ANALYS: Israel and Its Neighbors

Leveling the Playing Field

By MICHAEL NEUMANN

In the last few years, both Zionism and the occupation have been criticized, if not to death, as fully as possible. America’s pro-Israel loudmouths should deceive no one:   most of the world has taken the criticisms to heart. Even Israel’s supposed undying allies know the occupation has to end; so do a majority of Israelis.Though some of the preachier critics love to think otherwise, the US government – meaning the executive branch – has known this for some time. Its official position has always been that the occupation has to end. As for the massive aid accorded to Israel, two points should be borne in mind. First, the US gives at least as much aid, including military aid, to the Arab states and Pakistan – and sells advanced weapons to the Gulf States.  Second, the aid is largely part of a pathetic attempt to bribe Israel into something like a reasonable accommodation with the Arab world.

Some suppose that the attempt is pathetic because it is insincere. This view is wildly optimistic, and presupposes an article of faith curiously popular on the left:  that America is a colossus which can, with the beckoning of a finger, bring to heel the pygmies that surround it. Whatever the truth about American power in general, this certainly does not hold in the case of Israel. The power of the entire Western world may not suffice to bring that country to heel.

Israel is not only a nuclear power, but one of the world’s leading nuclear powers. What’s more, it is the only nuclear power that has openly toyed with the idea of using nuclear weapons even when that would be suicidal. Israeli strategists, perhaps assured of divine approval, call this the Samson option. With a bit of ingenuity and luck, Israel could manage a very credible first strike against any power on earth.   It won’t do so, of course, but the ‘of course’ relies on our assurance that not even the other leading nuclear powers would use military force to compel Israel to do anything at all.  So push come to shove, in the case of Israel, there is no push, and no shove.

What then, if the US ‘turned off the aid spigot’?   Israel’s critics, not excluding some Israelis, are increasingly indignant in their demands for this to happen. Again, they are wildly optimistic.  No doubt Israel finds US aid a great convenience. But the US also finds Israeli aid a great convenience. Israel’s defense establishment not only produces but develops many capabilities of vital importance to the US, among them anti-missile systems, drones, and cyberwarfare solutions. And this is why economic sanctions wouldn’t work. Israel has an abundance of technology and even military hardware that much of the world would line up to buy, at almost any price. Not only would Israel be able to sustain itself financially and economically; it would do so through commerce that the West could only consider catastrophic.

This doesn’t mean the Israel/Palestine conflict is insoluble.   It means that any solution is out of ‘our’ hands – of the critics, certainly, and even of the Western powers.   The solution, if there is one, will have to be built on a true balance of power in the Middle East. The prospects for such a balance are not entirely dim, but they involve realities that few are willing to face.

At best (!), the prospects of peace, of an end to Israeli/Palestinian ‘terror’, lie in the hands of those alleged terrorists, Hizbollah, and their sponsors, including Iran.   Perhaps Hizbollah is just powerful enough so that Israelis will, like white South Africa, see the writing on the wall, and settle with their conquered people. Until the next war with Lebanon, the chances of this are anyone’s guess.

There is, however, a more frightening possibility. It can be rendered less frightening only if the West bows to the inevitable.

The ‘Arab’ world, like Iran, certainly realizes the crushing and dangerous advantage represented by Israeli nuclear weapons. Yet these countries lack the capacity to confront Israel and the political clout to make others do so.    What if the means to acquire this clout became available?

In fact the means are already at hand.

By now, the world, and therefore the ‘Arab’ world, knows that the West will never, ever, act against Israel:  the very opportunity to do so has slipped away. Sooner or later, this will drive Israel’s neighbors to their only alternative.  It is cost-effective, not only in dollars but very likely in lives.

Arab nations, and Iran, would be quite within their rights to withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation agreements.  (These in any case are scandalous in their net effect, which is to protect Israel from military competition while securing Israel’s carte blanche in the nuclear arena.) The Arab world, likely with the cooperation of other nations, could then pursue a collective program of nuclear development and research, with the declared and explicit purpose of securing military as well as civilian nuclear capacity.

The mere announcement of these plans – with their effects on Israeli morale and Western resolve – might produce considerable results at no real cost to anyone. Should Israel persist in its obstinacy, development would proceed, increasing the pressure to find – impose – a solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. One might think this very idea a piece of wild-eyed extremism. But what is extreme is to let Israel first develop and then brandish nuclear weapons, while tying the hands of all its potential victims.   To untie their hands is simply to return to the balance-of-power politics that, for centuries, has been seen as the best guarantor of peace.

Today, this is mere fantasy. But the Arab world, with support from the non-Arab Muslim world, will change enough to put this strategy within the realm of the possible.  Collectively, those nations have ample wealth and technical abilities. They are increasingly aware of the need to put aside old animosities. And presumably they will eventually tire of being treated with contempt.

And what is the role of the West in this?   Only to stay out of the way; it is capable of no more. Instead, there will be hand-wringing, hysteria, moral epilepsy. Perhaps the fits will pass, and the West will find the resolve to do what it has done so well for so long: nothing.

Ref: Counterpunch

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com

VIDEO: Obama is a disaster! (Robert Fisk speaking the truth!)

America’s Secret Empire – The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption

John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” part 1/3

John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” part 3/3

John Perkins “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” part 3/3

“Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” author John Perkins argues that the United states has created a modern-day empire through the use of economic blackmail and the undermining of foreign governments.

“The Secret History of the American Empire” with John Perkins, author of “Confessions of An Economic Hit Man.”

Perkins zeroes in on hot spots around the world such as Venezuela, Tibet, Iraq, Israel, Vietnam and others and exposes the network of events in each of these countries that have contributed to the creation of the American Empire and international corruption in “The Secret History of the American Empire: Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and the Truth About Global Corruption” – Cody’s Books

John Perkins spent three decades as an Economic Hit Man, business executive, author, and lecturer. He lived and worked in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and North America. Then he made a decision: he would use these experiences to make the planet a better place for his daughter’s generation. Today he teaches about the importance of rising to higher levels of consciousness, to waking up – in both spiritual and physical realms – and is a champion for environmental and social causes. He has lectured at universities on four continents, including Harvard, Wharton, and Princeton.

