The Devil Wears Persian
The Devil Wears Persian
In an earlier ZNet essay -- Beyond Incompetence: Washington's War in Iraq -- I described David Wurmser's 1999 book Tyranny's Ally as a kind of Right Zionist playbook. Wurmser elaborated a plan for moving from Clinton-era "dual containment" of Iraq and Iran to a new policy of "dual rollback" in both countries.
Wurmser described a central challenge for achieving "dual rollback":
"How can we vanquish one without helping the other? Similarly, how can we deal either with a radical, secular, pan-Arabic nationalism or with fundamentalist pan-Islamism without allowing one to benefit from the other's defeat?" (Tyranny's Ally, p. 72)
In the months after the US invasion of Iraq, the US did tilt toward Shiite power in Iraq. It aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites in order to topple Saddam's regime.
But that was only the first phase of "dual rollback." Now, with the Israeli intervention against Hezbollah in Lebanon, the second phase has begun.
"Dual rollback" is a two act play:
Act One: Target Iraqi regional power, with the acquiescence of Iran.
Act Two is just beginning. Please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the "intermission" for the end of the show.
Act Two centers on "rollback" in Iran. Arab officials are cast in a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.
The Bush Revolution, Act Two
The "official" Arab response to Israel's intervention in southern Lebanon has been quite muted.
The New York Times ("Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries") and the Washington Post ("Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy") take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.
The New York Times reported:
"The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said of Hezbollah's attacks on Israel, 'These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we cannot simply accept them.'...
"It is nearly unheard of for Arab officials to chastise an Arab group engaged in conflict with Israel, especially as images of destruction by Israeli warplanes are beamed into Arab living rooms. Normally under such circumstances, Arabs are not blamed, and condemnations of Israel are routine.
"But the willingness of those governments to defy public opinion in their own countries underscores a shift that is prompted by the growing influence of Iran and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and across the region.
"The way some officials see it, Arab analysts said, Israel is the devil they know, but Iran is the growing threat."
The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN's Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:
"PERES: ... for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we're doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region."
Wonder of wonders, the "devil" is not Arab. The "devil" is Persian.
Zionist/Arabist Axis: Target Iran
In some respects the decision to topple Saddam Hussein and to empower Iraqi Shiites has appeared to tilt US policy toward Shiite regional power.
Arab leaders in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all warned against the creation of a so-called "Shia Crescent" in the Middle East.
In December 2004 -- ahead of US-sponsored elections in Iraq -- Jordanian King Abdullah warned:
"'It is in Iran's vested interest to have an Islamic republic of Iraq . . . and therefore the involvement you're getting by the Iranians is to achieve a government that is very pro-Iran,' Abdullah said.
"If pro-Iran parties or politicians dominate the new Iraqi government, he said, a new 'crescent' of dominant Shiite movements or governments stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon could emerge, alter the traditional balance of power between the two main Islamic sects and pose new challenges to U.S. interests and allies."
In September 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations:
"'We fought a war together to keep Iran out of Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait,' said Faisal, referring to the first Gulf War in 1991, when Saudi Arabia fought with US and other allied forces to liberate Kuwait after Iraq invaded.
"'Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason,' he said."
Similarly, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted in April 2006 saying,
"Definitely Iran has influence on Shias. Shias are 65 per cent of the Iraqis [...] Most of the Shias are loyal to Iran, and not to the countries they are living in."
All of that dissent regarding US policy in Iraq has now been channeled into support for Israel's US-backed intervention in Lebanon.
The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri -- like Israel and the US -- wanted Syria out of Lebanon.
Hariri's son -- Saad -- continues in his father's footsteps. Stratfor reports:
"Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon's Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.
"Hezbollah's actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran's advances deeper into the region."
The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah's uprising against Israel, or to keep quiet, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?
So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:
"'A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,' [Hariri]... said Saturday. 'Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.'"
The key line is that Lebanon "should not be left as a battlefield for everyone," which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.
Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:
"Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel's calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah...
"To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah's action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel's diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel's determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society -- Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanon -- to crush Israel's main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves."
There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the "Arab street" and force Arab "officials" -- including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis -- to rally around Hezbollah, etc.
On Palestine (aka Jordan)
In the long-run, Israeli retaliation against Hamas in Gaza may prove far more bloody than the intervention in Lebanon, but it may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists do not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.
Right Zionists have revived the old plan -- last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s -- for Jordan to take over the West Bank. Such a plan essentially marks the end of the idea of an independent Palestinian state.
The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser -- whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a "Paradigm Shift" in the New York Sun on July 17:
"We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...
"From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition."
This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, "Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance."
"Hamas's landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority's (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government's strategic thinking...
"King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank...
"Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan's ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom's prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank...
"The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role..."
Historically, the idea of Jordanian control of the West Bank has sparked suspicion -- at the least -- among neighboring regimes. Why do Right Zionists think the idea has a better chance today?
"Saddam Hussein is gone, and Iraqi influence hobbled by its own troubles. International criticism of the Syrian regime in the wake of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's assassination has undercut Syrian influence. Saudi preoccupation with Al-Qaeda and post-succession internecine struggles within the royal family have also reduced Riyadh's willingness to take a political lead. The Palestinian Authority, too, may be accepting of a Jordanian role. Abbas keeps close ties to King Abdullah and maintains a residence in Amman. Jordan has much more opportunity to play the leading Arab role in the West Bank than at any point since its disengagement in 1988 and, perhaps, even since Abdullah I was in his prime in the 1930s."
Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of "thinking" Right Zionists are doing these days.
Finally, Right Zionists almost certainly hope that successful operations that aim to weaken Hezbollah will also further isolate Iran and leave the incumbent Iranian regime vulnerable to some kind of military campaign (primarily air strikes) and/or regime change.
In all of these endeavors, Right Zionists will find that they have powerful allies in the region (Arab "officials") and in Washington (Right Arabists) -- the very folks who worked most diligently against them during Act One.
Those who took comfort in the fact that Right Arabists like James Akins, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, spoke out against Right Zionists and the war in Iraq will be sorely disappointed if they anticipate similar dissent during Act Two.
Akins, for example, has joined forces with Right Zionists as co-founder of the "Iran Policy Committee," a group that sees Iran as "the primary threat against the United States and its allies" and favors regime change in Iran.
Note well: the emergence of a new Right Zionist/Right Arabist axis against Iran will almost certainly mean that dissent -- facilitated by Right Arabists during Act One -- will prove far more difficult during Act Two. Anti-imperialists will have to learn to walk on their own, without reliance on a Right Arabist crutch.
Jonathan Cutler teaches sociology at Wesleyan University. For more analysis and commentary, go to his blog, www.profcutler.com.