This was intended to be a brief guide to the current maelstrom in the Middle East. Instead, it just kept getting longer and longer, and because it's a fluid situation with important developments almost every day, I finally realized that if I didn't stop, it could go on indefinitely. I originally intended to include maps, lots of maps, because geopolitics just can't be understood without them. But they would have made this post even bigger than it already is.
If I couldn't keep it short, at least I tried to make it as comprehensible as possible. I'm too close to it to judge. Those who manage to read the whole thing, please let me know if you found it clear. My purpose in writing it was to provide you with a general background, so that any new information you learn would make sense, and that you would realize the stakes involved. I tried to say things that most analysts won't, but that are vital to understanding who the main actors are, what they're doing, and why. Still, I hope this post can start a discussion that will allow us to explore some important issues that I was forced to skim over or leave out altogether.
Decoding the "Middle East"
It's impossible to understand what's happening in the Middle East without reference to the region's global context.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US became the world's sole superpower, a position it has been trying to maintain, with increasing desperation, since then. The biggest threat to that status is the rise of Russia and China as economic, military and political superpowers with growing global influence, and especially the strategic partnership between them. The Russia-China alliance is forming an alternative economic/military/political pole to that dominated by the US. In fact, many of the states that were previously under US hegemony are asserting their independence by joining much more pragmatic and mutually beneficial alliances with Russia and China, and in turn attracting more. This is unacceptable, and endangers not only the US' global empire, but its economic survival.
Over the past four decades of corruption and tinkering, the US economy has been skewed so that its viability is a function of the US’ continued role as global hegemon in a uni-polar world. The change to a multi-polar system is nothing short of catastrophic for the US.
The US' urgent priority right now is to mobilize all its power and resources and focus on weakening and shackling Russia and China. In order to do this, it must be able to reduce or even end its direct presence in the Middle East as quickly as possible, and turn its full attention to new battlegrounds in Europe and Asia. But first, the resource-rich and strategically vital region of the Middle East and Africa must be locked down under US control, via one or more regional proxies. Certain well-funded think-tanks have drawn up plans for how to exert total control over entire regions. Although there are minor differences between them, all concur on the need to rely on what I call capos (in mafia terms), or regional directors (in corporate terms), or what Zbigniew Brzezinski called “geopolitical pivots” in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, in which he says, “Ukraine, Azerbaijan, South Korea, Turkey and Iran play the role of critically important geopolitical pivots.”
For the region comprising the Arab states and nearby non-Arab states, there were actually three plans: the first was the fantasy of a stable, prosperous, neo-liberal and pro-American Middle East that would be inaugurated by the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. This was mainly for Western media consumption, to garner Western public support, and we can disregard it here.
The second was a ruse to encourage Saudi participation, and the third was the real plan. The plan sold to the Saudis would leave most Arab states intact, except for Iran and its allies in the region; most importantly, the Saudi regime was to be immune from the coming cataclysm, its stability and integrity guaranteed, as well as Saudi Arabia’s continued influence and power in the region.
Saudi involvement in the plan was further reinforced by using a carrot-and-stick approach: the carrot was the hoped-for destruction of the current Iranian regime, which Saudi Arabia fears as the greatest menace to its existence. The stick was the very real threat that, should the Saudis not play along, the US would simply remove the Saudi regime and replace it with a more amenable one. This threat has been explicit since 1975, and is sometimes called the Kissinger Plan after the most famous version, though there are a few others.
The third, and genuine, plan was different. States with Sunni Muslim majorities – including eventually Saudi Arabia itself, as well as all its regional allies – would be swept by a wave of CIA-backed "pro-democracy revolutions" that would bring the Muslim Brotherhood (under multiple names and guises) to power across North Africa, in the Levant and the Arabian peninsula, and then into Sub-Saharan Africa, all of whom would owe their allegiance to a Turkish Ottoman "caliphate" miraculously brought back to life as a puppet of the US.
The tiny, weak and totally US- and Israeli-dominated statelet of Qatar, not Saudi Arabia, was to be the only Arab partner in the plan (and a very junior partner, at that), for a simple reason: the plan’s objective is to spread chaos and divisions throughout the region, leaving no Arab state intact worthy of the name. Saudi Arabia, despite its long history of service to the US Empire, and the dependence of its regime on US patronage, is still too large, stable, powerful and prosperous to be allowed to survive. Saudi Arabia and Iraq alone contain nearly one-third of the world’s proven oil reserves; given the Asian and European dependence on oil imports, that’s too much potential power to be left in Arab hands.
Since around 90% of Arabs are Muslim, much of the plan’s success depends on fragmenting the population along sectarian lines, between “Sunnis” and “Shi’ites”, and then into smaller and smaller “Sunni” factions, something that Brzezinski’s geopolitical pivots Turkey and Iran, as respectively “Sunni” and “Shi’ite” non-Arab states with their own expansionist ambitions in the region, are very well qualified and willing to do. They also stand to benefit from the eradication of Arab nationalism and identity, in which Turkey and Iran are foreigners, and their replacement with sectarian loyalties which they can manipulate and exploit for their own imperial agendas. Once this process is put in motion, other religious and ethnic minorities will be provoked into forming their own militias, which will also be armed and backed by the US, directly or indirectly. The US will continue to sponsor smaller and smaller splinter groups, each armed to the teeth and fighting with the others.
The Lebanese sectarian civil war in the 1970s and 80s, which was largely a proxy war for regional and global powers, was a prototype, but Iraq, after the US invasion and occupation in 2003, which spread violent chaos and enforced sectarian/ethnic divisions, was the crucible from which the final version of the plan was launched and represented its first important success.
Parenthetically, the plan was also foreshadowed in 1980, when CIA asset Saddam Hussein launched a devastating eight-year war of attrition against Iran, armed by the US and financially backed by the oil-rich Gulf states (to the tune of $200 billion spent by Saudi Arabia alone), while Israel covertly armed Iran, reaping enormous profits. This incredibly wasteful and destructive war, but on a much wider scale, provides another model for the plan being currently implemented throughout the Middle East.
The US-directed chaos would fulfill the US’ need to keep Russia and China out of the Middle East and Africa. The map would be re-drawn to fragment existing states to the extent that no Arab or African state could ever achieve genuine sovereignty or control over its own resources. This would pave the way for Israel to vastly expand its own territory and take over the strategic pipelines that transport fuel and raw materials to Europe and Asia. Israel would control the spigot.
The key words are chaos and violence, a churning, bloody mess that will permanently destroy all the existing nation-states in the Arab world, and eventually the Middle East...and give birth to an Israeli Empire. This is what the Neocons mean by “creative destruction”, aka "constructive chaos". This is the Plan.
