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    Middle East
     Jan 26, 2007
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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 Jordan.

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 Arabia.

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 region".

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 al-Muallem.

With Washington dragging the region into an endgame, countries are engaged in a flurry of diplomacy. Qatari Foreign Minister 

Continued 1 2 

Debunking Iran's nuclear myth makers (Jan 25, '07)

Iran being hit in the pocket (Jan 23, '07)

Ahmadinejad be damned (Jan 19, '07)


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