Frontline Iraq, Palestine

Hassan Nafaa

For more than half a century Palestine has remained the Arabs’ open wound. Until recently, many still believed that the Arab body still possessed sufficient strength and immunity to combat lethal contamination. But when the already weakened body was gouged in Iraq, it was only natural that it would reel and stagger. Now under the combined assault of viruses from the old putrefying injury and the fresh wound, it appears that the body has lost all resistance. In the face of this moribund condition, all hopes for a remedy have gradually ceded to widespread despair and acquiescence to fate.

The more the region's political leadership bends to USA and Israeli pressure, the more the people themselves find common cause in the search for justice and self-determination

The more the region’s political leadership bends to USA and Israeli pressure, the more the people themselves find common cause in the search for justice and self-determination.

It is difficult to dispute this grim diagnosis of the Arab condition, which appears destined to become even more critical. The situation in Sudan is deeply disturbing. Teetering at the edge of fragmentation into small and hostile petty states, this large and important nation is also on the brink of renewed civil warfare across ethnic and religious divides. Syria and Lebanon, the two countries that seemed to hold the keys to resistance in the region, are now threatened by the possibility of a military assault either from Israel or the US, or from both together. The Palestinian Authority, which had demonstrated Palestinian steadfastness in Camp David II, is on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile, the political pressures being exerted on all other Arab nations, especially the most influential, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are becoming unbearable.

Yet Arab regimes appear almost indifferent to these plights. Worse, their every action indicates that they are keener to protect their positions of power than they are to protect the welfare and future of the peoples in whose name they claim to rule. In their staunch determination to cling to privilege and position, some Arab regimes have begun to do anything at all to please the US. Indeed, they are virtually leapfrogging over one another in their eagerness to win Washington’s approval, regardless of how detrimental their shifting positions are to the interests of their nations and peoples. Unfortunately, this eagerness to cuddle up to the US is not counterbalanced by so much as an inch’s budge towards reconciling themselves with their own people; those much-needed political reforms are still no more than idle promises.

Perhaps it was the bleakness of this all that inspired a significant segment of Arab intellectuals to demand a “new realistic strategy”. The aim: to prepare the Arab world for entering the age of globalisation and responding to the demands and conditions of an international order that has become unipolar—let all who want otherwise be damned. It was only natural that the ideologues of the new realism should turn their sights on the armed resistance in Palestine and Iraq, which they regard as a form of swimming against the current and a manifestation of the tendency to reckless emotionalism rather than rational planning.

However, one would think that if they wanted to convince us of the soundness of their opinion they would explain to us the nature of the agenda of the nations that are seeking to establish their control over this region at this juncture in history and how it will be possible to reconcile meeting the demands this agenda will place on us with the demands and aspirations of the peoples of this region. So far no satisfactory explanation has been forthcoming.

As I see it, all the recent changes in the international order have worked to augment the strategic importance of the Middle East in global politics. Just as Western Europe was the locus of international rivalries during the Cold War era, the Middle East has come to occupy this position in the post-Cold War period. Although the current balances appear tipped in favour of the US, the situation is still fluid. What is certain, however, is that the winner will be that party that is able to impose its will over this region. Perhaps the Bush administration’s recent decision to restructure and redeploy US forces around the world best underscores the extent to which the focus of strategic balances has shifted to the Middle East.

I do not believe that we need to go into detail about the reasons for this. It is sufficient to mention what are perhaps the two most important factors that have propelled us in this direction. The first, of course, is oil—the most strategically important raw material in the world today. The Middle East has more than 60 per cent of the world’s known petroleum reserves, and it is likely that this percentage will increase. The second factor is the clash of religions and civilisations. The Middle East is universally recognised as the cradle of civilisation and the revealed religions and is thus an obvious candidate as an arena for such a clash, or for establishing bridges of understanding. Sadly, we are living in times of this clash and the Arab-Israeli conflict has emerged at the heart of it.

