[Marxism] Leaks Suggest Iran Is Now Winning in the Middle East

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 7 07:15:23 MST 2010


Leaks Suggest Iran Is Now Winning in the Middle East
Posted on Dec 7, 2010

By Juan Cole

Iran is winning and Israel is losing. That is the startling 
conclusion we reach if we consider how things have changed in the 
Middle East in the two years since most of the WikiLeaks State 
Department cables about Iran’s regional difficulties were written. 
Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister, once a virulent critic, quietly 
made his pilgrimage to the Iranian capital last week. Israeli 
hopes of separating Syria from Iran have been dashed. Turkey, once 
a strong ally of Israel, is now seeking better relations with Iran 
and with Lebanon’s Shiites.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Iran was in part an 
attempt to reach out to a major foreign patron of his country’s 
Shiite Hezbollah Party. Hariri’s father, Rafiq, was mysteriously 
blown to kingdom come in 2005, and a United Nations tribunal is 
now rumored to be leaning toward implicating Hezbollah. Many 
Lebanese are terrified that the tribunal’s findings might set 
Kalashnikovs clattering again in Beirut, given that the Hariris 
are Sunni Muslims linked to Saudi Arabia, and their followers 
could attack Lebanese Shiites in reprisal. Lebanon, a small 
country of 4 million, is more than a third Shiite, but Christians 
and Sunni Muslims have formed the political elite for two centuries.

Hariri’s consultations with the ayatollahs in Tehran were an 
attempt to seek Iranian help in keeping Hezbollah militiamen in 
check (many Lebanese Shiites look to Iran as their external 
patron, just as many Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia and Christians to 
France and the U.S.). The talks also aimed at reconfirming Iranian 
pledges of economic aid to Beirut. In return, according to one 
anonymous Iranian source who spoke to Agence France-Presse, Hariri 
would throw his support behind Iran’s “development of nuclear 
capabilities for civilian and peaceful purposes.”

If true, it is a 180 degree turn. According to The New York Times, 
an August 2006 cable reports that Saad Hariri had said that “Iraq 
was unnecessary” but “Iran is necessary,” and that the U.S. “must 
be willing to go all the way if need be” to halt Iran’s nuclear 
enrichment program, should negotiations prove fruitless. As late 
as March 2008, according to another leaked cable published on the 
Al-Akhbar newspaper website, Lebanon’s Minister of Defense Elias 
Murr, a Christian, passed along advice on how the Israelis could 
effectively fight Hezbollah without alienating the Christian 
Lebanese, as Tel Aviv had with its bombing of the Christian north 
in 2006. (Murr now disputes the account in the cable.)

Not only has Hariri radically altered his discourse about Iran, 
but he has made an even more incredible turnaround regarding 
Iran’s best friend, Syria. In the past two years, President Michel 
Sleiman and Hariri have energetically sought a rapprochement with 
Syria, one of Hezbollah’s patrons. They sought to repair ties with 
Damascus that had been badly damaged by Beirut’s accusations that 
Syria backed the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, which had led to 
massive anti-Syrian demonstrations and the withdrawal of Syrian 
troops from Lebanon. Hariri now says he was wrong to accuse 
Damascus. The growing influence in Lebanon of Syrian strongman 
Bashar al-Asad has alarmed the Obama administration.

Likewise, during the past two years, Turkey has increasingly 
offered Lebanon its coat strings as a rising Middle Eastern 
regional power. Ankara and Beirut have concluded a treaty creating 
a free trade zone between the two countries, which Turkey hopes to 
expand to Syria and Jordan. In sharp contrast to the ambivalence 
of Lebanon’s own Sunnis and Christians, Turkish Prime Minister 
Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to Beirut on Nov. 23 and warned Israel, 
“If you invade Lebanon and Gaza using the most modern tanks and 
you destroy schools and hospitals, don’t expect us to be silent 
about it. We will not be silent, but will support what is right.” 
Erdogan also defended Hezbollah from rumors that it had itself 
been implicated in the elder Hariri’s assassination, saying that 
“no one could imagine” that the organization, which called itself 
Lebanon’s “spirit of resistance,” had been involved in the killing.

Turkey’s defense of Hezbollah tracked with Ankara’s improved 
relations with Iran itself. Turkey attempted to run interference 
at the United Nations Security Council for Iran’s nuclear 
enrichment program. When the council voted to ratchet up economic 
sanctions on Iran on June 9, Turkey and Brazil voted against the 
measure, and Lebanon abstained.

 From 2005 through 2006, Iran appeared to be on the retreat in the 
eastern Mediterranean. Pro-Western Sunnis and Christians took over 
in Beirut. Syria was expelled from Lebanon and there was talk of 
detaching it from Iran. The powerful generals of Turkey, a NATO 
member and ally of Israel, were reliably anti-Iranian. Now, Hariri 
is a supplicant in Tehran, Syria is again influential in Beirut, 
and a Turkey newly comfortable with Islam has emerged as a 
regional power and a force for economic and diplomatic integration 
of Iran and Syria into the Middle East. Iran’s political 
breakthroughs in the region have dealt a perhaps irreparable blow 
to the hopes of the United States and Israel for a new 
anti-Iranian axis in the region that would align Iran’s Arab and 
other neighbors with Tel Aviv.

Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History 
at the University of Michigan, maintains the blog Informed 
Comment. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is “Engaging 
the Muslim World.”

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