Turkey and Iran
The Plan has also inflamed the feverish ambitions of certain elites in Turkey. Istanbul aspires to become the seat of a new and extremely prosperous "Sunni" Ottoman Empire, rebuilt upon the ruins of the Arab countries and extending into Africa. Turkish President Rageb Tayip Erdogan, who is in the process of transforming the Turkish democracy into a police state, has just completed a massive imperial palace that includes more than 1000 rooms and cost around half a billion dollars, while the Turkish economy continues to spiral down and its national debt continues to spiral up. Erdogan is making every effort to ensure that his party achieves a sweeping victory in the parliamentary elections next June, and that it controls at least 400 seats. This would exceed the three-fifths majority that would allow him to push through the constitutional amendments needed to transform Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, as a first step towards the revival of the Turkish “Sunni Islamic Caliphate”. Although there are signs that Erdogan himself may be on his way out, regardless of whether Erdogan or someone else gets to be the new “caliph”, Turkey is preparing to reap its reward for faithfully serving the US’ global imperialist agenda and for playing its part as Israel’s closest military and economic partner in the region.
Meanwhile, under the Plan, Iran and its allies in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen would provide useful "Shi'a" targets for the fanatic "Sunni" militias, who would attack and provoke retaliation, thus sparking the desired “Sunni-Shi’a” sectarian warfare. Iran has long indicated that it understands and accepts those terms, confident in its ability to exploit the situation to serve its own expansionist ambitions at the expense of the Arabs.
In most of the Western Left and “alternative” media, even when the Plan is recognized and acknowledged, Iran is portrayed exclusively as its victim and target. This is very misleading. True, Iran was to be softened up internally, by the CIA-run “Green Revolution” and other subversive tactics, and externally by the harsh sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, but this has served to further entrench its sectarian siege mentality and provoked it into expanding its religious, political and military influence among Shi’ites in the Arab countries, a process in the intermediate term which was necessary for the plan to succeed. Iran is indeed marked for destruction – in the long term – but the Iranians are masters at chess, and realpolitik. The Iranians accepted the rules of the game, and sought to use it for their own benefit.
Iran exploited it to flex its own muscles, and also to prove to the US (the capo di tutti capos) how useful Iran could be. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, the US was treated to several practical demonstrations of Iran’s ability to contribute to the chaos, by undermining the integrity of states and their central governments, and replacing citizens’ identification with their country with a "weaponized" Shi’ite sectarian identity.
In contrast to Turkey, which has been assigned to work with the majority Sunnis and the wealthy Gulf Arab governments, Iran has sought out the weakest elements, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden among the Arabs, and helped to transform them into a formidable force. In turn, the strength of its militias, their impressive military achievements and their rapid takeover of strategic regions were and are being used successfully by the Iranians as bargaining chips to use in negotiating with the US. Many "Leftist" analysts ignore the fact that while Iran was burdened with economic sanctions and isolation, it was quietly allowed to take over many of Iraq’s vast petroleum resources and profit from them (in collaboration with Turkey) without a peep from its supposed enemy, the US. Even when some of these were later violently taken over by ISIS (also in collaboration with Turkey), Iran and NATO’s Turkey continued to maintain their economic trade relations, to the tune of $14 billion annually; both have openly expressed their intention of raising this figure to at least $30 billion next year and in the coming years.
In any case, it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that Turkey, the chief handler of the Sunni Fanatics, has in fact been collaborating closely with Iran behind the scenes, especially in economic matters, and in some cases (as with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood) openly, while across the region, their proxies fight each other to the death.
It’s all part of the game. Turkey and Iran are especially well qualified to execute the plan, because they are not Arab, and because both covet what the Arabs have. Their ability to infiltrate and recruit inside Arab countries therefore depends on their ability to undermine Arab nationalism (which unifies and empowers the Arabs) and replace it with “religious” identities (which fragments and weakens them). Working towards this crucial common goal has been very useful in forging a de facto working relationship between rivals with otherwise conflicting agendas.
Because, despite their many differences, the one point of absolute agreement between the US (and its Western vassals) and Israel, Turkey and Iran is that Arab nationalism must be totally and irreversibly eradicated. The other is that the US remains the supreme arbiter among them, at least for the time being.
The current negotiations with Iran in Lausanne are a product of the Iranians’ pressure tactics over at least a decade, and represent an implicit, if grudging, recognition by the US that Iran has earned its place at the table where the carcass of the Arab nation is to be served. But it's not enough that Iran has become a de facto partner of the US; the US is extremely keen to wean Iran away from its much closer partners, Russia and China.
Remember, the US’ number-one priority in the region right now is to permanently lock Russia and China out of the Middle East, and also out of Africa. Iran’s growing power in the Arab world, and also in Africa, is something that the US may be willing to accommodate, within limits. But its close economic collaboration with Russia and China represents a major obstacle to be overcome. Thus, the US negotiations aim to come up with a solution that serves Iran’s ambitions while luring it away from Russia and China.
And these ambitions are huge; on March 8, 2015, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Guide, Ali Younusi, triumphantly announced the “revival of the Persian Empire, with Baghdad as its capital.” A month earlier, on the anniversary of the February 11 victory of the Iranian Revolution (coincidentally, February 11 is also the day Egypt’s President Mubarak resigned in 2011), Iran’s most powerful military commander, Qassem Suleimani gloated, “We are witnessing the export of the Islamic Revolution throughout the region: from Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and North Africa.”
For Iran, “the Islamic Revolution” is defined not in exclusively or even especially religious terms, but as the mobilization and interlinking of military and social structures modeled after and dependent on the Iranian state, that, to use a colonial expression, function as the periphery to its core.
This creates a big problem for Israel, because Iran has the potential to be a serious rival. Israel is not concerned by Turkey, which it views as very manageable for various reasons, something that Iran is not. Israel is not interested in sharing power with any competitor, nor in returning to the so-called “Nixon Doctrine” of 1969, in which US hegemony in the Middle East rested on the “twin pillars” of Israel and Iran. (Later, this was amended to include two Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – but since their elimination is a key element in the current plan, this is not relevant here.)
Instead of reigning supreme, Israel would be forced to deal with the existence of a genuine rival, with the outcome far from certain. Israel fears that if negotiations with the US lead to the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran, then little would stand in the way of Iran using its oil wealth, its close ties with Russia and China, its skillful manipulation of sectarian religious elements in the Middle East and Africa, its advanced industrial and technological sectors, and its military strength, to pursue Israel’s own hegemonic plans for itself.
On the other hand, especially given the prominence of many Neocons in influential Washington think-tanks, it is very possible that another purpose of the current US-led negotiations with Iran, and the reportedly cold relations between the US and Israel, is that they are a ruse to allow the US to distance itself from Israel in preparation for an imminent Israeli military strike against Iran.
