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Avoiding Another Long War | Consortiumnews.

Avoiding Another Long War

January 4, 2012

Exaggerated coverage of a dubious report by the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program has spurred a rush toward a new war in the Middle East, but ex-U.S. intelligence officials urge President Obama to resist the pressures and examine the facts.


MEMORANDUM FOR:  The President

FROM:  Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT:  Avoiding Another Long War

As professionals with collectively hundreds of years of experience in intelligence, foreign policy, and counterterrorism, we are concerned about the gross misrepresentation of facts being bruited about to persuade you to start another war.

We have watched the militarists represent one Muslim country after another as major threats to U.S. security. In the past, they supported attacks on Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and Afghanistan, as well as Israel’s attacks on Syria and Lebanon — nine Muslim countries – and Gaza.

This time, they are using a new IAEA report to assert categorically that Iran is building a nuclear weapon that allegedly poses a major threat to the U.S. Your intelligence and military advisors can certainly clarify what the report really says.

As you know, the IAEA makes regular inspection visits to Iran’s nuclear facilities and has TV cameras monitoring those facilities around the clock. While there is reason to question some of Iran’s actions, the situation is not as clear-cut as some allege.

Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and former IAEA director-general, said recently, “I don’t believe Iran is a clear and present danger. All I see is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.” He is not alone: All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concluded “with high confidence” in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had halted its nuclear-weapons program as of 2003.

We are seeing a replay of the “Iraq WMD threat.” As Philip Zelikow, Executive Secretary of the 9/11 Commission said, “The ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The unstated threat was the threat against Israel.”

Your military and intelligence experts can also provide information on unpublicized efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program and on the futility of attempting to eliminate that program – which is dispersed and mostly underground – through aerial bombing.

Sen. Joe Lieberman

Defense Secretary [Leon] Panetta and other experts have stated that an air attack would only delay any weapons program for a year or two at most.

Former Mossad head Meir Dagan said that an air force strike against Iran’s nuclear installations would be “a stupid thing,” a view endorsed in principle by two other past Mossad chiefs, Danny Yatom and Ephraim Halevy. Dagan added that “Any strike against [the civilian program] is an illegal act according to international law.”

Dagan pointed out another reality: bombing Iran would lead it to retaliate against Israel through Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands of Grad-type rockets and hundreds of Scuds and other long-range missiles, and through Hamas.

We are already spending as much as the rest of the world combined on National Security and $100 billion per year on a Long War in Afghanistan. The Israel lobby has been beating the drums for us to attack Iran for years, led by people with confused loyalties like Joe Lieberman, who once made the claim that it is unpatriotic for Americans not to support Israel.

Another Long War is not in America’s or Israel’s interests, whatever Israel’s apologists claim. Those are the same people who claim that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said he would “wipe Israel off the map.” Persian specialists have pointed out that the original statement in Persian actually said that Israel would collapse: “This occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the arena of time.”

What we have is a situation where Israel’s actions, for example in sending 300,000 settlers into the West Bank and 200,000 settlers into East Jerusalem, are compromising U.S. security by putting us at risk for terrorist retaliation.

We have provided Israel with $100 billion in direct aid since 1975. Since this is fungible, how has funding settlements contributed to our security? You agreed to provide $3 billion in F-35s to Israel in exchange for a 90-day freeze on settlements. What you got was 90 days of stonewalling on the peace process and then more settlers. What more do we owe Israel?

Certainly not a rush to war. We have time to make diplomacy and sanctions work, to persuade Russia and China to make joint cause with us.

James Madison once wrote that “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded.… War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. …No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

We are currently winding down what you labeled a “dumb war;” we should not undertake another dumb war against a country almost three times larger than Iraq, that would set off a major regional war and create generations of jihadis. Such a war, contrary to what some argue, would not make Israel or the U.S. safer.

Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Phil Giraldi, Directorate of Operations, CIA
Ray McGovern, US Army Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Intelligence, CIA
Coleen Rowley, Special Agent and Minneapolis Division Counsel, FBI
Ann Wright, Col., US Army Reserve (ret.), Foreign Service Officer, Department of State
Tom Maertens, Foreign Service Officer and NSC Director for Non-Proliferation under two presidents

Elizabeth Murray, former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council
David MacMichael, former history professor and CIA and National Intelligence Council analyst

The Middle East’s New Geopolitical Map » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

The Middle East’s New Geopolitical Map


The Arab Spring is not the only revolution in town. The toppling of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; the mounting death toll in Syria and Yemen, where the outcome is still undecided; the revival of long-suppressed Islamic movements demanding a share of power; the struggle by young revolutionaries to re-invent the Arab state — all these dramatic developments have distracted attention from another revolution of equal significance.

It is the challenge being mounted by the region’s heavyweights — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran — against the hegemony which the United States and Israel have sought to exercise over them for more than half a century.

When David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence on 14 May 1948, he held the view that the country’s security could be assured only if it were militarily stronger than any possible Arab combination. This became Israel’s security doctrine. The desired hegemony was achieved by the prowess of Israel’s armed forces, but also by Israel’s external alliances first with France, then with the United States.

Military superiority won Israel outstanding victories in the 1948 and 1967 wars, a less resounding victory in 1973, still more contentiously by its invasions of Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 2006, and more reprehensively by its operation of unashamed brutality against Gaza in 2008-9 — to mention only the most significant among a host of other Israeli attacks, incursions and onslaughts against its neighbours over the past several decades.

In its early years, Israel’s hegemony was reinforced by its so-called ‘periphery’ doctrine — its attempt to neutralise the Arabs by concluding strategic alliances with neighbouring non-Arab states such as Turkey and the Shah’s Iran. Its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt also proved a vital asset over the past three decades, since it removed the most powerful country from the Arab line-up.

The collapse of Soviet power in 1989-91 contributed to the Arabs’ disarray, as did the huge success of pro-Israeli Americans in penetrating almost every institution of the American government, whether at state or federal level, most notably the U.S. Congress. The message these advocates conveyed was that the interests of America and Israel were identical and their alliance ‘unshakable.’

Over the past forty years, the United States has provided Israel with sustained political and diplomatic support, as well as massive financial and military assistance, including a guarantee, enshrined in American law, of Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) – that is to say a U.S. pledge to guarantee Israel’s ability to defeat any challenge from any of its neighbours.

Even 9/11 was turned to Israel’s advantage in convincing American opinion that Palestinian resistance to Israel was terrorism, no different from that which America itself had suffered. There followed George W. Bush’s catastrophic militarisation of American foreign policy, and the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq on fraudulent premises, largely engineered by neo-cons such as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and their colleagues at the Pentagon and in the Vice-President’s office, concerned above all to remove any possible threat to Israel from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The United States has sought to protect Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly by harsh sanctions against Iran, because of its nuclear activities, as well as joint U.S.-Israeli sabotage operations, such as the infiltration into Iranian computers of the Stuxnet virus. Washington has turned a blind eye to Israel’s assassination of Iranian scientists, and has followed Israel in demonizing resistance movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organisations.

America’s most grievous mistake, however — the source of great harm to itself, to Israel, and to peace and stability in the Middle East — has been to tolerate Israel’s continued occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians. These policies have aroused intense hate of Israel in the Arab and Muslim world and great anger at its superpower protector.

We are now witnessing a rebellion against these policies by the region’s heavyweights — in effect a rebellion against American and Israeli hegemony as spectacular as the Arab Spring itself. The message these regional powers are conveying is that the Palestine question can no longer be neglected. Israel’s land grab on the West Bank and its siege of Gaza must be ended. The Palestinians must at last be given a chance to create their own state. Their plight weighs heavily on the conscience of the world.

Turkey, long a strategic ally of Israel, has now broken with it. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced it as “the West’s spoilt child.” In a passionate speech in Cairo, he warned Israel that it must “pay for its aggression and crimes.” Supporting the Palestinians in their efforts to gain UN recognition as a state was, he declared, not an option but an obligation.

