Vijay Prashad: Trump is Setting Up a ‘Dangerous Confrontation’ With Iran
Vijay Prashad and Paul Jay discuss the American, Saudi and Israeli campaign against Iran and the new Cold War with Russia
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.
Well, it’s been a somewhat complicated, confusing, crazy, one might say, week or two about U.S. policy towards Iran. Last week President Trump recertified that Iran was, in fact, living up to its end of the nuclear arms deal. Apparently, he did it kicking and screaming. He didn’t really want to, but he did it under pressure from much of the foreign policy establishment, including his own Secretary of State, Tillerson, and the Secretary of Defense, Mattis, and others. He’s apparently already started a group within the White House outside of those people, Tillerson, Mattis, and McMaster, his National Security Advisor. Steve Bannon and others are creating a group to figure out how they can not recertify next time this comes up, which I believe is in about 90 days.
Trump clearly wants to have a provocation with Iran and as part of that was his trip to Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t long after that trip the Saudis led various countries from the GCC to boycott an embargo on Qatar, because they thought the Qatari relations with Iran were getting too close. In the midst of all of this, while it recertified that Iran is in fact living up to the nuclear deal, well the Senate passes a resolution with new sanctions against Russia, but also very much against Iran. Unanimously, except for two votes, and that’s Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul. Sanders saying, “He wouldn’t vote for it because it would undermine the nuclear deal.” Well, now joining us to discuss this and other things live on Facebook, live on YouTube, live on The Real News website and maybe some other places as well.
The fact that we’re live means we’re hoping you will ask questions. You can send them to [email protected] You can put them up on Facebook comments, or YouTube comments, or you can put them in the comments section on The Real News website, where we are also live. This, of course, is a session with Vijay Prashad, who now joins us. Vijay is in Northhampton, Massachusetts. He is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian history and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He’s the author of more than 20 books, including The Death of the Nation and The Future of the Arab Revolution. Thanks very much for joining us, Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Pleasure, thanks.
PAUL JAY: I’ll kick this off and then once some questions start coming in, we’ll go to them. Just what is the differences, if they are serious or not, within the White House and what do you make of this, I don’t know, it looks incoherent, but maybe it’s meant to look incoherent, a resolution increasing sanctions on Iran at the same time as Trump recertifies the confrontation with Qatar? Of course, the underlying issue is, it seems that most of the Trump foreign policy team, even if they recertified, but including Tillerson and Mattis, the whole team has really wanted to target Iran. What’s your sense of all this?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, Paul, in a way the hostilities against Iran have been going on since 1979. When the Iranian revolution took place, the United States took a very hostile position against the revolution and the Iranian, new Iranian government. For good reason. I mean, the United States in 1953 had overthrown a democratically elected prime minister, that is Mohammad Mossadegh, so the Iranian government also took a strong position against the United States and these two countries, very different countries, different places in the world, very important to say one a global power and the other in 1979 a very weak country. The revolution had destroyed the apparatus within the state. The United States with the Saudis egged on Iraq to invade and attack Iran in 1980, so the history’s long and it’s quite fractious.
I wouldn’t make too much about the differences inside the Trump administration. Yes indeed, there’s an inter-agency review going on, on Iran, and when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, he was asked directly about Iran by a Republican elected official. Tillerson said two things that were interesting. One, he admitted that there’s this inter-agency review and therefore said that Trump’s Iran policy’s not fully worked out. He said something else that I think is quite chilling. He said that this administration–and again, I just want to be clear that this has been fundamental U.S. policy since 1979, but he reaffirmed it. This administration, he said, is committed to regime change in Iran, but he said by peaceful means.
Now, I don’t really know what it means to be in favor of regime change by peaceful means. The distinction might be that somebody like, say, Bannon, Steve Bannon, or the ex-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who the same week wrote a piece on The Hill, online periodical, where he basically said, “This is the John McCain position. Bomb, bomb Iran.” There are some differences of tone. Here’s Tillerson saying, “Let’s have a peaceful regime change in Iran,” which again, I don’t know what that looks like–
PAUL JAY: Well, I think what they’re talking about, because I’ve seen … I’ve taken recently to reading literature that’s targeting the military industrial complex. There’s a bunch of defense-type magazines that are speaking more … Mostly about arms purchases and who’s selling what to whom. They also have a lot of strategic and tactical conversations going on there. I think what he’s talking about is they want to inspire sectarian strife in Iran. One of the articles I read talked about the different ethnicities, and religions, and it would be possibly, essentially, to create an Iraq-style civil war within Iran if they fuel it properly. I think that’s what they have in mind.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s hardly peaceful.