There are signs that this is a real possibility. After Netanyahu’s recent electoral victory, he seems determined to forge a national unity government with the so-called “Zionist Left” in Israel, even breaking pre-election promises he made to certain right-wing supporters and allies. Should Netanyahu decide to attack Iran, it would be wise for him to do so as the head of a national unity government, to secure the support of the widest base across the Zionist political spectrum first. As for the US, regardless of whatever agreements it has signed with Iran, it would be “forced” to support Israel in any conflict between the two countries, while absolving itself of responsibility. In any case, the negotiations have yet to produce any concrete results, and are not likely to do so before the summer, and probably not even then. Among other things, the US has refused to permanently and immediately lift the economic sanctions. Behind closed doors, it is very possible that the US shares Israel’s desire to see Iran significantly crippled, though not necessarily destroyed. Time will tell.
The “Arab Spring”: the Muslim Brotherhood and the Zionization of the Middle East
The MB is a transnational umbrella network that includes a dizzying number of “Sunni Islamist” offshoots under various names, some of them competing with and hostile to each other. This seeming diversity is an illusion: in fact, individual members move seamlessly between them, and ultimately, at the highest levels, they are all agents of Western (US-British-Zionist) intelligence. Some are assigned political roles, or educational roles, or roles in the media, or at the head of “charity” organizations or important business enterprises, around the world. At the lower levels, these groups include criminal gangs involved in international drug production and smuggling, human trafficking, money-laundering, mercenary killers, and brainwashed kids.
The seemingly infinite number of factions and factions of factions, sometimes merging and sometimes separating, is due to their readiness to either collaborate with each other or destroy each other, depending on the circumstances, but always within the limits delineated by their ultimate Masters, who in turn take their orders from their Western intelligence handlers. They are agents of chaos, but they are tools wielded by others. Ultimately, the Muslim Brotherhood is held together by money. To understand what it is, who it is, and how it functions, it suffices to examine where the money comes from and where it goes, and how; something that Western governments are extremely reluctant to do, for obvious reasons.
Once the “Arab Spring” successfully catapulted the Muslim Brotherhood to power in most Arab countries, and once they succeeded in igniting religious civil wars, the groundwork for the necessary "constructive chaos" will have been prepared.
The Muslim Brotherhood would dissolve national borders, and replace national armies with mobile, transnational “Sunni” militias consisting of brainwashed and mercenary recruits transported from all over the region and the world. These expendable pawns, trained, armed and transported under US supervision, would be the actual instruments used to fragment first the Arab states, then later other states of the Middle East and Africa via sectarian and ethnic warfare, leading to their collapse and the dissolution of their armies. (In the future, these same elements could also be used to target Asian and European countries, if necessary).
As for the Arab people, instead of living as citizens in what we would define as sovereign countries with stable central governments and borders, etc., they would be herded into unstable, extremely weak and mutually hostile sectarian and/or ethnic mini-states run by warlords beholden to, and dependent upon, non-Arab regional powers directly or indirectly working under the aegis of the US. Hamas’ current rule in Gaza, with Turkish and Qatari sponsorship and Israel’s covert backing, is a good example, as we’ll discuss later.
Tiny Qatar, home of two enormous US military bases (at Qatari expense) and in fact run by the Mossad, meanwhile, would continue to lavishly finance the Sunni militias and, along with Turkey, their propaganda media outlets; Qatar would become the new cultural and ideological center of the shattered and impotent “Sunni” remnants of the former Arab states.
Incidentally, there are striking similarities between the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and that of the Zionists. These include brainwashing individuals to identify themselves primarily (if not exclusively) in sectarian terms, defined very narrowly as the Muslim Brotherhood’s own belief system, regardless of national origin or history. According to this ideology, individuals form a transnational “nation” (or “umma”) with their co-religionists (defined as adherents of the Brotherhood cult), above any loyalty to their country or to their fellow citizens, or any other considerations.
Another commonality between Zionism and the Muslim Brotherhood ideologies is the conflation between religious belief and the duty to conquer territory, with the two being inextricably linked. This ideology, in which religious affiliation and nationality are one and the same, exhorts members to regard their fellow citizens of other religious affiliations as “foreigners” and “usurpers” in whatever territories they control, who must accept their inferior status or be expelled or forfeit their lives. That is because any territory they control automatically “belongs to (their) God”, and its inhabitants are therefore automatically “foreigners”.
Another characteristic shared by the Muslim Brotherhood ideology and Zionism is its supremacism: members are both superior to the rest of humanity, God’s Chosen People, and also the ultimate victims of relentless persecution and victimization by the “others”. Thus, both as victims and as bearers of a holy mission sanctioned by God Himself, every aggression by them, no matter how odious and senseless, is defined and justified as “self-defense”.
Thus, the plan is essentially a blueprint for the “Zionization” of the Arabs, and indeed of the Middle East as a whole, but with a crucial difference. Whereas Zionism aims to unite and empower the Jewish nationalists, and to expand the “sacred” land ruled by them, this plan was devised to fragment all the other people of the region into smaller and smaller, weak and dependent militias, warring against each other, incapable of ever uniting or of establishing a state with stable institutions. Consequently, beyond the Kurdish ethnic secessionist movement, the “Sunni-Shi’a” divide, and the emerging US-based “Christian” armed militias recruiting internationally and heading for the Arab countries, we find the Sunnis further divided among a constantly expanding number of mutually hostile militias – all funded, armed and trained by the US-Israel-Turkey-Qatar alliance, and in some cases (such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood), a de facto alliance that includes Iran as well.
To repeat, the objective is to permanently eradicate all viable Arab states, and indeed the very notion of “Arab” as a national identity. The enormous wealth of Arab states would then be looted by three non-Arab states in the Middle East, each running its own sectarian/religious empire: Turkey would have its Sunni “Caliphate”, run by warlords beholden to and dependent upon it; Iran would be patron of all the Shi’ite militias, fighting on behalf of its own empire.
Israel, even today (due to its support by the US Empire) by far the most militarized and industrialized state in the region, would finally be free of its current dependence on the US. Should the plan succeed, and provided it can ensure the containment of its Iranian rival, Israel would be free to impose absolute dominance over the decimated Arab countries and eventually Africa, which would in turn give it enormous economic leverage over Europe and Asia, both continents being dependent on the region for fuel imports and other vital raw materials. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise anybody that after the ISIS terrorists took over Iraqi and Syrian oil-production facilities, the stolen oil was routed to Israel through Turkey, with each partner taking his cut, and then sold by Israel to the Europeans, with no questions asked. This, but on a much bigger scale, is what is being planned for the entire region.
Libya and Sudan
The NATO bombing of Libya and the destruction of its central government and subsequent collapse of all its national institutions was an important tactical objective: with its small population, huge petroleum wealth and vast, empty spaces bordering Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria and Tunisia and a long, long Mediterranean coast, it was ideal as a logistics and training base and launching pad for terrorists into Arab and African countries. Thus, we've seen massive quantities of weapons being regularly shipped to Libya’s terrorist militias via Turkish and Qatari and Iranian planes and ships, while the US (under UN cover) continues to impose a strict regime of sanctions against any country arming the Libyan National Army and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the democratically-elected Libyan government.