As the US has no actual or potential rival in the contest of influence over the Middle East, Israel naturally stands to become Washington’s sole accredited commissioner for directing the affairs of this region in the era of American hegemony. This is not only because of the US-Israeli alliance that has become chummier than ever before, but also because this alliance excludes so much as the thought of an Arab party as partner, or even possible consultant.

Herein resides the gravity of the current situation. The Arab-Israeli conflict, with its tangle of deep national, religious and cultural roots, is the prime factor that distinguishes the Middle East from all other regions of the world that are seeking to adjust to changes in the world order. It is this factor, and, precisely, the US’s wholehearted embrace of the ultimate Zionist project, that effectively impedes the assimilation of this region into the era of globalisation under current international balances of power. The only way it will ever be possible for Arab and US interests to reconcile is for the US to realise that its blind support for Israel threatens its own strategic interests here and in the rest of the world.

The US is a long way from coming around to this realisation. It is this that renders the resistance to the Zionist project a form of resistance against Washington’s project of regional and global hegemony and it is this that renders the resistance movements in both Palestine and Iraq two sides of the same coin.

At a closer inspection of the conflict that is raging in and over this region one cannot help but realise that a single process is in progress, which is to reshape the legacy of the Ottoman Empire in a manner conducive to the demands of the most influential powers in today’s world. If Britain and France had succeeded in forwarding themselves as the legitimate heirs to this legacy in the wake of WWI, the failure of the regimes that had ousted the traditional colonial powers to produce stable, democratically legitimate forms of government has generated a situation that the US has been able to exploit in its bid to stake its claim as the next heir to the title. Moreover, not only is Israel to be at the US’s side in this, the events of the past ten years have shown that the US is not only unwilling but unable to force Israel to do anything it doesn’t want to do, which means that as Washington reorders the region to suit its interests it will also do its utmost to accommodate Israeli designs on the region as well.

Part of the Israeli project entails a drive to weaken those large Arab nations with strong central governments and eventually to fragment the region into a morass of small state entities based on narrow ethnic and/or denominational identities, in the midst of which Israel might appear almost normal. Israeli strategists believe that such fragmentation holds the key to Israel’s security in the long run, because they realise that its absolute military superiority will not last forever, especially if strong central states were permitted to continue to exist. In spite of Israel’s dismal failure at putting this strategy into effect in Lebanon in the 1980s, it feels that circumstances are ripe for trying it again, although beginning with Iraq this time, having succeeded in luring the US into a war there on Israel’s behalf.

I was always confident in the ability of the Iraqi people to mount a resistance against the US occupation. Nevertheless, I had never imagined that their movement would build up momentum and gather strength at the pace we have seen. Within a very short space of time, the Iraqi resistance has been able to expose the ugly face of America. It has proven to the world that the US came to Iraq not as a liberator but as an invader, not as a provider but as an avaricious taker. Contrary to its claim, it is now abundantly clear that the US came to Iraq to stay, and to exert its control directly over the affairs of that country, or through its handpicked agents.

I am thoroughly aware of the magnitude of the chaos in Iraq, just as I am aware of the fact that not all the violence is part of the resistance, as there are definitely parties at work that have agendas of their own, whether these include settling old scores or even blackening the name of the resistance itself. However, none of this refutes the legitimacy of the resistance in Iraq and the fact that it, like its counterpart in Palestine, is motivated by the cause of national liberty and dignity. And, just as with the resistance in Palestine, the Iraqi resistance realises that its back is up against the wall and that it has nothing to depend on but its own resources.

Nevertheless, it is the front line of defence against the American project of global hegemony and the Israeli project of regional hegemony, a fact realised not only by the people of this region but by people throughout the free world. Perhaps it would be vain to hope that the Iraqi and Palestinian resistance would score a definitive victory over the US and Israel, but by holding out they will have thwarted US-Israeli designs for hegemony. Indeed, this role of the resistance is already being etched into the annals of history.

Published Saturday, August 28th, 2004 - 01:58am GMT
The writer is professor of political science at Cairo University.

Article courtesy of A-Ahram Weekly
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