Destabilisation and failed states

In the aftermath of the horrific terrorist attacks of June 26 in Sousse, Lyon and Kuwait, David Cameron said: “We must be more intolerant of intolerance.” He called for a rejection of “anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative”. This was in line with comments made a week earlier when he condemned those British Muslims who he said “quietly condoned” the actions of groups like Islamic State.

Sections of the left, including Socialist Worker, have responded by attacking the government’s Islamophobia:

The Tories are certainly off the leash – as prime minister David Cameron’s Muslim-bashing speech to a security conference in Slovakia last week demonstrated. Heralding a new battery of repressive measures contained in the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, Cameron pointed the finger at Britain’s Muslims.[1]

Both Cameron and the SWP are wrong. IS’s terrorism has little to do with Islam and it is a mistake to accept the premise of the prime minister’s arguments. These terrible events have everything to do with politics and wars in the Middle East. While we should condemn the death of 30 innocent tourists in Sousse, we should not forget that they are the latest victims of bloody wars in Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, and new wars in Kuwait and Tunisia.

Kuwait is now saying it is engulfed in a major battle against Islamist fundamentalists and there are unconfirmed reports that Turkey is planning to invade Syria:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has authorised a change in the rules of engagement agreed by the Turkish parliament to allow the army to strike at Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), as well as the Assad regime, according to local newspapers. The aim is to establish a buffer zone for refugees and against Isil, but Mr Erdoğan has also suggested that the main target of the intervention, if it goes ahead, will be to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state on Turkey’s doorstep.[2]

For far too long, western governments have ignored these conflicts and the death and destruction they have caused; the only time we see any concern is when the victims of these atrocities are western visitors or tourists. As Robert Fisk wrote on June 28,

It’s ‘us’ and ‘them’ again. It started just after news of the three Islamist attacks broke. David Cameron initially talked about the French and Tunisian killings. He left out the Kuwaiti mosque massacre – only picking up on it later.[3]

Proxy war

Confrontation between IS or Al Nusra, both offshoots of al Qa’eda, with the Syrian dictator, Assad, and the Shia government in Iraq, the bombing of Shia mosques in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia – these have little to do with Islam. The tens of thousands of civilians killed in these Middle East wars in the last few years have been mainly Muslims, irrespective of whether they are Shia, Sunni, Druze, Alavi, Houthi, Kurds, Arabs or Afghans.

The language of a Shia-Sunni conflict may be used, but that is only a diversion. What is happening in the Middle East is part of a proxy war between two regional powers: Iran and Saudi Arabia. No amount of preaching and deceiving by Cameron, Hollande and other ‘world leaders’, calls for sending in British troops or for other types of intervention can solve the problem. The colonial policies of ‘divide and rule’, plus historic and recent military interventions, including the invasion of Iraq in 2003, collectively constitute the cause of the problem.

Someone should tell Cameron that there is no point threatening Muslims in the UK. They did not create al Qa’eda: Saudi Arabia did. No-one is excusing IS, but the reality remains that, in order to defeat it, we have to deal with the root causes of this phenomenon. It was those imperialist allies, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, who have supported and financed jihadist groups and continue to turn a blind eye to IS financial transactions in bank accounts held in such states. In addition Saudi Arabia and Turkey are currently arming and funding Al Nusra (another offshoot of al Qa’eda) in the hope of toppling the Assad regime. We know from the experience of the last few years that some of these arms end up in the hands of IS fighters – and no-one should have any illusions about Al Nusra: a vicious Wahabi jihadi group.

The British prime minister wants to cover up the fact that the United States and its allies are culpable in the creation of IS, not only by creating the conditions for its existence, but by failing to curtail the Saudi princes and other financial backers in the Emirates or Persian Gulf states.

The United States, France, the United Kingdom and other western countries do not want to draw attention to the fact that the failed states they have helped create in the region – Iraq, Syria, Libya – are the breeding ground for the jihadists. The Tunisian gunman who mowed down the British tourists was trained in Libya, where regime change from above went disastrously wrong, but let us not talk about whose bombs paved the way for jihadists taking over most of the country. In the rest of the Middle East dictators supported by the west for decades have, imprisoned, exiled and killed all liberal, secular and leftwing opposition. Cameron wants us to forget that the Islamic groups the US and Britain supported as opponents of communism have become monsters they cannot control. The Iraq war of 2003 in particular created the conditions for unprecedented regional influence for Iran’s Islamic republic, helping to ferment the Saudi phobia about this growing power. The Saudi princes are fearful of a much larger, more populated neighbour and it is precisely this fear that has paved the way for their unlimited support for Jihadi groups.