PAUL JAY: Well, peaceful meaning not … Peaceful to American troops is what they mean.
VIJAY PRASHAD: This is the crucial issue. It means that the Americans may not, in the early stages, have to bomb Iran. Whereas, they will create … More than the Iraq strategy war, this is the Syria strategy. In 2005, through Wikileaks, we read a cable that comes from Damascus where the Americans are saying that we’re going to take the advice of the Saudis and try to exacerbate sectarian strife by backing some of the very far right-wing Sunni clerics in Syria who have been complaining about their marginality. The Americans say, “We’re going to push that,” which is indeed what they did inside Syria, and I think that’s to some extent what they might fantasize about doing in Iran. Although Iran is a different kettle of fish than even Syria or certainly than Iraq, so I don’t really think that this is a serious proposition.
I think what I was quite chilled by was not so much this statement by Tillerson. Although, what Tillerson said, as I said, was basically U.S. policy being affirmed. What was quite chilling was that, you have here the nuclear deal, and the nuclear deal we can discuss its merits, whether it’s even acceptable for powers to come and put the handcuffs on a country that’s already committed to the International Atomic Energy Agency, that’s already committed to the Nonproliferation Treaty, etc. Still, leave that aside. You have this country committed to all this, now there’s this nuclear deal. The United States is prevented from putting sanctions on the question of nuclear proliferation, so they’ve decided to go after the ballistic missile testing and have pushed sanctions on that file.
Here’s where it gets quite interesting. The head of the Republican Guard, or the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, General Joffre, made a statement when the talk of the sanctions for the ballistic missiles was on the table. What General Joffre said was, “Look, the ballistic missiles for us is deterrence. We need to have ballistic missiles to protect ourselves. We’ll close the program down if you move a thousand kilometers away from our borders.” What does this mean? This means it’s impossible, because the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan has a base which is well inside the thousand kilometer radius. It’s about 300 kilometers from the Iranian border. The bases in Bahrain and Qatar are some of … Depending how you calculate the distance from Iran, it’s about 75 kilometers to 100 kilometers away from Iranian waters, from territorial waters.
There is no way for the Americans with the current forward policy of encircling Iran to move out of the thousand kilometer radius. The Iranians have hardened their position saying, “We’re going to continue to test ballistic missiles,” and the Trump administration has made it clear, this might be the trigger. They will continue to provoke Iran on the question of sanctions to prevent now ballistic missile development. Not nuclear anymore, ballistic missile, and this might be the flash point.
PAUL JAY: Well, let’s start working through some of the areas where Iranian and American interests seem to be confronting each other the most. Certainly, in terms of propaganda recently. Most of the rhetoric in newspaper and magazine articles have been focusing on the Iranian influence in Iraq. Some articles are calling it the Iranian domination of Iraq. Last week we did a couple stories about a New York Times article. Today, there’s been reports from Iraqis who talk about how … In fact, it was the Iranians that came to the rescue when it came to IS, that it was the Iranians that actually were the most supportive. We have a question from a viewer. Now let me introduce to you, Dharna Noor, who’s my colleague and she’s in the control room over there, and she’s going to be reading questions from viewers as we proceed here. Dharna, so you have a question, I think, from Ian Anderson.
DHARNA NOOR: Thanks, Paul. Hi, Vijay. Now, Ian Anderson is asking on Facebook, “Why won’t the media,” or what he calls, “The Congresscritters, won’t ever admit that the Iranian soldiers are,” he says, “The most effective fighters along with the Kurds in the fight against ISIS?”
