The contested lands now labeled as the “Palestine question” were once a part of Ottoman Syria.
For millennia, in early and middle ancient eras, Europe was defined as the land contiguous to the Mediterranean Region. It included North Africa. The rapid expansion of Islam across North Africa in the seventh and eighth centuries smothered Christianity and bisected this geographical expanse into civilisational halves with the Mediterranean Sea evolving into a civilisational barrier. Islam concurrently proliferated into the region through the invasion of Persia. It then arrived in southern Europe via the conquests by of between the 8th to 10th centuries thereby laying the field for a clash of civilizations that would play out across centuries.
During the Dark Ages, Ottoman Sultans presided over an Empire from Persia to Central Europe. They seized Byzantium-now Istanbul in 1453 terminating the Byzantine Empire. By 1680, the principal bulwark against the expansion of Islam was the Roman Catholic Hapsburg Empire with its capital in Vienna.
With the Hapsburg’s making repeated forays into Ottoman controlled Hungary it gave the Ottoman’s the perfect opportunity to drive their legions into the heart of Europe and capture Vienna. Thus began the siege of Vienna that lasted from the 17th of July to the 12th of September, 1683. Eventually the Holy League defeated the Ottoman’s armies and the siege of Vienna was relieved. This conquest left an indelible scar on Western psyche. They internalised a lesson that for the security of the West- Middle East has to be perennially destabilised.
Three centuries later on the 19th of May, 1916, the opportunity presented itself. The high representatives of Great Britain and France surreptitiously arrived at an understanding branded as the Sykes-Picot agreement. The agreement mandated that Arab lands under the occupation of the are to be apportioned into British and French spheres of influence at the culmination of . Eventually the dismemberment of the Ottoman empire post the first world War extinguished the perennial threat of Islamic conquest that had hung over Europe since 1299. However it sowed the seeds of all modern day conflict since then.
The contested lands now labeled as the “Palestine question” were once a part of Ottoman Syria. The British got a dual mandate on Palestine on April 25, 1920. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 called for the establishment of national home for the Jewish people in Palestine became a part of the mandate. It paved the way to establish a nation for a persecuted people — the Israelis. Moreover, it established a permanent non-Islamic presence in the heart of the Islamic World.
Post the Second World War, the global power dynamic altered radically when Britain and France entered a phase of terminal decline The United States and the Soviet Union became superpowers turning the Middle East into a major Cold War arena. At the centre of it, were Israel and oil.
The historical memories of the siege of Vienna had by that time become internalised, both subliminally and consciously, into the design of Western strategic theology. Simply translated, it meant never to allow the Islamic Middle East to threaten the West again.
The rise of Arab nationalism in 1950s and 60s under Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser presented a challenge yet again. Fashioned by Marxist, Communist and socialist thinking, the Arab National movement emerged when the Soviet Union was on the ascendant. However, the defeat of Egypt, Jordan and Syria by Israel in the Six-Day War in 1967 effectively spelled the end of the Arab nationalist movement. Though secular in character, for the arch-conservatives of the West it represented Islamic Consolidation by another nom de guerre. Israel in its war effort was aided by the West. Again in 1973, the Israelis were able to deliver a hard knock to the Arabs — read Muslims — in the October war. The impulse was to knock the Islamic World of its pedestal whenever the opportunity presented.
In 1979, an Islamic Revolution swept Iran deposing a longstanding US strategic asset in the region, Mohammad Raza Pahlavi. Almost simultaneously the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It set the stage for a decade long “Jihad’ that ended not only with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan but the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the only global hyper-power. However, the Middle East had still to be tamed and the humiliation meted out by Iran during the hostage crisis had to be avenged.
The opportunity presented itself once again when Saddam Hussain foolishly invaded Kuwait. President Bush-41 launched Operation Desert Storm. Coalition forces swiftly drove Iraq from Kuwait, advancing into Iraq, and reaching a cease-fire within 100 hours. They however permitted Saddam Hussein to remain in power. He had to be crucified another day.
Then the European Union was established on the 1st of November, 1993. Turkey despite being a Euro-Asiatic power was not given admittance. Its demographics as a Muslim majority nation defined by its adversity across centuries to a Christen Europe juxtaposed with the fact that it was the seat of a former Sunni caliphate it possibly could not be admitted to a “Anglo-Saxon Club”. Twenty seven years later, Turkey still continues to be petitioner in halls of Brussels despite being a longstanding Nato member.
Even before Bush-43 was elected as President, the Project for a New American Century, a report authored by a bunch of neo-cons, had decreed that Iraq be invaded to reorder the Middle East once again post the Ottoman Empire rejig in the 1920s.
On a false pretext that Saddam Hussain had weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was invaded in 2003. The assault unleashed tectonic forces and opened deep schisms leaving the region mired in internecine struggle precisely what the West always wanted. With the Doha talks and the Taliban preparing the ground for American withdrawal from Afghanistan, what was left was the unfinished business of Iran.
The Persian civilisation had to be brought to heel. With no Iraq-style intervention possible in near future, General Qassem Soleimani became the perfect mark to deliver the coup de grace. For, Soleimani was the glue of the Resistance Axis that had fought ISIS successfully but in the process the Shia Crescent became the biggest beneficiary of the Iraqi intervention. With his assassination, the US wanted to send a message to the wider Islamic world, dehors its inter-Islam sectarian divisions, that the US, with its superior, technology could strike at will, notwithstanding its withdrawal from the region. The impulse — stemming from the Siege of Vienna — to keep the Middle East perennially off balance — is alive and kicking.