The new Cold War has already started – in Syria

Robert Fisk – The Independent February 25, 2012

If Iran obtains nuclear weapons capability, “I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons”.

Thus thundered our beloved Foreign Secretary, William Hague, in one of the silliest pronouncements he has ever made. Hague seems to spend much of his time impersonating himself, so I’m not really certain which of Mr Hague-Hague’s personas made this statement.

Flaw number one, of course, is Hague-Hague’s failure to point out that there already is another Middle East “nation” that has, in fact, several hundred nuclear weapons along with the missiles to fire them. It’s called Israel. But blow me down, Hague-Hague didn’t mention the fact. Didn’t he know? Of course, he did. What he was trying to say, you see, was that if Iran persisted in producing a nuclear weapon, Arab states – Muslim states – would want to acquire one. And that would never do. The idea, of course, that Iran might be pursuing nuclear weapons because Israel already possesses them, did not occur to him.

Now as a nation that sells billions of pounds worth of military hardware to Gulf Arab nations – on the basis that they can then defend themselves from Iran’s non-existent plans to invade them – Britain is really not in a position to warn anyone of arms proliferation in the region. I’ve been to the Gulf arms fairs where the Brits show alarming films of an “enemy” nation threatening the Arabs – Iran, of course – and the need for these Arab chappies to buy even more kit from British Aerospace and the rest of our merchants of death.

Then comes the historical killer in Hague-Hague’s peroration. He warns of “the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented” which could produce “the threat of a new Cold War in the Middle East” that would be “a disaster in world affairs”. Now, I know that Hague-Hague sits in the throne room of Balfour and Eden – both pseudo-experts on the Middle East – but does he really have to mess up history so badly? Surely the most serious round of nuclear proliferation occurred when India and Pakistan acquired the bomb, the latter a nation which is awash with al-Qa’ida chaps, home-grown Talibans and dodgy intelligence men.

Still, it was good to be reassured that “we are not favouring the idea of anybody attacking Iran at the moment”. Maybe later, then. Or maybe after President Assad eventually falls, thus depriving Iran of its only – and valuable – ally in the Middle East. Which is, I suspect, what a lot of the roaring and raging against Assad is all about. Get rid of Assad and you cut out part of Iran’s heart – though whether that will induce the crackpot Ahmadinejad to turn his nuclear plants into baby-milk factories is another matter. For here’s the rub. The mighty voices calling for Assad’s departure grow louder every time they refuse to involve themselves militarily in the overthrow of the same man. The more they promise not to “do a Nato” on Syria – every time they claim there can be no “no-fly” zones over Syria – they get angrier and angrier at Assad. Why doesn’t he just go off to retirement in Turkey, end the theatre once and for all, and stop embarrassing us all by bludgeoning his country with shells and sniper fire, killings thousands – journalists among them – while we rage on innocently from the stalls?

Needless to say, Hague-Hague waffles on and on about Syria, too, while presumably not “favouring the idea of anybody attacking Syria at the moment”. And this is a real stinker for the Foreign Secretary. He was rightly denouncing the killing of Marie Colvin this week – I last saw her in the final, joyous days of the Egyptian revolution, heading, as usual, towards the crack of tear-gas grenades – but hundreds of other innocent human beings have been cruelly killed in Syria without so much as a whisper from Hague-Hague. And some of these were killed by the armed opposition to Assad; the murder of Alawites by Sunnis is becoming gruesomely familiar, just as the slaughter of civilians by Syrian government shellfire has become a template for this terrible war.

No, we are not going to involve ourselves in Syria, thank you very much. Because the new Cold War in the region which Hague was blathering on about has already started over Syria, not Iran. The Russians are lined up against us there, supporting Assad and denouncing us. Just what reaction Putin expects from any Assad replacement is a mystery. Nor will a “new” Syria necessarily be the pro-Western democracy that Hague-Hague and others would like to see.

The Syrians, after all, will not forget the way in which the Brits and the Americans silently approved of the infinitely more terrible massacre of 10,000 Syrian Sunni Muslims at Hama in 1982. Indeed, today marks the 30th anniversary of that onslaught, staged by the Defence Brigades of Bashar al-Assad’s Uncle Rifaat.

But, like Hague-Hague, Rifaat also has a doppelgänger. Far from being the killer of Hama – a term he fiercely disputes – he is now a friendly and retired gentleman, living in style and protection quite close to Hague-Hague’s desk. Indeed, if Hague-Hague turns left outside the Foreign Office and nips through Horseguards Parade, he can drop by and meet the man himself in – where else would he live? – Mayfair. Now that would be a disaster in world affairs, wouldn’t it?

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Middle East correspondent for London's Independent, often outspoken and out of step with the rest of the mainstream media

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