When George Orwell wrote his famous “1984” he did not anticipate two things. He would have never dreamed that this dystopia in particular would become an iconic piece of science fiction. He also never ever thought that his book would philosophically inspire the actual Arab leaders in their political stances in view of the evolving situation.
The current crisis that is unraveling the Middle East, tearing countries apart, killing people by the thousands, has its roots well ingrained in recent history, mainly in the twentieth century, or even further away in the distant past. Hopping back and forth in time could also be useful to explain some of the contemporary events.
The area is obviously rich in history. It harbors after all many of the cradles of civilization and is the nest of the three Godly religions. Supposedly cousins in terms of worshipping the same god, Christians , Muslims and Jews have had a harsh relationship throughout their existence. Jews claim rights as old as two millennia. The Holocaust, world war II and its subsequent Yalta agreement propelled these assertions and somehow triggered the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. However and as demonstrated by Arnold Toynbee , the gray parts of this agreement signed by the winners of the war while having a drink and a smoke while looking the Black Sea left questions about the middle-east unanswered. In the words of Toynbee, this gap created a power vacuum that the Soviet Union and the United States tried to fill in through their proxies. The USSR standing on the side of Arabs, and the USA unequivocally championing Israel.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun says the wise man “[Ecclesiastes 1:9].
It always was about control, power, money and religion hasn’t it?
The demise of the USSR in 1989, so well-illustrated by the fall of the Berlin wall was supposed to have an impact on the region. It did not. Hatred and the pursue of regional interests were too strong to stop and their momentum too intense to vanish easily.
Just to mention a few: The Iraqi-Iranian unending war and mutual slaughter, the invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent two Iraqi wars resulting in the ousting of Saddam and the horrific collapse of Iraq. In parallel and since 1975 till this moment , the Lebanese wars , the multiple invasions of this tiny country, and it’s never ending crises.
It also is obvious that many more contemporary factors were added over and above the previously existing ones to form a disgraceful stack of problems all stained with horror, massacres and tremendously adding to the complexity of the picture.
The Shiite Sunni feud, thought to be well contained after circa fourteen hundred years of the killing of Imam Al Hussein at the battle of Karbala, was suddenly reignited by the imperial ambitions of Iran and eventually the Sunni abuse of Shiite populated countries such as Iraq and Syria, each one from a perspective, provided we agree that Alawites are next of kin to Shiites. In both cases, even if opposite, minorities , when in power abuse majorities and this is recipe for trouble .
The use of the adjective “imperial” is not coincidental despite the fact that Shiite Iran calls itself a republic . All countries pride themselves of their curriculum, but Iranians of all allegiances, both Ayatollahs and Shahs, take pride of the antique accomplishments of Cyrus the Great and Xerxes. After all , and in line with this nostalgia , Mohamed Reza Pahlavi celebrated in 1971 the 2500 birthday of the Persian empire at ancient Persepolis , with a great deal of extravaganza , and not in the capital , Teheran just to underline the extensive history of his homeland.
Saudis who obviously are adamant to deter by all means the Iranian ambitions surprised everybody when they readily used military force to overcome the problem they have with the Iran backed Houthis in Yemen. A somehow unexpected and unusual trend for the Saudis who traditionally try to solve their problems the cash way, while leaving the nasty jobs for the rest of the people. Among the deluge of reports concerning this conflict per se stands out a single string of information mentioning the presence of Iranian ballistic missiles in Yemen. The presence of these missiles somehow justifies the Saudi rage and the pre-emptive retaliation to this threat. This eventually explains why the US helped so much in terms of target identification , and the data that was generously delivered to the Saudi air force despite the parallel talks the US is having with the Iranian about their nuclear program . If helping the Houthis in controlling Yemen is one thing, targeting the Saudi oil fields and the water passageways is a different problem and of a more dangerous magnitude. Speculating that this is only a tactical move by the Iranians to provoke the Saudis in order to create a conflict in the area that would normally lift the price of oil and subsequently fill up their empty cash registers would be a smart guess.
In the same line of thought, but time ago Yemen was used as a mail box for an older feud between Nasser and the Saudis over the control of the Arab world. A swamp called Yemen that phagocytized most of the Egyptian troops, and left Nasser as an easy prey for the Israelis in the June war of 1967.