VIDEO: Israel’s Water Crisis the PROPAGANDA >< REALITY VERSION

Water and environment in Israel – THE PROPAGANDA VERSION

Israel faces its worst water crisis in 80 years. – THE REALITY

Israel’s water challenge – THE REALITY

Israel’s Water Crisis – the ZIONIST VERSION

Are they REALLY Oil Wars?

A most widely-cited factor behind the recent U.S. wars of choice is said to be oil. “No Blood for Oil” has been a rallying cry for most of the opponents of the war. While some of these opponents argue that the war is driven by the U.S. desire for cheap oil, others claim that it is prompted by big oil’s wish for high oil prices and profits. Interestingly, most antiwar forces use both claims interchangeably without paying attention to the fact that they are diametrically-opposed assertions.

Not only do the two arguments contradict each other, but each argument is also wanting and unconvincing on its own grounds; not because the U.S. does not wish for cheap oil, or because Big Oil does not desire higher oil prices, but because war is no longer the way to control or gain access to energy resources. Colonial-type occupation or direct control of energy resources is no longer efficient or economical and has, therefore, been abandoned for more than four decades.

The view that recent U.S. military adventures in the Middle East and the broader Central Asia are driven by energy considerations is further reinforced by the dubious theory of Peak Oil, which maintains that, having peaked, world oil resources are now dwindling and that, therefore, war power and military strength are key to access or control of the shrinking energy resources.

In this study I will first argue that the Peak Oil theory is unscientific, unrealistic, and perhaps even fraudulent. I will then show that war and military force are no longer the necessary or appropriate means to gain access to sources of energy, and that resorting to military measures can, indeed, lead to costly, not cheap, oil. Next, I will demonstrate that, despite the lucrative spoils of war resulting from high oil prices and profits, Big Oil prefers peace and stability, not war and geopolitical turbulence, in global energy markets. Finally, I will argue a case that behind the drive to war and military adventures in the Middle East lie some powerful special interests (vested in war, militarism, and geopolitical concerns of Israel) that use oil as an issue of “national interest”—as a façade or pretext—in order to justify military adventures to derive high dividends, both economic and geopolitical, from war.

Has Oil Really Peaked—and Is It Running Out?

Peak oil thesis, as noted above, maintains that world oil reserves, having reached their maximum capacity, are now dwindling—with grave consequences of oil shortage and high energy prices. While this has led many to call for more vigorous conservation, it has led others to argue in favor of unrestrained exploration and extraction of oil reserves, especially those located in the Alaskan Wildlife regions.

Significant policy and/or political implications follow from the view that oil is running out. For one thing, this view provides fodder for the cannons of war profiteering militarists who are constantly on the look out to invent new enemies and find new pretexts for continued war and escalation of military spending. For another, it tends to disarm many antiwar forces that accept this thesis and, therefore, “internalize responsibility for U.S. foreign policy every time they fill their gas tank. Thus they own the wars.”[1]

The Peak Oil thesis serves as a powerful trap and a clever manipulation in that it lets the real forces of war and militarism (the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel lobby) “off the hook; it is a fabulous redirection. All evils are blamed on a commodity upon which we are all utterly dependent.”[2]

The fact, however, is that there is no hard evidence that oil has peaked, or that global oil reserves are shrinking, or that the current skyrocketing price of oil is due to a supply shortage. (As shown below, there is actually an oil surplus, no shortage.)

Peak oil theory is not altogether new. It was originally floated around in the 1940s, arguing that world oil reserves would be exhausted within the next two decades or so. It then resurfaced in the 1970s and early 1980s in reaction to the oil price hikes of those years—which were, incidentally, precipitated not by oil shortages but by international political convulsions, revolutions and wars. But it died down once the price of oil fell back to pre-crises levels.

As recent geopolitical convulsions in the Middle East (especially the U.S. war on Iraq, and the resultant booming speculation in oil markets) have triggered a new round of oil price hikes, Peak Oil theory has once again become fashionable. The theory is being promoted not only by war profiteers and proponents of an unbridled domestic oil exploration and extraction, especially in Alaska, but also by some apparently antiwar liberals such as Michael T. Klare and James H. Kunstler.[3]

Peak oil theory is based on a number of assumptions and omissions that make it less than reliable. To begin with, it discounts or disregards the fact that energy-saving technologies have drastically improved (and will continue to further improve) the efficiency of oil consumption. Evidence shows that, for example, “over a period of five years (1994-99), U.S. GDP expanded over 20 percent while oil usage rose by only nine percent. Before the 1973 oil shock, the ratio was about one to one.”[4]

Second, Peak Oil theory pays scant attention to the drastically enabling new technologies that have made (and will continue to make) possible discovery and extraction of oil reserves that were inaccessible only a short time ago. One of the results of the more efficient means of research and development has been a far higher success rate in finding new oil fields. The success rate has risen in twenty years from less than 70 percent to over 80 percent. Computers have helped to reduce the number of dry holes. Horizontal drilling has boosted extraction. Another important development has been deep-water offshore drilling, which the new technologies now permit. Good examples are the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and more recently, the promising offshore oil fields of West Africa.[5]

Third, Peak Oil theory also pays short shrift to what is sometimes called non-conventional oil. These include Canada’s giant reserves of extra-heavy bitumen that can be processed to produce conventional oil. Although this was originally considered cost inefficient, experts working in this area now claim that they have brought down the cost from over $20 a barrel to $8 per barrel. Similar developments are taking place in Venezuela. It is thanks to developments like these that since 1970, world oil reserves have more than doubled, despite the extraction of hundreds of millions of barrels.[6]

Fourth, Peak Oil thesis pays insufficient attention to energy sources other than oil. These include solar, wind, non-food bio-fuel, and nuclear energies. They also include natural gas. Gas is now about 25 percent of energy demand worldwide. It is estimated that by 2050 it will be the main source of energy in the world. A number of American, European, and Japanese firms have and are investing heavily in developing fuel cells for cars and other vehicles that would significantly reduce gasoline consumption.[7]

Fifth, proponents of Peak Oil tend to exaggerate the impact of the increased oil demand coming from China and India on both the amount and the price of oil in global markets. The alleged disparity between supply and demand is said to be due to the rapidly growing demand coming from China and India. But that rapid growth in demand is largely offset by a number of counterbalancing factors. These include slower growth in U.S. demand due to its slower economic growth, efficient energy utilization in industrially advanced countries, and increases in oil production by OPEC, Russia, and other oil producing countries.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, claims of “peaked and dwindling” oil are refuted by the available facts and figures on global oil supply. Statistical evidence shows that there is absolutely no supply-demand imbalance in global oil markets. Contrary to the claims of the proponents of Peak Oil and champions of war and militarism, the current oil price shocks are a direct consequence of the destabilizing wars and geopolitical insecurity in the Middle East, not oil shortages. These include not only the raging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the threat of a looming war against Iran. The record of soaring oil prices shows that anytime there is a renewed U.S. military threat against Iran, fuel prices move up several notches.

