No one could be blamed for being confused about what’s happening in the Middle East these days. The affairs of the Middle East are as complex today as they ever have been. On the one hand we see Sunni Muslims fighting Shiite Muslims and on the other we see both Sunnis and Shiites wanting to get at Israel. And now, so it seems, we see Israel playing one side off against the other in a civil war in Syria while at the same time preparing to take on both.
The problem as far as Israel is concerned is that the lands that the Zionists want to occupy in order to realise their ultimate endgame of creating a Greater Israel are currently occupied by both Sunni Arabs (in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) and Shiite Arabs (in south Lebanon).
In order to understand what’s going on it may help if we analogise the situation by comparing what for many is the mysterious world of Islam with the more familiar, for Westerners, Christian world.
In the Western world we have Christianity consisting essentially of two main groupings; Catholic and Protestants. Within those two main groups there are several sub groups or sects each having varying degrees of belief intensity and commitment to belief. Occasionally these various groups, for various reasons, end up fighting each other. In recent times the troubles in Ireland are a classic example of Catholics and Protestants fighting each other but it’s nothing new – indeed, Catholics and Protestants in Europe have been fighting each other for nearly five hundred years. Yet, despite their seemingly insurmountable differences, when their shared homelands are threatened by another country, even when that other country is also populated by peoples of both religions, they forget their differences and come together to defend their homelands or fight for their country’s cause. The two world wars in Europe in the twentieth century are examples of this when Catholics and Protestant together on both side fought each other for their respective nation’s causes.
The differences the Sunnis and the Shiites have between each other have been around ever since the two went their separate ways following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 when the two groups polarised over who would succeed with the religions authority. Over the centuries geography and circumstances in history has seen the Sunni movement become the dominant group with almost 90% of the world’s Muslims being Sunni.
Just like all religions, both sects of Islam have within their ranks those that strictly adhere to their own often fundamental interpretations of their respective religions which occasionally even contradict or at least conflict with the mainstream of their beliefs. The fundamentalist interpretations of the Holy Koran by some adherents, coupled with the geo-political circumstances in various regions where Islam has come into conflict with the West, has led to a polarisation of Islamic political forces as modern secular Muslims clash with traditional more pious adherents.
These differences have allowed the West to exploit Islam’s sectarian conflicts in order pursue the West’s own interests. The West – by which I mean, in this case, Israel, the US and their allies – does this by manipulating the geo-political situation of the day to its best advantage. Rather than simply using brute force alone in order to attain their goals, the West, restricted by international norms of behaviour which the West purport others should stand by, use other influences to produce outcomes favourable to them. They supply finance and arms to selected nations and non-state players as the circumstances of the day might dictate – circumstances which might literally change overnight depending on which way the regional political winds are blowing at the time.
In order to analyse and understand what is happening today in the Middle East, one needs to be aware of what the endgame is for the players.
For Israel the endgame is simple; to realise their dream of creating a Greater Israel that consists of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and south Lebanon up to the Litani River and be surrounded by Arab countries that are pro-Western with non-theocratic secular governments willing, at least, to accept the fait accompli of the existence of the Israeli state.
On the other side of the coin are the Arab peoples who live next door to, and side by side with, Israel, many of whom the Israelis wish to displace in order to realise a Greater Israel. It is this that is at the heart of the conflict in the Middle East.
Israel’s birth in 1948 came at the expense of the Palestinian people that had lived there for centuries alongside Palestinian Jews. The influx of Jewish people, mostly from Europe after the Second World War, then forced the Palestinian Arabs to flee as the Zionists used violence to occupy what they believed are their God-given lands. Many Palestinian Arabs fled before the advancing Israelis while others were pushed out once the Israelis arrived. Those that resisted were either killed in battle or in some cases murdered after capture during a horrific period of ethnic cleansing. Many Palestinians sought refuge in neighbouring Arab countries including Lebanon, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, and Syria as well as throughout the world.
Between 1948 and today Israel has continued to embrace an expansionist policy aimed at ultimately creating a Greater Israel. Having provoked the 1967 war, the Israelis were able to occupy the Golan Heights, which they later annexed to Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Resistance to occupation in the Gaza Strip eventually led to Israeli withdrawal in September 2005 which resulted in more Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Israeli Zionists are now seeking an opportunity to re-occupy the Gaza Strip with a view to ultimately expelling the Arabs, mostly refugees and their descendents, that live there and annexing it to Israel. Hamas, a Sunni dominated organisation, currently govern the Gaza Strip and are resisting Israeli provocation and attempts to ghettoise and blockade the enclave.
