America as a proxy

BRIMMING conflicts in the Middle East are often orchestrated from afar, using proxies, the least risky method to fight and win a war.

By Ramzy Baroud

Published: Wed 11 Apr 2007, 8:32 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:06 AM

Despite its geopolitical fragmentation, the Middle East is loosely united insofar as any major event in one of its various polities can effortlessly be felt throughout the region.

Thus, it’s also no wonder that Lebanon, for example, served as a hub for the invariable interests of neighbouring countries; the outcome of any Lebanese clash, be it political as today’s, external or internal wars, would directly affect the image and the political positioning of this country or that. It was not just Israel and the United States that laboured to penetrate and further fragment Lebanese society, but the intelligence of various Arab countries, Iran, etc. Lebanon has been a stage for the most intense proxy wars for decades.

Palestinians have often been used, and in some cases have posed themselves to play the role of the proxy force. The intent, in some cases, was personal interests. In others, the lack of physical platform that would have allowed them to organise. In the two most notable experiences in which they tried to exert control over their host domains, the cases of Jordan and Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s, the cost was so horrendous and lead to unprecedented bloodshed. After Arafat’s forced exit from Beirut in 1982, Palestinians were forced once again to exchange the physical space they obtained, with overt allegiance to various regimes. Arafat mastered the art like no other Palestinian leader.

The supporters of the Oslo Accords argued that the agreement’s key success was freeing the Palestinian political will from pandering to their host countries for survival, which proved untrue. A Hamas leader in Syria told me, off the record, during a telephone interview recently: “We have no doubt that Damascus would dump us the moment we are of no use, but we have no other option but to play along.”

Proxy politics is strategically significant for it helps take the battle to someone else’s physical space, create distractions and circumvent internal crises. Both Israel and Iran, despite the colossal chasm that separate their political and military intents are currently involved in such a manoeuvre.

President Ahmadinejad, backed by or directed by the instrumental forces in his country – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Supreme National Security Council – is well acquainted with the fact that if Iraq is subdued by US forces, it will be Iran’s turn to bear the brunt of the United States’ obtrusive imperial designs, cheered on, if not largely facilitated by Israel’s neoconservative allies in Washington. Accordingly, Iran is fully involved in trying to shape a political milieu in Iraq that will keep the Americans at bay. This is not to suggest that it was Iran, as opposed to the unwarranted American invasion that engender the chaos in Iraq; however, Iran, like other Middle Eastern countries involved in Iraq, wishes to manage and manipulate the outcome to suit its own interests. From Iran’s point of view, this action makes perfect sense.

While Iran’s prime objective is to discourage an American military assault against it, Israel seeks regional hegemony, where it is left with ‘moderate’ neighbours. According to this vision, conceived and promoted publicly by Israeli leaders and their friends in Washington and emphasised to the point of boredom by every relevant US official at every possible opportunity, the Iranian ‘threat’ must be eradicated at any cost. Israel’s fears of Iran are not nuclear in essence. What worries Israel is that Iran is militarily strong, politically cohesive and economically viable, enough to allow Iran the opportunity to challenge Israel at every turn. The Israelis, as their country’s history illustrates, simply despise such contenders. Israel’s attempt to disseminate Jamal Abdul Nasser’s national regime in 1956, only eight years after the establishment of the Israeli state is a poignant example.

Yet a paradigm shift has occurred since the US invasion of Iraq four years ago. While the US was the major power that often orchestrated proxy wars through its clandestine tactics, as it did in Central America and various parts of Asia, Israel is now adopting a similar scheme. In most instances in the past, Israel managed to sway US administrations to behave according to the misleading mantra: ‘what’s good for Israel is good for America’. But a clash of interests here is unavoidable; while Israel’s heart is set on a war against Iran, it is becoming elementary knowledge that a war against Iran would bode irrevocable disasters for the United States. Prolonged political hostility with Iran is equally dangerous, for it will further complicate the American task in Iraq.

But Israel is still cheering for war. Former director of the Mossad, Uzi Arad, tells the British Guardian that “a military strike may be easier than you think.” He outlines what targets to be bombed, not just nuclear, but security and economic centres. “Iran is much more vulnerable than people realise,” he states casually. Arad, like most Israeli officials, want war, even if such a war would complicate America’s regional involvement and cost it irreplaceable human lives, notwithstanding the prospected large number of dead Iranians. It would matter little to Israel, however, for a chaotic Iran, like a chaotic Iraq, is just another opportunity to be exploited, and another ‘threat’ to be checked off on Israel’s security list.

Indeed, proxy relationships are part and parcel of the Middle East political posture, and even arrogant superpowers can themselves be exploited, wittingly or not.

Ramzy Baroud is an author and a journalist. His latest volume: The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London) is available from Amazon and other book venues.

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