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Alastair Crooke

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The Many Matryoska Dolls to America’s Way of Imagining Iran

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On the 17 September 1656, Oliver Cromwell, a Protestant Puritan, who had won a civil war, and had the English king beheaded in public, railed against England’s enemies. There was, he told Parliament that day, an axis of evil abroad in the world. And this axis – led by Catholic Spain – was, at root, the problem of a people that had placed themselves at the service of “evil”. This “evil”, and the servitude that it beget, was the evil of a religion – Catholicism – that refused the English peoples’ desire for simple liberties: “… [an evil] that put men under restraint … under which there was no freedom … and under which, there could be ‘no liberty of individual consciousness’”.
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Is the Middle East Beginning a Self-Correction?

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“Two years, three years, five years’ maximum from now, you will not recognize the same Middle East”, says the former Egyptian FM, Arab League Secretary General and Presidential Candidate, Amr Moussa, in an interview with Al-Monitor.

Mousa made some unexpected points, beyond warning of major change ahead (“the thing now is that the simple Arab man follows everything” – all the events). And in reference to the protests in Iraq, Moussa says that Iraq is in “a preparatory stage for them to choose their way as Iraqis — emphasizing that “the discord between Sunni and Shia is about to fade away.”

The present regional turbulence, he suggests, is [essentially] a reaction to the US playing the sectarian card – manipulating “the issues of sect and religion, et cetera, was not only a dangerous, but a sinister kind of policy”. He added however, “I don’t say that it will happen tomorrow, but [the discord between Sunnis and the Shi’a fading away], will certainly happen in the foreseeable future, which will reflect on Lebanon too.”

What we are witnessing in Iraq and Lebanon, he adds, “are these things correcting themselves. It will take time, but they will correct themselves. Iraq is a big country in the region, no less than Iran, no less than Turkey. Iraq is a country to reckon with. I don’t know whether this was the reason why it had to be destroyed. Could be. But there are forces in Iraq that are being rebuilt … Iraq will come back. And this phase – what we see today, perhaps this is the — what can I say? A preparatory stage?”
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A Precision Strike on US Credibility – Shattering a US Paradigm

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The precision attack on the Saudi "jewel in the crown," crude-processing installation last week, is also a precision assault on Saudi credibility, on the believability of the US security "umbrella,' and a humiliation for Trump, and particularly to America’s image as a competent military and intelligence power.

Gulf States will be pursing their lips as they consider now their own vulnerabilities and question their reliance on that US umbrella. Even the Pentagon might be questioning, "what then – is the point to CentCom" in light of what has happened? And above all, Israel will be experiencing a very chill wind sending shivers up the spine: Israelis cannot but be a tad struck in awe at the attack’s precise targeting and technical efficacy. Quite impressive – especially given that Saudi spent $65 billion on weaponry last year, to no good avail.

Facing this humiliation, the US Administration has been "blowing smoke": tossing around red-herrings about the origin and launch of the UAVs and cruise missiles. "It can’t be AnsarAllah (the Houthis), because such an operation was sophisticated beyond their capabilities." Apart from the obvious Orientalism to this assertion (for, if Hizbullah can manufacture smart drones and smart cruise missiles, why shouldn’t the Houthis be able so to do?), do the exact, individual contributions towards the strike on Abqaiq really matter? What is most telling is that the US – with all its massive resources in the Gulf – cannot provide the evidence from whence came these UAVs to Abqaiq.
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Why the Gulf States Are So Edgy

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A little more than a decade ago, I was asked to address a London dinner-table of about twenty Gulf “figures” – a mix of Ambassadors and those with “ties to power”. All represented the cosmopolitan, rich élite of the Gulf. Then, towards the evening’s end, talk turned to Hizbullah: the gathering simply erupted into flames. Well, almost literally – as these grandees choked on the smoke and tongues of fire pouring from their nostrils (to say they were unhappy is an understatement). In unison, they swore oaths that they would stop at absolutely nothing to destroy “the resistance”. They choked again at the very word “resistance”. They swore to destroy it, utterly, down to the last particle.

But how times do change. Of course, in the interval, there was a war backed by these gentlemen in 2006 that was supposed to finish off Hizbullah for good (but plainly didn’t). There was also a billions-of-dollar insurrection mounted against “rejectionist” President Assad in Syria that was supposed to break the keystone to the arch (but hasn’t); and an equally massive info-war to turn Iran into a global leper. 

Yes, these well-polished gentlemen have had certain successes in squashing the so-called Arab Spring, and in fracturing and demonising Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, after these, and after gulling the Americans and Europeans with their anti-Iranian propaganda so completely, the Gulf is fretting again. Why?
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Bolton’s Long Game Against Iran – Pakistan Becomes Saudi Arabia’s New Client State

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The Wall Street Journal has an article whose very title – Ambitions for an “Arab NATO” Fade, Amid Discord – more or less, says it all. No surprise there at all. Even Antony Zinni, the retired Marine General who was to spearhead the project (but who has now resigned), said it was clear from early on that the idea of creating an “Arab NATO” was too ambitious. “There was no way that anybody was ready to jump into a NATO-type alliance,” he said. “One of the things I tried to do was kill that idea of a Gulf NATO or a Middle East NATO.” Instead, the planning has focused on “more realistic expectations,” the WSJ article concludes.

Apparently, “not all Middle Eastern nations working on the proposal, want to make Iran a central focus – a concern that has forced the US to frame the alliance as a broader coalition,” the WSJ recounts. No surprise there either: Gulf preoccupations have turned to a more direct anxiety – which is that Turkey intends to unloose (in association with Qatar) the Muslim Brotherhood – whose leadership is already gathering in Istanbul – against Turkey’s nemesis: Mohammad bin Zaid and the UAE (whom Turkish leadership believes, together with MbS, inspired the recent moves to surround the southern borders of Turkey with a cordon of hostile Kurdish statelets).

Even the Gulf leaders understand that if they want to “roll-back” Turkish influence in the Levant, they cannot be explicitly anti-Iranian. It just not viable in the Levant.

So, Iran then is off the hook? Well, no. Absolutely not. MESA (Middle East Security Alliance) maybe the new bland vehicle for a seemingly gentler Arab NATO, but its covert sub-layer is, under Mr Bolton’s guidance, as fixated on Iran, as was “Arab NATO” at the outset. How would it be otherwise (given Team Trump’s obsession with Iran)?
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The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War

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The Middle East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are emerging, yet Trump’s foreign policy “hawks” still try to stage “old movies” in a new “theatre.” The “old movie” is for the US to “stand up” Sunni, Arab states, and lead them towards confronting “bad actor” Iran. “Team Bolton” is reverting back to the old 1996 Clean Break script – as if nothing has changed.
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