The war also contributes to the escalation of fuel prices in indirect ways—for example, by plunging the U.S. ever deeper into debt and depreciating the dollar, or by creating favorable grounds for speculation. As oil is priced largely in U.S. dollars, oil exporting countries ask for more dollars per barrel of oil as the dollar loses value. Perhaps more importantly, an atmosphere of war and geopolitical instability in global oil markets serves as an auspicious ground for hoarding and speculation in commodity markets, especially oil, which is heavily contributing to the recently soaring oil prices.

As much as 60% of today’s crude oil price is pure speculation driven by large trader banks and hedge funds. It has nothing to do with the convenient myths of Peak Oil. It has to do with control of oil and its price. . . . Since the advent of oil futures trading and the two major London and New York oil futures contracts, control of oil prices has left OPEC and gone to Wall Street. It is a classic case of the ‘tail that wags the dog.’[8]

Wall Street financial giants that created the Third World debt crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the tech bubble in the 1990s, and the housing bubble in the 2000s are now hard at work creating the oil bubble. By purchasing large numbers of futures contracts, and thereby pushing up futures prices to even higher levels than current prices, speculators have provided a financial incentive for oil companies to buy even more oil and place it in storage. A refiner will purchase extra oil today, even if it costs $115 per barrel, if the futures price is even higher.[9]

This has led to a steady rise in crude oil inventories over the last two years, “resulting in US crude oil inventories that are now higher than at any time in the previous eight years. The large influx of speculative investment into oil futures has led to a situation where we have both high supplies of crude oil and high crude oil prices. . . . In fact, during this period global supplies have exceeded demand, according to the US Department of Energy.”[10]

The fact that the skyrocketing oil prices of late have been accompanied by a surplus in global oil markets was also brought to the attention of President George W. Bush by Saudi officials when he asked them during a recent trip to the kingdom to increase production in order to stem the rising prices. Saudi officials reminded the President that “there is plenty of oil on the market. Iran has put some 30 million barrels of oil that it can’t sell into floating storage. ‘If we produced more oil, it wouldn’t find buyers,’ says the Saudi source. It wouldn’t affect the price at all.”[11]

And why producing more oil “wouldn’t affect the price at all”? Well, because what is driving the soaring oil prices is not shortage but speculation: “with so much investment money sloshing around in the commodities markets, the Saudis calculate they have no hope of controlling short-term price fluctuations. They blame the recent price run-ups on speculation and fear of shortages [not real shortages], factors they say are beyond their control.”[12]

War for Cheap Oil?

The widely-shared view that the U.S. desire for access to abundant and cheap oil lurks behind the Bush administration’s drive to war in the Middle East rests on the implicit but dubious assumption that access to energy resources requires direct control of oil fields and/or oil producing countries. There are at least three problems with this postulation.

First, if control of or influence over oil producing countries in the Middle East is a requirement for access to cheap oil, the United States already enjoys significant influence over some of the major oil producers in the region—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a number of other smaller producers. Why, then, would the U.S. want to bring about war and political turmoil in the region that might undermine that long and firmly-established influence?

Let us assume for a moment that the neoconservative militarists are sincere in their alleged desire to bring about democratic rule and representational government in the Middle East. Let us further assume that they succeed in realizing this purported objective. Would, then, the thus-emerging democratic governments, representing the wishes of the majority of their citizens, be as accommodating to U.S. economic and geopolitical objectives, including its oil needs, as are its currently friendly rulers in the region? Most probably not.

Secondly, and more importantly, access to oil no longer requires control of oil fields or oil producers—as was the case in times past. For more than a century, that is, from the early days of oil extraction in the United States in the 1870s until the mid-1970s, the price of oil was determined administratively, that is, by independent producers operating in different parts of the world without having to compete with each other. Under those circumstances, colonial or imperial wars of conquest and occupation were crucial to the control of oil (and other) resources.

Beginning with the 1950s, however, that pattern of local, non-competitive price determination began to gradually change in favor of regional and/or international markets. By the mid 1970s, an internationally competitive oil market emerged that effectively ended the century-old pattern of local, administrative pricing. Today, oil prices (like most other commodity prices) are determined largely by the forces of supply and demand in competitive global energy markets; and any country or company can have as much oil as they wish if they pay the going market (or spot) price.[13]

To the extent that competitive oil markets and/or prices are occasionally manipulated, such subversions of competitive market forces are often brought about not so much by OPEC or other oil producing countries as by manipulative speculations of financial giants in New York and London. As was discussed earlier, gigantic Wall Street financial institutions have accomplished this feat through “innovative” financial instruments such as establishment of energy hedge funds and speculative oil futures markets in New York and London.[14]

It is true that collective supply decisions of oil producing countries can, and sometimes does, affect the competitively determined market price. But a number of important issues need to be considered here.