PAUL JAY: All right, did you get that Vijay?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Yeah. I mean, why won’t the media admit it? Well, firstly let’s be clear that the American media by and large is basically lined up with a sort of liberal section of the State Department. The American media doesn’t have, that is to say the kind of corporate media, its culture, the outlook of the people that cover the world for, say, the New York Times, or CBS, CNN, etc. The culture and the broader outlook of the people is basically the liberal variant of the State Department. This is … Whether they’re covering Venezuela, whether they cover, say, Zimbabwe, or Iraq, or Iran, this is generally the world view. There are some exceptions, of course, people who try to color outside the lines, but the lines have become barriers. It’s very hard to really go outside the space. To assume that these reporters would take a kind of open-ended view of, say, Iranian troops, not only in Iraq, but in Syria as well, I think is to ask too much of them.
Here we enter the arena of media criticism, rather than what’s happening on the ground in Iraq. Some of this culture of course develops because of the kind of people that get hired, but I think there’s something additional here. Which is that, this policy of embedding with the American troops, which began about 20 years ago, who in fact has a history from the Vietnam War. I think it corrupts the way in which reporters see things. They’re not looking at what’s happening on the Iranian side. What are the Iranian troops doing? They themselves look at Iranian troops with great hostility, or at least suspicion. They’re not going and entering Mosul with Iranian forces. They’re entering, if they enter at all, they’re entering with the U.S.-backed groups.
PAUL JAY: What do you make of this sort of … It’s kind of funny that in the press this morning, again, I’m seeing it in the defense press, but I think it’s showing up in other places, where the Iranians are saying, “It was primarily their leadership and their forces that they backed that won the fight in Mosul,” and the Americans saying, “Oh, no, no, it was American air power?”
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, that’s an interesting political discussion, which is going to continue now right till, let’s say, the last ISIS member decides to depart from Syria. There’s going to be a lot of jockeying for who actually defeated ISIS. This, Paul, is not a simple question of one force battling another force. There’s so many powers fighting against ISIS. Let’s take the case of Raqqa. There’s a race to take Raqqa. The U.S.-backed Syrian democratic forces, largely Kurdish armies that are moving from the northeast of Syria. There’s the Syrian army that’s moving from Aleppo, but also from the south. Everybody is going to want to claim that they defeated ISIS. This is going to be, I think, where a lot of the kind of want of information takes place.
I remember during the Arab Spring traveling around the region. You meet an Iranian diplomat, they say, “Well, this is not an Arab Spring, this is an Islamic Spring and it started in 1979.” They were trying to claim what was happening. Then the Turkish officials would say, “No, this is a new Ottoman Spring. These are governments that are being inspired by what has happened with the AKP arriving to power with Mr. Erdoğan in Turkey.” This information battle is certainly going to take place. It’s, of course, impossible to say that the Iraqi army backed entirely by the Iranians would have been able to win in Mosul without the American Air Force pulverizing that city, really devastating large parts of the city. It’s inconceivable to … I can’t imagine the Iraqi army in its current configuration with the Iranian support having won without the American, massive American air power.
Neither could the Americans have taken Mosul without the Iraqi army and the Iranian special forces, the Iranian advisors, liaison, etc. Even though they both took Mosul, because of this political fight over who’s important in the region, whether Iran should get credit for anything, there is going to be an information war that, as I said, is not just going to be around Mosul. Just wait till it takes place around Raqqa, it’s going to be quite fierce.
PAUL JAY: Now, in terms of the Iranian influence in Iraq, Trump and his administration, they’re making noises towards perhaps strengthening and increasing troop levels in Iraq. I mean, what can the US do about it? I mean, can they actually even contemplate a major military intrusion back into Iraq? If so, where might that lead?
VIJAY PRASHAD: In my opinion, I think there are three ways in which the Americans are hoping to have a major presence on the ground in the region, not just in Iraq. The first, I think, approach is I think there’s a general understanding that you’re not going to see 100,000 American troops drive up from Kuwait in the present period. I don’t think they’d be welcomed by Mr. al-Abadi. I think if these troops started to cross the desert and go north, Mr. al-Abadi’s government, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, his government will fall in Baghdad. I don’t think he can politically sustain the entry of vast amounts of American troops. I think what the United States has been trying to do with Mr. al-Abadi, who I think quite erroneously they see as pro-American, I think what they’re trying to do is to put some money into the Iraqi army, competing in terms of the resource delivery with Iran.
