Pakistan News Service

Sunday May 19, 2024, Zul-qaadah 11, 1445 Hijri

An overview of Middle East crisis

15 October, 2013

By Asif Haroon Raja

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The US and the Western world's deep-seated interest in the strategically important and oil-rich Middle East are well known. In order to maintain control over oil wells and to keep sea lanes and choke points in Indian Ocean open, the British Empire in line with its policy of divide and rule, split up the Ottoman Empire in 1918 into small Muslim States and installed puppet rulers. By 1923, Ottoman Empire was destroyed and in 1924 the Caliphate came to an end. Turkey became the leading secular State under Kamal Ata Turk aligned with the West. Inter-state borders were demarcated in a manner to deliberately create border dispute between each State to keep them at odds. Saudi Arabia began its transformation into a country ruled by al-Saud family. Earlier on, Safavid Empire in Persia eclipsed in 1736. In India, Mughal Empire went into oblivion in 1858. Once the British Empire eclipsed after the 2nd World War because of economic exhaustion and the US filled up the power vacuum in and around Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, it pursued British policy of divide and rule to keep Muslim world under it thumb.

The Arab world was categorized into two camps, one named as moderates who were pro-US and towed US agenda, and the other as radicals who defied US dictation. CIA in connivance with MI-6 brought down Mossadeq regime in Iran in 1953 to ensure control over Iranian oil. Iran under Reza Shah Pahlavi was militarily strengthened to make it the policeman of the Persian Gulf. This move gave rise to friction between Iran and Arab world. France and UK went to war with Egypt under Gamal Nasser in 1956 to keep uninterrupted control over Suez Canal. To keep Arab chauvinism in check, Israel which was illegally created in 1948 at the cost of Palestinians was strengthened and fully supported to ensure its outright victory over the combined armies of the Arabs in the 1967 war. 1973 war was staged to detach Egypt from the Arab union and bring it closer to Israel through Camp David Accord in 1978.

Once Islamic government under Imam Khomeini came into power in Iran in March 1979 as a consequence to Islamic revolution and not only adopted anti-US and anti-Israel stance but also showed an inclination to export Shiaism in Middle East, all Arab countries particularly those containing Shia community felt uneasy. Iraq under Saddam Hussain being an ally of USA was prompted to attack Iran in 1980 and settle its Shatt-al Arab issue. Bloody eight-year war resulted in millions of human losses but ended in a stalemate.

In the New World Order drafted during George W. Bush senior in 1989, chief threat of communism was replaced by Islamic threat. In this, radical countries and fundamentalists were marked as the most dangerous. Middle East was described as the most strategically important area in the world because of oil. In order to retain unipolarism and to rule the world for next 100 years, the objectives laid out were to destroy nine Muslim countries and to establish control over vast resources of crude oil. Target countries were Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Pakistan. This list less Pakistan was revealed by Patrick Buchman in 2003. He didn't mention Pakistan and Afghanistan because former had become an ally of USA after 9/11 and the latter had been absorbed in November 2001.

When Iraq didn't lose its military strength after the destructive war against Iran, and became more battle hardened thereby posing a danger to Israel, Saddam was instigated by US ambassador in Baghdad to annex Kuwait assuring him that the US would look the other way. However, Iraq was demonized and invaded by US forces and its western allies in 1991 to cripple its defence structure. Scared by Iraq and Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Gulf states funded the war and allowed the US military to establish bases.

When Saddam kept up his defiant stance despite inhuman sanctions, Iraq was once again invaded and occupied in May 2003 on fabricated charges of WMDs. Fires of sectarianism flared up in Iraq as a consequence to Iraqi Shias and Kurds supporting the invaders and subsequent replacement of Sunni Baathist government by Shia dominated coalition government under Nur al Maliki. This change sharpened Shia-Sunni divide resulting in sharp divisions on sectarian lines. More casualties occurred on account of sectarian war than in the war with occupation forces. War in Iraq brought al-Qaeda based in Afghanistan into Middle East. Resistance put up by Iraqi resistant groups and al-Qaeda forced occupying forces to quit Iraq in December 2010 but left behind the scourge of sectarianism which has become menacing. Imperialist powers however succeeded in gaining control over Iraqi oil.      

Uprising in Tunisia in December 2010 which gave birth to Arab spring ended in regime change. Soon after Egypt got infected with Arab spring and in no time brought down another dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. The flames of Arab spring enveloped Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States. After fall of Hosni, Qaddafi regime came under the fire of US, UK and France. The trio supported Libyan rebels and managed to get UNSC resolution passed for NATO intervention. Qaddafi was demonized and murdered and rebel's government was planted to take control over oil. After division of Sudan through UN intervention and change of Saleh's regime in Yemen, focus of western powers shifted towards Syria where an armed uprising against Shia Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad was in progress. 

While fight between Syrian forces and rebels kept intensifying because of external support to both sides, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) together with Salafist Party won the elections in Egypt in June 2012 and formed its government under President Muhammad Morsi. Islamization of the constitution by the new government antagonized the seculars and Coptic in Egypt as well as the western world. Sacking of senior military officers and judges consternated Egyptian military and judiciary. Support to Gazans and getting closer to Erdogan regime in Turkey and Ahmadinejad regime in Iran irked Israel.

All these factors gave an excuse to the US backed Egyptian military to sack Morsi and his government within three days of the military-CIA inspired seculars three-day uprising in early July this year. Forcible and unjust change is proving very costly since the MB has not accepted the change and is resisting the military and forcing it to restore Morsi's regime. Its activists have started to target military targets in Sinai and two towns have been captured and it appears that sooner than later a full-fledged insurgency may erupt.

Full-fledged civil war is raging in Syria since March 2011 and so far over 110,000 people have died. Britain had started covert operations in Syria as early as 2009. USA and UK started training Syrian rebels in 2011. Saudi government provided funds and logistic aid to weaken Assad regime. Earlier on, it had helped the US in fomenting trouble in Lebanon to weaken Hezbollah. Besides Saudis, Qatar also opposes Assad regime since it had refused to sign an agreement to run a pipeline from Qatar, contiguous with Iran Pars field, to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey and onto European markets. Instead, Assad opted for an alternative pipeline project with Iran, across Iraq to Syria in July 2012.

Owing to support of Iran and Russia, Assad regime has managed to keep the rebels supported by USA, France, UK, Saudi, Arabia, Qatar and Turkey at bay. While the rebels have an upper hand in southern regions, government forces have an edge in Damascus and in northern regions of the country. Frustrated by the slow progress made by the rebels and disturbed by the Syrian military's constantly improving position, drama of Sarin gas was cooked up to give an excuse to the US-NATO forces to intervene in Syria with or without the blessing of UNSC and bolster the sagging spirits of the rebels. There are reasons to believe that Israel provided poisonous gas to the rebels for use in Ghouta.

But for forceful intervention by Russia and opposition from the international community including American public, Obama would have authorized the use of cruise missiles. Russo-US resolution under the auspices of the UN defused the highly explosive situation. Syria has agreed to open its huge stocks of chemicals for inspection by the UN team and for its destruction by mid 2014. Assad is feeling relieved that the crisis has been averted, but he is still sailing in rough waters. He also sees slow warming up of US-Iran relations after Rouhani's takeover would benefit Syria. The situation in Syria is however getting more complex because of the twenty Jihadist groups involved in war crimes against Shia Alawites. Of these, five major groups are Ahrar al-Sham, Islamic State of Iraq & Levant, Al-Nusra Front, Jaish-e-Muhajireen Wal Ansar and Suqur al Ezz.  Besides, Sunni rebels are being attacked by Salafists and al-Qaeda.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.

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