“Thank God we’re surrounded by water!”
The Americans, for various reasons, are now well ensconced in many countries in the Middle East. From their traditional ties to Israel, for example, to their occupation of Iraq and everything in between, they appear set for the long stay in that region of the World.
It can seem sometimes that we hear about all kinds of events from there everyday and when you put it all together it begins to sound like a tinderbox. In an effort to understand it all better, I dug out a map of the region and looked at where each of these places were in proximity to each other. I want to explore that now.
You could begin almost anywhere but let’s take Syria to start with and work on from there. Syria is bordered by Turkey to the North and the area either side of that border is occupied by the Kurdish people who want independence from both countries. President Erdogan is damned if he’s going to let that happen so he has got involved in the Syrian war. The Americans have bases in Turkey and in fact they have nukes there pointed at Russia. But Turkey borders Iran to the East and has Armenia and Georgia to the North, two countries that had a fair old fling not too long ago.
To the South-West of Syria lies Beirut, a spot that has had its fair share of gunfire down the years, Jordan lies due South and Syria has Israel bordering it as well on the much disputed Golan Heights. To the East of Syria lies Iraq, a country invaded and destroyed by America and now a hot-bed of dissent and death. Finally, Syria’s tiny window to the sea looks across at the divided island of Cyprus. All around him then Assad has turmoil and that’s just outside his country. Inside it, there are seven declared armed groups all kicking the shit out of each other. Meanwhile the US, Russia, China, NATO & the EU are all playing geopolitical chess with Syria’s future. Oh! And did I mention that the Saudi’s are casting their long shadow over the whole mess also.
The United States makes no secret of its intention to start a war with Iran and indeed if Hilary had been elected they would be bombing Tehran right now. The Iranians are bordered by a hostile Turkey, a fucked-up Iraq and they face Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman across the Persian Gulf. To the North and East they have Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So as regards America’s desire to wage war against Iran, the Yanks now have land borders with the Persians on two sides, Iraq and Afghanistan. They have airbases in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia, a big CIA monitoring station in Pakistan and that’s before you look at the Carrier Fleets that could utilize the Arabian Sea. So President Hassan Rouhani is surrounded by Americans in all directions.
Iraq is a basket case, I think we can all agree on that so let’s look instead at Saudi Arabia. It’s a huge country, that’s for starters, though it is sparsely populated by sixty-million people. At present they are engaged in an unsightly spat with Qatar and embroiled in a dirty war in Yemen to the South. They have an uneasy relationship with the Yanks and know that their people would not tolerate American troops on the soil/sand of that country. Israel to the North is a significant nuclear power and the hatred by Wahabi Saudis of anything Jewish is legendary. Currently both countries appear to be toeing the American line making it seem as if they are in full agreement but I wonder? Saudi Arabia has the Persian Gulf on one side and the Red Sea on the other. Across that sea lies Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, none of whom are all that peaceful, if you’ll excuse the understatement.
Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a sovereign state they say. It is bordered by Syria to the North and east and Israel to the South, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. It is a country of six million souls that was wracked by civil war for so long. The Israelis invaded it twice, it has a sizable Palestinian population and a private Shia army known as Hezbullah, now active across the Syrian border as well. Life in Beirut is a tricky minefield of chance at any given time.
Then there’s the religious groupings to consider. Islam is not a single entity and even the Sunni Muslims have a distinct group out of Saudi Arabia called the Wahabis who seem to think everybody else is an infidel. Then there are the Shia Muslims of Iran, Iraq and Syria who have fundamental differences with the Sunni’s of the Arabian Penninsula. There are a smattering of Christians around and then there’s the Jews just to throw a match on the tinder. Don’t forget the stateless Palestinians or the new phenomenon of ISIS with their proposed Caliphate to span many borders. Oman, to the South, is keeping its head down while maintaining relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran at the same time. The whole sorry edifice is mind boggling and dangerous, is it not?
Then there’s Egypt itself. They have the Suez canal to the East, Sudan to the South and then a long Western border with what’s left of Libya. On the other side of the canal they have borders with Israel and Saudi too. Besides Egypt, Libya has Sudan, Chad, Niger Algeria and Tunisia for neighbours. The Muslim world is large and inter-twined. The Americans are in Libya and Sudan, some in Egypt, they are in Israel naturally, have a small force in Syria, have big forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, have bases in Qatar and Turkey and a strong intelligence set up in many others. The dead hand of the Yank is around the throats of all of them even as they despise each other.
And when I study that map I really despair. Then I look at our little storm-drenched island far from the madding crowd and somehow I feel grateful. Apart from the Sammies up North, it’s all pretty straightforward. I mean, which would you prefer, the BREXIT problem or the problems of any one of those Middle-East countries?
I rest my case.