Tag Archives: cold war

The Middle Eastern cold war

In the last year, Saudi Arabia’s flirtation with religious realism has already caused the most pressing humanitarian disaster in world affairs, now it threatens to destabilise Lebanon.

Lebanon is a country defined by religious and political instability. It seemed these issues were going to be allayed with the accession of Michel Aoun as President.

Saudi Arabia continues to mount high profile proxy wars to strengthen its influence over other Arabic nations. It is locked in a cold war with Iran. One where polarised religious interpretation influences political decision making. Covert operations and surreptitious support for either Sunni or Shi’a paramilitaries are how the conflict has perpetuated for many decades. But recently it has reached a dogmatic fever-pitch.

The Shia paramilitary, Hezbollah, has been a fracture point in this battle for dominance for many years. It has provided opposition to Maronite Christian militias, it has fought Israel during the Lebanese civil war and it has given aid to Bashar Al Assad’s government in Syria.

Lebanon is what is known as a transitional democracy. Against all the odds it had finally attained some stability.

But the political machinations of Saudi Arabia have rudely disrupted this short-lived serenity. Lebanon’s state sovereignty has once again been breached.

The country’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, along with Yemen’s President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, have been detained in Riyadh under mysterious circumstances.

What is clear, is that Lebanon’s old foes present a very tangible threat once more. Saudi Arabia has issued a travel ban and advised that its citizens leave Lebanon as a so-called proclamation of war has been predicted. This has prompted widespread concerns about armed conflict within Lebanon – but also between Iran and Saudi Arabia- and between Hezbollah and Israel.

It is speculated that Saudi Arabia blames Iran and Hezbollah for a rocket strike from Yemen that was aimed at Riyadh airport. It is more likely the Saudi’s are disappointed by Hariri’s perceived tolerance of Hezbollah.

Of course, the role of Iran cannot be underplayed here, however,  its direct role is still unclear. Its allegiance with Hezbollah has troubled Saudi Arabia and Israel for many decades.

One factor in the escalating conflict that won’t be so widely discussed is the complicity of the West. Its unmistakable allegiance to Israel seems to be a motive in its appeasement of Saudi Arabia. It has actively supported Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In fact, the war has been waged using US and UK arms, security and tactics – leaving millions of Yemeni people enduring famine and a cholera outbreak.

The pessimists in the region will wince at the alliance of Trump and Kushner’s US with Israel and Saudi Arabia, especially as Trump backs Mohammed Bin Salman’s efforts to strengthen his grip on the house of Saud.

The Middle Eastern heavyweights are engaging in a cold war. They are inviting a battle of destabilisation. Attentive Western powers have designs to scavenge on the political carrion. With transparency in intention becoming harder to decipher, a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is becoming an increasing possibility. The blame game is intensifying as Middle Eastern nations meddle in each other’s affairs, exacerbating perennial religious tensions. It is states resembling Yemen and Lebanon, that standby to be left in the wreckage of religious realism.

Sporting Controversies will Disrupt Relations with Russia

The recent controversy surrounding Russian sport reached a zenith with the publication of a report by the world anti-doping agency (WADA) accusing the Russian state of being complicit in an unprecedented deception of anti-doping regulations for Russian athletes. The repercussions of the report will be felt beyond the world of sport, and could make easing political and social tension with Russia increasingly difficult for Europe and the United States.

WADA’s report is the latest in a series of incidents that have greatly damaged Russia’s sporting and national image. It follows highly publicised incidents in Russia domestic football that show that homophobic and racist attitudes are rife amongst Russian football supporters, and the disturbing organised violence of Russian hooligans in France during the recent  European football championships.

A natural backlash against Russia has resulted, with Russian athletes banned from competing in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Whilst this sort reaction is understandable, it could well reinforce a Cold War style ‘encirclement’ mentality in the minds of many ordinary Russians and politicians. This attitude, born out of the belief that Russia is encircled by hostile nations, was fuelled in the days of Stalin as a way of galvanising the Russian population against other nations that were mistrustful of the socialist path that the country had taken after the 1917 revolution. In the modern day, the proliferation of a similar way of thinking has dangerous implications when the need for deescalating tensions with Russia is paramount.

Other factors away from the world of sport are fanning the flames. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian leadership style and foreign policy are reminiscent of the strategies employed by the USSR during the Cold War. This has undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of a Cold War style mentality in Russia. Another factor that cannot be ignored is the need for national pride that has motivated the above controversies. The WADA report for instance, suggested that one of the motivations behind the doping scandal was the desire by the Russian government to enhance the performance of its athletes who were seen to have performed unacceptably in previous international athletics tournaments.

Russia must modernise its way of thinking and other nations must continue to tread carefully when imposing sanctions in sporting terms. These sanctions will fracture the relationship between Russia and the rest of the world further, at a time when the need for stability is desperate.