THE ANGRY ARAB: Hyping the Arab-Iran Conflict

Numerous Middle East conflicts that undermine U.S. and Israeli propaganda are getting ignored by Western media even as they tear the region apart, writes As’ad AbuKhalil.

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

Western media has for many years created the impression that the Arab conflict with Iran dominates the region and dwarfs all other conflicts. But this paradigm is largely a polemical propaganda ploy intended to minimize or obscure the Arab-Israeli conflict and others that pose challenges to the U.S. and Israel.

In order to pretend that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not a core issue for the Arab people, Western governments and media refer to Arab Gulf despots who enjoy good relations with Israel as “Arab leaders.” Sometimes Western media treat one of them, Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, (MbS) as though he is the elected and undisputed leader of the Arab world, or that he is another Gamal Abdul-Nasser, the immensely popular late ruler of Egypt. This portrayal could not be further from the truth.

MbS is detested by most Arabs and the Arab people still (in every country of the region) express strong opposition to any normalization with Israel.  The U.S. and Israel have made tremendous efforts and spent billions to persuade the Egyptian people of the efficacy of normalization, but dealing with Israel at any level is still rejected by all professional associations and youth groups in Egypt.  The U.S. was able to impose a peace treaty on the tyrants of Egypt but it has not been able to mold or change Egyptian or Arab public opinion.

President Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman at White House, March 14, 2017. (White House/ Shealah Craighead)

Judging from Arab social media (which remain freer than the mainstream press that is largely dominated either by the ruling regimes or by the Saudi or the Qatari regime), the Palestinian cause remains deeply important to Arabs — young and old. Pictures, slogans and videos about Palestine are circulated daily, and news of Israeli murders of Palestinians — while largely ignored in the Western press — are extensively covered by Arabs on social media and even in government press due to people’s interest in the plight of the Palestinians.  The notion that MbS or Muhammad bin Zayid of the United Arab Emirates(MbZ) are in any way influential as opinion makers is laughable. Those two tyrants rely on tight systems of political control and surveillance to stay in power and to smash any manifestations of political independence or dissent.

Sectarian Agitation

In opposition to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Western and Arab Gulf media have invested heavily in promoting an Arab conflict with Iran.  The methods of such promotion have relied heavily on poisonous sectarian agitation and mobilization; Saudi-controlled (and Qatari-controlled) media adopted a blatant anti-Shi`ite tone and content in order to portray anyone who proposes resistance to Israel as a Shi’ite outsider tied to “Persian designs.”

One time, the corrupt Palestinian Fath leader Muhammad Dahlan (who is loyal to the Abu Dhabi ruler, Mbz) spoke as his supporters in Gaza chanted “Shia, Shia,” against Hamas, although the Shi`ite population is quite minuscule among the Palestinian population. Hamas, like Fath, is Sunni, and some Hamas leaders have even adopted sectarian anti-Shiite rhetoric. But the exaggeration and exploitation of the Iran-Gulf conflict (and its conflation with an Arab-Iran conflict) was intended to distract from the deep political conflicts in the region, especially among U.S. clients in the Middle East.

Even within the Gulf Cooperation Council (established at the behest of the U.S. in 1981 to counter the Iranian revolution and its influence in the region) conflicts among member states have not abated.  These go beyond the Saudi-Qatari and UAE-Qatari and Bahrain-Qatari conflicts, which are well known. The Saudi camp can itself be divided.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia are fighting in Yemen and recently the militias armed by both sides have been bitterly clashing in South Yemen. (The UAE is supporting a regional “transitional” council while Saudi Arabia wants to promote its chosen Yemeni puppet government as the legitimate government for all of Yemen.)  These clashes have been occurring even as the two allies unite in their bombing campaign against the Huthis (although this campaign does not recognize differences between civilians and fighters).  Their agenda diverges when it comes to dividing influence and domination even before achieving a long-elusive victory in Yemen.

Air strike on Sana’a, Yemen, 2015. (Ibrahem Qasim, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Clash of U.S. Clients

Two local clients of the U.S. — Qatar and the UAE — are also clashing in Libya. Qatar and Turkey support a government sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood’s regional alliance, while the UAE (along with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia) support the militia of General Khalifa Heftar.  Ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, and in the absence of strong rival republican regimes, Gulf countries have been fighting for influence, especially as new governments are emerging in places where regimes have fallen. (Regimes in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen have fallen since 2011 while the war in Syria continues and Algerian military dictatorship has stubbornly resisted giving up power in the face of massive protests in the last few months.)

