In July last year, I wrote an article entitled “How Will Our Region Look Come November 2016?” on this page. Of course what I meant then was the end of Barack Obama’s second term in the White House. In that article I pointed to how Washington made Daesh a pivotal justification to speed up the signing of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which would become Obama’s ‘grand’ achievement and the hallmark of his regional project.
A year ago there were several worrying signs, and unfortunately the worst of which were proven to be true in every ‘hot spot’ in the Middle East. Indeed, despite Washington’s self-congratulations on being able to “downgrade” Daesh in Syria and Iraq, the demographic genocide being perpetrated against Sunni Arabs in the two countries remains the most salient and solid fact.
In the meantime, it is no more appropriate to question what is going on in Syria. It is either too stupid or too cynical to deny the ‘common plan’ Russia and Iran are striving to achieve on the ground, and turning a blind eye to Washington tacit approval. Actually, as we witness benign accusations being exchanged by Moscow and Washington about a non-existent ‘cease fire,’ most well informed sources claim that the only disagreement between them regards how to rehabilitate the Assad regime in the ‘new’ Syria within the new map of the region. At the moment we have these facts:
1. Russia and Iran, with America’s approval, have all but completed the demographic change in the city of Homs and Greater Damascus as Assad has admitted.
2. Arrangements are approaching completion in northern and southern Syria after ‘containing’ the Turkish–Kurdish tensions as a result of taming Ankara’s ambitions in the north, while in the south the whole picture would not overlook Israel’s say, especially in the Quneitra Province. As Turkey’s interests and worries regarding ethnic minorities seems to have been taken care of in the north, Israel would surely like to exploit the sectarian issue in the south, which is most likely acceptable to Washington, Moscow, Tehran and … Damascus!
3. ‘The War on Daesh’ which has become synonymous with the uprooting and forced exodus of millions of Sunni Arabs in both Syria and Iraq may then become limited in eastern Syria where the, initially artificial, borders with Iraq barely exist anymore.
4. Iran would then become a ‘trustee’ to the already ‘occupied’ Lebanon. This would take place either directly through appointing a ‘puppet-president’ functioning under the ‘guidance’ of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, or indirectly through the rehabilitated former Damascus ‘tools,’ which, along with Iran, still enjoy enough tentacles and influence to prevent the election of a Lebanese president for more than two years. Here too, just like the southern Syria ‘scenario,’ this ‘trusteeship’ can only be established with Israel’s blessings; and many believe this is assured given the fact that the ‘loud’ Assad regime remains a safe and trusted neighbor since the autumn of 1973, and that Israel has only punished it with ‘reminders’ and ‘alerts.’
Away from the Levant, in Yemen, the Yemenis have now discovered that what is being said against the background of international discussions and negotiations is one thing, and what really takes place is something else. With the cases of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon in mind, it looks as if what we are going through these days may well have been the ‘classified’ sections of the JCPOA.
What is taking place in the Middle East is more than a heavy price being paid for an American retreat or a Russian revenge by a leader who has inherited grandiose dreams and the mentality of a ‘police state’ from the former Soviet era.
It has also gone beyond a confrontation between an Iranian regime ‘exporting’ its internal problems under the banner of religion and settling 1,400 years old scores, a Turkish leadership intent on turning the clock back (to Ottoman times), and an Israeli political elite that rejects peace and hides behind Biblical ‘fundamentalists’ as it crushes Palestinian aspirations.
What could be deduced from the insistence of some quarters on inventing justifications for hatred and animosities is that there is an inclination to create new realignments in the Middle East in the form of ‘mandates’ over a partitioned Arab world. In this sense, with due respect to press freedom, one cannot but feel surprise by the article written by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the New York Times, a newspaper whose rich archive surely contains reports of all kinds of terrorist acts incited, planned and carried out by the same regime that Zarif is serving.
The NYT knows about the nature of the Mullahs’ regime in Tehran since 1979 more than the average American citizen Zarif was attempting to bluff. It definitely knows who was behind the ‘Hostage Taking’ in the US Tehran embassy, the mass executions ordered by Sadegh Khalkhali’s ‘revolutionary court’, the Beirut US Marines Base suicide attack as well as foreign hostage taking in Lebanon, the continuing support of the Sunni ‘Islamic Jihad’ movement in Gaza (which also has an office in Damascus), the smuggling of Al-Qaeda militants into Iraq from Syria, the bombings inside Saudi Arabia itself, and finally, the nation that continues to provide refuge to extremist leaders and encourages, through its own extremism, a no less dangerous counter extremism.
All these facts are no doubt well known to the NYT; however, it seems that truth doesn’t really matter if a dual Iranian — Israeli ‘trusteeship’ is underway, and needs to be justified by making religious extremism exclusively Sunni, exactly as Barack Obama has done in order to rehabilitate Bashar Assad!
• Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.