Strategy shift in the Middle East
|by Thierry Meyssan*
The failure to reshape the Greater Middle East has left the field open to a new alliance, the Tehran-Damascus-Ankara triangle. Since nature is allergic to vacuums, Moscow is filling the space left vacant by Washington. The wind has changed and it’s blowing strong. In a matter of a few months, the entire regional balance of power has tipped.
In recent months the equilibrium of the Middle East has undergone a complete shift. First of all, the capabilities and positions of a number of players have changed.
The Israeli armed forces, who had gone from one victory to another for decades, are no longer able to control the ground. During their offensive against Lebanon (2006) and against Gaza (2008), they displayed an increase of destructive power, but showed they are not longer capable of achieving their goals, in this case the destruction of Hezbollah and Hamas. In addition, their arsenal, equipped as required by the United States, no longer guarantees their domination. Their tanks have become vulnerable to Russian RPG, when they used to constitute the major component of their blitzkrieg. Their navy is threatened by the land-sea missiles supplied to Hezbollah by China, which are now equipped with an anti-jamming system that they lacked in 2006. Finally, their air dominance will not resist for long to the proliferation of Russian S-300, currently being shipped to the region.
The quasi-independence of Iraqi Kurdistan engineered by the United States, the economic development of this quasi-state under Israeli control plus Washington’s blatant support of the separatist Kurds under the PKK umbrella, compelled the Turkish military to a complete turnaround. The Atlantic Alliance is no longer a warrant for Turkish territorial integrity and Israel becomes an enemy. While Ankara is careful to placate Washington, the tone with Tel Aviv has continued to escalate since the altercation between Recip Erdogan and Shimon Peres at the Forum in Davos, and the diplomatic incident linked to the Turkish television series The Valley of the Wolves.
The Iraqi chaos and the creation of a quasi-state in Kurdistan have forced neighbouring states to work together to avert a spillover effect, especially since Washington has already attempted to destabilize them all to keep them out of the Iraqi game. Thus the United States and Israel covertly supported Kurdish separatists in Turkey (PKK), those in Iran (Pejak) and those in Syria. As a result, the Iran-Syria axis has been replaced by the Iran-Syria-Turkey triangle. This new alliance enjoys a historical legitimacy without parallel. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has been the leader of the Shiites. After Paul Bremmer’s destruction of the Iraqi Baath party, Syria stepped in as the undisputed leader of the secular camp. Finally, Turkey, heir to the Ottoman Caliphate, is the cradle of Sunni Islam. Taken together, these states cover nearly the entire field of Middle Eastern politics. This alliance has dropped the curtain on the Divide et Impera (divide and rule) policy, successfully applied by the colonial powers to dominate this vast region. In particular, it puts an end to the Fitna, that is to say the Islamic “civil war” between Sunnis and Shiites. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has already invited Iranian President Ahmadinejad to join him in a pilgrimage to Mecca, of which he is the custodian. As the heir of the Ottomans, Turkey embodies the historical legacy of Sunni Islam. In addition, the new triangle widens Ankara’s horizons constantly clogged by the endless procrastinations of the European Union.
The “de-Baathisation” process of Iraq, i.e. the hunting season against the former executive officers of the country, has caused a mass exodus. In six years, more than one million Iraqis have been welcomed to Syria. Such Arab hospitality includes totally free admission to schools and universities as well as access to the overall health system. Initially, this vast immigration wave caused a serious economic crisis, but once digested, it has provided Syria with highly qualified executives and has injected a new dynamism.
The turmoil organized by the United States in Yemen forced the Saudi royal family to support King Abdhallah’s policy of appeasement towards Syria and Iran. Consequently, the Hariri Lebanese-Saudi clan was asked to reconcile with President Bashar al-Assad and to recognize the legitimacy of the armed Lebanese Resistance. Suddenly, the ambivalent results of the rigged 2009 parliamentary elections – where General Aoun and Hezbollah won by a majority of votes, but where a majority of seats was obtained by the coalition formed around the pro-American clan Hariri and the extreme Christian right – took on a different meaning, opening the way for a government of national unity. While the warlords like socialist Walid Jumblatt made a 180 ° turn in order to go with the tide.
However, this trend remains fragile since Washington may still have the possibility to destabilize the new troika. Be that as it may, several attempts by corrupt Syrian generals to overthrow Bashar al-Assad were foiled even before they could act. The multiple attacks orchestrated by the CIA in the non-Persian provinces of Iran failed to trigger separatist revolts. While the colour revolution, organized by the CIA and MI6 during the presidential election, was been drowned out by a human tidal wave. To the tens of thousands of protesters in the northern neighbourhoods of Tehran, the rest of the country responded with a massive demonstration of 5 million people. Finally, it appears that Washington is incapable of resorting again to Gladio to establish a military dictatorship in Turkey. On the one hand because the new generation of Turkish generals no longer buttressed to Kemalism and secondly because the AKP Muslim-Democratic is intent on dismantling Ergenekon (current version Turkish Gladio).
Washington and Tel Aviv could also fabricate fraudulent files to justify military action. Thus, since 2007, they have been alleging that Israel discovered and bombed a military nuclear research center in Syria and that Iran is developing a vast programe of a similar nature. More recently, the same powers have accused Syria of having introduced Scuds into Lebanon. However, these accusations do not stand up to analysis any more than those formulated by Secretary of State Colin Powell before the United Nations Security Council United Nations regarding Iraqi’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. The numerous IAEA inspection teams that visited Iran only found evidence of civilian activities, and the UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon have denied the presence of Scuds in the country.