Sudan, under the acrobatic leadership of Omar Bashir was, until recently, already well prepared to serve a similar purpose, as a training and launching pad for terrorists into Egypt and surrounding African states.
Sudan, with its weak central government, is the only Arab/African state which has successfully been fragmented legally as well as effectively so far. The Western-supported secession of “Christian” South Sudan from “Muslim” Northern Sudan, and the escalation of an ensuing war between them, was to be followed by the secession of Darfur and eventually other regions where Western, Iranian, Turkish and Qatari-backed factions would fight for the spoils.
Saudi Arabia was designed from its establishment to be a proxy for Anglo-American imperialism in the region, a role that has been hard-wired into the very makeup of the state. The Saudi monarchy derives its legitimacy from an extremist and idiosyncratic religious ideology that it has propagated widely via its oil wealth. Just as importantly, the Saudi ruling family has in the past depended almost exclusively upon the support of first Britain, then the US, to keep it in power.
Over the years, the Saudi rulers have become very insecure. First, there was the Nasserist revolution in 1952, which overthrew the Egyptian monarchy and the subsequent rise of secular, socialist pan-Arab nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s, which spread like wildfire across the Arab world and shook the very foundations of the Saudi state. When the revolution reached Saudi Arabia’s own borders, in southern Yemen, Saudi Arabia collaborated with Israel and the US and Britain to transform Yemen into Egypt’s own Vietnam. Between 1962 and 1966, Egypt intervened militarily to support the revolutionary government in southern Yemen, and also to defend the Bab el Mandab gateway to the strategically vital Suez Canal, in a war that cost Egypt the lives of around 26,000 troops, and weakened Egypt so that Israel was able to launch a surprise attack in 1967 and expand into territories from Egypt (Sinai), Syria (Golan Heights) and what was left of Palestine, under Jordanian administration (West Bank, including East Jerusalem).
Southern Yemen did remain allied to Egypt, however, and Egypt retained control over the Bab el Mandab, until the Egyptian revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser died in 1970 and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, who reversed the Egyptian revolution and made Egypt into a client state of Saudi Arabia and the US, a status that was further entrenched by Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak for another 30 years, until the January Revolution in 2011.
The second major trauma to the Saudi regime occurred when the Shah of Iran was overthrown in 1979, and those whom he had served so faithfully, the US, Britain and Israel, did not raise a finger to help him. Even worse, the Iranian Khomeini-led revolutionaries openly threatened to topple the Saudi regime and to replace it. The US stepped in, getting its asset Saddam Hussein to launch a war of aggression against Iran in 1980, which lasted eight long years and cost an estimated one million lives and vast amounts of money, mostly paid by Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf states.
The third major trauma was the fanatic Salafist uprising in Mecca itself, which followed the Iranian revolution by only a few months. Armed Islamists, most of them Saudi citizens, espousing an even more extreme form of Wahhabism than that of the Saudi regime itself, took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca in a bloody siege that lasted over two weeks and cost hundreds of lives before it was finally broken with the help of Western troops. Badly shaken, Saudi Arabia decided to prevent any future threat to its legitimacy by co-opting and supporting the most extremist fanatics, and harnessing them to serve its regime. As a direct result, the Saudi regime became even more harsh and conservative: images of women were forbidden, as were music and movies, and the “religious police” was unleashed against the population. Internally and abroad, the Saudi reliance on “check-book politics”, lavishly paying for support and buying allies, reached new heights beginning in the early 1980s until the present day.
The fourth event that terrified the Saudis was the supposed preparations by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to invade Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait in 1991. To convince the Saudis that they were in immediate danger, the US presented them with falsified satellite images showing Iraqi troops mobilizing along the Saudi border and other forged evidence. Consequently, the frightened Saudis agreed for the first time, to allow the US to set up military bases on Saudi territory. (Later, these were moved to nearby Qatar, at the invitation of the Qatari Emir).
Most recently, since 2011, the “Arab Spring” escalated Saudi fears once again as they saw their allies in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, backed by the same Anglo-American empire that supports their own regime, fall one after the other. The popular uprising against the fellow Gulf state of Bahrain, right next door, was especially scary for the Saudis, since most Bahrainis are Shi'ites, ruled by the Sunni Bahraini royal family, and the uprising was at least verbally supported by Iran. Saudi Arabia, fearing that the rebellion would spread to its own Shi'ite population concentrated in oil-rich areas along the Saudi border with Yemen, reacted promptly and ruthlessly, taking the unprecedented step of sending in its own troops and tanks to quell the rebellion.
It’s difficult to exaggerate how much the Saudi rulers are driven by fear, and the extent to which the US deliberately stokes this fear and exploits it to manipulate the Saudis for its own ends. Saudi rulers fear Iran above anything else.
Also, although I normally try to avoid personalizing political matters, the Saudi monarchs do not distinguish between personal and political vendettas. Their extreme insecurity renders them super-sensitive to slights and insults, and also vindictive. The Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser spoke of and to them with contempt, and openly mocked them, and thus they did everything possible, including collaborating with Israel, the US, the Muslim Brotherhood and all the enemies of Egypt and the Arabs to destroy Egypt and especially the Egyptian army.
The Libyan leader Moammar El-Qaddafi did the same, during an Arab League Summit in an infamous speech in which he said to Saudi King Abdullah’s face that he is an artificial king invented by the Western Imperialists to rule over an artificial country and to serve the enemies of the Arabs. The Saudi rulers never forgave him for that, and never rested until Moammar El-Qaddafi was destroyed (along with his country).
In 2006, Syrian President Bashar el-Assad berated the Arabs, especially the Saudi Arabian rulers, for standing by and doing nothing while Israel bombed and invaded Lebanon. He accused them of not being men, and of having no honor. Besides the fact that Syria is allied with Iran, this insult is the real reason the Saudis will not rest until Bashar el-Assad is dead, and why they hold a grudge against the Syrian people themselves. Until recently, the Secretary-General of Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, was very careful not to directly insult the Saudi rulers; but he has since blown caution to the wind and launched scathing and direct verbal attacks against the “House of Saud”.
The Plan is the latest version of several Zionist strategies for re-drawing the map of the Middle East to serve Israeli objectives, including those most famously articulated by Bernard Lewis in the 1950s and by Oded Yinon in the early 1980s, and most succinctly by the very influential Neocon “philosopher” Michael Ledeen in the 1990s, who called for the entire region to be “cauldronized”, “faster, please!” It was formally announced by US Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice in Tel Aviv in 2006 during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during Israel’s savage bombardment and invasion of Lebanon, which caused thousands of civilian casualties and destroyed life-sustaining infrastructure; this is what Rice triumphantly hailed as the “birth pangs” of “the New Middle East”.
