Let the trumpets blow, and smiles all round, for the Obama administration is kickstarting the moribund Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’, assisted by the wisdom and foresight of the Quartet’s illustrious ‘peace envoy’, the Right Reverend Tony Blair.
It would be something of an understatement to observe that these developments are not taking place at a particularly propitious or auspicious period. For there has rarely been a period in the history of the Middle East when peace has seemed so remote. In Syria, there is no end in sight to a civil war that has killed close to 100,000, despite recent government military successes – and which is threatening to destabilize Lebanon and Iraq
In Iraq more than 2,800 people have been killed since April, in the latest phase of the emerging sectarian war that followed the Bush-Blair invasion, whose death toll is now beginning to approach the darkest days of the Anglo-American occupation. For viciousness and cruelty, this latest bout of violence takes some beating. Targets have included police and members of the security forces, and also ‘soft’ or ‘social’ targets, such as soccer players and spectators, customers in cafes, and children swimming in the Tigris river.
In Libya a soldier was killed and the office of an Islamist Al Watan (Nation) party attacked in Tripoli yesterday in the latest outbreak of seemingly endemic violence that has gripped the country since the 2011 Western-backed civil war that brought down Gaddafi.
In Egypt the military’s ‘soft’ coup is become progressively ‘Algerianised’, following last weekend’s merciless killing of 72 Muslim Brotherhood supporters – a development that is now ominously being presented by the army as a ‘war on terror.‘ Now in Tunisia, eight soldiers have been killed in an ambush by unnamed assailant, following the country’s first ever car bomb attack last week, against a background of sharp tensions between the ruling Ennahda movement and the secular opposition.
These developments clearly have their own local and specific causes and internal dynamics, but they are also involve more general characteristics; the emerging Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict that is spreading from the Middle East into Pakistan; tensions between Islamist political forces and secularists; the inability of Islamist governments to address the socio-economic demands and problems that generated the Arab Spring; the attempts by the Gulf States to isolate and neutralize the geostrategic gains made by Iran.
It would be crude reductionism to suggest that all this is due to American or Western influence, but Western governments have played an utterly negative, self-interested, cynical and destructive role in the region that has done nothing to make things better and more often has made things worse. It invaded Iraq and effectively destroyed Iraqi society on the basis of fabricated intelligence. It then went onto bring down its former ally Gaddafi, supposedly in order to ‘prevent a massacre’ – with scant regard for the extremist Islamist politics of its Libyan allies or any consideration of what might follow Gaddafi’s overthrow.
In Syria the West – together with the Gulf plutocracies – has done everything possible to fuel the civil war and promote an armed opposition that is riddled with Salafist extremists, in the hope of bringing down the Assad regime and moving on to the big war with Iran.
In Libya and Syria, Western governments have been de facto or actual allies of jihadists who have carried out horrific acts of violence against civilians. Yet it has now declared Hezbollah a ‘terrorist organization’, regardless of the possibility that such a designation might contribute still further to the destabilisation of Lebanon.
In Egypt, the West first supported Mubarak and the army, then it supported the Muslim Brotherhood and now it is effectively supporting the army in its crackdown on the Brotherhood, despite its tepid calls for ‘restraint.’ Since 2007 the West has given its unqualified support to Israel’s ruthless quarantine of the Gaza Strip and two brutal military assaults, in its attempt to destroy the elected Hamas government and promote the puppet Palestinian Authority government instead.
Now the governments that have done so much to contribute to the chaos and violence that is now ripping the Middle East apart want to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once again, or at least begin a peace ‘ process.’
And I can’t help thinking that it just won’t work, and I suspect that Obama and most of those who are getting involved in this latest piece of geopolitical theatre know it too, but like good actors, must play their parts and go through the motions nevertheless, and talk of peace in a region that is careering with alarming speed towards war.