghazi was always the hotbed of a combustible combination of Salafist Islam, regional dissent, intricate intra-tribal conflicts, and simmering resentment against Qaddafis overthrow, in 1969, of the monarchy that had been aligned with the Sanyusis. All this was quite in addition to the discontent of the educated middle classes and sections of businessmen who were disgruntled with the dictatorial powers, arbitrary and whimsical forms of rule, and the increasing corruption of the Qaddafi regime. Qaddafi, in turn, had crafted a series of alliances to keep such forces at bay. That internal balance was already disturbed when he suddenly turned from shrill anti-Americanism to a clientalist relationship so extreme that he joined the rendition plan in which Islamist militants of Libyan origin who were reputed to be Al Qaeda members were rendered to him by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for torture in Libyan prisons. Many of the militants who were thus tortured had Benghazi connections and came out of Qaddafis torture chambers thirsting for revenge.

In the midst of this came the popular uprisings on the two sides of Libya, Tunisia to the West and Egypt to the East. We now know that French and British Special Forces moved into Benghazi enclave at the very first sign of popular uprising there, and that arms, weapons training and communication networks were put in place quickly. We need not go into details here (See Recolonising Libya, Frontline, November 18, 2011). The main point is that Libya was never permitted to work out its own logic. NATO moved quickly to overthrow Qaddafi, who had by then become a Western client, and Libya today is a devastated land of marauding militias with the fig leaf of a government whose main task is to try its best to facilitate wealth extraction by Western corporations. The dream was that Qaddafi would be overthrown, a new government would be quickly stabilised and Libya would become the first African country to host Americas AFRICOM, which is designed specifically for interventions and wars in Africa but is still headquartered in Stuttgart. That dream is still far from getting realised.

The uprising and the subsequent civil war in Syria is to be seen not in continuation with developments in Tunisia and Egypt but in relation, first of all, to the brutalities in Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. Unlike these latter ones, however, Syria is a major country in its own neighbourhood and in the region as a whole. It is a key component of what the Hizbollah chief, Hasan Nasrallah, recently called the axis of Resistance: Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah. Hamas broke with Syria soon after the conflicts began there, thus limiting its own chances of receiving weapons from there; if a NATO-backed alliance comes to power in Damascus, that alliance is very unlikely to funnel its own or Irani weapons to Hamas. Without a friendly Syria in its rear, Hizbollah itself is likely to get very precariously wedged in a three-pronged pincer: Israel, a Maronite-Sunni alliance inside Lebanon, and a hostile NATO-backed Syria that is bound to have the Muslim Brotherhood as a major, if not the dominant, component in the new dispensation. The isolation of Iran would then be complete.

The Assad regime is undoubtedly a repugnant configuration, resting on a crass, corrupt and brutal system of intelligence-cum-paramilitary functionaries. Unlike Libya, however, it is a modern state and a largely urbane society, with a formidable military force that gained immense experience in years and years of interventionist role in sectarian strifes in Lebanon. It is also a mosaic of religious communities and sects, ethnic groups, and Palestinian refugees, all of them interwoven through intricate relationships with similar groupings in Lebanon. The various minorities dread the prospect of a new Brotherhood-dominated regime replacing the secular Baathist government of today, not because they are particularly fond of the existing regime but because the emerging alternativeof migr academics and businessmen, religious bigots, marauding militias, and armed mercenaries in the pay of a whole host of patrons, from the U.S. to Turkey to Qatardoes not appeal to them. The regimes savagery in suppressing the protests in the earlier phases must have alienated many of them, but the religious militias began acting with the same kind of savagery, or worse, very early in the uprising, so that much of the population is caught between two structures of notorious violence.

The chance that an indigenous, secular, modern opposition might emerge to oppose both sides of this senseless carnage was pre-empted very early by the NATO chanceries, Ankara in particular, who quickly assembled a Syrian National Council (SNC) as the representative of the opposition. The flow of illicit arms, even of some foreign jehadi mercenaries, through all the neighbouring countries also began very quickly. Any internal opposition that did not wish to join the Ankara-confected SNC was sidelined and ignored. The civil uprising as such was in fact short-lived. It was quickly replaced by a test of arms between the Syrian government and the foreign-sponsored militias, the largest of which is the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA), which too materialised fairly quickly on Turkish soil.

Direct foreign intervention, on the pattern of Libya, was prevented by the double veto of Russia and China, who refused to endorse the imposition of no-fly zones over any part of the Syrian territory, as had been done in Iraq and Libya, or the creation of a Benghazi-type enclave inside Syria as the rear base for military operations by the foreign-sponsored militias. Turkey seems to have miscalculated massively in imagining that the Assad regime would collapse within weeks. Opposition to the regime has remained highly splintered and foreign patrons have had a hard time imposing a semblance of unity upon them. If the Assad regime is ugly, the opposing militias seem uglier, as wanton destruction during the battles for Aleppo would testify. Acts of terror is all they have been able to manage over a period of over a year.

