Dangers of a regional war chill the imagination of ordinary people in West Asia.

The U.S. continues to make noises of a strike on Syria, whether a limited missile attack as punishment for an alleged chemical weapon attack in August or a more powerful attack at the infrastructure of the Assad regime.

Veteran journalist Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, bristles at the view that the region is hostage to the actions of powers far from it. For decades, he says, “the security architecture of this region has been defined by four non-Arab powers, the USA, Turkey, Iran and Israel”. Arabs have had their own decision-making hemmed in by the will of these countries, among whom the U.S. has been certainly the most influential. Two reactions to this “Arab humiliation” has been the rise of Hizbollah and the Arab Uprisings, Mr. Khouri says, both with the intent to “empower ordinary citizens and try to restore sovereignty at home from foreign hands”.

The emergence of these forces is premised on the attempt to “try and change the modern legacy of waiting to see their fate determined by foreign powers”.

A third Arab reaction has been the attempt by Saudi Arabia to insert itself into regional dynamics, wielding its oil wealth to earn its influence. Saudi prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the head of its intelligence services, has been the point man for the Kingdom’s Syria policy. Saudi Arabia offered to underwrite the U.S. attack on Syria, which would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Price of oil

The French bank, Société Générale, estimates that an attack by the U.S. will raise the price of oil from $109/barrel to a base price scenario of $125/barrel toward an upside scenario of $150/barrel. As Saudi Arabia produces close to seven million barrels of oil per day, the super-profits from this strike would be in the range of between $150 million per day and $400 million per day, a very grand return on investment.

On September 3, the Chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security Alaeddin Boroujerdi arrived in Beirut, where he told reporters, “The first party that will be most affected by an aggression on Syria is the Zionist entity,” namely Israel.

None of the neighbouring powers want to see West Asia fall into the vortex of sectarian strife and regional war.

The Syria Question, Mr. Rami Khouri points out, “is largely determined by the USA, Israel, Russia and Iran”, with the neighbouring powers reduced to chess pieces in a game of grand strategy.

There is minimal consultation with the leaders of Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon as well as Turkey, which bear the brunt if the U.S. strikes Syria.

It is a terrible thing, says an Arab intellectual, for “our people to become marionettes moved by the invisible strings of a manipulator. But that is what we have become”.

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