The Jordanian regime has also been clashing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE; in the past, it clashed with Qatar largely over the political shows on Al-Jazeera where the king of Jordan has been criticized and the Hashemite long-standing ties to Israel have been exposed. But since 2011, Jordan has been moving closer to Qatar.  The rift between Jordan and Saudi Arabia-UAE stem from the ramifications of the Arab uprisings.  Jordan was promised large sums of aid from Gulf countries but those promises have not been fulfilled (Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, are notorious for not delivering on financial pledges, as governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority can attest). 

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and King Hussein of Jordan confer on the Sea of Galilee shore after signing the Israel Jordan peace treaty, 1994.(Israel Press Office, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Furthermore, the Jordanian regime has permitted mild criticisms against Saudi Arabia to be aired by Jordanian journalists.  But the competition between Jordan and Gulf countries are also related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Jordan has lost much of its value as the vanguard of the Arab governmental front dealing directly with Israeli.  King Husayn had been a messenger between U.S. and Arab countries, and also between Israel and Arab reactionary governments.  That role has been lost because most Gulf countries now deal directly with Israel (perhaps with the exception of Kuwait). 

The rise of MbS added tensions to the Jordanian-Saudi relations (historically fraught by the expulsion of the Hashemites from Western Arabia early in the 20th century).  As MbS improved relations with Israel, he started to compete with the Hashemite family over the custodianship of the Haram Al-Sharif in Jerusalem.  Israel has historically facilitated the role of Jordan because Amman has been the least supportive government of the Palestinian resistance.  But Israel today may prefer a Saudi custodianship as the Saudi regime is more willing than Jordan to offer concessions to Israel without any reward in return.  For this reason, the Jordanian government has been stressing its special religious connection to the Haram Al-Sharif, (noble sanctuary) in Jerusalem.

There are other tensions between Arab nations. In recent months, when one of the wives of Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, fled to London to sue her ex husband for custody of her children, the situation caused strains between Dubai and Jordan because the wife is the half sister of the King of Jordan.

There are tensions within Arab countries: within the UAE the competition between Dubai and the rest of the country has existed since its founding, when two ruling families, the Al-Nahyan and the Al-Maktum, agreed to symbolically share power. Leadership of the UAE was supposed to switch between the two, but this has not happened. Instead the Al-Nahyan has been effectively monopolizing political control.  

In recent years, Dubai has been less invested in the regional aggressive campaigns of MbZ, and Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Muhammad, has even hinted at that in tweets.  Last week, Sheikh Muhammad criticized the new vicious and vulgar social media campaign which has been largely orchestrated by the UAE’s intelligence service (run by the sons of the founder of UAE, Sheikh Zayid of Abu Dhabi). 

All this dispels the image of harmony among the clients of the U.S. and the new allies of Israel.  While the U.S. invests in promoting an Arab-Iran conflict, the people of the region are more aware of these other conflicts, which are tearing the region asunder. 

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

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14 comments for “THE ANGRY ARAB: Hyping the Arab-Iran Conflict

  1. JohnDoe
    September 16, 2019 at 12:49

    I think here there’s too much focus on Israel. I think that the real problem rather than the relationship of the tyrants with Israel are the tyrants themselves. Rebels in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are labeled as Shia muslims, rebels in Iran are labelled as foreign agents, rebels in Egypt are labelled as supported of the Brotherhood and so on.

  2. September 14, 2019 at 16:56

    Iran is playing smartly to both the aggressors. Iran hardly seems to be giving any reaction and I’m really convinced with their foreign policies. In the recent past Arab has tried their heart out to make the issues more talked and still couldn’t win the game, I would say. Wish everything is peaceful! Stay blessed. love from:

  3. Mark Thomason
    September 14, 2019 at 15:27

    The “maximum pressure” crowd trying to crush Iran’s oil industry (and Venezuela’s at the same time) are likely shocked and surprised by today’s news that half of Saudi Arabia’s production capacity was just destroyed in a single drone attack burning a massive refinery complex. That is twice as much as Iran and Venezuela together were taking to market.

