American pundit sheds light on Lebanon situation, China Mideast policy at AIJAC Webinar

August 9, 2020 by J-Wire News Service
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AIJAC’s latest webinar guest Michael Doran, a former senior director in the US National Security Council and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence in the George W Bush administration, shed light on the Hezbollah conduct he says led to the tragic Beirut explosion.

Michael Doran

Doran, who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute specialising in Middle East security issues, said when a cargo ship full of ammonium nitrate became distressed in Lebanese waters on the way to Mozambique, and the Russian owner refused to pay for the repairs, the cargo was impounded. He says the explosion was the result of “the incompetence and corruption that comes from a system like the Lebanese system which is dominated by Hezbollah, and particularly the system of oversight in the port is lax because Hezbollah wants it to be lax because it’s through the port that Hezbollah brings in arms and other equipment… and it doesn’t want any oversight from the Government. “

He added that it is crucial that the international community provides humanitarian aid to Lebanon, but does not relax sanctions against Iran, Hezbollah and Syria.

The webinar’s topic was “China and the Middle East: Ongoing challenges for the next US Administration” and Doran said that what he found when he looked into this issue both surprised and alarmed him.

He discovered that the Middle East country where China had most increased its investment since 2010 – by more than 1000% – was Iraq.

It also became clearer to him why the Chinese regime is oppressing the country’s Muslim Uighur minority. China, he says, is “barrelling towards the Middle East” with a “single-minded… ruthlessness” through Pakistan, to gain access to the Indian Ocean.

He says the China-Pakistan corridor, in which China is investing huge amounts of infrastructure, is the jewel in the crown of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, as it will greatly shorten sea lines of communication and oil and gas and resource supply lines from the Middle East and Africa.

To do this, the route will need to go straight through the Xinjiang Province, which is where the Uighurs live. Thus, he says, there is a Middle East strategic dimension to the regime’s genocidal policies toward them.

He also argues that China is in a tacit alliance with Russia and Iran in the Middle East.

In fact, he says, China is trying to supplant the US and instead achieve an eventual Sino-centric international order, including in the Middle East. However, it won’t yet challenge the US directly, so it uses Russia and Iran as stalking horses, supporting them through economic and military relationships, and diplomatically.

Iran, through its militias, has now succeeded in making Iraq hostile for the US and for US businesses, while the Chinese have swooped in, and now have a major economic relationship. All other Middle East countries, including even Israel, are now hedging their bets towards China, he added..

The US, he says, can’t compete with the level of Chinese investment, and so can’t counter China in that area. The US should, therefore, realise that its asset is its hard power, and should wield this to destroy the weaker Russia/Iran alliance.

The Obama/Biden view of the Middle East, he says, has been that China is in the distance. The problem in the region is Iran and Russia, and the way to deal with them is to make them partners with the US there and treat all parties as equal stakeholders in an effort to stabilise the region, in this view. That’s why they pursued the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran and accepted Russian involvement in Syria. However, he argued, this doesn’t work, because Russia and Iran want to drive the US out, and Iran has now cleared space in Iraq for China.

In the view of the Trump Administration, and particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Iran/Russia/China alliance is a threat to the US, and this is one reason there is such concern about the forthcoming lifting of the arms embargo against Iran under the terms of the JCPOA from this October.

Iran, he says, is the greater strategic threat, and the US is determined to prevent the embargo against arms sale to Iran being lifted in October, as is due to happen under the JCPOA nuclear deal.

In fact, he says, this is a perfect example of what is wrong with the JCPOA – it is not just about nuclear weapons, as Obama said, it is also opening the door for Russia and China to massively arm Iran with conventional weapons. They would be very happy for Iran to make the Persian Gulf a no-go zone for its enemies.

The real danger, he says, is that China wants to dominate the supply lines of all other countries, including Australia, so its activities in the Middle East should be a much greater focus of all US-allied countries which need resources from the Middle East.

China now has bases positioned close to both of the major chokepoints for oil from the Middle East, the strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf and the Bab El-Mandeb strait leading to the Suez Canal, Doran noted.

He continued, that if the United States leaves the Middle East, “the Chinese will swoop in in a second, they will own the Middle East, they will own the entire global oil market and they will be the dominant player, and that will be a major shift in the global balance of power. I think it should alarm everybody who cares about freedom. It’s not hard to imagine what they would do with that economic power, to start projecting their cultural and political power as well as their military power.”

Israel, he said, in dealing with China, needs to distinguish between what is strategic trade and what is not.

Asked about the silence from the Arab states about China’s persecution of its Uighur population, Doran described it as stunning and said it shows the extent of Chinese penetration in the region. China is the number one investor, and number one trading partner for every Persian Gulf country, he noted.

He said this trend was also the result of US mistakes, first of all invading Iraq, then, under Obama, opening up the way for Iran to proliferate its allied armed groups and weapons through the region, while at the same time Obama engaged in hectoring US allies. The main thing US allies want from it is security, so when they were no longer getting that, they began to hedge towards China, and now they all vote with China in international forums whenever the Uighur question comes up.

Doran said he is sceptical about what was recently announced about an imminent major Iran-China partnership deal, in a leak from Iran to the New York Times. He sees a lot of politics in play both from Iran, which is pushing against the extension of the arms embargo, and the Times, which, he says, is pushing a pro-JCPOA, anti-Trump line, in this report.

He added, however, it is “utter garbage” to claim Trump pushed Iran and China together, pointing out the deal was first negotiated in 2016. In fact, he says, the JCPOA created the Iran – China relationship by allowing Iran to proliferate weapons and instability across the Middle East while opening up its economy. Trump’s policy doesn’t allow Iran to continue to have it both ways, he argued.


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