A Paradigm Shift: America as Proxy
By Ramzy Baroud
April 13, 2007
Conflicts in the Middle East are often orchestrated from afar, using
proxies -- the least risky method to fight and win a war. Despite its
geopolitical fragmentation, the Middle East is loosely united insofar
as any major event in any given locale can subsequently be felt
throughout the region. Thus Lebanon, for example, has been a stage for
proxy wars for decades. And it is not just Israel and the United
States that have laboured to penetrate and further fragment Lebanese
society. The intelligence services of various Arab countries, as well
as Iran, have used Lebanon as a hub for their invariable interests,
the outcome of any conflict -- be it internal or external -- directly
affecting the image and political positioning of this or that country.
Palestinians have often been used as, and in some cases have presented
themselves to play the role of, a proxy force. The rationale, in some
cases, was personal interest; in others, lack of a platform that would
allow them to organise. In the two most notable instances in which
they tried to exert control over their host domains -- the cases of
Jordan in the 1970s and Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s -- the cost was
horrendous, leading to unprecedented bloodshed. After Arafat's forced
exit from Beirut in 1982, Palestinians were forced to exchange the
physical space they obtained for overt allegiance to various regimes.
Arafat mastered the art like no other Palestinian leader. The
supporters of the Oslo Accords argued that the agreement's key success
was freeing the Palestinian political will from pandering to host
countries for survival, which proved untrue. A Hamas leader in Syria
told me, off the record, during a telephone interview recently: "We
have no doubt that Damascus will dump us the moment we are no longer
of use, but we have no other option but to play along."
Proxy politics is strategically significant for it helps take the
battle to someone else's physical space, create distractions and
circumvent internal crises. Both Israel and Iran, despite the colossal
chasm that separate their political and military intents, are
currently involved in such a manoeuvre.
President Ahmadinejad, backed by or directed by the instrumental
forces in his country -- Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the
Supreme National Security Council -- is well acquainted with the fact
that if Iraq is subdued by US forces, it will be Iran's turn to bear
the brunt of obtrusive US imperial designs, cheered on, if not largely
facilitated by Israel's neo- conservative allies in Washington.
Accordingly, Iran is involved in trying to shape a political milieu in
Iraq that will keep the Americans at bay. This is not to suggest that
it was Iran, as opposed to the unwarranted American invasion, that
engender the current chaos in Iraq; however, Iran, like other Middle
Eastern countries involved in Iraq, wishes to manage and manipulate
the outcome to suit its own interests. From Iran's point of view, this
action makes perfect sense.
While Iran's prime objective is to discourage an American military
assault against it, Israel seeks regional hegemony, where it is left
only with "moderate" neighbours. According to this vision, conceived
and promoted publicly by Israeli leaders and their friends in
Washington and emphasised to the point of boring repetition by every
relevant US official at every possible opportunity, the Iranian
"threat" must be eradicated at any cost. Israel's fears of Iran are
not nuclear in essence. What worries Israel is that Iran is militarily
strong, politically cohesive and economically viable, enough to allow
Iran opportunity to challenge Israel at every turn. The Israelis, as
their country's history illustrates, simply despise such contenders.
Israel's attempt to demolish Gamal Abdel Nasser's national regime in
1956, only eight years after the establishment of the Israeli state,
is a poignant example.
Yet a paradigm shift has occurred since the US invasion of Iraq four
years ago. While the US was the major power that often orchestrated
proxy wars through clandestine tactics, as it did in Central America
and various parts of Asia, Israel is now adopting a similar scheme. In
most instances in the past, Israel managed to sway US administrations
to behave according to the misleading mantra: "What's good for Israel
is good for America." But a clash of interests here is unavoidable.
While Israel's heart is set on a war against Iran, it is elementary
knowledge that a war against Iran would bring irrevocable disaster for
the United States. Prolonged political hostility with Iran is equally
dangerous, for it will further complicate the American task in Iraq.
But Israel is still cheering for war. Former director of Mossad, Uzi
Arad, told the British Guardian that, "A military strike may be easier
than you think." He outlined what targets were to be bombed -- not
just nuclear, but security and economic centres. "Iran is much more
vulnerable than people realise," he stated casually. Arad, like most
Israeli officials, wants war, even if such a war would complicate
America's regional involvement and cost it innumerable human lives,
notwithstanding a foreseeable large number of dead Iranians. It would
matter little to Israel, however, for a chaotic Iran, like a chaotic
Iraq, is just another opportunity to be exploited, and another
"threat" to be checked off Israel's security list.
While proxy relations are part and parcel of Middle East politics,
even arrogant superpowers can find themselves exploited, wittingly or not.
-Ramzy Baroud is a US author and journalist. His latest volume: The
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle (Pluto
Press, London) is available from Amazon and other book venues.
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