    Who ever imagined that war mongering could have blow back, that the targets could hit back?

    That’s what comes to those who start wars. And they are always surprised.

  4. Bruce Ackerson
    September 12, 2019 at 21:18

    China complicates the relationship with Iran. As an emerging empire they are gaining assets by spending on infrastructure in places like Iran and Italy. They want to smooth trade with them and future allies, like the US did long ago. They intend to put 5000 troops in Iran. This complicates US plans to invade. Attacking US troops stationed everywhere across the world invites US response. The Chinese have learned well.

  5. September 12, 2019 at 20:21

    The article highlights the success of the US and Israel keeping potential adversaries at each others throats. Conflicts certainly occur for other reasons but both countries are always their to feed the flames when they don’t start the fires.

  6. Maria S Calef
    September 12, 2019 at 14:09

    Since war I Western powers divided the Hejaz and the entire region under false promises to the Arab people. British and Frances had promised support for independence, but, after the war, these colonialist dismissed their promises and created a protectorate as a form of colonial rule. These imperialist began carving up the region and divide among themselves the Arab regions. Today, the Zionist-imperialist axis seek to ignite and fanning a kind of Sunni-Shiite war among the Muslim, at the time when the Muslim Ummah need to be unify, and the Arabs are plying the game. The global hegemonic power divert Muslim forces igniting sectarianism to divert and weaken Arab forces.

    • Abe
      September 12, 2019 at 16:06

      It is the despotic Arab Gulf “leaders” (aka “allies of Israel”), not the Arab people as citizen populations of their respective nations, who are “plying [sic] the game”.

      The US-Israeli-Saudi Axis have employed terrorist mercenary forces, notably “al Qaeda” and “Islamic State”, to generate the appearance of “a kind of Sunni-Shiite war”.

      The Arab people at large aren’t buying any of it. They recognize who their real enemies are.

      • jo6pac
        September 12, 2019 at 17:57

        “The Arab people at large aren’t buying any of it. They recognize who their real enemies are.”

        I sure hope you’re right because here Amerika the sheeple haven’t figured out the enemy is our own govt.

        Thanks TAA

      • Gregory Herr
        September 13, 2019 at 14:21

        Abe is absolutely correct jo6pac. The invasion and occupation of Iraq was marked by a strategy that Condoleezza Rice called “creative” or “constructive chaos”—a divide-and-rule ploy. Mercenary terrorism was bought-and-paid-for, and despicable false flag attacks on mosques were employed. All part of a planned “project”. The following article contains insight:

        “The “New Middle East” project was introduced publicly by Washington and Tel Aviv with the expectation that Lebanon would be the pressure point for realigning the whole Middle East and thereby unleashing the forces of “constructive chaos.” This “constructive chaos” –which generates conditions of violence and warfare throughout the region– would in turn be used so that the United States, Britain, and Israel could redraw the map of the Middle East in accordance with their geo-strategic needs and objectives.
        Secretary Condoleezza Rice stated during a press conference that “[w]hat we’re seeing here [in regards to the destruction of Lebanon and the Israeli attacks on Lebanon], in a sense, is the growing—the ‘birth pangs’—of a ‘New Middle East’ and whatever we do we [meaning the United States] have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the New Middle East [and] not going back to the old one.”1 Secretary Rice was immediately criticized for her statements both within Lebanon and internationally for expressing indifference to the suffering of an entire nation, which was being bombed indiscriminately by the Israeli Air Force.”

  7. Abe
    September 12, 2019 at 13:00

    The primary reason why “the U.S. invests in promoting an Arab-Iran conflict” is because the pro-Israel Lobby network of hawkish “think tanks” and militant “policy advisers” incessantly demands such investment.

    The primary reason why American mainstream media portray Arab Gulf despots as “leaders” (the Shah of Iran was once so portrayed) is because the pro-Israel Lobby demands such flattering propaganda depictions of “allies of Israel”.

    The primary reason why the United States government continues to support tyrants who exercise “tight systems of political control and surveillance to stay in power and to smash any manifestations of political independence or dissent” is because “the Palestinian cause remains deeply important to Arabs”, and the pro-Israel Lobby demands that Arab “people’s interest in the plight of the Palestinians” be ruthlessly repressed.