Knowing that over a third of the world’s petroleum traded by sea passes through the region , this blend of primal religious hatred, economical interests and thirst for control could be about to explode.
Coming back to the more recent causes of the present conflict comes in the famous Arab spring, whose name is inspired from the originator: Prague’s spring. However, contemporary story tellers forget that this same poetic denomination ended with the crush of the Czech resistance under the Soviet tanks . As in everything, it always is a matter of perspective: For some, the Arab spring worked , for others it did not, with of course the hues and nuances that come with such an assessment . Gadhafi’s removal turned Libya into a gross country. Maybe Tunisia got the best outcome so far. Egyptians went through this process as well, threw away Mobarak, then hastily replaced him with a supposedly secular and more open Mursi, provided he intends to remain as such. Bashar Assad when inaugurated , promised reforms and liberties, some of which were done in order to provide the necessary cosmetics for popularity, then turned in a gif into a fiercer and shrewder dictator than his father and is systematically destroying his country and people. Again Alawites against Sunnis, notwithstanding the crucial alliance with Iran who is willing to impose its control over this region, and intends to fight to the last Syrian and Lebanese .
Nonetheless the juicy leitmotiv , that is , waving war against Israel , a motto that still inflames Arab crowds is invoked by all parties the same . The question remains if this is going to last long and for how long. Nasser himself said on one occasion, obviously with a hefty load of sarcasm, that “Fighting Zionism is the nail Arabs use to hang their unity over”. Mostly probably the Iranian leadership adopted this nail and is using it on and on.
If assessing is easier than crystal ball speculating , mostly in a region where parameters are numerous and constantly reshaping, it still remains a difficult task. Yet, it is not a secret anymore that many Arabs, Sunnis of course, are seriously pondering if the peril of Iran outweighs that of Israel. Dealing with Satan to evade the curse of Beelzebub isn’t any more an impossible option. If it will openly materialize or not still is at this stage pure assumption, yet an interesting one . Years of conflict with Israel have become a tradition and are a factor of popularity too resistant to fade away easily. As a matter of fact crowds are unpredictable, yet they can easily be manipulated by the fourth estate that is, the media.
As for the Israeli stand over what is happening around their borders , besides clapping and cheering over the collapse of Syria and an almost oblivious and slowly diminishing Arab animosity , Israel is strongly worried by the hundreds of missiles aimed at its territory by the Hezbollah . If these missiles will never be able to destroy Israel, they could strongly shake it and defeat it politically. That said, any attack of the kind would eventually bring Lebanon back to the Stone Age as recurrently claimed by the Israeli military, but this is another story.
The government of Jerusalem is not particularly worried about ISIS and all the hullaballoo around it. They are focused on Iran and its proxies, nothing else. They don’t really fear the Iranian nuclear program despite their public allegations. They clearly can see the dedication of President Obama about it and his obsession with the legacy he wishes to leave when done with his office, that is a deal to stop the Iranian nuclear program . Moreover and deep down inside the Israelis estimate that despite the risk that Iran could be considered as a rogue state, blowing up Israel with a nuclear device would result in more Palestinian kills than Jews and would result in an annihilation of Iran with a few of the many nuclear bombs the Jewish state secretly holds in its arsenal. Long time considered as a carefully hidden secret and in the hands of a small elite, the truth was blatantly revealed lately: The US Department of Defense released a secret report done in 1987 by the Pentagon-funded Institute for Defense Analysis that essentially confirms the existence of Israel’s nukes in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by Grant Smith, an investigative reporter and author. As much as the Mullahs could undergo daring actions, they always have had the capacity to determine what is right or wrong for their country and people and accordingly know that in a worst case scenario, the Israelis do have the capacity of first strike on Iran.
All of the above places both Saudis and Arabs in general in the same trench with the Israelis with a single idea on their mind: how to ward off the same threat, that is, Iran. If such an alliance is too obscene to be declared at this point in time, the facts on the ground are revolving around it.
History is rich with broken alliances in favor of new ones. Former enemies can easily become today’s friends in order to fight new foes. This is the foundation of politics and a rule of strategy. George Orwell has well illustrated it through the main character of his 1984, Winston Smith, who spent his days re-writing history in function of new alliances being shaped and reshaped .
As cynical as could be, many indicators point this way. Time will tell.