Because up till now, Iran has had a major impact in the shaping of this new Iraqi army. Once the militia groups, which are basically Iranian created, many of them are very much proxies of Iran, once there is talk of bringing the militia groups into the army, which I think would be quite unpopular in parts of Iraq, this is going to put a lot of pressure on the Americans. I don’t think you can buy the loyalty of some of these very strongly pro-Iranian militia groups. One strategic approach is basically to buy out the Iraqi army against the Iranians. That’s one. The second approach is not so much in Iraq, and this approach has two parts. This is to make sure that the Syria-Iraq border is a very large buffer zone. It’s what the Americans have made quite clear, what the American state has made clear, is it does not want Iran to reopen that road that it used to have until six years ago. The road from the Iranian border all the way to Damascus.
Because what that road does, is it allows Iran at a much reduced cost to resupply not only Syria, but the Lebanese political party, Hezbollah, with military equipment. During the Syrian war, when the border between Iraq and Syria was closed, Iran had to by air supply both the Syrians and the group, Hezbollah. This was very expensive. They have been fighting to reopen that road. Americans are trying to create a buffer state at the border between Syria and Iraq to block this roadway, the two roadways from opening. The two strategies here to block this road are to create a buffer zone. In the north, the United States has backed fully the Syrian democratic forces, largely Kurdish militias, but in a process of backing these Kurdish militias, have built back five to seven military bases in northeastern Syria. These are actually illegal bases, but they built them there, they have special forces, troops and American military hardware.
That’s going to be one part of the buffer, because there’s a major road, the road that goes north out of Mosul towards Raqqa. They’ll block that part of the border. The second major road that connects Iraq to Syria is at the border post of Tanf and that’s in the south near where Saudi Arabia and Jordan sit, near the Syria-Iraq border. Here, the Americans have another base in Tanf and in this base they don’t have enough military strength to hold off both the Iranian backed militia groups and the Syria army, as well as, the Russians who are basically sitting outside this base. This is setting the stage for a major confrontation at the southern border post, which is the most convenient way for Iranian material to go to Damascus.
These are the three ways, Paul, I think that the United States is basically trying to check Iranian power. One is in Iraq with the Iraqi military. The second is in the north part of Syria where they will block the roadway using the Syrian democratic forces on these bases. Then secondly, in the south, the most important road where the Americans are right now the weakest, because there’s really no reason for them to bring in more troops without openly saying they’re creating a buffer state.
PAUL JAY: Now, one of the things that’s been talked about for years, certainly at least since the invasion in 2003, is the possibility of a divided Iraq and that the US would actually go back into Iraq. Trump has been somewhat … It was a half a joke, but I think a lot of people are taking it seriously. In fact, we have a clip here. This is Trump speaking to the CIA just a few weeks after his inauguration. Have we got that clip ready? Okay, here it is.
DONALD TRUMP: The old expression, “To the victor belong the spoils.” You remember, I always used to say, “Keep the oil.” I wasn’t a fan of Iraq. I don’t want to go into Iraq. I will tell you, when we were in, we got out wrong. I always said, “In addition to that, keep the oil.” Now, I said it for economic reasons, but if you think about it, Mike, if we kept the oil you probably wouldn’t have ISIS because that’s where they made their money in the first place, so we should’ve kept the oil. Okay. Maybe you’ll have another chance. The fact is, you should’ve kept the oil.
PAUL JAY: Should’ve kept the oil and maybe you’ll have another chance. Some of the policy analysts I’ve been talking to, some who know Iraq pretty well, are talking about saying they think what he may, or they may have in mind, is to go back into Iraq, get hold of the oil, particularly large quantities of sweet crude, which are not even being exploited, but also a divided Iraq and part of that division, part of Iraq goes to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi connection in all this, both in terms of the Saudi having a tremendous agenda, important piece of their agenda targeting Iran, and the closeness of the US to Saudi Arabia leads to our next question from a viewer. Dharna, go ahead.
DHARNA NOOR: Hi, yeah. A number of viewers are actually asking about why the US is so connected to Saudi Arabia. Anthony [Escobar] on Facebook asks, “Why the US is so in bed with Saudi Arabia when they treat women as,” he says, “Second class citizens?”