To begin with, although such supply manipulations obviously affect or influence market-determined prices, they do not determine those prices. In other words, competitive international oil markets determine its price with or without oil producers’ supply manipulations. Such supply managements are, however, designed not to create volatility in energy markets, or chronic oil price hikes. Instead, they are designed to stabilize global oil prices because oil exporting countries prefer stability, predictability and long-term planning for their economic development and industrialization projects. Here is how Cyrus Bina and Minh Vo describe this relationship:

As a result, we conclude that the global oil market is the prime mover [i.e., prime determinant of oil price] and OPEC indeed follows its trajectory accordingly and consistently. . . . When market price (both spot and futures) is falling, OPEC decreases its output; when market price is rising, OPEC attempts to increase its output; and when market price is steady, OPEC keeps its output unchanged. . . . And, this is a kind of oil market we have experienced after the dust settled following the crisis of de-cartelization and globalization of oil industry in the 1970s.[15]

Producers’ policy to sometimes curtail or limit the supply of oil, the so-called “limited flow” policy, is designed to raise the actual trading price above the market-determined price in order to keep high-cost U.S. producers in business while leaving low-cost Middle East producers with an above average, or “super,” profit. While for low-cost producers this limited flow policy is largely a matter of making more or less profits, for high-cost U.S. producers it is a matter of survival, of being able to stay in or go out of business—an important but rarely mentioned or acknowledged fact.

A hypothetical numerical example might be helpful here. Suppose that the market-determined, or free-flow, price of oil is $30 per barrel. Further, suppose this price entails an average rate of profit of 10 percent, or $3 per barrel. The word “average” in this context refers to average conditions of production, that is, producers who produce under average conditions of production in terms of productivity and cost of production. This means that producers who produce under better-than-average conditions, that is, low-cost, high productivity producers, will make a profit higher than $3 per barrel while high-cost, low efficiency producers will end up making less than $3 per barrel. This also means that some of the high-cost producers may end up going out of business altogether. Now, if the limited flow policy raises the actual trading price to $35 per barrel, it will raise the profits of all producers accordingly, thereby also keeping in business some high-cost producers that might otherwise have gone out of business.

Furthermore, supply manipulation (in pursuit of price manipulation) is not limited to the oil industry. In today’s economic environment of giant corporations and big businesses, many of the major industries try, and often succeed in controlling supply in order to control price. Take, for example, the automobile industry. Theoretically, automobile producers could flood the market with a huge supply of cars. But that would not be good business as it would lower prices and profits. So, they control supply, just as do oil producers, in order to manipulate price. During the past several decades, the price of automobiles, in real terms, has been going up every year, at least to the tune of inflation. During this period, the industry (and the economy in general) has enjoyed a many-fold increase in labor productivity. Increased labor productivity is supposed to translate into lower costs and, therefore, lower prices. Yet, that has not materialized in the case of this industry—as it has in the case of, for example, pocket calculators or computers.

Another example of price control through supply manipulation is the case of U.S. grain producers. The so-called “set aside” policy that pays farmers not to cultivate part of their land in order to curtail supply and prop up price is not different—nay, it is worse— than OPEC’s policy of supply and/or price manipulation.

It is also necessary to keep in mind that OPEC’s desire to sometimes limit the supply of oil in order to shore up its price is limited by a number of factors. For one thing, the share, and hence the influence, of Middle Eastern oil producers as a percentage of world oil production has steadily declined over time, from almost 40 percent when OPEC was established to about 30 percent today.[16] For another, OPEC members are not unmindful of the fact that inordinately high oil prices can hurt their own long-term interests as this might prompt oil importers to economize on oil consumption and search for alternative sources of energy, thereby limiting producers’ export markets.

OPEC members also know that inordinately high oil prices could precipitate economic recessions in oil importing countries that would, once again, lower demand for their oil. In addition, high oil prices tend to raise the cost of oil producers’ imports of manufactured products as high energy costs are bound to affect production costs of those manufactured products.

War for Expensive Oil?

Now let us consider the widely-shared view that attributes the Bush administration’s drive to war to the influence of big oil companies in pursuit of higher oil prices and profits. As noted, this is obviously the opposite of the “war for cheap oil” argument, as it claims that Big Oil tends to instigate war and political tension in the Middle East in order to cause an oil price hike and increase its profits. Like the “war for cheap oil” theory, this claim is not supported by facts. Although the claim has an element of a prima facie reasonableness, that apparently facile credibility rests more on precedent and perception than reality. Part of the perception is due to the exaggerated notion that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were “oil men” before coming to the White House. But the fact is that George W. Bush was never more than an unsuccessful petty oil prospector and Dick Cheney headed a company, the notorious Halliburton, that sold (and still sells) services to oil companies and the Pentagon.

The larger part of the perception, however, stems from the fact that oil companies do benefit from oil price hikes that result from war and political turbulence in the Middle East. Such benefits are, however, largely incidental. Surely, American oil companies would welcome the spoils of the war (that result from oil price hikes) in Iraq or anywhere else in the world. From the largely incidental oil price hikes that follow war and political convulsion, some observers automatically conclude that, therefore, Big Oil must have been behind the war.[17] But there is no evidence that, at least in the case of the current invasion of Iraq, oil companies pushed for or supported the war.

On the contrary, there is strong evidence that, in fact, oil companies did not welcome the war because they prefer stability and predictability to periodic oil spikes that follow war and political convulsion: “Looking back over the last 20 years, there is plenty of evidence showing the industry’s push for stability and cooperation with Middle Eastern countries and leaders, and the U.S. government’s drive for hegemony works against the oil industry.”[18] As Thierry Desmarest, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of France’s giant oil company, TotalFinaElf, put it, “A few months of cash generation is not a big deal. Stable, not volatile, prices and a $25 price (per barrel) would be convenient for everyone.”[19]

It is true that for a long time, from the beginning of Middle Eastern oil exploration and discovery in the early twentieth century until the mid-1970s, colonial and/or imperial powers controlled oil either directly or through control of oil producing countries—at times, even by military force. But that pattern of colonial or imperialist exploitation of global markets and resources has changed now. Most of the current theories of imperialism and hegemony that continue invoking that old pattern of Big Oil behavior tend to suffer from an ahistorical perspective. Today, as discussed earlier, even physically occupying and controlling another country’s oil fields will not necessarily be beneficial to oil interests. Not only will military adventures place the operations of current energy projects at jeopardy, but they will also make the future plans precarious and unpredictable. Big Oil interests, of course, know this; and that’s why they did not countenance the war on Iraq: “The big oil companies were not enthusiastic about the Iraqi war,” says Fareed Mohamedi of PFC Energy, an energy consultancy firm based in Washington D.C. that advises petroleum firms. “Corporations like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron-Texaco want stability, and this is not what Bush is providing in Iraq and the Gulf region,” adds Mohamedi.[20]

Big Oil interests also know that not only is war no longer the way to gain access to oil, it is in fact an obstacle to gaining that access. Exclusion of U.S. oil companies from vast oil resources in countries such as Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and a number of central Asian countries due to militaristic U.S. foreign policy is a clear testament to this fact. Many of these countries (including, yes, Iran) would be glad to have major U.S. oil companies invest, explore and extract oil from their rich reserves. Needless to say that U.S. oil companies would be delighted to have access to those oil resources. But U.S. champions of war and militarism have successfully torpedoed such opportunities through their unilateral wars of aggression and their penchant for a Cold War-like international atmosphere.

When Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia he was willing to allow American energy companies to continue with the one-sided contracts they had drawn up during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. Putin built a seemingly trusting relationship with George Bush who looked into Putin’s soul and liked what he saw. The two leaders grew even closer in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on World Trade Centre and the Pentagon—when Russia provided “help for America’s invasion of Afghanistan.” Soon after this generous cooperation, however, “Bush repudiated the anti-ballistic missile treaty in the belief that America could develop the technology for winning a nuclear war. This posed a huge strategic threat to Russia.”[21]

Describing the heavy-handed, imperial U.S. policy toward Russia, Stephen F. Cohen writes: “The real US policy has been very different—a relentless, winner-take-all exploitation of Russia’s post-1991 weakness. Accompanied by broken American promises, condescending lectures and demands for unilateral concessions, it has been even more aggressive and uncompromising than was Washington’s approach to Soviet Communist Russia.”[22]

Bush’s withdrawal from the ABM treaty not merely posed an existential threat to Russia but was almost a betrayal of the trust that Putin had put in him. This led to Putin’s disenchantment with America. “Eventually he seems to have decided that every time America transgressed against Russian interests he would retaliate by stopping another American company from exploiting Russian resources.”[23]

During the past few decades, major oil companies have consistently opposed U.S. policies and military threats against countries like Iran, Iraq, and Libya. They have, indeed, time and again, lobbied U.S. foreign policy makers for the establishment of peaceful relations and diplomatic rapprochement with those countries. The Iran-Libya Sanction Act of 1996 (ILSA) is a strong testament to the fact that oil companies nowadays view wars, economic sanctions, and international political tensions as harmful to their long-term business interests and, accordingly, strive for peace, not war, in international relations.

On March 15, 1995 President Clinton issued Executive Order 12957 which banned all U.S. contributions to the development of Iran’s petroleum resources, a crushing blow to the oil industry, especially to the Conoco oil company that had just signed a $1 billion contract to develop fields in Iran. The deal marked a strong indication that Iran was willing to improve its relationship with the United States, only to have President Clinton effectively nullify it. Two months later, sighting “an extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the U.S.,” President Clinton issued another order, 1259, that expanded the sanctions to become a total trade and investment embargo against Iran. Then a year later came ILSA which extended the sanctions imposed on Iran to Libya as well.

It is no secret that the major force behind the Iran-Libya Sanction Act was the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Zionist lobby in Washington. The success of AIPAC in passing ILSA through both the Congress and the White House over the opposition of the major U.S. oil companies is testament to the fact that, in the context of U.S. policy in the Middle East, even the influence of the oil industry pales vis-à-vis the influence of the Zionist lobby.[24]

ILSA was originally to be imposed on both U.S. and foreign companies. However, in the end it was the U.S. companies that suffered the most due to waivers that were given to European companies after pressure from the European Union. In 1996 the EU pursued its distaste of ILSA by lodging complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the U.S. and through adopting “blocking legislation” that would prevent EU companies from complying with ILSA. Meanwhile, the contract that Iran had originally signed with Conoco was awarded to TotalFinaElf of France for $760 million; the deal also left the door open for Total to sign an additional contract with Iran for $2 billion in 1997 with their partners Gazprom and Petronas.

In May of 1997 major U.S. oil companies such as Conoco, Exxon, Atlantic Richfield, and Occidental Petroleum joined other (non-military) U.S. companies to create an anti-sanction coalition. Earlier that same year Conoco’s Chief Executive Archie Dunham publicly took a stance against unilateral U.S. sanctions by stating that “U.S. companies, not rogue regimes, are the ones that suffer when the United States imposes economic sanctions.” Texaco officials have also argued that the U.S. can be more effective in bringing about change in other countries by allowing U.S. companies to do business with those countries instead of imposing economic sanctions that tend to be counterproductive.

Alas, Washington’s perverse, misguided and ineffectual policy of economic sanctions for political purposes—often in compliance with the wishes of some powerful special interests—continues unabated. “Even with the increased pro-trade lobbying efforts of the oil industry and groups like USAEngage, whose membership ranges from farmers and small business owners to Wall Street executives and oilmen, the lack of support from Washington and the Bush administration could not allow them [major oil companies and other non-military transnational companies] to overtake or counteract the already rolling momentum of AIPAC’s influence on Middle East policy or the renewal of ISLA.”[25]

Despite the fact that oil companies nowadays view war and political turmoil in the Middle East as detrimental to their long-term interests and, therefore, do not support policies that are conducive to war and militarism, and despite the fact that war is no longer the way to gain access to oil, the widespread perception that every U.S. military engagement in the region, including the current invasion of Iraq, is prompted by oil considerations continues. The question is why?

Behind the Myth of War for Oil

The widely-shared but erroneous view that recent U.S. wars of choice are driven by oil concerns is partly due to precedence: the fact that for a long time military force was key to colonial or imperialist control and exploitation of foreign markets and resources, including oil. It is also partly due to perception: the exaggerated notion that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were “oil men” before coming to the White House. But, as noted earlier, George W. Bush was never more than an ineffective minor oil prospector and Dick Cheney was never really an oil man; he headed the notorious Halliburton company that sold (and still sells) services to oil companies and the Pentagon.

