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Cold War Revival, Mid East Style PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Tuesday, 23 January 2007 10:37
Cold War Revival, Mid East Style

- Rami G. Khouri - Lebanon and Palestine are the most dramatic examples of the new ideological battle that now defines much of the Middle East: Where local players and medium-strength regional powers often interact with one another in parallel with foreign powers? interests and goals. While tensions were increasing in Beirut last weekend in anticipation of the 23 January national strike by the Hizbullah-led opposition against the Siniora-Hariri-led government, in nearby Damascus the leaders of the two major Palestinian political groups, Hamas and Fateh, were meeting under Syrian auspices to try and solve their dispute over who rules Palestine and defines its foreign policy vis-?-vis Israel.


The New Cold War pits U.S. hegemony against growing Syrian and Iranian influence in the Middle East. Lebanon and Palestine are currently the essential proxies. This new kind of cold war is usually fought ideologically and economically (but sometimes militarily)within countries and not -- like the old Cold War -- between neighbors (e.g., North and South Vietnam, India and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, etc.).

The New Cold War:
Middle East Style

Rami G. Khouri

Agence Global
January 23, 2007

Copyright ?2007 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
[Republished at PEJ News with AG permission] 

BEIRUT -- If you were too young to remember the Cold War between the American-and Soviet-led global camps, study this dynamic closely, because it is a miniature regional version of the former global contest. It is possible that the Middle East-anchored new cold war we are living through these days may persist for many years, or it may be over in two or three years, depending on how both sides harness and use their competitive assets. For now, we can only identify some of the new rules and realities of the regional confrontation.

The two core powers who confront each other in the Middle East today are the United States on one side, and the Iran-Syrian tandem on the other. Major supporting actors and local allies include Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Europeans. Lebanon and Palestine are the two most interesting proxy wars in this battle; Iraq is also important, but local tensions that have been unleashed in the past three years are more likely to determine its fate than actions by foreign powers. What makes Lebanon and Palestine so fascinating today is how they have slightly rewritten the rules of Cold War proxy warfare, in which local actors fight ideological battles on behalf of their more powerful patrons and allies.

In the Cold War, rival ideological powers usually confronted one another from neighboring states, such as North and South Vietnam, Syria and Jordan, Iraq and Iran, Somalia and Ethiopia and dozens of other such pairs of ideologically antagonistic states. In the Middle East today, the competing political forces are usually found within the same country, and often share local legitimacy to a large extent. Just as in the Cold War, they fight on many fronts, including the occasional military clash and local insurrection. But more often, they fight via competing political ideologies and economic policies.

In Lebanon, the Siniora government and the Hizbullah-led opposition are fighting an intense battle on many fronts, just as the Hamas and Fateh camps square off in Palestine. They do so as part of a local political power struggle, but also explicitly as part of the wider confrontation between the United States and Iran-Syria. The fact that these face-offs now occur within Arab countries, rather than between different countries, reflects a slightly bizarre reality: most Arab countries -- in some cases half a century or more after their birth -- still have not achieved stable statehood based on the collective allegiance of satisfied citizens. Different groups do not only compete for political control of the government, but for the even more basic ideological definition of the state and its policies.

The Fateh-Hamas talks in Damascus were perhaps most interesting for their location -- in the Syrian capital. The substance and outcome of the talks are less dramatic issues, because they are largely known and also perhaps slightly irrelevant, and sadly so. This is because the Palestinians will almost certainly agree on a national unity government based on the principles in the agreement reached last year by leading Palestinians in Israeli jails; yet a unity government will not have any serious impact on the burning issue of whether to make war or peace with Israel. There is simply too large a gap between Hamas? rejection of recognizing and dealing with Israel and Fateh?s insistence on resuming peace talks with Israel to be bridged by a vague national unity government agreement whose main anchorage is diplomatic imprecision.

Holding the meeting in Damascus was significant because it highlights the role that Syria hopes to resume playing as a broker among different parties in the region, especially those who oppose the United States and some of its Arab allies. Earlier this month, Syria hosted the Iraqi president, and now it wants to show that it can achieve results on Palestine that are beyond the reach of the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel or any other third power. Syria?s links with Hizbullah and other smaller Lebanese opposition groups give it continued influence in Lebanon, and it also maintains good ties with Iran.

Syrian and Iranian attempts to score points in their contest with the United States by using their influence and alliances with junior partners in the region, such as Hamas, is classic cold war-type behavior.

Rami G. Khouri
is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

Copyright ?2007 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global


Released: 23 January 2007
Word Count: 808



Advisory Release: 23 January 2007
Word Count: 808
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein

Last Updated on Tuesday, 23 January 2007 10:37

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