Learning the complex history of the Middle East, and comprehending the vested interests in the area, is key to understanding all conflicts in the region.
If we asked the basic question - what is this a consequence of? -we would find ourselves asking more and more questions and trying to find a cause for every effect. How far back does one need to go to find answers? We need to go as far back as necessary in order to understand the truth. As for every event, there is a cause; and to know what that is, we must ask the right questions. Not just the how, but the why. That is, of course, if we do not want to passively support policies that we do not want to be in our name.
Events in the Middle East have led to the largest refugee crisis since WWII, and that too should make us ask: why?
From Palestine, to Syria and Iraq, to the North African countries of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt, one cannot but wonder why so much violence? Is the current climate a consequence of actions taken in the past?
For Palestine - the story is simple. The Palestinians are the rightful inhabitants of the land and Israel is a country that was founded by Europeans who came to control that land. Israel has employed every imperialistic tactic to subjugate and control the Palestinian population by forcefully occupying their land and dispossessing them. The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, would simply call it by its name: ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians have reacted to the occupation, peacefully and not so peacefully. But theirs was a reaction to a number of provocative actions: occupation, theft of land, expulsion, extrajudicial killings, imprisonment and discrimination. Their reaction has been in support of their right to liberate themselves from the occupation. The media, however, repeatedly tells a different story: that the Palestinian people are violent, hateful and that they do not want peace, while repeating and perpetuating the Israeli myth that the land was promised to them by God and it was a land without a people for a people without a land. There is no cause-effect analysis, no explanation about the root cause of this disastrous situation.
What remains outside the mainstream discourse and narrative are the historical facts, especially the ones that would help us understand the context of the conflict. We are not told about the strategic plans that are being implemented on the ground, and why. The Oded Yinon Plan, written by an Israeli scholar in the 1980s, proposed to divide the Middle East into smaller and weaker states so they would be easier to control. Simply put, the plan suggested that if the Arab states were fighting each other, it would make it easier to dominate them and gain access to their resources. This paper has undoubtedly influenced policy makers, and it is shocking when viewed in the current context: the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the 2006 war in Lebanon, the 2011 war in Libya, the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, the war in Yemen, and the process of regime change in Egypt. The plan purported the weakening and fracturing of the Arab states, something that is currently happening, with the scope of ensuring Israeli regional superiority. Israeli strategists viewed Iraq as their biggest challenge and this is why Iraq was outlined as the centerpiece for the ‘divide and rule’ policy for the Middle East. The Yinon Plan called for the division of Iraq into a Kurdish state and two Arab states, one for Shiite Muslims and the other for Sunni Muslims. The plan clearly outlined the way that was going to be achieved, and that was going to be via a war between Iraq and Iran.
While the veracity of the Yinon plan may be in doubt, the more recent project of the right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu - called A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm, published in the 1990s - cannot be contested. His plan proposed a break from the Oslo agreements, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and a war in Syria. These ideas have not remained only ideas, but have seemingly been transformed into policy on the ground. Just like US policies towards the Arab/Islamic world are seemingly being implemented as described in the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington, published in the 1990s, which not only outlined his thesis but clearly states that it is a fundamental way for the US to maintain supremacy in the region.
The Israeli and US agendas have become one, and it is no surprise if it appears as though the second war in Iraq was waged for the sake of Israel with pressure from neo-Conservatives in the US and others in the UK looking to destabilize the region. The creation of the state of Israel by European imperialists is the most obvious injustice inflicted upon the Arab people. However, the Europeans are responsible for a lot more than that. While the focus is now on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, the root cause of this phenomenon should be examined and explained. Islamic fundamentalism did not come along on its own and if we ask what is it a consequence of, then the answer resides in the more complex rationales of history and oil.
Well before 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 - which brought about the Sunni uprising that has now transformed into the Islamic State movement - the CIA nurtured violent Islamic fighters as a weapon of the Cold War. The United States' relationship with the Middle East prior to World War I was limited, although commercial ties existed as early as the 19th century. However, actual American foreign policy in the area became much more expansive after World War II. During the Cold War the US tried to prevent Soviet influence by supporting anti-communist regimes and backing Israel against Soviet-sponsored Arab countries. Soon enough, the U.S. replaced the UK as the main security patron of the Persian Gulf states in the 1960s and 1970s, with the interest of ensuring Western access to oil.
Two important dates are key in the history of Middle Eastern countries: the Red Line Agreement signed in 1928, and the Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement signed in 1944. Both were legally binding and reflected an American interest to control Middle Eastern energy resources. The Red Line Agreement was part of a series of agreements made in the 1920s which aimed to restrict the supply of petroleum and ensure that (mostly) American companies would control oil prices on the world market. The agreement governed the development of Middle Eastern oil. In order to ensure control over these resources, there had to be direct involvement in Arab politics, which was achieved through CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. Although these historical facts and episodes are missing from mainstream narratives, they are all well-documented in CIA reports and by numerous CIA agents. Of course, they are also well known to the Arab people who have been on the receiving end of these actions.