Robert Fisk, who is researching the history of the current conflicts, going back to the 1980s and 90s, says:

I’ve uncovered a world of almost inexpressible anger – yes, and talk of revenge – despite the Arab dictators who worked for us at the time and tried to smother this frustration, even when Iraqis were dying by the thousandfold. No, it didn’t create the Islamists who kill us today. But it helped lay the foundation for their cults of death – and for the world they grew up in. We had a hand in that. Cliché, of course. But it all goes back to justice.[4]


The current situation in the Middle East is a mess, but to complicate matters this week’s negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran might lead to an even more volatile situation. A landmark agreement is in the pipeline , one that that can ‘change dramatically the political map in the Middle East’ – or at least that is what the two main allies of the United States in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, fear. If a deal is signed, Iran, a country with 80 million inhabitants and relatively advanced levels of industrial development, will no longer be considered a rogue state. If efforts to derail the current nuclear negotiations do not work, we will see renewed Saudi and Turkish efforts to overthrow Assad, as well as Israeli plans to start a confrontation with Hezbollah, as part of their plans to weaken Iran’s Islamic republic.

Two years after the talks began, the prospect of success is far from clear, even once a deal is signed. In addition both Iran and the United States are adamant that it will only relate to the nuclear issue and the two countries do not intend to become allies. However, for both Saudi Arabia and Israel the prospects of an Iran free from sanctions remains a nightmare. That is why we can expect that forces connected to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states will intensify attacks against Shia mosques, Kurds, Druze and Shia /Alavi cities, in order to ‘encourage’ an Iranian military response. There will be those in Tehran who would welcome such an opportunity. The Iranian regime has survived because of crises, and the likely end of the stand-off over nuclear weapons is already creating fears amongst the Revolutionary Guards and conservative factions of the regime that their survival might be in danger if sanctions and the threat of foreign intervention are lifted for good .

This week it became clear that nuclear talks would be extended beyond the end of June deadline. Two days before, the Iranian foreign minister returned from Vienna to Iran for consultations – clearly the Iranian team did not believe the Austrian authorities’ reassurances that their hotels were free of computer bugs. On his return, the deadline was extended by seven days, yet a number of thorny issue remained unresolved.

According to the Geneva deal, Fordow, Iran’s fortified enrichment facility, will not be destroyed, but it will be decommissioned. The heavy water reactor at Arak will have its core removed, so that it will no longer produce such large quantities of plutonium as a by-product of its operations.

The P5+1 insist sanctions will be lifted gradually if and when the decommissioning takes place, while Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, wants them to be removed immediately. The question of how and when sanctions will be lifted remains unresolved. There are obvious reasons for these red lines. Everyone knows that the punitive sanctions imposed against Iran were part of ‘regime change’ and had little to do with the country’s nuclear programme.

In these last days and hours of the negotiations Iranian hardliners and Khamenei have made clear what the country’s other ‘red lines’ are: no inspections of military bases, no interviews with Iranian nuclear scientists. The inspection of military bases is potentially a more serious threat than sanctions, having nothing to do with the non-proliferation treaty. It represents an insult to Iran and can only have one purpose: the identification of military bases with a view to aerial bombing at a future date. This would have only one aim: regime change from above. The majority of the Iranian people want to see the back of the current regime, but they have seen the consequences of regime change from above in Iraq and Libya. They have seen how the failed state in Syria has paved the way for civil war and atrocities committed by jihadists. Contrary to the wishes of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the plethora of Iranian ‘regime change’ opposition groups, all such efforts only lead to the consolidation of the Islamic republic, convincing the Iranian people to settle for the bad for fear of something worse.

In the recent negotiations, France consistently represented the views of Saudi Arabia and Israel, so it was no surprise that at the start of the latest round of negotiations French foreign minister Laurent Fabius was intransigent in his insistence that Iran agrees to limit its research and development capacity and accepts rigorous inspections of various sites, including military sites, with the threat of an automatic return to sanctions if Iran fails to comply.

What the minister failed to mention is that last week France discussed aeronautical and nuclear (!) projects worth billions of euros with Saudi Arabia. Recent deals with the kingdom, and earlier in the year with Qatar, have been very positive for France’s balance of payment, so its lack of enthusiasm for a deal with Iran is not surprising.

A week is a long time in politics and even longer in Middle Eastern politics. The Iran nuclear negotiations might fail, paving the way for further sanctions and US military intervention. However, the threat of war and the current conflicts will persist even if the talks succeed. Saudi Arabia, the countries of the Persian Gulf, Turkey and Israel are in an unofficial alliance to make sure conflict continues in the region, with the aim of weakening Iran’s regional dominance. The consequence will be more atrocities and massacres committed by Islamic State and other Jihadi groups.

Yassamine Mather






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