Syria, of course, with its Russian military base and strategic alliance with Iran and Hizbullah, was an important target, not only for the US and Saudi Arabia, but also for Israel. Moreover, targeting Syria for destruction would force Hizbullah to intervene and get sucked into a violent quagmire that would fatally weaken the Lebanese resistance fighters, leaving it to the terrorist “Sunni” militias implanted in Lebanon by the US via Saudi Arabia, and Lebanese agents of the US, to finish them off back home.
The eradication of Hizbullah in Lebanon is, and has been for nearly 30 years, a prime Israeli objective; this objective acquired even greater urgency with the discovery of huge natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean along the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese territorial waters, which Israel covets. But even before that, Israel needed to control the Mediterranean coast of Syria and Lebanon for planned land-based and offshore pipelines between Turkey and Israel, something that it cannot do without first destroying Hizbullah.
The plan was tailor-made by and for Israel, which, should it succeed, was poised to solve Israel’s "demographic problem" once and for all, vastly expand its territory, give it control over huge energy reserves and the pipelines connecting them with European and Asian markets, and catapult “the Jewish state” onto the world stage as a global power, released from its dependence on the US or any other patron (“a clean break”).
Egypt, Hamas and Israel
The Plan was working perfectly. By the winter of 2012, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya were being torn apart by civil war; tensions were extremely high in Lebanon and Tunisia and Jordan and Bahrain; Egypt was on the verge of collapse. Rigged elections, carried out in Egypt under the watchful and approving eyes of the US and its satellites, had succeeded in catapulting the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the person of Mohamed Morsi during the previous summer. Morsi had long been a US intelligence asset, since at least the early 1980s, when he lived in California. It was also there that he was recruited into the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2012, one of the first actions of Mohamed Morsi was to issue illegal presidential pardons to more than 10,000 imprisoned and fugitive criminals, almost all of whom were convicted for murdering police or army personnel, for other terrorist crimes, or drug or arms smugglers. At least 15,000 exiled terrorists and fanatics were invited back to Egypt, and thousands more of them came, most of them heading for the Sinai wilderness. As President and Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Morsi tied the hands of the army as the Sinai Peninsula was flooded with weapons smuggled in from Libya and Sudan and by Qatari and Turkish planes and ships from Sinai’s Mediterranean coast, along with battle-hardened Islamist terrorists from all over the region and beyond.
An underground network of over 2500 tunnels connected Gaza with Sinai, some of them several kilometers long and wide enough for large trucks to drive through, making the border effectively disappear. The tunnels were used to smuggle stolen oil and gas and other goods from Egypt into Gaza, but also drugs and Israeli weapons and armed criminal gangs from Gaza into Sinai. These illicit tunnels were a major source of income for Hamas (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood), many of whom became millionaires and even billionaires from the exorbitant fees they charged for the two-way transfer of goods and persons, in addition to their own and their criminal partners’ smuggling operations.
Sinai is a huge region, approximately the size of France, but is largely empty of Egyptians, who continue to be concentrated in a narrow strip along the Nile Valley; around 94% of Egyptians live in less than 6% of Egypt’s territory. Although South Sinai, especially along the Red Sea coast, is a popular destination for tourists, Northern and Central Sinai are sparsely inhabited by mostly Bedouin tribesmen, many with longstanding resentments at the neglect with which the Mubarak regime treated them during its 30 years in power. Sinai has been invaded and occupied three times by Israel since the 1950s. Since it was returned to Egypt in 1982 under the terms of the Camp David agreement, there have been many proposals put forward by Egyptian scholars and experts, to populate it and to develop its rich natural resources. In each case, the proposals were shelved due to American pressure.
By the spring of 2013, Sinai was a virtual fiefdom of several heavily-armed criminal and terrorist gangs, including Al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Mohamed Al-Zawahiri, the brother of Ayman Al-Zawihiri, who was brought back to Egypt by Mohamed Morsi himself on the presidential airplane returning from Morsi’s visit to Pakistan in March of 2013. The Egyptian territory was wide open to Gaza, whose border on the Palestinian side was under the absolute control of Hamas, but largely closed to the rest of Egypt.
Reports began trickling into the Egyptian press, of refugee camps being built in Sinai, as well as photographs of tent cities comprising thousands of tents. As the Muslim Brotherhood took over higher-level positions in the government, security became very lax, and a great deal of looting took place, with much of the stolen private and public property ending up in Gaza via the tunnels which were built and controlled by Hamas. In response to the public outcry, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders declared that “borders are nothing but dust,” and that there is no difference between Muslims, whether they are Palestinians or Egyptians.
Opposition Egyptian newspapers reported that the US had brokered a deal between Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, its subsidiary Hamas, and its Qatari and Turkish partners that would serve all of their goals, at Egypt’s expense. Whether or not all the reported details of the alleged deal were true, clearly Sinai was being set up for something big.
It is noteworthy that while Sinai, right next door to Israel, was being transformed into an Islamists’ terrorist paradise, and flooded with weapons, Israel didn’t seem to be all that bothered. In fact, as later emerged, many of those weapons were made in Israel. Another telling detail is that, after a massive terrorist attack against Egyptian soldiers in the summer of 2012, the terrorists, rather than escape to Gaza, fled towards Israeli-held territory. Within minutes, Netanyahu himself was being photographed proudly standing next to the burned-out truck in which they had escaped, and which Israel had destroyed with a missile. The Israelis later sent several charcoal-like burnt corpses to the Egyptian Medical Examiner, though one of the corpses was still wearing jeans with a label that clearly said “Made in Nablus”. That terrorist attack provided Morsi with the pretext he needed to remove the top army leadership and replace it with more “sympathetic” individuals. Or so he thought.
For Israel, Sinai represents the best possible solution to an intractable problem. Currently, around 40% of the population ruled by the “Jewish state” is non-Jewish, most of them Palestinian Muslims and Christians, whose populations are growing at a faster rate than that of Israeli Jews. According to many influential Israeli strategists, this represents the single most urgent crisis facing Israel today, with mass expulsions (or “transfer”), similar to those of 1948 and 1967 being the most obvious solution.
However, things aren’t as simple as they used to be. In 1948, most of the refugees were pushed into Jordan and Lebanon and Syria. This is not feasible now, with all three borders sealed virtually shut. In 1967, most Palestinian refugees were pushed into Gaza, making the tiny desert strip one of the most densely crowded regions on earth, and badly over-straining its ability to sustain life. However, recent discoveries of rich natural gas reserves off the shore of Gaza have prompted Israel to once more covet the Strip for itself; but first, it must be emptied of the 1.8 million Palestinians who live there.