Without analyzing this key information, we cannot fully understand the current political climate in the Middle East. While violence in Palestine or Syria may appear, on the surface, to be a big confusing mess, one particular factor – not often mentioned – could be the key to uncovering what is really fueling these conflicts.
The propaganda about Arabs and Muslims hating the West for its freedoms, which George W. Bush repeated ad nauseam – and which today are cited by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump - ignores the cause of any hatred that may emanate from people in the Middle East: that it is a direct consequence of the betrayal of those freedoms and values, by the West, in the Middle East. The US and its allies do not promote, support or truly desire democracy for the Arab world, and never did. On the contrary, they sought to undermine it.
During the1950s President Eisenhower, CIA Director Allen Dulles and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles mounted a clandestine war against Arab nationalism because the Americans equated it with communism. When the Arab nations threatened oil concessions, the CIA secretly provided military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon, favoring puppet governments and financing conservative Islamic ideologies - now known as Jihadists - because they regarded this support as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. In other words, the US and the West in general preferred to strengthen Islamic groups in the interest of weakening Arab nationalism, while at the same time fighting Soviet influence. We know that the USA employed the same approach in Afghanistan, where they created, financed and supported Jihadists with the sole purpose of fighting and weakening the Soviets.
In order to understand the current tragic war in Syria, we need to know some historical facts. The CIA first appeared on the scene as early as 1949, for the sole purpose of ensuring the success of an American project - the Trans-Arabian Pipeline -intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria.
According to Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA by John Prados - a senior fellow of the National Security Archive in Washington DC - newly declassified government records show that CIA agents used $3 million in 1957 to arm and incite Islamic militants, and to bribe Syrian military officers and politicians to overthrow the democratically elected secular regime of Shukri-al-Quwatli. The same was done in Iran: after ousting the democratically elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh in Operation Ajax, the US installed Shah Reza Pahlavi who favored U.S. oil companies. After two decades of CIA-sponsored savagery toward his own people, they overthrew the Shah in the 1979 revolution. The rest is history.
In Iraq, the CIA supplied Saddam Hussein with billions of dollars in training, weapons and intelligence, including anthrax. At the time Ronald Reagan and his CIA director, Bill Casey, regarded Saddam as a potential friend of the U.S. oil industry; however, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam’s enemy, Iran, with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran-Contra scandal.
Control over Iran, Iraq and Syria have clearly always been in US strategic plans to gain access to oil resources.
Qatar too is a key actor in this game. The country shares the South Pars/North Dome gas field with Iran, the world’s richest natural gas repository. Qatar’s plans were first put forward in 2009 and involved building a pipeline from the Persian Gulf via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Syria rejected the Qatar proposal in order to protect the interests of its ally, Russia, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas. This helps explain why Russia has entered the war in Syria to protect the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.
The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would also allow the Sunni kingdoms of the Persian Gulf to dominate world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America’s closest ally in the Arab world, which hosts two of the largest American military bases in the Middle East. Qatar owns about two-thirds of the resources but relies on tankers to deliver product to other countries, which makes its gas more expensive than Russia’s. This is surely a good reason for Qatar to support the rebels against Syrian President Assad, with the hope to replace him with another head of state who would accept the pipeline. The story goes on and on this way.
This clearly goes hand-in-hand with the old plan to weaken and fragment Arab nation states, by fomenting a Sunni-Shiite civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes, in order to maintain control of the region’s petrochemical supply. This strategy, of course, includes providing support to Islamic groups.
A Pentagon-funded Rand report proposed a precise blueprint for what was to happen, as it proposed the full control of Persian Gulf oil and gas deposits. The report stated that prolonging a war through covert action, information operations, and unconventional warfare was necessary in order to enforce a “divide and rule” strategy. The report also said that the United States and its local allies could use nationalist jihadists to launch proxy campaigns and to fuel the Shia-Sunni conflict. Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria currently occupied by the Islamic State are exactly those areas covered by the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.
Turkey, a US ally and member of NATO, plays a key role as an energy crossroads for the Qatar pipeline project. Washington’s aim is to privilege Qatar as a source - not Iran - and Turkey as the hub for the EU, because it stands at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.
Qatar’s plans put Turkey at the center of this game. Many countries supporting or opposing the war against Assad have links to these pipeline plans. Viewed through a geopolitical and economic lens, the conflict in Syria is not a civil war but the result of various international players positioning themselves in preparation for the opening of the pipeline.
The game has now expanded even further, with the recent discovery of offshore gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean – in offshore Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon.
Unfortunately, the consequence of decades of global powers meddling in the Middle East continues to echo across the region today. The Islamic State fighters are the ideological and organizational successors to the jihadists that the CIA has been nurturing for more than 40 years, from Syria and Egypt to Afghanistan and Iraq.
If we dig into the history and ask the right questions, we know why: to divide and rule, and control resources.
Rania Hammad was adjunct professor of International Relations at St. John's University from 2003 until 2010, amongst other things, she is the author of “The Other Israeli Voices” and "Palestine in my Heart".