With the US president�s whistle-stop tour of the Middle East
and the Gulf almost at an end, it�s time to ask the question what, if anything,
has been achieved?
Has his presence brought peace in the Middle East out of the
shadows and into the realm of possibility? Unfortunately not, but what has
reemerged is the awful specter of war with Iran, which many thought had
disappeared after the publication of a US National Intelligence Estimate
indicating Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons.
There�s no doubt Bush did some tough talking during the
early stage of his trip, which began in Israel. He made no bones about calling
Israel�s post-1967 occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands just that . . ."Occupation�
and he certainly took Israel to task for neglecting to dismantle outposts.
Strangely enough he met with little opposition from either
Israeli politicians or the media, either because in their heart of hearts they
knew the president�s rhetoric was expressly designed to fall like milk and
honey onto Arab ears. Or, more likely, because they were too busy filling his
ears about the perceived threat from Tehran. Bush got that message all right.
It was exactly what he wanted to hear, so once he had made
requisite peace noises and taken advantage of photo-ops with cute kids on the
West Bank, he headed off to the Gulf to apply himself to the real task at hand
-- cobbling together an anti-Iranian coalition.
�Luckily� for him, there was an incident in the Straits of
Hormuz, which proved how dangerous the Iranians really are. It consisted of a
couple of miniscule Iranian patrol boats, whose suicidal crews apparently
believed they could take on US warships; blow them up, in fact.
�Luckily� again the US Navy had these evil shenanigans on
tape, which they superimposed with a menacing voice, whose owner could pursue a
career as Frankenstein�s monster should Hollywood decide to remake those
The incident served as an opportune entr�e for the
president�s anti-Iranian drive.
First he sent out a stern warning to Tehran and then he told
his Gulf hosts in no uncertain terms that Iran is the world�s greatest sponsor
of terrorism and must be �confronted before it is too late."
�It sends hundreds of millions of dollars to extremists
around the world while its own people face repression and economic hardship,�
President Bush said during his brief stay in Abu Dhabi, disappointing those
waiting eagerly to hear of concrete steps towards a Palestinian state.
But Bush�s luck ran out when the Iranians put out their own
video of the supposed face-off.
This version showed a rather polite exchange whereby an
Iranian crewmember asks for the coordinates of an American vessel and receives a
courteous response to the effect the US ships were in international waters.
This prompted the Pentagon to admit it had superimposed the creepy voice on
their tape and that the voice�s owner may not have even been Iranian.
Hmm! Apparently the US Navy is plagued by such crank
callers, who permeate the radio waves with insult and threats.
But never mind. Bush was still left with Iran �s support for
Hezbollah, Palestinian militants and Iraqi insurgents to fall back on. Iran
must be stopped �before it�s too late."
Such US belligerence puts his regional hosts in rather a
pickle as they have already decided to bring Iran back into the fold, and were
even more set on doing so following the publication of the National Security
Estimate that stamped Iran as benign on the nuclear front.
While it�s true that regional countries are nervous about
their neighbor�s geopolitical aspirations, none of them are willing to allow
their nations to be used as battle grounds, which besides the obvious potential
loss of life and treasure would also devastate their economies and whip up
extremists. Indeed, Saudi Arabia has clearly stated it will not allow its soil
to be a springboard for any attack on Iran.
It�s also true that GCC members value their relationship
with Washington and Bush attempted to cement those ties with offers of
increased military cooperation, arms supplies, trade deals and, of course, the
juiciest carrot of all -- a Palestinian state.
What we can�t know is how much overt or subtle arm-twisting
has been going on behind closed doors of the type the White House does best.
Bush says he wants nothing more than a viable Palestinian
state and Mideast peace before he leaves office, but could it be that what he
wants a whole lot more is a weakened Tehran, a friendless Iran, a destitute
Iran ready to prostrate itself before the wishes of the so-called international
The people of this region and their leaders are by nature
unfailingly hospitable and polite.
Often times, rather than cause their guests offence, they
will seemingly acquiesce to his every request but when push comes to shove they
will drag their feet, especially true when their own interests are at stake.
The president may fly away with a wide self-satisfied grin
but in the same way he has given little of substance to further Middle East
peace, methinks he has received little of substance to further his own plans
There is one thing crystal clear though. The neoconservative
agenda is alive and well.
This US administration is unflinching in its determination
to achieve its goals. And if it truly wants a war with Iran that�s exactly what
it will create no matter what obstacles are strewn in its path.
If that happens, all countries in the region will be asked
to take sides when what they really want is to be left alone.
Worryingly, all that is required to fuel the flames is a
tiny spark, whether real or manufactured.
One bullet could lead to a mighty conflagration; one
misplaced threat to a massive retaliation.
If this is to be avoided, everyone in this part of the world
(the Middle East) and beyond must work together to cool the embers.
What use is the promise of a Palestinian state if the rest
of this region goes up in flames?
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.