Meanwhile, to the north of Israel is Lebanon. Close to the border with Israel in Lebanon is the Litani River whose waters the Israelis have had their eye on for decades. As a result, the Israelis have attempted on several occasions to find reasons to invade south Lebanon with a view to eventually annexing to Israel. Resisting Israeli advances on south Lebanon are Hezbollah. Hezbollah are a predominately Shiite Muslim organisation. They rely on other Shiite nations for support; hence their close ties with Iran and the Syrian government, both of which are also predominately Shiite. (Syrian President Bashir al-Assad belongs to the Alawite sect of Islam which is a branch of the Shiite group though some 74% of Syria's population is Sunni but mostly secular.)
While the Shiites are the minority Islamic grouping on the planet, they are potentially, at least at this moment of time, the most threatening to the Israelis. Hezbollah are extremely well organised, are a force, as Israel has already discovered, to be reckoned with, and have much influence in Lebanese politics. Iran, their main benefactors, is able to arm and equip Hezbollah with all that they need to give Israel a hard time. However, these supplies from Iran can only get to Hezbollah via a Syria controlled by al-Assad, hence Israel’s – and the US’s – determination to oust al-Assad.
Meanwhile, hardline Sunni Muslims are finding their power also growing. Radicalised by more than a decade of war against America in various theatres mainly in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, young Sunni Muslims from all over the world are flocking to various causes wherever there is a fight on against the West. At the moment that fight is centred mainly in Syria (though there are plenty of other smaller wars going on elsewhere that foreign Islamic fighters are attracted to). This pan-Islamic jihad is driven mainly by the ideology of Shia thought and dreams of a theocratic government bound by Sharia law as an alternative to Western-style democracy and secular corruption. They see Israel as being a part of that corruption particularly as Israel is persecuting their Palestinian Sunni brothers. The upshot is; that both Shiites and Sunnis are Israel’s enemies but, of the two, the Shiite organisations are the more pressing to deal with.
What Israel is pressing for now is to provoke a confrontation that will involve Israel, the US and their allies taking on all of their enemies in one final all-out war. Certainly, the combined forces of Israel, the US and their allies have the wherewithal in terms of military power to take on Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran between them but the big questions are; how would such a confrontation be instigated and would it be supported by public opinion? However, the really big question is; how will Israel’s enemies react?
Israel cannot be certain what weapons Hezbollah actually has and, if Israel attacks, Hezbollah will almost certainly retaliate. Israel knows this and would therefore initiate their attack with a massive all-out pre-emptive strike against all of Hezbollah’s known weapon and communication centres and as many of its other institutions as possible. Likewise, Israel will launch a similar strike against Hamas. In both instances Israel will likely follow up with a full-on invasion of both the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon, possibly with US support, especially in Lebanon. The West Bank will likely also be fully occupied and the Palestine Authority’s governance suspended.
While Israel is busy dealing with its neighbours, the US will be taking on Iran with a devastating attack aimed at regime change by capitulation. Iran is far too big to invade and occupy and the US will rely on fire power alone to bring Iran to its knees and demand a government be installed that the US will approve of under threat of further devastation.
How will all this be initiated?
There are a whole range of scenarios that are possible. Much will depend on how the civil war in Syria progresses. If it looks, as indeed it does, that al-Assad is getting the upper hand against the rebels and the jihadists, then the US may decide to intervene, thus provoking Iran into some sort of response which, in turn, might trigger a direct retaliation by the US. The US already has its weaponry in place in the Gulf to take on Iran. Israel too might consider more strikes at Syria in order to further provoke Syria, Iran and Hezbollah – especially if they launch such attacks against Syria by over-flying Lebanese airspace.
What happens next is anybody’s guess, but one thing if for sure; whatever happens you can be quite sure that Israel will take full advantage of it to advance their agenda for a final confrontation against all of their enemies. And, despite President Obama seemingly being reluctant to go in to battle for Israel at the moment, you can be sure that when push comes to shove and the war is on, the US will be there doing Israel’s bidding.
The future for the Middle East does not look good – no matter what way one looks at it.