The “oil tanker war” in the Strait of Hormuz has brought everyone to the brink of madness, at a point through which one third of the world’s crude oil is shipped. It’s been 40 years since the expression “the arc of crisis” was last used, back in 1979, when Khomeini rose to power in Iran and the Red Army’s war in Afghanistan was about to start. One year later, Saddam Hussein would attack Tehran, blowing up the whole Gulf (and oil prices) with a conflict that led to one million deaths.
Now, Donald Trump and his inner circle of neocons like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo want to bring us back to that time by pushing Iran into a corner: they are willing to negotiate with a dictator with a nuclear arsenal, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, but want to suffocate the Tehran regime.
The reason is simple: control over oil routes and world supply routes, and ultimately containing China, is one of the strategic levers the US is counting on, while the Iran of the ayatollahs is the “wild card” standing in their way, which they want to eliminate sooner or later.
Today, there is a new “arc of crisis” that runs more or less along the same territories as in ‘79, but with completely different alliances and different regimes. Furthermore, some states have disappeared, such as Yugoslavia; others have broken up or lie in ruins. Unlike back in ‘79, the new arc of crisis should also include North Africa and the Sahel, with the two or three different Libyas, an Algeria on the knife’s edge, an unstable Tunisia and Egypt, whose regime is solid only in appearance. The only state that has gained any ground in the meantime (by taking it away from the Arabs) is Israel, the real “wild card” of the US in the region.
The very idea of the European Union is in crisis, and the latest issue of Le Monde Diplomatique warns that soon, “no European nation will have the ability to go alone into a theater of war” (as Philippe Leymarie writes). Turkey is no longer the bastion of NATO on the eastern front with the USSR, but a country that is buying its S-400 missiles from Russian President Putin.
And, in the case of war with Tehran, Turkey might deny the Americans the use of its bases, as it did in the Iraq war in 2003.
Iran is no longer in the hands of the Shah, the loyal guardian of the Gulf, but is an Islamic Republic strangled by sanctions, struggling for survival. Yemen has become much like a Vietnam for the Saudis. Not to mention Iraq and Syria, where armed conflict and terrorism are still bubbling under the surface. And if we look at Afghanistan, we see the full extent of the paradoxes in which the region is entangled: the US is again negotiating with the Taliban, old allies who then became enemies and terrorists.
The last dictator to survive the so-called “Arab Springs” is Bashar Assad, and that’s no accident—he had the “right” allies to stay in his post: Iran, the Shiite Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and then, since 2015, Russia, which, on the occasion of the Syrian war, has returned to being a protagonist in the Middle East, where it had previously suffered a momentous defeat in Afghanistan, the one which created the myth of “victorious Jihad.”
To stay afloat in this new arc of crisis, one needs the right allies. Some, like Turkish President Erdogan, have started to doubt that this means the West and NATO. He entered the war to overthrow Assad with the blessing of the Americans and the money of the Gulf monarchies, but found that he risked having an independent Kurdish state right on his doorstep.
He wasn’t the only one who made mistakes, but also the Westerners, who, after preaching for years that “Assad must go,” turned their backs and walked away when the game became difficult. They chose the wrong allies as well: the jihadists and al-Qaeda types, which then fueled the infernal machine of ISIS.
Even the United Arab Emirates, good friends of the murderous prince Mohammed bin Salman, have withdrawn 5,000 soldiers from Yemen, because they no longer believe the Saudis can win, unable as they are to break the resistance of the Houthi Shiites supported by Tehran.
And that’s not the only reason. The UAE is becoming scared: in the current oil tanker war—which started with the seizure of the Iranian Grace 1 in Gibraltar, then continued with the British Stena Impero in the Hormuz Strait—the Pasdaran just seized a shipment of crude, sending the not-too-subtle message that if war breaks out, the financial paradise of the sheiks will suffer as well. The cracks are starting to show in the “Arab NATO” with which Trump intends to reshape the Middle East.
This is an old vice of the Americans: ever since they inherited the fallout from the disintegrating British Empire, they want to change how things are in the Middle East but are consistently unable to do so, and indeed end up making things worse, as shown by Iraq. The only real American success has been Israel, for the benefit of which Trump has recognized Jerusalem as its capital and its annexation of the Golan Heights, against all UN resolutions. Beside Washington’s crimes and failures in Syria and Yemen, there is also their ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran, and their attempt, dead on arrival, to propose a $50 billion plan to buy off Palestine.
In this game, Europe is not exactly impressing: and when does it ever? Perhaps it will get better if Brexit happens: with the British out, there will be less in terms of sabotage maneuvers for the benefit of the Americans; after all, the British are Washington’s real muscle.
Even less impressive is Italy, ruled by the protagonists of Russiagate, as corrupt as they are incompetent, swinging from side to side like a pendulum: now, they have decided to side with Poland to obstruct the European INSTEX mechanism to circumvent the US sanctions against Tehran.
Over just a couple of weeks in 2011, we completely abandoned our oldest ally, Gaddafi; now, in the space of a few months, we are abandoning Iran, which promised us billions of euros in contracts. More than just being part of the arc of crisis, Italy seems to be stuck in a full-blown identity crisis: and one can hardly imagine that we’ll have the courage to deny the Americans the use of our bases for waging the fourth Gulf war.
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