But the major reason for the persistence of this pervasive myth seems to stem from certain deliberate efforts that are designed to perpetuate the legend in order to camouflage some real economic and geopolitical special interests that drive U.S. military adventures in the Middle East. There is evidence that both the military-industrial complex and hard-line Zionist proponents of “greater Israel” disingenuously use oil (as an issue of national interest) in order to disguise their own nefarious special interests and objectives: justification of continued expansion of military spending, extension of sales markets for military hardware, and recasting the geopolitical map of the Middle East in favor of Israel.

There is also evidence that for every dollar’s worth of oil imported from the Persian Gulf region the Pentagon takes five dollars out of the Federal budget to “secure” the flow of that oil! This is a clear indication that the claim that the U.S. military presence in the Middle East is due to oil consideration is a fraud .[26]

While anecdotal, an example of how partisans of war and militarism use oil as a pretext to cover up the real forces behind war and militarism can be instructive. In the early stages of the invasion of Iraq, when the anti-occupation resistance in Iraq had not yet taken shape and the invasion seemed to be proceeding smoothly, two of the leading champions of the invasion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, often boasting of the apparent or pre-mature success of the invasion at those early stages, gave frequent news conferences and press reports. During one of those press reports (at the end of an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore in early June 2003), Wolfowitz was asked why North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found. Wolfowitz’s response was: “Let’s look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil.”[27]

Many opponents of the war jumped on this statement, so to speak, as corroboration of what they had been saying or suspecting all along: that the war on Iraq was prompted by oil interests. Yet, there is strong evidence—some of which presented in the preceding pages—that for the last several decades oil interests have not favored war and turbulence in the Middle East, including the current invasion of Iraq. Nor is war any longer the way to gain access to oil. Major oil companies, along with many other non-military transnational corporations, have lobbied both the Clinton and Bush administrations in support of changing the aggressive, militaristic U.S. policy toward countries like Iran, Iraq and Libya in favor of establishing normal, non-confrontational trade and diplomatic relations. Such efforts at normalization of trade and diplomatic relations, however, have failed time and again precisely because Wolfowitz and his cohorts, working through AIPAC and other war-mongering think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Project for the New American Century (PNAC), and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) oppose them.

These think tanks, in collaboration with a whole host of similar militaristic lobbying entities like Center for Security Affairs (CSA) and National Institute for Public Policy (NIPP), working largely as institutional façades to serve the defacto alliance of the military-industrial complex and the pro-Israel lobby, have repeatedly thwarted efforts at peace and reconciliation in the Middle East—often over the objections and frustrations of major U.S. oil companies. It is a well established fact that Wolfowitz has been a devoted champion of these jingoistic think tanks and their aggressive unilateral policies in the Middle East. In light of his professional record and political loyalties, his claim that he championed the war on Iraq because of oil considerations can be characterized only as demagogic: it contradicts his political record and defies the policies he has been advocating for the last several decades; it is designed to divert attention from the main forces behind the war, the armaments lobby and the pro-Israel lobby.

These powerful interests are careful not to draw attention to the fact that they are the prime instigators of war and militarism in the Middle East. Therefore, they tend to deliberately perpetuate the popular perception that oil is the driving force behind the war in the region. They even do not mind having their aggressive foreign policies labeled as imperialistic as long as imperialism implies some vague or general connotations of hegemony and domination, that is, as long as it thus camouflages the real, special interests behind the war and political turbulence in the Middle East.

The oil and other non-military transnational corporations’ aversion to war and military adventures in the Middle East stem, of course, from the logical behavior of global or transnational capital in the era of integrated world markets, which tends to be loath to war and international political convulsions. Considering the fact that both importers and exporters of oil prefer peace and stability to war and militarism, why would, then, the flow of oil be in jeopardy if the powerful beneficiaries of war and political tension in the Middle East stopped their aggressive policies in the region?

Partisans of war in the Middle East tend to portray U.S. military operations in the region as reactions to terrorism and political turbulence in order to “safeguard the interests of the United States and its allies.” Yet, a close scrutiny of action-reaction or cause-effect relationship between U.S. military adventures and socio-political turbulence in the region reveals that perhaps the causality is the other way around. That is, social upheavals and political convulsions in the Middle East are more likely to be the result, not the cause, of U.S. foreign policy in the region, especially its one-sided, prejudicial Israeli-Palestinian policy. The U.S. policy of war and militarism in the region seems to resemble the behavior of a corrupt cop, or a mafia godfather, who would instigate fights and frictions in the neighborhood or community in order to, then, portray his parasitic role as necessary for the safety and security of the community and, in the process, fill out his deep pockets.

No matter how crucial oil is to the world economy, the fact remains that it is, after all, a commodity. As such, international trade in oil is as important to its importers as it is to its exporters. There is absolutely no reason that, in a world free of the influence of the beneficiaries of war and militarism and their powerful lobbies (the armaments and the pro-Israel lobbies), the flow of oil could not be guaranteed by international trade conventions and commercial treaties.

Ref: Palestinian ThinkTank

Ismael Hossein-zadeh, author of the recently published The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