With Egypt ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood and Gaza ruled by the MB’s Hamas, and Sinai having been kept so invitingly empty and now being so invitingly accessible, the solution to Israel’s terrible dilemma became obvious. And so, once again, the Zionists found themselves contemplating a “land without a people”, to solve the problem of “a people without a land.” But this time, the “people” would be the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.
This project also solved a very real problem for Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas had taken over Gaza after parliamentary elections in 2006, but its mandate expired in 2010. By 2013, support among Palestinians for Hamas was at an all-time low. In fact, its leadership was feared and loathed almost as much as the Israeli occupation. The chance that Hamas could repeat their election success in 2006 was nil. Its only real competitor, Fateh, would never go along with any plan involving the expulsion of Palestinians. In fact, Fateh and the Palestinian Authority would do everything possible to prevent it. Thus, neither Hamas, nor Israel, the occupying power who created, implanted and needed Hamas for its own purposes, was at all inclined to permit new Palestinian elections.
Still, it was shocking when, on January 4, 2013, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians defiantly gathered in Gaza to commemorate the 48th anniversary of the founding of Fateh, the bitter rival of Hamas. Until it happened, nobody would have believed it possible. Just like Israel, Hamas was facing mounting pressure, and relinquishing power was out of the question: in Hamas’ case, first, because its control over the territory was immensely profitable, and second because once out of power, there was nothing to prevent the arrest and prosecution of its cadres for all the crimes they’ve committed. Last but not least, with the encouragement of Turkey and Qatar, Hamas had its eyes on the biggest prize of all: Sinai.
The mass rally in Gaza against Hamas was exactly one month after similarly massive popular demonstrations erupted in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. The pressure was mounting on both sides of the border. In Sinai, a web of criminal and terrorist gangs led by Al-Qaeda’s Mohammed Al-Zawahiri and Ramzy Mowafy (Osama Bin-Laden’s personal physician) and others, in communication with allies as far away as Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere was operating virtually unimpeded, taking over entire towns and establishing terrorist training camps. Qatari money and Turkish logistics support, and Israeli and American weapons were flowing in. By the spring of 2013, Sinai was rapidly becoming a terrorist-run “Emirate” independent of the Egyptian state, and almost free of Egyptian security forces. Huge swathes of land were being sold by the local Bedouins to leading Hamas members and other foreigners. The groundwork was being laid for the next phase: the forced transfer, or expulsion of Gaza’s Palestinian population into Sinai.
Then things began to go very wrong for the engineers of this “solution” to Hamas’ and Israel’s problems: first, Egypt’s then-Defense Minister, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, openly defied Morsi by ordering a large deployment of troops into Sinai, where they began to re-establish control over the border with Gaza, and destroying hundreds of tunnels. They dismantled the tent cities and attacked the training camps and, Sisi, using his authority as the military commander in charge of the administrative zones in Sinai, issued binding regulations making it illegal for non-Egyptian citizens, or dual-citizens to own property there. Those who had purchased property were given a six-month grace period to sell it, after which it would be confiscated by the state.
Morsi had personally selected Sisi to replace the previous Defense Minister soon after taking power, having been led to believe that Sisi was a Brotherhood “sleeper.” During his first six months, while the Brotherhood were occupied trying to consolidate their political and economic power, Sisi remained under the radar, quietly but tirelessly rebuilding the army’s morale, discipline, training and equipment. The army that emerged bore no resemblance to the demoralized force of six months before.
In the rest of the country, the Egyptians were in open rebellion against the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was explicitly threatening to impose its rule by force of arms. In response, many Egyptians fled or prepared to flee the country; others began organizing and trying to take up arms to defend themselves; the majority was simply terrified. The country was a tinderbox, ready to explode into civil war. Finally, on June 30th, the Egyptians peacefully took to the streets in the largest popular demonstration in the history of mankind, to demand Morsi’s removal. The army did what it was ordered to do by the people; Morsi was deposed, and replaced with the Head of the Supreme Court and a civilian government, who ran the country for nearly a year, until the security situation was brought under control and new elections could be held.
During the following year, security forces fought to take Sinai back and clear it of the Islamist and other criminal armed gangs; some of the terrorists managed to escape either into other regions in Egypt or abroad, but many were captured or killed. In the process, there were thousands of casualties among army and police officers, troops and civilians. Nevertheless, by late spring in 2014, the army issued a communiqué announcing that it was close to securing 90% of Sinai and re-establishing complete Egyptian sovereignty over its territory and border.
Time was running out for Israel, as well as for Hamas. On July 17, 2014, Israel launched a savage air attack on Gaza that especially targeted civilian infrastructure and homes. The purpose of the attack was to force Palestinians to escape the bombardment into Sinai, after which the way back would be barred by Israeli troops, who would reoccupy Gaza permanently, paving the way for its annexation to Israel.
The Islamists who remained in Sinai had hidden weapons caches and been driven underground, ready to join with the Hamas fighters who would accompany the fleeing refugees, to re-take Sinai and once more declare it to be an Islamist “Emirate”. Sinai would become the new “Palestine”, at least for a time. Probably, sometime in the future, Israel would claim that Egypt is incapable of establishing its sovereignty over Sinai, and that the Islamist “Emirate” there represents a grave threat to Israel’s security; thus, Israel would have the pretext it needs to invade it for a fourth time, and this time take it permanently.
But it didn’t work. Most of the tunnels from Gaza into Sinai had been destroyed, and the border with Sinai was secured by the Egyptian security forces. The Egyptian government opened the Rafah border with Gaza, but only for urgent medical and other humanitarian cases. Egypt also allowed international food and medical aid to go through, and the Egyptian people contributed over 700 tons of food and medical supplies, more than all the rest of the world put together. Egypt offered to open the border completely, but only on condition that the Palestinian Authority, as the only legitimate Palestinian governing body, take full control on the Palestinian side. Hamas refused, demanding that Egypt open the border without conditions. A massive, global media campaign was mounted against the Egyptian government, to force it to open the border with Hamas manning the other side. Israel made no effort to hide the fact that it was deliberately targeting civilians, and especially children. On the contrary, in one instance, the Israelis deliberately targeted children playing on a beach in full view of a hotel known to be a base for foreign journalists. In this way, it was doing its part to increase the pressure on Egypt to open the border into Sinai.
During the first few days of the Israeli bombardment, Egypt proposed a ceasefire plan, which was promptly and very publicly accepted by Israel, but rejected by Hamas. The Egyptian plan called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, followed by negotiations between the two sides. At the time it was proposed, fewer than 50 Palestinians had been killed. Instead, Hamas insisted that Israel accept a list of extravagant demands as the prerequisite for a ceasefire. In fact, Hamas did everything possible to prolong the bloodshed, clearly gambling that Egypt would succumb to the international pressure and open the border, before finally accepting the original Egyptian plan after seven weeks of relentless killing and destruction by the Israeli army. By that time, more than 2,200 Palestinians had been killed, more than 10,500 had been wounded, and over 80,000 homes had been rendered uninhabitable by the Israelis. Hospitals and schools were destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been made homeless and destitute. The overwhelming majority of the victims were civilians, around half of them children.