Given this situation, the war in Syria is likely to drag on for some time. The current calculation in the GCC-NATO alliance seems to be that time is on their side, that the isolation of the regime is such that it is bound to get eroded from within as costs and hardships of constant bloodletting mount. It is not at all clear yet how all this will end. In case the Assad regime collapses, it is perfectly possible that no stable central authority emerges and the country goes through a prolonged period of chaos, violence, decay, confessional conflicts and regional satraps.

IV

All GCC-NATO-Israeli eyes are now focussed on the main prize: Iran, land of the crafty mullahs who happen to be Shia and thus no part of the Sunni confederacy of the Gulf monarchies and the Muslim Brotherhood.

For roughly two decades now, since the early 1990s, a succession of Israeli Prime Ministers have claimed that the manufacture of an Iranian nuclear bomb is imminent. On some rare occasions, the bomb is said to be a year or two away; more often, it is predicted to be a matter of months. The corollary of this claim has been the demand that Iran must be prevented at all costs, immediately, even through military invasion if necessary. Earlier this year, we again witnessed the charade of the Israelis pretending that they were going to attack Iran any day. No one took them seriously, and they attacked Gaza instead.

On the other hand, Khomeini, who led the Iranian revolution, and Khamenei, who succeeded him as the chief authority of Shia Islam, have issued fatwas (binding religious edicts) that making of a nuclear weapon is forbidden in Islam and Iran shall therefore never do it. Irans nuclear facilities have been under extensive and prolonged supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and no one has to this day presented any credible evidence that Iran is in fact working on a bomb. The fact of the matter is that even if Iran were to actually obtain a nuclear weapon, and is even allowed to keep it and develop a delivery system for it, such a weapon might add somewhat to Irans own security but it could never threaten the security of Israel, which is said to have hundreds of such weapons.

A RALLY IN BENGHAZI on November 2 demanding autonomous rule for eastern Libya, fairer representation and the reintroduction of the 1951 constitution to establish a federal system.-ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI/REUTER

The whole thing is, in other words, farcical high drama designed to force Iran to spend more of its scarce resources on its defence capabilities than it would otherwise, and to legitimise the imposition of crippling sanctions to hurt its economy, even though past experience of all such sanctions, notably in Iraq, shows that they do not hurt the ruling elites but the masses for whom items of daily necessities become either unavailable or very expensive. In Irans case, sanctions are undoubtedly hurting but not enough to bring it to its knees. It has, in any case, put forward all kinds of proposals to put a cap on its nuclear programme, but there have been no diplomatic takers for such proposals in the U.S., which is in fact the country that matters the most; Europe merely follows in the footsteps of the U.S. in all such matters.

In its immediate region, Iran has a reasonably good relationship with the new Iraqi rulers, who are constantly trying to balance their ties to Iran with their ties to the U.S. The loss of Syria as a friendly country would be a serious blow, not because the Syrian Alawites are somehow a part of the so-called Shia Crescent but because the Assad regime has had its own reasons for keeping close ties with Iran. And, if Syria were to fall to a Brotherhood-dominated regime, that would affect the links between Iran and the Hizbollah adversely just as the Brotherhoods rise to power in Egypt threatens the ties between Iran and Hamas, re-orienting the latter towards alternative entities such as Qatar. On the other hand, the Egyptian Brotherhoods highest priority is to stabilise its rule there and help stabilise the Brotherhoods rule in other countries in the region, not a confrontation with Iran. So, President Morsy has taken a far less belligerent stance toward Iran than that of Saudi Arabia.

Will the U.S. or Israel attack Iran in the near future? That is very much to be doubted. However, there is no reason to believe that there shall be any letup in the pressure to keep the bogey of Irans nuclear ambitions on the boil. The NATO-GCC-Israel axis will do everything it can to weaken Iran internally. The long-term ambition is to oversee the dismantling of the current, relatively independent-minded regime in Iran and the replacement of it by a more pliant, clientalist regime.

V A key factor, however, is this:

Israel has further accelerated the colonisation of the West Bank and of east Jerusalem in particular. The Netanyahu-Lieberman combine needs to win the forthcoming elections and accelerate the process even further. They need just a few years to physically take over, through the so-called settlements, the remaining parts of Palestine that they covet, and then in one dramatic move annex all those territories just as they once annexed the Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. Every crisis that erupts in the region, near Israel or far from it, serves to shift attention from this accelerated pace of colonisation within Palestine. In the process, the Israelis do not really mind if Hamas strengthens its own rule in Gaza so long as it does not send rockets into Israel. President Morsy will make sure that it does not. This unremitting expansion of a settler colony, in the very heart of West Asia, is the real story of the region at present. All the rest are shifting shapes in the sands of time.

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