References

[1] Ron Andreas, reporter/researcher, e-mail correspondence with the author.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Michael T. Klare, Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (New York: Holt paperbacks 2002); James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century (Grove/Atlantic, 2005).
[4] Eliyahu Kanovsky, “Oil: Who’s Really Over a Barrel?” Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2003).
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Wall Street Journal (17 May 2001); cited in Eliyahu Kantovsky, Ibid.
[7] The Wall Street Journal (10 March 1998); cited in Eliyahu Kantovsky, Ibid.
[8] F. William Engdahl, “Perhaps 60% of Today’s Oil Price Is Pure Speculation,” financialsense.com (2 May 2008)
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Stanley Reed, “Help from the House of Saud: Why the leading oil producer wants to cool off the market,” Business Week (29 May 2008)
[12] Ibid.
[13] Cyrus Bina and Minh Vo, “OPEC in the Epoch of Globalization: An Event Study of Global Oil Prices,” Global Economy Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1 (2007); for a discussion of the theory and history of oil price determination see also, Cyrus Bina, “The Rhetoric of Oil and the Dilemma of War and American Hegemony,” Arab Studies Quarterly 15, no. 3 (Summer 1993); also Cyrus Bina, “Limits of OPEC Pricing: OPEC Profits and the Nature of Global Oil Accumulation,” OPEC Review 14, no. 1 (Spring 1990).
[14] F. William Engdahl, “Perhaps 60% of Today’s Oil Price Is Pure Speculation,” financialsense.com (2 May 2008),
[15] Cyrus Bina and Minh Vo, “OPEC in the Epoch of Globalization: An Event Study of Global Oil Prices,” Global Economy Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 1 (2007).
[16] Gary S. Becker, “Why War with Iraq Is Not about Oil,” Business Week (17 March 2003): 30.
[17] Johnathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler. The Global Political Economy of Israel (London and Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press, 2002).
[18] Melinda K. Ruby, “Is Oil the Driving Force to War?” unpublished Senior thesis, Dept. of Economics and Finance, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa (spring 2004), 10.
[19] As quoted in Ruby, Ibid., P. 13.
[20] As cited by Roger Burbach, “Bush Ideologues vs. Big Oil: The Iraq Game Gets Even Stranger,” CounterPunch.
[21] Israel Shamir, The Writings of Israel Shamir, Contributor 45
[22] Stephen F. Cohen “The New American Cold War,” The Nation (10 July 2006); as quoted in Shamir, Ibid.
[23] Shamir, Ibid.
[24] Ruby, “Is Oil the Driving Force to War?” pp. 14-15; see also Herman Franssen and Elaine Morton, “A Review of U.S. Unilateral Sanctions Against Iran,” Middle East Economic Survey 45, no. 34 (26 August 2002), pp. D1-D5 (D section contains op eds. as opposed to staff-written articles).
[25] Ruby, “Is Oil the Driving Force to War?” pp. 16-17; see also David Ivanovich, “Conoco’s Chief Blasts Sanctions,” Houston Chronicle (12 February 1997).
[27] The statement was widely reported by many news papers and other media outlets. See, for example, The Guardian (4 June 2003)

first published on Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/zadeh07092008.html

The Zionist plan for Middle East / “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties”

In his Complete Diaries, Vol. II. p. 711, Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, says that the area of the Jewish State stretches: “From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.”

Rabbi Fischmann, member of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, declared in his testimony to the U.N. Special Committee of Enquiry on 9 July 1947: “The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon.”

Publisher’s Note

1

THE ASSOCIATION OF ARAB-AMERICAN UNIVERSITY GRADUATES finds it compelling to inaugurate its new publication series, Special Documents, with Oded Yinon’s article which appeared in Kivunim (Directions), the journal of the Department of Information of the World Zionist Organization. Oded Yinon is an Israeli journalist and was formerly attached to the Foreign Ministry of Israel. To our knowledge, this document is the most explicit, detailed and unambiguous statement to date of the Zionist strategy in the Middle East. Furthermore, it stands as an accurate representation of the “vision” for the entire Middle East of the presently ruling Zionist regime of Begin, Sharon and Eitan. Its importance, hence, lies not in its historical value but in the nightmare which it presents.

2

The plan operates on two essential premises. To survive, Israel must 1) become an imperial regional power, and 2) must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states. Small here will depend on the ethnic or sectarian composition of each state. Consequently, the Zionist hope is that sectarian-based states become Israel’s satellites and, ironically, its source of moral legitimation.

3

This is not a new idea, nor does it surface for the first time in Zionist strategic thinking. Indeed, fragmenting all Arab states into smaller units has been a recurrent theme. This theme has been documented on a very modest scale in the AAUG publication, Israel’s Sacred Terrorism (1980), by Livia Rokach. Based on the memoirs of Moshe Sharett, former Prime Minister of Israel, Rokach’s study documents, in convincing detail, the Zionist plan as it applies to Lebanon and as it was prepared in the mid-fifties.

4

The first massive Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978 bore this plan out to the minutest detail. The second and more barbaric and encompassing Israeli invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982, aims to effect certain parts of this plan which hopes to see not only Lebanon, but Syria and Jordan as well, in fragments. This ought to make mockery of Israeli public claims regarding their desire for a strong and independent Lebanese central government. More accurately, they want a Lebanese central government that sanctions their regional imperialist designs by signing a peace treaty with them. They also seek acquiescence in their designs by the Syrian, Iraqi, Jordanian and other Arab governments as well as by the Palestinian people. What they want and what they are planning for is not an Arab world, but a world of Arab fragments that is ready to succumb to Israeli hegemony. Hence, Oded Yinon in his essay, “A Strategy for Israel in the 1980’s,” talks about “far-reaching opportunities for the first time since 1967” that are created by the “very stormy situation [that] surrounds Israel.”

5

The Zionist policy of displacing the Palestinians from Palestine is very much an active policy, but is pursued more forcefully in times of contlict, such as in the 1947-1948 war and in the 1967 war. An appendix entitled “Israel Talks of a New Exodus” is included in this publication to demonstrate past Zionist dispersals of Palestinians from their homeland and to show, besides the main Zionist document we present, other Zionist planning for the de-Palestinization of Palestine.

6

It is clear from the Kivunim document, published in February, 1982, that the “far-reaching opportunities” of which Zionist strategists have been thinking are the same “opportunities” of which they are trying to convince the world and which they claim were generated by their June, 1982 invasion. It is also clear that the Palestinians were never the sole target of Zionist plans, but the priority target since their viable and independent presence as a people negates the essence of the Zionist state. Every Arab state, however, especially those with cohesive and clear nationalist directions, is a real target sooner or later.

7

Contrasted with the detailed and unambiguous Zionist strategy elucidated in this document, Arab and Palestinian strategy, unfortunately, suffers from ambiguity and incoherence. There is no indication that Arab strategists have internalized the Zionist plan in its full ramifications. Instead, they react with incredulity and shock whenever a new stage of it unfolds. This is apparent in Arab reaction, albeit muted, to the Israeli siege of Beirut. The sad fact is that as long as the Zionist strategy for the Middle East is not taken seriously Arab reaction to any future siege of other Arab capitals will be the same.