After the Israeli bombardment stopped, the Egyptian government brokered a “reconciliation agreement” between Fateh and Hamas, which led to a temporary national unity government, as the prelude to new elections. Israel had always excused the lack of progress on peace negotiations by claiming that it didn’t know who to negotiate with, with the Palestinians divided into two separate camps. Now that the two had agreed to join together, Israel called off the negotiations, declaring that it could not negotiate with any party that “includes terrorists.” Soon after the reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas, Egypt organized and hosted an international donors’ conference to raise money to rebuild Gaza’s infrastructure, preferably before the winter began. The conference raised nearly $5 billion in pledges.
But once again, Hamas put its own selfish interests ahead of the needs of the Palestinian people. A few days before a planned commemoration of Yasser Arafat’s death on November 11, 2004, fearing that the event would be a repeat of the anti-Hamas demonstrations of the previous January, Hamas planted bombs in the homes of leading Fateh officials in Gaza, and destroyed the podium and stage that were being built. The “reconciliation” and the national unity government were finished. As a direct result, only a fraction of the pledged donations have been collected to date, and hundreds of thousands of shell-shocked Palestinians suffered even more, through a brutally cold winter.
Iran and Hamas
Iran has been extremely generous to Hamas. Unlike the Saudis or the Turks or the Qataris, who mainly give “humanitarian aid” and some cash to Hamas, Iran has also provided Hamas with relatively advanced weapons, ammunition and most importantly, military training. Khaled Meshaal, the political head of Hamas, lived very comfortably for many years as the guest of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Hizbullah’s seasoned fighters taught Hamas how to fight, and shared knowledge derived from hard decades of experience. Then, Qatar made Hamas a better offer. Hizbullah, while fighting with the Syrian army against the Qatari and Turkish and Saudi-backed Islamists, found the weapons, ammunition and knowledge that it had given them, being used against its own troops.
That is because Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which can’t be trusted. Ever. Still, Iran is extremely pragmatic. Though relations remain on the cool side, Iran has recently begun to re-arm Hamas, for its own reasons: Hamas directs those weapons primarily against Egyptian security forces, and attacking and preferably destroying Egypt is a major Iranian goal, one it shares with Israel, as well as Turkey and the U.S.
That’s because Egypt has not only bounced back, but is determined to unify and empower the Arab nation as a whole, and also pursuing the same goal in Africa, and beyond.
How it all started to go wrong
Up until a very short time ago, it was widely accepted that the Arab world, as we know it, was finished for good. Western media and analysts talked only about a “Middle East” populated by warring “Sunnis” and “Shi’ites” and endangered ethnic and sectarian minorities. Prominent Western newspapers published maps in which the borders of Arab countries were re-drawn to portray sectarian and ethnic mini-states. Turkey, Iran and Israel appeared to have things under control, with the region’s disintegration appearing to have achieved an unstoppable momentum. America was already turning its attention to Russia and China, where its agents in the Ukraine, Hong Kong and Thailand were given the green light to flare things up.
But July 3rd, 2013 is the day that it all began to go very wrong for the makers of the plan. In Egypt, every effort to divide the people along sectarian and ethnic lines and to alienate the people from their national institutions failed. The effort to carve up and give away Egyptian territory in Sinai in the east, and Halayeb/Shalateen in the south, failed. The effort to cause an economic collapse failed. In fact, all these attempts provoked a backlash that is in the process of making Egypt far better, stronger and more unified than ever before.
Moreover, Egypt itself is leading a movement across the region for Arab unity, economic inter-dependence and a joint Arab defense force to prevent foreign military interventions. At the same time, Egypt is working to promote a new model for regional integration and empowerment and national sovereignty in Africa.
What we’re witnessing right now in the Arab countries is not multiple wars between hundreds of “sides”, as they’re being portrayed by most media and analysts, but one war between two sides. On one side is the neocons’ Zionist plan for the Middle East and on the other is the Arab nation. One side is fighting to divide; the other is fighting to unite. One side is sowing chaos; the other is struggling to re-establish order and the rule of law. One side aims to despoil the Arabs of their wealth and to eradicate them culturally and politically; the other is determined to build a new model of prosperity through collaboration on the basis of mutual respect for each country’s sovereignty, to preserve, celebrate and develop Arab culture, and to give citizens hope and a real stake in their country’s future.
This is a war that the Arabs cannot afford to lose. As the Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has said repeatedly, “This time if we fall, we will never rise again.” It is a vicious war, with no holds barred, and its outcome is far from certain. Every passing day brings moments of intense hope, but also moments of fear. Despite the terrible losses, the Arabs still have everything they need to fight and win, if the will is there.
That's a big "if". The most important challenge facing the Arabs today is to break from the toxic patterns of the past. Instead, they need to formulate and then work together towards a common, inclusive vision of the future. When the Muslim Brotherhood was in power in Egypt, many Egyptians asked, “Are we destined to be the generation that lost Egypt after 7000 years of history?” The Arab nation is facing a similar question today: "After all the sacrifices and the struggles, and the dreams of freedom, will we tear at ourselves with our own hands, while our enemies watch and wait to pick up the pieces?" More and more Arabs are saying, “No!” just as the Egyptians did before them. It can be done, and in fact it has started. The alternative is to lose everything, to join the millions of Palestinian, Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and ultimately, regardless of what their enemies have done and will do, the Arabs will have nobody to blame but themselves.
Egypt was preparing to host a summit meeting of the Arab League, which would begin on March 13, 2015. The Arab League, officially known as the League of Arab States, was formed by the British Empire on March 22, 1945. Its seven founding members were all under foreign military occupation at the time.
In the turbulent decades since its establishment, the Arab League has become a symbol of Arab weakness and disunity. Plagued by foreign interference and totally ineffective in taking any action to defend Arab sovereignty and rights, it has, on the contrary, been used to give an Arab seal of approval to imperial wars of aggression against member states, most recently Iraq, Syria and Libya, for example.
Many respected analysts said that the 2013 Arab League Summit would be the most decisive in the organization’s history: either it would mark the beginning of a new era of Arab cooperation and mutual support, or it would be the last meeting ever held by the Arab League. Unlike previous summits, which were largely ignored by the public, this one was widely anticipated.
Expectations were extremely high. Egypt was expected to propose negotiated solutions to the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen, by bringing together political opponents. Before being allowed to participate, participants were to accept certain basic principles, some of which I am paraphrasing here: 1) all parties must pledge to preserve their country’s unity and integrity and sovereignty; 2) all parties must agree to use legal political means, rather than armed force, against political opponents; 3) the legal government accepts its primary responsibility to defend the rights and safety of all its citizens, and to secure the nation’s borders.
