Socialist Worker

The West’s bloody role in the Middle East

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2157

There is a dark shadow that hangs over all events in the Middle East. In Iran they call it the “hungry wolf”. Imperialism has been such a destructive and powerful force in the region that many suspect that it has a hand in all events that take place there.

Several weeks before Iran’s revolt, the US and France were pumping millions of dollars into Lebanon in an attempt to stop the radical Islamist Hizbollah and its allies winning the general elections.

In 2005 the US was openly organising pro-Western Lebanese groups to take to the streets in the so-called Cedar Revolution.

One year later the same forces backed Israel in its attempt to crush Hizbollah.

The US and others refused to recognise the victory of the Hamas movement in the Palestinian elections. While imperialist powers condemn the irregularities in Iran’s elections, they ignore the blatant ballot-rigging by Hosni Mubarak in Egypt – a key US ally in the region.

The double standards and blatant hypocrisy are not lost on the people of the Middle East.

Many dictators find themselves transformed overnight from “pariah” to “friend.”

Muammar Gaddaffi’s regime was “welcomed back” into the international community after the Libyan dictator cut a deal with imperialism over oil and gas concessions. He was greeted like a long-lost brother on his recent state visit to Italy.

The US had few qualms in supporting Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-8.

Meanwhile brutal regimes such as Saudi Arabia are rarely challenged by their Western allies.

It is not surprising that many see imperialism’s hand in the popular revolt that has erupted in Iran.

In 1953 the nationalist leader Mohammad Mosadeq was overthrown in a coup organised by the US with the help of the British. He was ousted after he attempted to nationalise Iran’s oil resources.


US allies fear Iran and its growing influence. Saudi Arabia has been arming itself over the past 30 years to deal with the “Iranian threat”.

The US hates Iran not because it had a revolution but because it refused make peace with imperialism.

For the US, Iran can become key to keeping in check a number of resistance movements in the region, including Hizbollah, Hamas and Iraq’s Mehdi Army.

Many countries in the region have had similar momentous revolutions to Iran’s. Egypt’s revolution, and its humiliation of France, Britain and Israel in 1956, remains one of the highpoints in Arab history.

The US wants to tame Iran, just like Egypt was. But who can do it? The US could rely on Israel to crush the Egyptian and Syria armies in 1967. But Israel’s attempt to do the same to Hizbollah in 2006 was a dismal failure.

For imperialism, the stakes are high. The 2003 invasion of Iraq left the US deeply compromised. It needed Iran’s help to end the uprisings by Shia Muslims, and it still needs Iranian goodwill to complete its strategy of reducing the number of troops it has to keep in Iraq.

The US and other Nato powers are also desperate for Iran’s co-operation in Afghanistan.

The occupation there has been shaken by a tenacious insurgency, and it desperately needs a safe route for supplies that does not involve a compromise with Russia or an increasingly unstable Pakistan.


The price that the US and Nato would pay is considered by some, such as Israel, to be too high. But Barack Obama’s administration is prepared to “talk” to any faction inside Iran.

Within Iran there is also a move to open up to the West. Mir Hussein Mousavi and Hashemi Rafsanjani want to reach an agreement with the US. These factions consider president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be too crude and headstrong.

But all the factions are committed to developing the nuclear programme. So Obama has been hedging his bets. He knows that he will have to negotiate with whoever comes out on top.

Sections of the US sniff a chance to humiliate the Islamic regime and hope that new compliant leader will emerge. They would like a “colour revolution”, that the US helped implement in Ukraine, Lebanon and other countries.

These revolts are the easiest way for countries to become “US friendly”.

But many in the US understand that the reformists are committed to Iran’s national interests.

It was during the term of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami that Hizbollah grew in strength, and in 2000 finally drove the Israelis from south Lebanon. Khatami is extremely popular among Lebanon’s Shia Muslims for his role in supporting the resistance.

The US like to paint Ahmadinejad as an “extremist”. But it refused to talk to Khatami when he proposed a dialogue, or to Rafsanjani before him.

Western powers are filled with deep uncertainty over the events in Iran. Their biggest fear is that this form of revolt will spread.

They are prepared to praise the crowds that have taken to the streets. But they fear the lessons that the oppressed masses across the region could learn from the people of Iran.

The US wants Iran to “come in from the cold” – it does not want a real revolution.

For further reading see an interview with Elaheh Rostami Povey on “Workers, women and the Islamic republic” (» ). Other useful reading is Iran on the Brink by Andreas Malm and Shora Esmailian, published by Pluto

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