(This is the first of a series of two Articles)
By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The importance of tackling this issue is highlighted by the uprisings, revolutions and protests taking place in the region, which has been caught in a state of instability and confusion over the future of the countries there.
Some old regimes still stand and others were toppled, and there are some concerns over the sectarian and ethnic implications of the process of change.
Meanwhile, the attempts of Israel and some Western powers are clear, as they seek to take advantage of the instability to push events for the benefit of their interests, including the fragmentation of the region on the basis of sectarian and ethnic lines.
The Americans, who invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, knew full well that their claims about the regime there possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) or harboring terrorism were false. But it wasn’t enough to explain the invasion as some analysts purported, by saying that the US wanted to control the oil wells in Iraq as the primary goal of the occupation. Indeed, the Iraqi regime had no qualms about selling oil in the international market at reasonable prices, within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) framework.
This is while the US government, in the early years of the invasion of Iraq, had to spend an average of two billion dollars a week (about one hundred billion per year). Therefore, it was necessary to examine whether there were other undeclared agendas for the war, especially in light of the insistence of the Americans to dismantle Iraqi state institutions and dissolve the Iraqi army, while explicitly or implicitly encouraging sectarian and ethnic behavior. Under US occupation, Iraq witnessed the biggest bloody sectarian conflict in its modern history.
Perhaps the “success” of the Americans, to one degree or another, in perpetuating sectarian- and ethnic-centered dynamics (Shia – Sunni – Kurds) in Iraq, has opened the appetite of some to follow the same path in the rest of the Arab region, which is witnessing revolutions and uprisings.
The hopes of this success were boosted with the secession of South Sudan, and with the separatist movements in Darfur.
The Israeli side is invested completely in maintaining this state of fragmentation and division, and seeks to achieve further fragmentation in the region along sectarian and ethnic lines. This would render Israel, which was built on a Jewish ethnic-religious basis, a normal entity among the other sectarian- and ethnic-based entities it seeks to create in the region – be they Sunni, Shi‘a, Christian, Druze or Alawite.
Zionist officials have shown a keen interest in the question of minorities in the Arab world, claiming that the borders drafted for the region following the First World War were not fair and had wronged sectarian and ethnic minorities. Indeed, since before the establishment of the state of Israel, there was a Zionist interest in schemes for fragmentation and partitioning. For instance, Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky called for the creation of sectarian and ethnic statelets around the Zionist entity, which the latter would dominate.
Since the late thirties, the Zionist movement established contacts with some minorities in Lebanon and Iraq, urging them to rebel and secede.
Yoram Nimrod, Uri Lubrani (former ambassador to Turkey and Iran), Mordechai Ben-Porat and Shoshana Arbeli each contacted Kurds in Iraq, while Eliyahu Sasson and Isser Harel (Mossad chief) contacted minorities in Syria and Lebanon.
Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel from May 1948 until January 1954, and then from November 1955 until June 1963, saw ethnic and sectarian divisions in the Arab countries as an opportunity to amplify disputes, until they become deep crises that are difficult to resolve or contain. Ben-Gurion requested a plan to be developed in this direction which would later be known as the Peripheral Strategy. The plan was undertaken by Reuven Shiloah, Israeli foreign ministry advisor, and was based on developing ties between Israel and non-Arab nations surrounding the Arab countries, such as Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia, to act as a source of pressure and threats against the Arab countries, and maintain a state of conflict with them.
This strategy was developed further and focused on forging ties with minorities and encouraging them to secede. In an interview with the Israeli daily Maariv on 18/12/1981, a few months before the invasion he led against Lebanon, then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said that the conditions were favorable for the fragmentation of the Arab states and the extension of Israeli dominance in the region.
Sharon spoke about the potential conflict between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, between Sunnis and Alawites in Syria and between rival sects in Lebanon, and also between Palestinians and Bedouins in the east of Jordan, between Sunnis and Shiites in the Eastern Province in Saudi Arabia, and between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. He even spoke about conflict between the Muslim north and the animist-Christian south in Sudan, and between Arabs and Berbers in the Maghreb region.
In this vein, there was a study with dangerous implications drafted by Oded Yinon, an Israeli foreign ministry strategist, titled “A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties,” which focused on partitioning and weakening the Arab world. For his part, Zionist thinker Yehezkel Dror spoke in the book “A Grand Strategy for Israel,” about undermining and fragmenting Arab states, and instigating wars and conflicts among them, while destabilizing Arab societies from within by supporting non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities.
Another prominent intellectual who called for the break-up of the Arab world was the famous Jewish Zionist historian Bernard Lewis, who has had a significant impact on neo-conservative ideology, and former US President George W. Bush himself.
Retired US officer and author Ralph Peters built on Lewis’s ideas, and called for the partitioning of the Middle East in his article “Blood Borders,” published in the US Armed Forces Journal in June 2006. Peters reckoned that the “most arbitrary and distorted borders in the world are in Africa and the Middle East,” which were drawn by “self-interested Europeans.” He wrote, “Yet, for all the injustices the borders re-imagined here leave unaddressed, without such major boundary revisions, we shall never see a more peaceful Middle East.”
He then added, “We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities,” and urged that “if the borders of the greater Middle East cannot be amended to reflect the natural ties of blood and faith