The Arab League Summit was also expected to vote on two resolutions: one, to provide concrete support to the Palestinian Authority in its legal and political struggle against the Israeli occupation. But it was the resolution to form a joint Arab military force that was generating the most intense interest among regional and international parties. Finally, the Arabs would unite to defend their own sovereignty and mutual security, reversing decades in which individual states were forced to depend on imperial military backers.
However, on the evening of March 12, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington made an announcement that caused shock-waves among Arabs: a “coalition” led by Saudi Arabia had commenced air-strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. The US immediately pledged its backing and support. The “coalition” included Pakistan, a non-Arab country. For many Egyptians, what was even more shocking was the announcement that Egypt had joined the “coalition”, reviving traumatic memories of Egypt’s costly entanglement in Yemen during the 1960s.
As a result, the war in Yemen dominated the agenda at the Arab League Summit, largely overshadowing the other vital issues that were to be decided. This represented a victory for the US, which had been trying relentlessly to drive a wedge between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Under the late Saudi King Abdullah, these efforts had been fruitless. But since his death on January 22, the partnership between Saudi Arabia and Egypt became slightly less solid; his successor, King Salman, appeared much more reluctant to abandon Saudi Arabia’s military dependence on the US, as well as its backing for “Sunni” militias, in favor of Arab unity and sovereignty.
As the Iranian-backed Houthi militias rapidly advanced toward the Saudi border, further emboldened by the support of the Yemeni army loyalists to the old Ali Abdullah Saleh regime, Saudi Arabia panicked. Also, the presence of armed Iran-backed militias right at the Bab el-Mandab gateway to Egypt’s Suez Canal would mean that Iran was positioned to threaten a narrow strait through which more than three million barrels of oil pass every day, as well as access to the Suez Canal, in addition to the Strait of Hormuz, which it already controls.
On the other hand, Egypt had already succeeded in persuading most of the parties in the Yemen conflict to sit down together in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and was hoping for a negotiated solution that would prevent Yemen from being further torn apart by civil war.
Egypt was presented with a stark choice: either to refuse to join the “coalition” and thereby discredit its own promises to defend the security of the Gulf States, and also abdicate any influence over the course of the war; or to agree, but under its own terms. Egypt’s participation in the war would be limited to defending Saudi Arabia’s borders, to preventing any weapons transfers into Yemen by Iran, and to patrolling the Bab el-Mandab gateway to the Suez Canal by air and sea. Egypt would continue to pressure all sides to sit down and talk. Finally, Egypt insisted that Pakistan withdraw from the “coalition”, and that Turkey's offer to participate be rejected. Pakistan effectively withdrew, announcing that its troops would remain inside Saudi borders to defend them if necessary. Saudi Arabia has agreed to the negotiations, but only on condition that the Houthis lay down their arms and withdraw further inland, away from the Saudi border.
So far, the Houthis have refused to lay down their arms, or to halt their advance. They seem to be hoping that their ranks will be swelled by Shi’ite fighters flocking to their cause. This is not likely to happen. Iran has done little other than to issue furious condemnations of the “Saudi aggression”, and issue false “news” reports that Iranian warships are headed to Yemen. Hizbullah has enough of its own problems in Lebanon and Syria, though it, too, is condemning the war. Some of the army forces loyal to Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who were fighting with the Houthis, are switching sides, and joining the forces fighting for the current President Abd-Rabboh Mansour Hadi.
Still, the war threatens to drag on for a long time, at a horrible cost to the long-suffering people of Yemen unless ground troops are sent in, or until the Houthis are forced to back down, and agree to negotiate. The most optimistic scenario is that the Houthis will quickly be worn down, after which Egypt will send in ground troops to maintain the peace and to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al-Qaeda from taking over, while the parties negotiate a permanent solution that lays the foundation for future stability.
If this happens, then Egypt will emerge from this crisis in a stronger position than before. First, the Egyptian military presence along the Bab el-Mandab is likely to become permanent, guaranteeing the security of the vital water-way and therefore the security of the Suez Canal. Second, the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Yemen under Arab auspices will provide an important precedent for peacefully resolving other internal conflicts, including in Syria, without foreign interference. Syria is a very important ally for Egypt; the longer the Syrian civil war continues the more potential it has for damaging the vital partnership between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt cannot afford to lose either Syria or Saudi Arabia. Third, by striving to minimize the US and Pakistani roles in the Yemen war, Egypt will have succeeded in demonstrating that there was no need to allow non-Arab interference. The joint Arab force is being formed, and its rapid-deployment divisions will be ready by the end of April.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Iran are redoubling their joint effort to support the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas as a way to destabilize Egypt and derail its economic progress. But the Muslim Brotherhood has been largely defeated, and the remaining Islamists allied with Hamas are on the run, capable of only sporadic terrorist attacks in an area around 1% of Sinai's territory, and shrinking. The Libyan National Army is making good progress against the armed militias there, including ISIS, and gradually securing its borders. Sudan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists.
At the same time, Turkey and the US are trying to lure Saudi Arabia away from its partnership with Egypt and the nascent Arab unity being painstakingly built by Egypt, offering instead an alternative "Sunni" sectarian force led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States. So far, they've failed. Recent statements by the US President Obama indicate that the US is getting ready to activate its fifth columnists inside Saudi Arabia, in an attempt to recreate the "Arab Spring" scenario there, particularly targeting disaffected Saudi youth. It remains to be seen whether that will prove more effective than previous attempts.
Though there still is a long way to go, and the path is filled with obstacles, there are many positive signs. Russia, Egypt's closest non-Arab ally, has been making overtures to Saudi Arabia, and the latter is cautiously responding. China is preparing to make huge infrastructure investments in Egypt, along with Germany and Italy, giving these nations a stake in Egypt's success. Egypt has revived long-dormant economic and political ties with several important African states, and has been welcomed back.
Arabs, including Arab leaders, often describe Egypt as "the tent-pole of the Arab nation": it is widely believed among Arabs that if it falls, then all the Arab states will fall. The opposite is also true. This explains why even though Iran continues to incite against Egypt in its media, its own Shi'ite allies among the Arabs, such as Hizbullah and the current Iraqi government, do not; in fact, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recently described the Egyptian President as a "national hero" for whom Egyptians should thank God. This indicates that the "Sunni-Shi'ite" divide is far from irreversible, despite everything. Syria and Hizbullah's relations with Saudi Arabia remain extremely poor, however, and this is a serious problem that will need to be resolved, the sooner the better. Too many lives hang in the balance; so does the fate of the Arab nation.
"If you're not careful the newspapers will have you hating the oppressed and loving the people doing the oppressing." - Malcolm X