Prince Turki al Faisal, a leading member of the Saudi Royal family and former intelligence chief, has publicly warned the United States that if it casts its veto against the Palestinian bid for statehood, it risks losing an ally. In a widely-noted article in the International Herald Tribune on 12 September, he wrote that “Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America” in the way it has since the Second World War. The “Special Relationship” between the two countries “would increasingly be seen as toxic by the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, who demand justice for the Palestinian people.”

Last week, the American-brokered 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty — a key underpinning of Israel’s regional hegemony — came under open criticism from Egypt itself. The treaty was “not a holy book,” said Egypt’s prime minister, Dr. Essam Sharaf. It would need to be revised. Amr Moussa, the leading candidate for the Egyptian presidency, has called for the treaty’s military annexes to be reviewed so as to allow Egyptian troops to be deployed in Sinai.

As for Iran, denunciation of the United States and Israel can be expected from President Ahmadinejad when he addresses the UN General Assembly in the coming days. The failure to engage with Iran — demonising it as a threat to the whole world, rather than working to incorporate it into the security architecture of the Gulf region — has been one of Obama’s gravest policy mistakes.
Turkey, Iran and Egypt, heirs to ancient civilizations, are thus asserting themselves against what they see as an Israeli upstart. Saudi Arabia, the region’s oil and financial giant, guardian of Islam’s holiest sites, is breaking free from the constraints of the American alliance.

Israel stands accused. Will it heed the message or shoot the messenger? If true to its past form, it might well try to fight its way out of the box in which it now finds itself, further destabilising the region and attracting to itself further opprobrium.

As for the United States, bound hand and foot by Israeli interests, it seems to have abdicated the leading role in the Arab-Israeli peace process it has played for so long — but to so little effect. Disillusion with President Barack Obama is now total. Others must now take up the baton. Many believe the time has come to break the dangerous stalemate with some coercive diplomacy. Will Europe take up the challenge?

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East. His latest book is The Struggle for Arab Independence: Riad el-Solh and the Makers of the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press).

Copyright © 2011 Patrick Seale .


The Islamo-Bolivarian threat – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

The Islamo-Bolivarian threat

Should the US be worried about the close relationship between Iran and Venezuela?
Belen Fernandez Last Modified:
17 Aug 2011 13:22

Recent years have seen an increasingly close relationship between Venezuela and Iran [EPA]

In early July, the US Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America – Implications for US Homeland Security“.

The line-up of witnesses consisted of Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute; Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and journal editor for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Brown University professor Dr. Melani Cammett, the only testifier who bothered to provide an accurate history of Hezbollah and to refrain from referring to the Lebanese political party and resistance movement as a terrorist organisation directed by Iran.

Cammett’s co-witnesses more than made up for her dearth of creativity. Given the quality of what is consistently allowed to pass as evidence of the threat posed to the US by the supposed love affair between Iran and leftist Latin American regimes, it is perhaps only surprising that the first three expert-propagandists did not invoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s joke in the Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border” – in reference to a corn-processing facility – that, “This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb.”

Stripped of its facetious intent, the comment would have proved an able companion to the clique’s existing arsenal of justifications for increased US militarisation of Latin America as well as potential military manoeuvrings against Iran.

The Caracas-Tehran one-stop

No congressional subcommittee hearing would have been complete without testimony confirming that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus.

This bit of trivia, mentioned by both Noriega and Farah, has for the past several years been a favourite among neoconservative pundits as well as members of the Israeli foreign ministry.

During his June 2009 expedition to Honduras to attend the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.” The superior urgency of the “Iranian attempt to penetrate into the continent” was unclear given that no representatives of the Islamic Republic or any other non-American state had been present at said assembly.

