Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon and sanctions on Iranian officials - what does it all mean?

There is something particularly interesting about the coverage of Iran, Syria and Hezbullah in Western news media. In 2006 the media were near hysterical with their analysis of these key players in the stage we call the Middle East. Iran was ominous, threatening and dangerous. Hezbullah was almost terrifying in the mystique it exuded, and have-a-go analysts were falling over each other to give interviews about this movement. Yet in the last two years something has changed, particularly as Western impotence in the face of these countries and their growing power became more apparent. In 2008 America's stooges in Lebanon were utterly routed in less than 8 hours, in Iran the "Versace" activists and their Western cheerleaders learned the hard way that you cannot have a revolution using Facebook and Twitter, let alone with an absolute minority in a country which is still overwhelmingly pro-Ahmedinejad and pro-Islamic Republic. In Syria the idea of "regime-change" espoused by the Bush administration also failed, and the West's star player in Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad al Hariri, recently visited Damascus to present his credentials. Yet today, and across the Right-Left political spectrum that defines Western ideologies, newspapers deal with Iranian statements with an irreverance that borders on the comical. Articles regarding Iranian "boat-planes" are derided whilst statements by the Iranian president concerning the 9-11 attacks are, like his statements concerning Israel, taken out of context yet again. Statements made by Hassan Nasrallah are mostly ignored or treated with a certain contempt and skepticism, even Turkey's Erdogan is a subject of ridicule by the secular Turkish media, "Mr 1 minute", for his interjections with Shimon Peres, and for his principled positions concerning Gaza and the Palestinian people. In Syria, every now and then some silly article about silly Syrian activists is pushed to the surface of news coverage. In all fairness, Syria has received far less of the criticism, and this is mainly due to an excellent and politically savvy foreign policy that has defined this country as a player that can punch far beyond their weight.

So what can explain this change in the way the supposedly free Western media covers this Middle Eastern alliance? Well one possible answer lies in the dramatic shift in the West's psychology towards the region. People with a longer attention span than the last three months will recall the sheer terror and apprehension that the world felt prior to invading Iraq. Even within the region, the public stocked up on gas-masks, bread, supplies and water. Countries in Europe wondered if Iraqi missiles could reach their cities, the Israelis held their breath, and probably hovered a finger over their nuclear launch buttons. This awe with which an Arab and Muslim country was held with was eroded gradually over ten years of sanctions until the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which dissipated it completely. Apparently George Bush believed it was "Mission Accomplished". Since then, this healthy awe has been building up again and is now unchallenged. The bully recognises that they cannot hurt people without being hit back, and this makes countries like the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany very nervous.

There will be a confrontation with Iran, Hezbullah and Hamas and this is unquestionable. This author firmly believes that prior to simply charging into battle with all guns blazing, there is a certain amount of preparation and public attenuation that must take place. Firstly, people are more at ease when they can ridicule that which once gave them fear. Secondly, generating weighty international legal paper-trails give military actions or sanctions an added justification. In this case we can see a meticulous construction of sanctions on Iran aimed at clearing the ground before the battle. Firstly there is the delegitimisation and ridicule of the regime, so that it would be more difficult for critics to oppose a war against that country; Secondly sanctions; Thirdly, targetting of key figures in the Iranian military-industrial complex in a list which, according to Secretary of State Clinton, will grow further with time; and finally, hard-biting international arrest warrants for key figures in Hezbullah through the politicised, and now discredited, Special Tribunal for Lebanon that was allegedly made to investigate the death of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri over five years ago.

What we are witnessing in effect is a tightening of the noose around the key players in the region. It is inevitable, and not just highly likely, that the future and shape of the Middle East will again be decided with arms as the West prepares a second attempt at beating the natives into submission. The only way to prevent a third attempt from ever being contemplated would be for Hezbullah, or Iran, to pull off a victory on a par with the Viet Minh's defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, a victory that would completely shock the political minds of the United States and her allies and impose a new political reality for the region, thus transforming it.

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