Russian makes its entrance
The loss of U.S. influence is so palpable that General David Petraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command, has set off alarm bells in Washington. In his view, the game played by the Israelis not only in Palestine, but especially in Iraq, has thwarted U.S. plans in the region. Moreover, the stagnation of the GIs situation in Iraq and Afghanistan has made them hostages to Turkey, Syria and Iran, the only ones able to pacify the rebellious populations. In a complete reversal of roles, the strategic ally of the Pentagon has become a burden, while its regional enemies are now its shields.
Noting the failure of U.S. plans to reshape U.S. Greater Middle East, Moscow has repositioned itself on the regional scene on the occasion of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visits to Damascus and Ankara.
With regard to Israel, Russia reaffirmed that the political settlement of the conflict should be based on the relevant UN resolutions (including the inalienable right of return for Palestinians) and the principles of the Madrid conference (return of the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, in exchange for a peace treaty). Moreover, Dmitry Medvedev confirmed his country’s preference for the two-state solution. Given the presence of one million ex-Soviets in Israel, Moscow wants to forestall a foreseeable exodus in case the Zionist regime should fall. In this context, he advocated for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and met Khaled Mechaal, the political leader of the Palestinian resistance, notwithstanding Washington’s stigmatisation of Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation. This represents a decisive step for Russia: President Medevedev had refused three times to receive Mechaal when he passed through Moscow; this time he had an interview with him and, what is more, in Damascus. On this occasion, the Russian president stressed the increasing urgency of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and deplored Washington’s lack of interest in solving this tragedy. Finally, alluding to Israeli threats to bomb the convoys of weapons from Syria to Lebanon, he warned Tel Aviv against an escalation of tension.
Russia supports the political and economic rapprochement in progress between Iran, Syria and Turkey. The three leading States in the Middle East have entered a phase of intense cooperation. In a matter of months, they have opened their borders and liberalised their trade at an accelerated pace. Their economies which were paralised by years of war have suddenly been energised. Russia has no intention of staying out of this new area of prosperity. Immediately, Ankara and Moscow have brought up the need for visas for their citizens. In this way, a Turk can enter Russia without any formalities while he cannot do the same in the United States nor the EU, despite the fact that Turkey is a NATO member and a EU candidate.
Moscow has set up permanent consultative bodies at high diplomatic and economic levels with Damascus and Ankara, in contrast with the policy of the United States. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ordered Syria to distance itself from the Resistance. In response, President Bashar al-Assad immediately appeared alongside his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and ironically signed a document titled “Treaty of reduced distance”. The meeting was convened short notice and Khaled Mechaal could not attend, but Hamas was nevertheless involved in the process. Following up on his threats, President Barack Obama has renewed economic sanctions against Syria for another two years.
Rosatom and Atomstroyexport, which are completing the construction of a civilian nuclear plant in Iran (Bushehr) and are contemplating new ones, will build another one in Turkey for 20 billion dollars. It should be launched in seven years. A similar project is under study in Syria. The lack of electricity in a region that withstood Israeli bombardments is the main obstacle to economic development. From a Middle Eastern point of view, Russia’s eagerness to build these power stations stems less from a commercial appetite than from a desire to provide the populations concerned with the means to accelerate the economic development that Westerners have denied them for so long. In addition Stroitransgaz and Gazprom will ensure the transit of Syrian gas to Lebanon, Beirut being prevented by its Israeli neighbour from exploiting its large reserves offshore.
Militarily, Russia has taken delivery of its new naval base in Syria. This will allow it to restore the balance in the Mediterranean from which Russia has been more or less absent since the dissolution of the USSR. It also confirmed the forthcoming delivery of S-300 missiles to Tehran to protect Iran from U.S. and Israeli threats of bombardment.
While condemning Iran’s provocations, Russian diplomats have reiterated that they do not believe in Western accusations about Iran’s and Syria’s alleged nuclear weapons programme. While the protocol among the states bordering the Caspian Sea only provides for a supply of arms to Iran in case of attack, President Dmitry Medvedev spoke of a possible direct involvement of Russia and warned the United States against a war in Iran that could degenerate into a Third World War. On this basis, he endorsed the denuclearization plan of the region, that is to say the dismantling of the Israeli nuclear arsenal. The case has recently been brought before the IAEA.
Russia attaches special importance to helping Turkey resolve its ancient disputes with Greece and Armenia, including the Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts. Thus, Ankara could move away permanently from Tel Aviv and Washington and recover its full independence. Important, albeit insufficient, steps have been made by President Abdullah Gül vis-à-vis Yerevan. Ignoring 95 years of hatred, Turkey and Armenia established diplomatic relations. Further progress should follow vis-à-vis Athens with the blessing of the Orthodox Patriarch Cyril I of Moscow. From this point of view, Recip Erdogan’s visit to Greece marks a historical event that boosts the process of reconciliation in the Aegean Sea, which began in the 30s and was interrupted by the Second World War.
Disrupting U.S. strategy in the Black Sea and the Caspian, Ankara accepted a huge Russian investment to build a pipeline between Samsun to Ceyhan. It is expected to carry Russian oil from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean without having to use the straits, unfit for the transit of pollutants. Identically, Ankara is considering its possible involvement in the Russian South Stream gas pipeline project. If it were to be confirmed, it would render ineffectual the competing Nabucco project sponsored by the United States and the European Union.
Ultimately, Russia’s support ensures the sustainability of the Tehran-Damascus-Ankara triangle in the face of U.S. and European hostility. The strategic balance in the Middle East has tipped. The shockwave could spread to the Caucasus.