The Region: Meanwhile, in the ME...

Washington should focus on the ‘building’ plans elsewhere in the region.

By BARRY RUBIN
March 21, 2010 22:20
BARRY RUBIN

BARRY RUBIN. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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While the Obama administration is fiddling over the construction of apartments in Jerusalem, the Middle East is burning. Yet these other issues don’t attract the attention – and certainly not the action – required.

• Iran is now allied with al-Qaida. Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, revealed a bombshell story that has been ignored: Iran is helping al-Qaida attack Americans.

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Iran, he said in military-speak, provides “a key facilitation hub, where facilitators connect al-Qaida’s senior leadership to regional affiliates.”

Translation: Teheran is letting al-Qaida leaders travel freely back and forth to Pakistan and Afghanistan, using its territory as a safe haven, while permitting them to hold meetings to plan terrorist attacks against US targets. While nominally Iran sometimes takes these people into custody, that seems, Petraeus says, a fiction to fool foreigners.

Oh, and Petraeus added that Iran also helps the Taliban fight the US in Afghanistan.

Regarding Iraq, the general explains, “The Quds Force [an elite Iranian military group within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] also maintains its lethal support to Shi’a Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding and training.”

So, Petraeus pointed out that Iran is helping al-Qaida against the US and also, at times, Shi’a groups intended to be Iran’s proxies for spreading its influence in Iraq. In effect, the Teheran regime is at war with the US. Yet this point is not being highlighted, nor does it stir rage in the hearts of White House officials or strenuous attempts to counter this threat.



Meanwhile, Iran isn’t just building apartments but nuclear weapons’ facilities.

• Lebanon is being further integrated into an Iran-Syria alliance. In an interview with Al-Jazeera television, Druse leader Walid Jumblatt, formerly the roaring lion of the opposition, turns into a mouse and apologized to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad: “I said, at a moment of anger, what is improper and illogical against President Bashar Assad.”

And now he is begging for an invitation to Damascus where he can kiss the ring of the man whose father (Hafez Assad) murdered his father (Kemal Jumblatt).

One cannot blame Walid Jumblatt nor Sa’ad Hariri, leader of the March 14 coalition, whose father, Rafik Hariri, was murdered in February 2005 under the direct orders of Assad and who has already gone to Damascus to beg for forgiveness.

But Jumblatt, leader of the main Druse community in Lebanon, was a man who not long ago denied comparing Bashar Assad to a dog by saying that to do so would be an insult to canines. Jumblatt was also the man who bragged about being a friend of the US during his rebellious phase. No more.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah, which enjoys veto power in Lebanon’s government, isn’t just building apartments, it’s building fortifications and importing record amounts of weapons.

• It is now clear that Russia and China won’t support sanctions on Iran. The Obama administration’s plan is in major trouble and there’s no way out, except to do the most minimal possible sanctions and claim victory.

Russia openly defies the Obama administration by insisting it will finish a nuclear plant for Iran, just when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is visiting. This was a real slap in the face, much bigger strategically than the apartment issue in Jerusalem. But there will be no strong reaction from Washington.

According to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev: “We believe that [engagement with Iran is] not over yet, that we can still reach an agreement.”

So Russia still isn’t ready to support sanctions and isn’t building apartments in Iran but rather a nuclear reactor.

Same thing with China, whose Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang put it this way: “We believe there is still room for diplomatic efforts and the parties concerned should intensify those efforts.”

China isn’t building apartments in Iran but developing oil fields and building a huge oil refinery, plus reportedly supplying weapons.

DESPITE US concessions aimed to reduce Syria’s alliance with Iran, their bond is getting stronger, as witnessed by Assad’s invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Damascus earlier this month and their signing of new cooperation agreements. During the press conference, Assad literally laughed at US policy.

• There are increasing signs of Turkey’s close cooperation with the Iran-Syria axis. Both Ahmadinejad and the official Syrian government newspaper SANA now call Turkey an ally of Syria and Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sounds the same way, insisting that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, that Ahmadinejad is a “friend,” and that the US has no right to try to stop Iran from getting such weapons anyway. The Turkish government isn’t just building apartments but an alliance with Teheran and an increasingly Islamist regime at home.

So let’s leave it to Ahmadinejad to summarize how things seem to Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah and lots of Arabs both pro- and anti-American: The Americans, Ahmadinejad said, “not only have failed to gain any power, but also are forced to leave the region. They are leaving their reputation, image and power behind in order to escape... The [American] government has no influence [to stop]... the expansion of Iran-Syria ties, Syria-Turkey ties and Iran-Turkey ties – God willing, Iraq too will join the circle.”

In short, the regional situation is terrible. None of this really has much to do with Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian issues; none of this is going to change because US policy is seen as being tough on Israel. What the Arabs want to see is whether US policy is going to be tough on Iran and its allies. The administration’s policies aren’t making the radicals more moderate but rather – by feeding their arrogance and belief in American weakness – making them more aggressive.

Every day the regional situation is becoming more dangerous, but the highest-level and highest-priority US efforts seem to be largely over getting indirect Israel-Palestinian talks, which everyone involved knows will produce nothing. Something is seriously wrong here.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies.

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