All wars initiated or supported by the US establishment — from the occupation of Iraq in 2003, to the second Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006, and to regime-change efforts in Syria in 2011 and the occupation of a third of Iraq in 2014 — have failed in their goal of stoking the fire of sectarian war between Sunni and Shia in the Middle East. The failure of this strategy has pushed the US establishment towards two new options: the first, of using the media to reveal Saudi Arabia’s intention to harm the Iranian economy and assassinate its military commanders. The second is to promote and advertise for an “Arab (Sunni) NATO Army”. The goal is to keep the possibility of sectarian war alive.
The struggle for dominance between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been going on since the fall of the Shah and the victory of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Nevertheless, today’s level of direct confrontation in various parts of the Middle East (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrein and Yemen) is unprecedented. This is partly the result of US efforts to throw gasoline on the fire of hate and competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It is against the interests of the US establishment to see the Iran-Saudi struggle wane because that would damage the US economy. Trump said clearly that he needs Arab money in exchange for the protection he is offering, otherwise “the Arab regimes won’t last for one week”. Accordingly, a state of non-war or non-competition between Tehran and Riyadh would significantly reduce the billions of dollars in US arms sales to the Saudis.
The Saudi monarchy is well aware of the US need to sell them weapons. Indeed, Saudi media threatened the US in the aftermath of the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, saying Riyadh would cease all hostilities towards Iran if Washington were to insist on accusing MbS of the horrible kidnapping and murder. This shows that Saudi animosity towards Iran is a double-edge sword used by both the US and the monarchy to reach their own sometimes mutually conflicting objectives. Saudi officials are happy to continue feeding Trump the sums of money he wants as long as he allows the kingdom a free hand in the region, mainly against Yemen.
The other problem the US establishment is struggling with is the awakening of the Russian bear from its long hibernation since Perestroika in 1991. Moscow, with its successful intervention in Syria, and its involvement in Iraq and Lebanon, is becoming Washington’s biggest nightmare. The US plan for regime change has failed in Syria, and its manipulation of the extremist jihadists has not served US interests and objectives. Even more worrisome for the US is an emerging Iranian-Russian-Chinese alliance that signals the end of US global hegemony.
Unwilling to surrender to the regional realignment, the US establishment envisions an Arab NATO — similar to the western NATO — to counter Russia in the Middle East. Such an alliance would serve to inflame sectarian fires between Sunni and the Shia.
This plan might set the region in flames, but would also burn the ground from under the Russians, impeding their plans to stay and expand their dominance in the region. Washington's thinking is that, if the US cannot dominate the ME dominance exclusively, then better for the region to go down in flames.
The Arab NATO will be a Sunni army to fight the Shia. However, the dramatic military failure of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the poorest country in the ME, Yemen, suggests that this new Arab NATO will be stillborn.
Nevertheless, this only indicates how far the US establishment is ready to go and what kind of weapons it is prepared to use to protect its global hegemony and to keep the Saudi money flowing. The “new Middle East” promoted by Condoleezza Rice in 2006 failed to defeat Hezbollah that same year. The Trump establishment is trying to impose a new wave of sanctions on Lebanon to fight against Hezbollah with little prospect of success. Hezbollah is stronger today than ever and is ready to go beyond its comfort zone to counter any US moves against it in the Lebanon, if necessary.
The attempted regime change in Syria failed in 2018. However, US forces are keeping the al-Tanf crossing between Syria and Iraq closed to keep any substantial financial income from replenishing the Damascus treasury. The US refuses to eliminate the ISIS terrorist group in Albu Kamal, preferring to use ISIS to prevent reopening of commercial ties between the Levant and Mesopotamia.
Furthermore, the US used its media and scholars to promote the partition of Iraq into Shiistan, Sunnistan and Kurdistan but failed in its goal of dividing the country when the Iraqi government succeeded in defeating ISIS and keeping the country united.
Nevertheless, the US seems unready to surrender and is expected to use its unilateral sanctions on Iran to put further pressure on Iraq in the coming months. Baghdad is expected to reject any US demands to respect Trump’s sanctions.
And last, the US is trying to twist the arm of the Palestinians by imposing its agenda on Jerusalem and threatening the security and stability of Jordan by refusing the right of return of Palestinians to their land and proposing an alternative settlement policy in Jordan. All this is being done with the support of Saudi Arabia.
Washington today is more reckless more than ever and will do its utmost to trigger more wars in the Middle East. It is too early to talk about durable stability in the region so long as the US establishment seems determined to create instability and fuel sectarian war insofar as possible.