    If the American government were simply interested in securing a cheap and plentiful supply of oil and natural gas to support the economic prosperity of the U.S. and its allies, there would be immediate reconciliation and development of close economic ties with Iran, an end of support for tyrannical monarchs, encouragement of peaceful democratic movements in the Arab Gulf states, uncompromising demand for Israeli compliance with international law, and a demand for swift and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    The Israeli government and pro-Israeli Lobby are dead set against democracy, peace, and prosperity in the Arab world, because it would ultimately mean an end to the Zionist settler colonial experiment in apartheid.

  8. Sam F
    September 12, 2019 at 12:02

    Thank you for this perspective on the sentiments of other peoples rather than the acts of their dictators. It would be well to have more detailed perspectives of the goals, controversies, and potential of peoples the US tyrannizes with dictators, even as its bought officials hide behind the flag and claim to promote democracy. We do indeed have the best Congress, mass media, and judiciary that money can buy, who naturally support their kind by every dishonest, corrupt, and hidden means. Sic semper tyrannis; Glory be to Gold.

  9. Bob Stewart
    September 12, 2019 at 11:41

    I guess this is a first impression reaction to the opening paragraph. I also realize that my information is somewhat dated but typically the man on the street sticks to his position for the most part. My source is my father who spent years working in the Dead Sea area for the Arab Potash company. He worked for an American company that as he put it ‘sucked the carnalite off the floor of the Dead Sea’. Seeing that Jordan does not have oil reserves it makes potash.
    After he returned we had several talks about his experience. One thing he noted was that the most popular figure for the populace was Saddam Hussein. His face was in the window of almost every vehicle because he stood up to the US. Of course this was before Saddam met his demise.
    Another area is the strange relationship the area had with ‘the cousins across the sea’. There was an area in town that was totally devastated which drew a comment from my dad. He was told that they used to have a 105 mm sitting there and about every Thursday they would lob a few shells across the sea to Israel. One day the Israelis showed up and blew the area apart then told the people not to shell them anymore or they would be back. Yet on the other hand along the Jordan river dad could see dikes being built and he asked why. He was told real simple we are planning to raise the water level of the Jordan. Of course the Jordan was the border between Israel and Jordan so it prompted another question. Ah the Israelis are building dikes as well besides they are paying for the project.
    One other set of comments that stuck in my mind is his relating how the Jordanians viewed the US. They considered us stupid. He was asked if he knew why Russian airlines were never hijacked? He was then told that there was one incident where there had been one hijacked. The Russians ignore their demands for ransom and the plane was blown up. Within a year the leader of the group that had planned and executed the hijacking walked out his front door to find the heads of all his lieutenants on stakes lining his walk.
    So what does the man on the street believe and think in regard to what is politically important? To be honest the best response is ‘Who knows?’ but it is probably not what the people in the political centers of the nation think it is. Nor is it what the people in the intellectual institutions think either. To really find out you would have to join them in the daily grind of their life and be seen as a member of their working world.

  10. September 12, 2019 at 07:42

    US President Donald Trump has announced an abrupt end to the ongoing peace talks with the Afghan Taliban. The Background: Why United state fight the longest war in Afghanistan against the Afghan Taliban

    The Background: Why United state fight the longest war in Afghanistan against the Afghan Taliban

  11. September 12, 2019 at 05:08

    An excellent article.

    The author’s main theme is, as the Brits like to say, spot-on.

    There is a huge amount of American establishment propaganda clouding a clear view of realities in the Middle East.

    And the darkest, unelected and murderous ruler around, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, has manufactured credibility heaped on him weekly.

    While Americans might largely ignore absolutely brutalities like Israel’s ambushes on the border of Gaza, Arabs as a whole certainly do not.

    They do not see the “restraint” America’s press and establishment praises mass killing with.

    We have some truly evil rulers in the region. None of them is Iranian. All of them are propped up and supported by American interests.

    Netanyahu in Israel. the Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia. Generalissimo el-Sisi in Egypt. Is it any surprise they all work together? Netanyahu and the Crown Prince are especially close.

    In a sense they are both usurpers and outsiders to the region’s people, so they have strong mutual interests to protect.

    Indeed, Israel works very hard against democratic interests in the region. It is always more comfortable with tyrants. There are reasons for that.

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