PAUL JAY: Well, let me say that we’re hearing all these stories about human rights violations in Venezuela and perhaps some of it’s true, perhaps some of it isn’t true, but what we do know is apparently Saudi Arabia’s planning to execute 14 young people for simply participating in a protest. That’s execute. In fact, apparently they already have executed some of them in the past for protesting. What do you make of this US-Saudi relationship? Why it’s so fundamental and why, you can add another media piece to this, so little about these 14 protestors in mainstream media that may be executed soon, and the Saudi role in this Iraqi scenario?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Firstly, there’s an assumption that the United States makes its foreign policy based on morality. That if there’s a country that’s immoral in its policies towards its citizens, then the United States will have a negative relationship with that country. I think that’s an error to make that assumption. After all, best case here is Saudi Arabia, where the United States has had a 70-year very friendly relationship with the kingdom, disregarded the fact that there is no democracy there, utterly disregarded the fact that human rights by and large is treated in Saudi Arabia as a joke, but has had no pressure from the United States apart from, I think the obligatory statements that come out of the State Department. Those have become routine and cliché. We have great concern about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, etc.
What I would say is, there are perhaps three reasons, and there are probably many more, but I’ll just lay out three reasons why the United States in its current class configuration. In other words, the kinds of people who run the United States, why these people have fealty and have a very close tie with Saudi Arabia. There are three. The first one, which I think is sometimes overdramatized, is Saudi oil, but it’s important to mention because when the Saudis decide to pump more oil or reduce oil, they can manipulate oil prices and break the power of OPEC, that is the oil cartel, without actually breaking OPEC. By the fact of their volume, they can make real mayhem in the world. I think it’s a worthwhile question to ask when commodity prices were high, when these commodity prices enabled the new powers from emerging.
Brazil, Russia, Venezuela, these powers were given a kind of lift in the 1990s and 2000s in particular, when oil prices and energy prices in general were high. When the Saudis started to pump enormous amounts of oil against their own economic interest, it created Syria’s problems in these emerging powers and weakened them. Their use of the oil weapon against adversaries of the world order, let’s call them, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, etc., is I think a worthwhile reason to have a close tie with Saudi Arabia. I think it’s well worth asking why the Saudis have maintained low oil prices when this has hurt their own economy. It has to be political, it’s definitely not economic. I think the second reason where there’s a longterm connection between the kind of class that rules the west and the Saudis, is that for at least the last 40 years, the Saudis have recycled their petro dollars. That is, the profits that they earn from selling oil, they’ve recycled these into western banks.
They don’t hold them in their own banks in large amounts. Of course, there’s a sovereign fund, but they put most of it into western banks. It’s the Saudi money that essentially has underwritten whatever growth has taken place in the global north. It’s the Saudi money that’s enabled the explosion of Wall Street, of derivatives, etc. It liquefies the financial world. This is a very important role that the Saudis play. They are leaders among the Gulf countries in so-called recycling their profits into the west. This therefore makes the west somewhat complicate in Saudi relations with the world. The third reason, Paul, I think is really quite important and often neglected. This is that it’s not that the United States has an alliance with Saudi Arabia for oil and money alone. It has an alliance with Saudi Arabia because it relies on both Saudi Arabia and Israel for intelligence in the region, and to operate a decisively anti-left, anti-nationalist kind of agenda across the so-called Muslim lands.
In 1960s, Saudi Arabia created a group called the World Muslim League, which was set up essentially as an anti-communist block. They would produce literature against the left, against Arab nationalism, against third-world nationalism, and distribute it from Indonesia, up to Dagestan, then in the Soviet Union, and out to Algeria. The point of this was, Saudi Arabia was the sort of sphere of the counter revolution in the third-world block and played a very important role. This old role comes to a head in 1977, ’78, ’79 when Saudi Arabia basically provided the intellectual work, alongside the CIA and Pakistani intelligence, for the creation of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. This political role, and to some extent military role that the Saudis play’s very important. The current class that dominates in Washington DC and in the United Kingdom, and Germany, and France, etc., they’re interested in maintaining a kind of order in these lands at all costs.
