Proxy wars inflame the Middle East

The Middle East is undergoing volcanic change.

Danger zone

2015/04/17 Issue: 1 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut - A key reason for the mobi­lisation of Saudi Arabian and allied forces in Yem­en is fear of Iranian im­perialism and preventing Tehran, through its proxies, taking control of the choke point Bab el Mandeb strait that links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, a vital mari­time corridor.

The Iranians, particularly since the Americans artlessly delivered Shia-majority Iraq into their hands and opened the way for an overland invasion corridor to the Gulf mon­archies, have become increasingly open about their use of proxies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Shia militias in Iraq, to wrest control of other lands.

With everything seemingly going their way in the region these days, such naked displays of military reach point to a steady increase in Iranian power grabs.

The war in Yemen, a failed state that’s collapsing into the inferno of religious, ethnic and tribal conflicts that are ripping the Middle East apart, says everything one needs to know about how the Middle East is undergoing volcanic change.

Revolutionary Iran, under the charismatic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, sought power across the region, a new Shia-led Middle East order, the fundamentalist regime in Tehran at its head, that would smash Western domination.

That process is now gathering momentum and the prospects of con­flict with the long-dominant Sunnis are glaringly obvious – particularly to the adminis­tration of US President Barack Obama.

The Saudis believe the Obama administration, no longer reliant on Middle Eastern oil, is leaving them in the lurch – a conclusion hardened by the April 2nd signing of an historic framework agreement between Iran and US-led world powers on curtailing Tehran’s nu­clear programme in exchange for lifting crippling economic sanc­tions on Iran.

The upshot of this is that US in­fluence in the region will diminish, and probably quite quickly. This could have serious consequences for countries across the region, such as Yemen, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, at a time when they badly need Western economic as­sistance.

Regionally, security is likely to take precedence over desperately needed socio-economic develop­ment. That is likely to stir further unrest in countries like Algeria amid a new arms race that could well include Saudi Arabia acquir­ing nuclear weapons to counter any Iran may get.

The regional conflicts have pro­duced a major humanitarian crisis that the West has largely ignored. Some 220,000 people have per­ished in the Syrian war, with 6.5 million more displaced within the country.

The flood of refugees from Syria alone threatens the economic and social fabric of Lebanon and Jordan, precarious states that harbour an estimated 3 million, mostly Sunni, refugees. Lebanon, infected by the bloodbath, teeters on the edge of a new civil war. Oil-rich Libya disin­tegrates amid conflicts over money and power in the messy aftermath of the blundering 2011 NATO inter­vention.

The fearful uncertainty wrought by the region’s convulsions prompted Tammam Salam, Leba­non’s prime minister, to lament that “the fall of Arabism as a unify­ing identity will mark the start of a series of civil wars among brothers. And once those wars start, nobody knows when or how they will end.”

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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