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Opinion: A New Cold War - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It seems like we are facing a new Cold War. There is a coming together of international powers; the world is divided between the United States and its European allies—who are coming down from the ecstasy of the unipolar New World Order of Bush senior—and the Russian federation, which is rising to a powerful return to international influence after the fall of the Soviet Union.

These transitional periods between international powers usually witness great struggles and bloody conflicts, intelligence exchanges and regional wars. In the case of great struggles, the Middle East takes the lion’s share—especially in the countries of the Arab Spring, from Tunisia and Egypt to Libya and Yemen. In bloody conflicts, we look to the events in Libya as an example, and to similar countries with a large presence of violent religious groups. As for intelligence exchanges, we cannot ignore Russia’s expulsion of a US diplomat last week—Washington will undoubtedly respond to in similar fashion—which should lead to a review of the Boston bombings and the secrets they entail, and which have not been revealed yet. It seems that the North Korean troubles are not far removed from this new scene.

In the regional wars, Syria leads the way. It seems like what is happening in Syria today, with all the great losses and the terrible tragedy, is no more than a battle in a regional war between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab countries—and a world war between the super powers to reorder international equilibriums.

This last phase has shown the international and regional powers’ inability to be decisive, and that they are creating major issues, such as the North Korean threats, as nothing but skirmishes in a new cold war.

Iran, which is going through a sham elections phase, has shown through the Syrian war that it will use any weapon it can in its regional war against the Arabs. It wants to protect its nuclear program on the international level. To protect its influence in the region, Iran uses sectarianism—as it has done in Iraq, where explosions have once more returned to the streets. The violence in Iraq has spread beyond major towns, and has now reached Sunni protest areas—for example, the explosion that targeted a mosque in Baqubah a few days ago.

The arms trade has become popular. Arms experts and traders have become media personalities, and talk of varieties and quantities of weapons has become rife. This is a sign of both cold and real wars.

The Israeli strike on some of Assad’s arms depots in Damascus and Netanyahu’s visit to China a few hours after the strike did not have a real impact because of China’s gradual move away from the regional battle. But Netanyahu’s visit to Russia, and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s confirmation that Russia has supplied Syria with sophisticated weapons, all point to Russia’s intention to become a strong influence on the international scene once again. Moscow will not beat an easy retreat, after it sensed its returning status as an international destination for managing international conflicts—starting with the Syrian crisis.

The stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the Syrian crisis has exposed many slogans that it used to attract political Islamic movements, such as the Palestinian issue, or to attract some idiot Arab nationalists, such as the resistance. It was exposed to a number of Arab writers and intellectuals, but their voices were never heard and their ideas were faulted in a recognized religious and nationalistic demagogy.

I used to think, like others, that Iran used the Palestinian issue as an ideological tool to cover Iran’s internal problems and desires to expand and have greater influence in the Arab region only after the revolution in Iran. However, I discovered while I was reading My Life, the memoirs of former Iranian president and current candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani, that this is an old trick.

Talking about the establishment of the Maktab Tashayyua Shi’ite School, which was part of the clerics’ opposition to the Shah’s rule, Rafsanjani says, “We have benefited from this process in presenting the Palestinian issue, which was forgotten, and we were able, through this process, to find new relations with the outside world and develop them.” It was an issue they adopted for two reasons, according to the former president: one was to “benefit” from it, and the other was to “find relations with the outside world,” meaning it was simply a means adopted to strengthen the position of the clerics who opposed the regime.

He confirmed the issue once again when he talked about Khomeini‘s “desire, from the early years, to adopt the Palestinian issue, and his desire to take the battle to the region, and to the world.” It was, therefore, a weapon used in an internal war that Khomeini wanted to expand through the Palestinian issue to reach the region and the world as a whole.

This historic depth of the Islamic Republic’s policies is useful for shedding light on these policies and their deep objectives, which continue until today. Their use of religion for political aims is known. The exploitation of the Palestinian issue to deceive Muslims was the same, and the deception of Arab nationalists by the resistance slogan is again the same.

These Iranian policies reflect an old, continuous and unchanging strategy, and not just a president’s impulse or the desires of the religious leader. Therefore, the results of the sham Iranian elections, regardless of who wins, will not change much in this strategy—except in the difference between a big, rough stick and a smooth one.

When drawing strategies, making long-term plans and managing crises, each crisis is an opportunity and every event is a weapon. Iran today is no longer satisfied with lifting sectarianism as slogan: it also uses it as a weapon to kill and destroy. It participates with expertise and weaponry, and with personnel and equipment, and with policies in Iraq. It also participates by inciting parties such as Hezbollah, Al-Fadl Bin Al-Abbas Brigades. It even has complicated and unending links to Al-Qaeda— something that contradicts the very foundations of the Islamic Republic.

Finally, no one wants to see a new Cold War that turns the attention of humanity from development to an arms race, the creation of crises and the promotion of wars. If the Syrian conflict is not resolved soon, we will face that very fate.