In addition to Ayalon’s appearance in Honduras, other instances of proof of the facility of transatlantic travel include the 1983 training in Israel of Carlos Castano, father of modern Colombian paramilitarism, who acknowledged inheriting the concept from the Israelis. It comes as no surprise that Israeli-Colombian models of terrorisation and displacement of populations infringing economically, ideologically, or ethnically on the interests of power are deemed far less deserving of contemplation in certain circles than, for example, the “dangerous ‘caudillo-mullah’ axis” advertised by the Honourable Noriega.

Noriega’s scary secret fantasy stash

Roger Noriega, one of various Iran-Contra relics recycled into subsequent US administrations, served under the Bush II regime as US ambassador to the OAS and then as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. The Iran-Contra portion of his curriculum vitae suggests that he has already had considerable experience with a different sort of caudillo-mullah axis, according to which profits from arms sales to the axis’ latter half went to benefit supporters of right-wing dictatorships in Nicaragua.

Noriega’s transparent fear-mongering efforts against the new axis often employ a vocabulary of limited range, such that in the past ten months alone we have been alerted to the existence of rightist Honduran President Pepe Lobo’s “Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez” as well as “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Program” and “Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?“, and have been reminded that the Caracas-Tehran one-stop is part of “Hugo Chavez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.”

The sensational effects of Noriega’s strategic reliance on “secrets” are somewhat mitigated by his inability to sustain his own allegations. As Nicaragua-based journalist Charles Davis points out in a March 2011 piece for Right Web with regard to Noriega’s October 2010 detection of Venezuela’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme:

“[T]hat show-stopping claim of nuclear proliferation on the US’s ‘soft underbelly’ isn’t mentioned in [Noriega’s] more recent, 2,700 word policy guide for the new Congress. According to leaked State Department cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, US diplomats have privately mocked the notion that Venezuela is assisting Iran’s nuclear program or developing atomic weapons – or even capable of developing a civilian nuclear power program.”

In a dispatch entitled “Chavez the Cocaine Capo?“, Noriega speculates that the Venezuelan leader “should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling US federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations”. The attempt to discredit leftist governments by saddling them with drug trafficking ties should be juxtaposed with the fact that CIA facilitation of the accrual by right-wing Nicaraguan paramilitaries of revenues from cocaine distribution in the US is no secret.

Farsi tattoos, Mexicans and geography

The tendency to heap socialists, Islamists, drug traffickers, and other undesirables into a single nexus of malevolence is also observable in a 2010 letter from US Representative Sue Myrick to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, hyping the idea that Hezbollah is cooperating with drug cartels on the US southern border.

Apparently unconcerned that the friendly Mexican government may also be cooperating with drug cartels on the same border, Myrick delivers the smoking gun:

“Across states in the Southwest, well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi. We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic, but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah. These tattoos in Farsi are almost always seen in combination with gang or drug cartel tattoos.”

Myrick’s argument was compelling enough to merit regurgitation by Douglas Farah at last month’s congressional subcommittee hearing and then by Texas’ Rio Grande Valley KRGV news station, which cautioned: “Terrorists Use New Identifying Markers To Recognize Each Other”. As for Myrick’s contention that, thanks to the bond between Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians can now learn Spanish in Venezuela and then cross the US border posing as Mexicans, the need for enhanced racial profiling in the US has also been suggested by the global intelligence firm STRATFOR’s analysis that Hezbollah looks Mexican.

Farah’s testimony meanwhile also included the allegation that Venezuela is an “ideal launching pad” for drug trafficking due to its “geographic proximity to West Africa”. That Farah is unable to present his arguments without resorting to such preposterous calculations does not aid his overall credibility, which is further obviated via his announcement that Iran, the Bolivarian states, Hezbollah, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC):

“Share a doctrine of asymmetrical warfare against the United States that embraces the use of weapons of mass destruction, massive civilian casualties as acceptable collateral damage and the underlying belief that the acquisition of nuclear weapons to destroy the United States is a moral or religious imperative. This is not a statement of capacity, but a clear statement of intention.”

The problem here, of course, is that it is not clear what the “this” that is allegedly a clear statement of intention is referring to aside from Farah’s own fabrications, given that none of the listed entities has ever expressed belief in the necessity of a nuclear destruction of the US and that the practice of inflicting massive collateral casualties has in recent history been monopolised by the US-Israel axis.

