Page 1 of 2 Middle East's cold war heats up By Iason Athanasiadis
TEHRAN - After several months of faint rumblings, a US-led, Middle East-wide
alliance of conservative Sunni and secular Muslim states marshaled against Iran
is starting to take shape, to the deepening discomfort of the Iranian
theocracy. Leading countries in this alliance are Saudi Arabia, Egypt and
Gary Sick, a US foreign-policy analyst who served on the National Security
Council under US presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter
and Ronald Reagan, pointed out the rationale behind the alliance: "By removing
the Taliban [from Afghanistan], Iran's greatest threat to the east, and then
removing the government of Saddam Hussein, its deadly enemy to the west, and
finally installing an Iran-friendly Shi'ite government in Baghdad for the first
time in history, the US virtually assured that Iran - essentially without
raising a finger - would emerge as a power center rivaled only by Israel."
The new Middle East cold war is being waged on such diverse battlefields
as Baghdad, Beirut and Gaza between the proxies of Tehran and Riyadh. In
Lebanon, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is taking covert action
against Hezbollah as part of a plan by President George W Bush to help the
Lebanese government prevent the spread of Iranian influence. Perhaps in
reaction to that, Hezbollah loyalists took to the streets of Beirut on Tuesday
and engaged in fighting that led to the deaths of three people.
"The more the United States engages in openly provocative challenges to Iran -
belligerent rhetoric, fleet movements to the [Persian] Gulf, arrests of Iranian
representatives in Iraq, quasi-covert support to anti-Iranian surrogates in
Lebanon and Palestine, etc, the more deeply invested Bush and [Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud] Olmert become on a political level and therefore the more likely
it is that this strategy will develop its own momentum and become a
self-generated reality," said Ray Close, a former CIA station chief in Saudi
According to a secret report leaked to the British Daily Telegraph this month,
Bush recently authorized the CIA to prop up Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad
Siniora's beleaguered government, and fund anti-Hezbollah groups and pay
activists to support the government. The secrecy of the reporrt indicates
that US involvement in these activities is officially deniable.
This week, the anti-Iranian alliance of Sunni-majority states stretched east to
embrace Pakistan as that country's leader journeyed to the Egyptian beach
resort of Sharm al-Sheikh for consultations with Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak. President General Pervez Musharraf was coming from Riyadh, where he
vowed to deepen defense and strategic ties with the Wahhabi kingdom. His trip,
according to the Saudi-owned, Arabic-language news site Elaph, was intended to
"expand the Sunni alliance that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to
include Pakistan as well in order to face the growing Iranian influence in the
Commented Dr Mustapha al-Labbad, an expert in Iranian affairs and
editor-in-chief of a magazine called Sharq-Namah, "Those sensitivities have
justifications in light of Iran benefiting from the current regional tensions
and from playing on divisions, as is happening in Iraq and Lebanon."
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has unwittingly speeded up the formation
of the Sunni axis by making a series of reckless statements antagonizing Israel
and the West.
Increasingly outspoken about what he calls the "Zionist regime" and the West's
inability to confront Iran, Ahmadinejad's incendiary statements were first
received humorously by ordinary Iranians, who joked that their president was in
the pay of the CIA before suddenly growing fearful at the beginning of this
year as United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 was passed imposing
sanctions over Iran's nuclear program. It is now apparent that Washington is
seriously entertaining thoughts of striking their country.
"When we saw [former Revolutionary Guard chief Mohsen] Rezaie openly say on
Sedaosima [Iran's state television monopoly, Sound and Vision] that the
Americans will try to strike and that he's willing to become a martyr, we were
shocked," said Sahand, an Iranian filmmaker in his early 20s. "It was the first
time that it was being stated on national television."
Ahmadinejad's rhetoric has also split the country, with an alliance of realists
emerging to criticize the president and point out that his actions are leading
the country to the brink of war. In recent days, there has been speculation
that Supreme Leader Ali al-Khamenei is refusing to see the president, as a
signal of his disquiet at Iran's growing isolation.
"The US and the Zionist regime have a conspiracy to stir up conflict between
Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims in order to plunder the wealth of regional nations,"
said Ahmadinejad during a recent meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid
With Washington dragging the region into an endgame, countries are engaged in a
flurry of diplomacy. Qatari Foreign Minister