If disorder is necessary, it’s a kind of disorder that produces order for them. Continues to recycle petro dollars, ensures that there’s no emergent power that can challenge western homogeneity. Saudi Arabia has been an absolutely invaluable ally for this. Whereas, somebody who’s a liberal looks at this and says, “Well, why is the United States allied with Saudi Arabia? Look, they’re beheading people.” This is not how the ruling class sees it. The ruling class has a completely different understanding of Saudi Arabia and that is why this relationship for them is completely untouchable.
PAUL JAY: Dharna, you have another question.
DHARNA NOOR: Yes, Something34 from YouTube asks about the conflict between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and what the consequences are of that conflict?
VIJAY PRASHAD: I mean, it’s interesting, Paul, we’ve talked about this a little bit before. Saudi Arabia is also an absolute monarchy and in absolute monarchies, the checks and balances are not perhaps as well developed as they could be. Now, this doesn’t of course mean that in democracies you have very good checks and balances either. After all, we were all opposed to the Iraq War, the legal war in 2003. Millions of people went on the street. That didn’t stop the government, nor did it actually put a … Have them go and say, start a commission to study the outcome, the potential outcome of that illegal war, etc. They didn’t care. They went ahead and [inaudible]. Well, in the case of Saudi Arabia, checks and balances are even less than they are in the United States. In an absolute monarchy, the kind of temperamental rule of the people in power is important to look at.
For instance, to give you an example from 2011, the Saudi King at the time hated Gaddafi of Libya. He hated him. Gaddafi had come to a meeting in Qatar where he called the Saudi King a bootlicker of the Americans. I mean, he insulted him to his face at the Arab League meeting. They hated him. They wanted to kill him one way or the other. When that opportunity arose in 2011, the way the Saudis operated was like, it was like a [inaudible] brawl. They went out and said, “We’re going to get him at all costs.” Put money into it, lie through our media outlet, [inaudible] will create pressure on the Arab League, etc. If you look at the Saudis in that way, as an absolute monarchy where their wins are important, you can understand a little more about why they’re fighting this endless war, useless war in Yemen, brutal, divisive, destructive war in Yemen, and then why they went into this confrontation with Qatar.
It’s not always entirely rational. Qatar is an interesting country. It has an Emir, the current Emir and even his father, both quite independently minded in their way, both highly beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and both pushed by their own local elites who have a complicated relationship with Iran. After all, on a good day from Doha you can basically see the Iranian coast. When I once was in Doha talking to people from the foreign service of Qatar, and I was talking about Indian and Iranian relations, one of the ex, now retired, people from the Qatari Foreign Ministry said, “If outside powers didn’t intervene, we would have the … The Qataris would have built a pipeline to Iran to get drinking water. There’s a big lake in Iran just across the way, Qatar is very much reliant upon importing drinking water, so we wanted to put a pipeline across, but outside powers stopped us.”
Now, you can guess, who are the outside powers? Well, on the one side, United States, which has a major base just outside Doha, and the Saudis, who would not allow the Qataris to have a normal relationship with a very close, in terms of territory, a very close neighbor. The Qataris have this independent streak and the Saudis, at least for the last five years, have tried to reign the Qataris in to bring them on side, to make them, in a sense, like say the Emirates, the UAE, or like Bahrain, where there’s no difference between the two of them. Previously, the Saudi government helped overthrow, engineer the overthrow of the current Emir’s father, and then when this Emir came in, he basically tried to reign in the Muslim Brotherhood, he tried to bend to the Saudi way. He didn’t do enough and then the Saudis went after the Qataris again.
The actual spur for this particular fight was that the Qataris and the Iranians inside Syria were collaborating on deconflict zones to create more and more deconflict zones so that internally displaced Syrians could return home. This, I think, bothered and frustrated the current King and his son, Mohammad Bin Salian, who’s a very impetuous young man. As I said, don’t underestimate the impetuousness of an absolute monarch. At the same time, I think the Qataris are under great pressure not to have any relationship with Iran, which is really crazy because it isolates them from an important neighbor.
PAUL JAY: Okay. One more question, Dharna.
DHARNA NOOR: Christopher [Ashure] on Facebook has asked two questions. He’d like to know what the state of the Israeli-Saudi relationship is now, and the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He’d also like to know more about Israel’s relationship and where they fall in all of this.