Argentina, penetrated

Relentlessly invoked as evidence of the malicious continental designs of Iran/Hezbollah is the extermination of civilians in Buenos Aires in terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA, the Jewish cultural centre, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. The standard argument is that the attacks were conducted as revenge for Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear contracts with Iran.

However, as historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter points out in an in-depth report for The Nation, a top Argentine nuclear official has confirmed that negotiations to resume cooperation with Iran continued throughout the period in which the bombings occurred and that it appeared the outcome would be favourable to the Islamic Republic. This raises the possibility that revenge may have instead been the priority of a non-Iranian party.

Walking down the street in Buenos Aires in July 2009, I quickly learned from the disproportionate number of sidewalk billboard advertisements featuring Chavez and Ahmadinejad clasping hands – accompanied by a warning of “Iranian penetration in Latin America” – that the annual observance of the anniversary of the AMIA attack constituted a prime occasion on which to intensify the dissemination of paranoia. The penetration ads directed consumers to an article by a certain Ely Karmon in Veintitres magazine and were interspersed with posters depicting an unoccupied bed with white sheets in commemoration of the “85 goodbyes”, which I first assumed was a reference to the current Argentine swine flu epidemic rather than the AMIA fatalities.

Veintitres defines Karmon as a Senior Academic Investigator at the International Counterterrorism Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. His senior academic investigatory techniques in this case include plagiarising three paragraphs from a 2007 Miami Herald article by Andres Oppenheimer, whose observation that “Ahmadinejad must love the tropics” because he has spent more time in Latin America than George W. Bush, Karmon does attribute to the Herald – albeit without explaining how it is that the former US president has become the standard against which travel frequency to places other than Crawford, Texas, should be measured.

Karmon’s investigation exposes worrisome trends such as that Farsi is being taught at Venezuelan universities, that a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish, and that Hezbollah operations have recently been “thwarted in Azerbaijan and an unidentified European country”. He additionally draws attention to a 2008 Los Angeles Times article that reports word of a joint scheme between Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Venezuelan airport workers to exploit IranAir’s Venezuela service in order to capture Jewish businessmen in Latin America and smuggle them to Lebanon. The “Western anti-terrorism official” to whom knowledge of the plan is ascribed does not explain why the one-stop to Tehran is not thus a non-stop to Beirut.

As for other functions of the Caracas-Tehran trajectory, these have been revealed by Roger Noriega, who, two weeks after declaring that “We can only guess who and what are aboard these flights”, managed to inform the congressional subcommittee: “The Hezbollah networks use these flights and others to ferry operatives, recruits, and cargo in and out of the region.”

Nicaragua misplaces mega-embassy and canal

Another persistent cause for concern is the Iranian diplomatic presence in Latin America, as exemplified in Douglas Farah’s testimony: “In Bolivia recently the Iranian embassy reportedly asked for more than two dozen spaces in the international school for children of their newly-arrived diplomats there.” It is not clear why the Iranian embassy in Bolivia is inherently more sinister than the Iranian embassies in Canada and the UK.

Journalist Charles Davis summarises the ruckus generated by Iran’s reported ambassadorial mother ship in Nicaragua:

“In 2009, prominent neoconservatives like Michael Rubin drew attention to media reports claiming that Iran had built a new embassy in Nicaragua’s sprawling capital Managua that was ‘the largest diplomatic mission in the city’. The embassy, coupled with Iran’s investments in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the region, Rubin warned, indicated the Islamic Republic ‘might see Latin America as a beachhead from which to conduct an aggressive strategy against the United States and its allies’.

“The claim was spread throughout right-wing policy circles. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked it up. “The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua,” she warned in 2009, just a few months after taking office. “And you can only imagine what that’s for.”

“But as the Washington Post reported in July 2009, that “huge embassy in Managua” could not be found. “It doesn’t exist,” a chuckling Ernest Porta, head of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, told the paper.”