Khalil Nakhleh
July 23, 1982

THE FOLLOWING ESSAY represents, in my opinion, the accurate and detailed plan of the present Zionist regime (of Sharon and Eitan) for the Middle East which is based on the division of the whole area into small states, and the dissolution of all the existing Arab states. I will comment on the military aspect of this plan in a concluding note. Here I want to draw the attention of the readers to several important points:

2

1. The idea that all the Arab states should be broken down, by Israel, into small units, occurs again and again in Israeli strategic thinking. For example, Ze’ev Schiff, the military correspondent of Ha’aretz (and probably the most knowledgeable in Israel, on this topic) writes about the “best” that can happen for Israeli interests in Iraq: “The dissolution of Iraq into a Shi’ite state, a Sunni state and the separation of the Kurdish part” (Ha’aretz 6/2/1982). Actually, this aspect of the plan is very old.

3

2. The strong connection with Neo-Conservative thought in the USA is very prominent, especially in the author’s notes. But, while lip service is paid to the idea of the “defense of the West” from Soviet power, the real aim of the author, and of the present Israeli establishment is clear: To make an Imperial Israel into a world power. In other words, the aim of Sharon is to deceive the Americans after he has deceived all the rest.

4

3. It is obvious that much of the relevant data, both in the notes and in the text, is garbled or omitted, such as the financial help of the U.S. to Israel. Much of it is pure fantasy. But, the plan is not to be regarded as not influential, or as not capable of realization for a short time. The plan follows faithfully the geopolitical ideas current in Germany of 1890-1933, which were swallowed whole by Hitler and the Nazi movement, and determined their aims for East Europe. Those aims, especially the division of the existing states, were carried out in 1939-1941, and only an alliance on the global scale prevented their consolidation for a period of time.

5

The notes by the author follow the text. To avoid confusion, I did not add any notes of my own, but have put the substance of them into this foreward and the conclusion at the end. I have, however, emphasized some portions of the text.

Israel Shahak
June 13, 1982

Ref: Israel Shahak

The Myth of the Shia Crescent

AMMAN – Recently, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz offered an unequivocal veto on a key issue in the Middle East peace process. Any return of the Golan Heights to Syria would result in an “Iranian foothold” on Israel’s border and would thus not only be politically naïve but irrational.

Mofaz’s statement is symptomatic of a perception that is now deeply entrenched, not only in the Middle East, but in the United States as well. That notion is of a hegemonic Iran that is attempting to dominate the region through an array of Shiite proxies. This Iranian fifth column is believed to stretch from Beirut via Damascus, Gaza to Baghdad and finally from Iran to Saudi-Arabia to Yemen. Recent armed clashes between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government are, it is said, just another sign of Iran’s hegemonic reach.

Ironically, this perception brings Israel some rather unlikely partners. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt claims that Shiites are “always loyal to Iran,” while King Abdullah of Jordan has coined the axiom about a rising “Shiite crescent.” This “rise of the Shiites” and the resulting “Sunni/Shia divide” is alleged to be creating an ever widening chasm in the region.

Although this perception may convince at first glance, it is ultimately based on generalizations that reveal more about its advocates than the actual reality on the ground.

Take Iraq, where the looming “Shia crescent” is often blamed for much of the chaos. Recent developments in Iraq allegedly point to a fundamental clash between Sunnis and Shiites in the region and bear witness to malevolent Iranian interferences. But is Iraq really symptomatic of a greater Shia scheme?

True, sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have escalated since the fall of Saddam. But contrary to common perception, Iraqi Shiites do not form a homogenous block that opposes the supposedly unified Sunnis. Indeed, the contrary is true. In the light of Iraqi nationalism that crosses sectarian boundaries, it is farfetched to consider the Iraqi Shia merely proxies of Iran.

Instead, what we are witnessing in Iraq today is not ever increasing friction between religious communities but escalating internal power struggles within the Sunni and Shiite communities. Ongoing violence in Basra and the fighting between Sunni “Awakening Councils” and Al Qaida in Iraq demonstrate this. In fact, the current escalation points to an increasing political struggle between the federalist position of Shia Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and the centralist position of Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr. This struggle will ultimately define the political structure of Iraq.

Here is where Sunni-Shiite cooperation comes in. Widely unnoticed, Iraqi Sunni and Shia centralists have managed in the last couple of months to form a united parliamentary platform that leaves sectarian tensions behind. More than a hundred followers of Ayad Allawi, Al Sadr, and others have joined their ranks. This supra-sectarian platform calls for a central government administration of Iraq’s natural resources and the postponement of the looming referendum to settle the status of the city of Kirkuk.

Change within the government is also noteworthy. Sunni ministers who had been boycotting the government since last year have returned to their posts. Thus, Iraq is seeing both escalating intra-sectarian violence and cautious steps towards inter-sectarian alliances.

And what about Iran? Contrary to the blame games being played out in the US, Iran cannot be accused of an unrestrained aggressive stance toward Iraq. Of course, no Iranian decision-maker is interested in a US-success in Iraq that might well put regime-change in Iran back on the agenda. But the rationale behind Iran’s policy of economic, social and military engagement seems to be first and foremost, defensive.

Memories of Iraq’s eight year war of aggression against Iran in the 1980’s have not faded. From Iran’s perspective, any future threat originating from Iraq needs to be averted by ensuring the participation in Iraq’s government of Shiites and Kurds.

These complexities are lost on many observers when matched up against the convenient and catchy rhetoric of the “Shia Crescent.” But they have not gone unnoticed among ordinary Arabs. A recent poll by the University of Maryland indicates that a large majority of Arabs in the region consider Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad one of the three most popular political leaders worldwide. Only 11% identified Iran as the biggest threat to their security. So if a Shia threat organized by Iran really does exist, why is it being ignored by those that it purportedly targets – the Sunni Arab majorities?

Rather than objectively describing the actual political situation in the Middle East, the notion of a fundamental Iranian threat is being used to continue unconditional Western support for increasingly unstable regimes. Moreover, the overstatement of the threat posed by Iran is also being used as a convenient excuse for political inflexibility and stagnating reform processes throughout the region.

But exaggerating the supposed Shia threat has a price. Continuous talk of a “Sunni-Shia divide” might ultimately develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Alarmist rhetoric may, in the end, jeopardize rather than protect the status quo in the region.

Ref: Project syndicate, by Michael Bröning

Michael Bröning is director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation (FES) in Amman, Jordan. FES is a political foundation affiliated to the Social Democratic Party of Germany.