PAUL JAY: I think it’s mostly a question of what Israel’s role in all of this is.
VIJAY PRASHAD: I mean, imagine if I looked at the situation from Tel Aviv, if I was an Israeli intelligent official. By the way, this would be an interesting exercise. I wouldn’t mind doing a program with you once and a while where I pretend to be an Israeli intelligence official. What would it look like from Tel Aviv? Here you have a government, which has very close relations with the Saudis, but these are all sort of clandestine ties because neither the Saudis nor the Israelis are able at this point to come out openly and say they have very close relations. Saudi Arabia haven’t fully recognized Israel, it’s impossible. They are committed to the Palestinians for whom they’ve done actually extraordinarily little. You see this attack on the Israeli Embassy in Jordan. There is a very great tension inside Jordan because Jordan has normalized relations with Israel.
Saudi Arabia is not able to do it, but they have very close clandestine ties with the Saudis and they in fact sometimes work together. They have adversaries in common. For instance, the Saudis tried from the 1950s to hem in and control the Muslim Brotherhood. When the Muslim Brotherhood was expelled from Egypt and when you jail, the Saudis brought a lot of them into Saudi Arabia and they became professors in universities. [Sayyid Qutb’s], one of the great ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood, after he was killed, his brother, Muhammad Qutb came to Saudi Arabia, became a university professor. They were not able to control the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is a group, largely professional, not keen on monarchies. They have a kind of republican streak, they’re hierarchical, but they don’t want a monarchy. They’re not committed to monarchies.
The Saudis see them as very threatening and of course, [Hamas 00:36:50] is a Muslim Brotherhood outfit. The Saudis and the Israelis have that in common, kind of suspicion of Hamas and I think they do work together to undermine Hamas quite fundamentally. By the way, Qatar is one of the main supporters of Hamas. You can see the way the tensions draw out. Saudi and Israeli intelligence coordinate with the Americans. I mean, they are the ones who have on the ground intelligence, which they provide to the Americans. There is that, also that they have in common. I think the Israelis generally try not to put themselves too forward in any of these things, they work around and through the Saudis. I think it’s time in the Arab world for people to call Saudi Arabia to account. It has a very hypocritical relationship. The King will speak openly saying that, “We are for our Palestinian brothers and sisters.” Meanwhile, they’re undermining the Palestinian cause by having very close relationships with the Israelis.
PAUL JAY: All right, so one final question from me. How dangerous a moment do you think we are in, given everything we’ve just been talking about, and what do you think the implications are for ordinary Americans?
VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, I fear that the confrontation that Mr. Trump is setting up against Iran is a very dangerous confrontation. I mean, this is a hair trigger moment. If the United States decides to continue to put pressure on Iran, which is likely pressure pushed by the neocon wing, people like John Bolton, but also by the Israelis, also the Saudis. If this pressure against Iran is going to lead to what I think is quite inevitable, which is an Iranian reaction. The Iranians have already said that there’s a limit to their so-called patience, if they react and the Americans decide to go forward with some kind of military action against Iran, if you think that the Middle East is now in chaos, we don’t have a word for what it will look like if there is a war against Iran. We don’t have that word in our vocabulary. I think this is not an idle worry.
When we used to talk in the late 90s saying that … I used to worry in the late 90s saying, “The Americans are going to go directly into Iraq and that’s going to be catastrophic.” At the time people said, “I doubt it.” Then of course, George Bush decides to do that. I very much fear this is a real possibility and it would be mayhem. I mean, if the Americans decide to do something like that, perhaps we’ll see a major intervention by the Russians into Iran as they did in Syria to try to immunize Iran from an American attack. That would be interesting, Paul, but also very dangerous. If the Russians enter, if the Chinese enter, if you go to Tehran every neighborhood seems to have cranes from China and massive infusion of Chinese capital. If the Chinese decide to get involved here, I don’t want to see this kind of confrontation. It will lead to the possibility of regional, if not more than that, war.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks very much for joining us Vijay.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Thanks a lot.
PAUL JAY: Let us know if you like these live back and forths. If you do, give us a comment on any of the different platforms you’re watching on and we’ll keep it up. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.