As for last year’s headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz according to which “Iran, Venezuela plan to build rival to Panama Canal,” the prospect of an Iranian-funded “‘Nicaragua Canal’ linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans” becomes less convincing when the following detail appears at the end of the article: “A US State Department official told Haaretz’s Washington correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya on Wednesday that the US is not aware of any plans to build a new canal in Latin America.”

The non-tractors

In an October 2009 presentation to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled “Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela“, Norman A. Bailey – former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence and Honduran death squad ally John D. Negroponte – unearthed further insidious machinations on the part of the penetrators.

A champion of the 2009 US-backed coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Bailey converted Chavez’s displeasure at intra-hemispheric neoliberal penetration into the result of Iranian inter-hemispheric penetration and the idea that “the Iranians had opened a ‘maintenance’ facility in Honduras for… ‘tractors’ produced in Venezuela, in reality a drug transshipment warehouse.” International observers with a less keen eye, such as the Agence France-Presse news outfit, reported the delivery of Venezuelan tractors to Honduras without realising that they were not really tractors.

Bailey describes Iranian involvement in Latin America as “curious” given that “[t]here is no affinity at all between monarchic or Islamic Iran and the countries of the Hemisphere; historical, cultural, political, economic or otherwise.” One might ponder what sort of cultural or political affinities exist between the US and monarchic Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan, or whether trade between Venezuela and Iran does not constitute economic affinity. As for Bailey’s assessment that “one of the principal motivations [for Iranian activity in the region] is to be able to retaliate against the [sic] United States if [Iran] is attacked,” it is not clear whether Bailey is aware that he has just characterised Iranian penetration as defensive rather than predatory in nature.

Barrios of Caracas convert to Shia Islam

Ely Karmon’s prediction concerning the possibility of sudden religious affinities and the inculcation of the Latin American poor with Shia teachings meanwhile appears to be as of yet unfounded given Chavez’s contention that Jesus Christ was an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as a result of the class struggle. That some level of ideological convergence is nonetheless possible is suggested by Roger Noriega’s observation that “radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training.”

The danger of Latin American collaboration with a foreign country that – unlike the US – has not in contemporary history engaged in such regional activities as inaugurating schools for aspiring dictators and death squad leaders, presiding over illegal detention centres, and infecting local populations with syphilis is meanwhile fairly straightforwardly spelled out by Douglas Farah:

“All of this [collaboration] comes at the expense of US influence, security and trade – including energy security and hence economic and infrastructure security (Venezuela is the 4th largest supplier of US petroleum imports, just behind Mexico; indeed Latin America is our 2nd largest source of supply overall, only slightly behind the Middle East).”

“Security”, of course, is not to be confused with stability – a concept that has no place in the business of regional militarisation and incitement.

Belen Fernandez is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work will be released by Verso on Nov. 1, 2011.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Egypt haunts Saudi Arabia again | Soumaya Ghannoushi | Comment is free | The Guardian

Egypt haunts Saudi Arabia again

By propping up the Arab monarchies, Saudi Arabia is reverting to its old anti-revolutionary role

    Saudi border guards

    Saudi border guards demonstrate their skills during a graduation ceremony near Riyadh last month. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/REUTERS

    Little did Riyadh know that the most severe strategic blow to its regional influence would come not from Tehran, or Tehran’s agents in Baghdad – but Cairo, its closest Arab friend. The ousting of Mubarak did not only mean the loss of a strong ally, but the collapse of the old balance of power. The region could no longer be divided on a Riyadh-Cairo v Tehran-Damascus axis. Revolutions have struck in both camps: in “moderate” Egypt and Tunisia, as in “hardline” Damascus and Tripoli. The principal challenge for the Saudi regime is no longer the influence of Syria, Iran or Hezbollah, but the contagion of revolutions.

