Oh, oh, here we are again! In 1967, it was then the ‘threat’ of the standing Arab Armies (and the ensuing six-day war on Egypt and Syria); in 1980, it was Iran (and the ensuing Iraqi war on Iran); in 1996, it was David Wurmser with his Coping with Crumbling States (flowing on from the infamous Clean Break policy strategy paper) which at that time targeted secular-Arab nationalist states, excoriated both as “crumbling relics of the ‘evil’ USSR” and inherently hostile to Israel, too; and in the 2003 and 2006 wars, it was Saddam Hussein firstly; and then Hezbollah that threatened the safety of the West’s civilizational ‘outpost’ in the Middle East.
And here we are once more, Israel cannot safely ‘live’ in a region containing a militant Hezbollah.
Not surprisingly, the Russian Ambassador in Beirut, Alexander Zasypkin, quickly recognized this all too familiar pattern: Speaking with al-Akhbar on 9 October in Beirut (more than a week before the protests in Beirut erupted), the Ambassador dismissed the prospect of any easing of regional tensions; but rather identified the economic crisis that has been building for years in Lebanon as the ‘peg’ on which the US and its allies might sow chaos in Lebanon (and in Iraq’s parallel economic calamity), to strike at Hezbollah and the Hash’d A-Sha’abi — Israel’s and America’s adversaries in the region.
Because what happened to Aramco on 14 September has shocked both Israel and America: the former Commander of the Israeli Air Force wrote recently, “recent events are forcing Israel to recalculate its path as it navigates events. The technological abilities of Iran and its various proxies have reached a level at which they can now alter the balance of power around the world”.
Not only could neither state identify the modus operando to the strikes (even now); but worse, neither had any answer to the technological feat the strikes plainly represented. In fact, the lack of any available ‘answer’ prompted one leading western defense analyst to suggest that Saudi should buy Russian Pantsir missiles rather than American air defenses.
For Israel, the Aramco shock arrived precisely at the moment that the US began its withdrawal of its ‘comfort security blanket’ from the region – leaving Israel (and Gulf States) on their own – and now vulnerable to technology they never expected their adversaries to possess.
Israelis – and particularly its PM – though always conscious to the hypothetical possibility, never thought withdrawal actually would happen, and never during the term of the Trump Administration.
This has left Israel completely knocked, and at sixes-and sevens. It has turned strategy on its head, with the former Israeli Air Force Commander (mentioned above) speculating on Israel’s uncomfortable options – going forward – and even postulating whether Israel now needed to open a channel to Iran.
This latter option, of course, would be culturally abhorrent to most Israelis. They would prefer a bold, out-of-the-blue, Israeli paradigm ‘game-changer’ (i.e. such as happened in 1967) to any outreach to Iran.
This is the real danger.
It is unlikely that the stirring of protests in Lebanon and Iraq are somehow a direct response to the above: but rather, more likely, they lie with old plans (including the recently leaked strategy paper for countering Iran, presented by MbS to the White House), and with the regular strategic meetings held between Mossad and the US National Security Council, under the chairmanship of John Bolton.
Whatever the specific parentage, the ‘playbook’ is quite familiar: spark a popular ‘democratic’ dissent (based on genuine grievances); craft messaging and a press campaign that polarizes the population, and which turns their anger away from generalized discontent towards targeting specific enemies (in this case Hezbollah, President Aoun and FM Gebran Bassil (whose sympathies with Hezbollah and President Assad make him a prime target, especially as heir-apparent to the leadership of the majority of Christians).
The aim – as always – is to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and the Army, and between Hezbollah and the Lebanese people.
It began when, during his meeting with President Aoun in March 2019, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo reportedly presented an ultimatum: Contain Hezbollah or expect unprecedented consequences, including sanctions and the loss of US aid.
Leaked reports suggest that Pompeo subsequently brought ally, PM Hariri into the picture of the planned disturbances when Hariri and his wife hosted Secretary Pompeo and his wife for a lunch banquet at Hariri’s ranch near Washington at the end of the Lebanese premier’s August visit to the US.
As the Lebanese demonstrations began, reports of an ‘operations room’ in Beirut managing and analyzing the protests, and of large scale funding by Gulf states proliferated; but for reasons that are not clear, the protests faltered.
The Army which originally stood curiously aloof, finally engaged in clearing the streets, and returning some semblance of normality – and the Central Bank governor’s strangely alarmist forecasts of imminent financial collapse were countered by other financial experts presenting a less frightening picture.
It seems that neither in Lebanon or in Iraq will US objectives finally be achieved (i.e. Hizbullah and Hash’d A-Sha’abi emasculated). In Iraq, this may be a less certain outcome however, and the potential risks the US is running in fomenting chaos much greater, should Iraq slip into anarchy.
The loss of Iraq’s 5 million barrels/day of crude would crater the market for crude – and in these economically febrile times, this might be enough to tip the global economy into recession.
But that would be ‘small beer’ compared to the risk that the US is running in tempting ‘The Fates’ over a regional war that reaches Israel.
But is there a wider message connecting these Middle East protests with those erupting across Latin America?
One analyst has coined the term for this era, as an Age of Anger disgorging from “serial geysers” of discontent across the globe from Equador to Chile to Egypt.
His theme is that neoliberalism is everywhere – literally – burning.
We have noted before, how the US sought to leverage the unique consequences arising from two World Wars, and the debt burden that they bequeathed, to award itself dollar hegemony, as well the truly exceptional ability to issue fiat credit across the globe at no cost to the US (the US simply ‘printed’ its fiat credit).
US financial institutions could splurge credit around the world, at virtually no cost – and live off the rent which those investments returned.
But ultimately that came at a price: The limitation – to being the global rentier – has become evident through disparities of wealth, and through the incremental impoverishment of the American middle classes that the concomitant off-shoring brought about.
Well-paid jobs evaporated, even as America’s financialised banking balance sheet ballooned across the globe.
But there was perhaps another aspect to this present Age of Anger.
It is TINA: ‘There is no alternative’.
Not because of an absence of potentiality – but because alternatives were crushed. At the end of two World Wars, there was an understanding of the need for a different way-of-being; an end to the earlier era of servitude; a new society; a new social contract.
But it was short-lived.
And – long story, short – that post-war longing for ‘fairness’ (whatever that meant) has been squeezed dry; ‘other politics or economics’ of whatever colour, has been derided as ‘fake news’ – and in the wake of the 2008 great financial crisis, all sorts of safety-nets were sacrificed, and private wealth ‘appropriated’ for the purpose of the re-building of bank balance sheets, preserving the integrity of debt, and for keeping interest rates low.
People became ‘individuals’ – on their own – to sort out their own austerity. Is it then, that people now are feeling both impoverished materially by that austerity, and impoverished humanly by their new era servitude?
The Middle East may pass through today’s present crises (or not), but be aware that, in their despair in Latin America, the ‘there is no alternative’ meme is becoming reason for protestors ‘to burn the system down’.
That is what happens when alternatives are foreclosed (albeit in the interests of preserving ‘us’ from system collapse).
By Alastair CROOKE, Former British diplomat, founder and director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum.
First published by SCF
The 21st Century