    The Saudis had dispatched troops to the small kingdom of Bahrain to suppress a revolt against the Sunni rule of the Khalifas. And when the Yemeni revolution erupted, they moved to bolster Ali Abdullah Saleh’s reign, pumping millions into his coffers to buy off tribal allegiances, and providing his army with equipment, intelligence and logistical support. Although Riyadh’s rulers despise Saleh for dragging them into a messy conflict with the Houthis at their southern border in 2009, they have stood by him. But as the revolution raged on, winning the support of most tribes and causing wide defections in the army, the Saudi regime had no choice but to let go of its man in Sana’a – as long as this is perceived not as the fruit of popular pressure, but a smooth power transition within the framework of its own Gulf Co-operation Council proposal. With Saleh’s forced exit after Friday’s attack on his presidential compound, Riyadh is again seeking to wrest the initiative from the street and act as the chief powerbroker in Yemen.

    Although it has striven for years to isolate Syria from Tehran, it is not too keen on seeing its old enemy collapse under the blows of protesters either – and is now working to protect the Assad regime. King Abdullah has even phoned President Assad to offer “solidarity with Syria against conspiracies targeting its stability and security”.

    Saudi Arabia is sparing no expense to contain existing revolutions and suppress potential ones. In spite of its fear of post-revolutionary Egypt, it has recently granted it $4bn in aid to appease its generals; $20bn has been lavished on Bahrain and Oman – another kingdom beset by popular unrest – with $400m donated to Jordan.

    To Riyadh, Arab revolutions set a dangerous precedent for the subjects of monarchies, and must, therefore, be averted at all cost. This is the backdrop for Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Co-operation Council, an organisation that ought to be rebranded as the Club of Arab Despotic Monarchies. Jordan, known for its powerful security apparatus, could act as a useful buffer against revolutionary penetration from Levantine Syria. As for Morocco – whose membership invitation has baffled many, located as it is at the far end of the Arab hemisphere – its principal virtue is its 35 million population, which may compensate for the loss of Riyadh’s old heavyweight ally, Egypt.

    Monarchy is one characteristic shared by Jordan and Morocco. Economic need is another. Their fragile economies, crippled by debt and corruption, constitute an advantage in the eyes of Saudi strategists, rendering them more amenable to bribery and manipulation.

    Riyadh has been watching anxiously as demands for reform escalate. In Jordan, demonstrations have even spread into the tribal south, the regime’s traditional support base. A broad alliance of Islamists and leftists has formed after the resignation of two ministers over a graft case. As the alliance’s leader, Ahmad Obeidat, put it: “Tyranny and corruption are Jordan’s main problems. Fighting corruption starts with reforming the regime itself.”

    The same state of political mobilisation characterises Morocco – north Africa’s only kingdom. The February 20 youth movement has held weekly demonstrations for constitutional reform. Human rights groups report a mass arrest campaign, and regular torture. Police brutality is such that Kamal al-Ammari, a pro-democracy activist, was beaten to death at a pro-democracy rally last week in the southern city of Safa.

    By trying to fortify these monarchies, Saudi Arabia is seeking not only to protect them, but preserve itself. The domino effect – one republic after another consumed by revolution – must not be allowed to strike a monarchy. The message is clear: revolutions are a strictly republican phenomenon to which kingdoms are immune. But the goal is to keep reform at bay too. There can be no talk of constitutional monarchies.

    Although the Saudi regime is preoccupied by the Iranian threat, its eye is now focused on Egypt and the Arab revolutions, existing and potential. There is nothing that it dreads more than a return to the 1950s and 60s scenario of Cairo spearheading a revolutionary Arab world against pro-American conservative kingdoms. Riyadh is in the process of reproducing the 1955 Baghdad pact, forged in confrontation with Nasser and his revolutionary officers and bringing together the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Jordan (both unofficially), Pahlavi Iran and royal Iraq, as well as Turkey and Pakistan. Some of the players have been replaced, and nationalism has made way for Islamism, but the structure of the strategic game is the same.

    And so is its mightiest weapon: money. In a battle where internal fears coincide with external interests, Riyadh is resuming its old role as the vanguard of a cold war against change.