By Ben Norton – Jan 18, 2024
The US military is attacking Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, while Israel bombs Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. Both are threatening Iran. Is a large Middle East (West Asia) war coming?
The brutal war that Israel is waging on Gaza is increasingly becoming a regional conflict.
Since October, the United States and Israel have bombed not only Gaza, but also Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Now, the U.S. government is even threatening Iran with war. President Joe Biden sent the Iranian government a private message while the U.S. military was bombing Yemen on January 13. He said threateningly, “We’re confident, we’re well prepared”.
While this is happening, South Africa has introduced a case in the International Court of Justice, the top United Nations judicial authority, which accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people.
South Africa’s case has garnered support from dozens of countries across the Global South.
This case has frightened Israel and its sponsors in Washington. They are apparently seeking to expand the conflict into a regional war, to try to win more sympathy and to turn attention away from what South Africa and many countries have referred to as a genocide in Gaza.
In fact, top UN experts have been warning precisely this for months: that the Palestinian people face “the risk of genocide in Gaza”, and that there has been a “failure of the international system to mobilise to prevent genocide”.
The Financial Times reported in December that, in just two months of Israeli bombing, Gaza had become one of the most heavily bombed areas in human history.
Israel's genocidal war has made Gaza one of the most heavily bombed areas in human history.https://t.co/jd4D7e32tM
— Geopolitical Economy Report (@GeopoliticaEcon) January 19, 2024
Now that Israel faces formal charges of genocide at the Hague, many officials in Washington are concerned, because the U.S. is directly complicit in the war crimes that Israel is committing.
The Joe Biden administration has sent billions of dollars of weapons and military aid to Israel.
In fact, the US State Department has bypassed Congress two times, using emergency measures to send weapons to Israel. This is rather strange, because Congress is full of people who strongly support Israel, and would without a doubt have approved these arms shipments.
This appears to indicate that the US government does not even want a debate about these arms shipments. Washington is concerned about people focusing their attention on its complicity in arming Israel. So it is simply choosing to do so quietly, without Congress’ approval.
And the U.S. is involved in these conflicts in many other ways, not simply by arming Israel.
In fact, the U.S. military has 57,000 personnel stationed all across the so-called Middle East, or more accurately, West Asia.
These are just the U.S. military personnel that are publicly disclosed. It is likely that the U.S. also has covert special operations forces that are not accounted for among this 57,000.
The U.S. has more than 57,000 personnel in the Middle East.
Eastern Mediterranean: 12.500
Saudi Arabia: 2.500
Red Sea: 4.500
Source: FT pic.twitter.com/4vpeVx9xzy
— Clash Report (@clashreport) January 12, 2024
US attacks Yemen
In just a few months, the U.S. has bombed Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.
On January 11, the United States launched airstrikes against dozens of targets in Yemen.
The New York Times referred to these as US attacks on the so-called “Houthi militia” in Yemen. But this is very misleading.
The “Houthis”, which are officially known as Ansarullah, represent the government for the majority of the Yemeni population.
This was acknowledged even by the mainstream Washington, DC-based think tank the Brookings Institution. It published an article in 2023 by a former CIA analyst, Bruce Riedel, who admitted that “the Houthis have created a functioning government”, one that “includes representatives of other groups”.
“Some 70 to 80% of Yemenis live under the Houthis’ control”, Riedel wrote.
He conceded that Ansarullah had its origins in the grassroots in Yemen, opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Washington’s subsequent wars and interventionist policies across West Asia.
At Brookings, the former CIA analyst likewise confessed that the United States had spent six years supporting a scorched-earth “war led by a neighbor most Yemenis hate”, that is to say, Saudi Arabia. He added, “Air strikes, blockades, and intentional mass starvation are the characteristics of a war the United States has supported”.
The United Nations estimated that this U.S.-Saudi war killed at least 377,000 Yemenis from 2015 to the end of 2021.
So when the United States launched dozens of attacks inside Yemen this January, Washington was continuing a war that it has waged against the de facto Yemeni government for nearly nine years. The so-called “Houthis” are not just a “militia”; they are leading the government.
And while it was previously Saudi Arabia that was relentlessly bombing civilian areas in Yemen (using U.S.-made planes and bombs, with intelligence and targeting assistance from the Pentagon), now it is the United States that is cutting out the middle man and attacking Yemen directly.
Moreover, the New York Times acknowledged in its report on the Biden administration’s airstrikes that Ansarullah has “greeted the prospect of war with the United States with open delight”.
One of Ansarullah’s most important leaders said in a televised speech, “We, the Yemeni people, are not among those who are afraid of America. We are comfortable with a direct confrontation with the Americans”.
As if that weren’t enough, after this prominent Yemeni leader said publicly that his country is prepared to fight against the United States, a day later, on January 12, the U.S. again launched airstrikes against Yemen.
Reporting on the second US attack, the New York Times commented, “The strikes come amid fears of a wider escalation of the conflict in the Middle East”.
This description is quite euphemistic. In reality, the U.S. is creating a wider conflict in the region by expanding the war, and attacking not only Yemen, but also Iraq and Syria.
US attacks Iraq
On January 4, the Biden administration carried out an act of war against Iraq.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. launched a drone strike in the capital Baghdad. An Iraqi government spokesman referred to this as a “flagrant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq”. He characterized the U.S. attack as “no different from a terrorist act”.
The U.S. targeted an Iraqi militia known as Harakat al-Nujaba. This organization is part of the Iraqi government, the New York Times conceded, writing that “it remains part of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a security organization that is in turn part of the government’s broader security forces”.
So the U.S. was attacking Iraq’s security forces.
However, in 2019, the Donald Trump administration had declared this Iraqi state institution to be a so-called “terrorist” organization. And now the Biden administration is continuing Trump’s policy of attacking the Iraqi government.
In response to Washington’s assault on his country, Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, publicly called for the U.S.-led foreign troops in his country to leave.
U.S. troops have consistently occupied Iraq since the illegal invasion of 2003. The U.S. war has gone through phases, but it has basically never ended.
It should be emphasized that al-Sudani is by no means an anti-U.S. leader. In Iraqi politics, there are many anti-U.S. figures; he is not one of them. But even he is now publicly stating that Washington needs to stop occupying and attacking his country, and that its troops need to leave.
Nevertheless, the website Breaking Defense, which is close to the Pentagon, responded to al-Sudani’s comments reporting: “Despite Iraqi PM’s call, US troops won’t likely leave Iraq anytime soon”. It cited U.S. analysts with internal access.
So this is essentially acknowledgment that the U.S. maintains a neo-colonial occupation of Iraq.
This is not the first time that this has happened. Back in January 2020, Donald Trump ordered the assassination of the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the senior Iraqi security official Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. The latter was a commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, which are officially part of the Iraqi government, and which were absolutely instrumental in the war against ISIS.
These leaders, Soleimani and al-Muhandis, were two of the most important people in the fight to defeat ISIS. Trump assassinated both of them in a blatant act of war, not only against Iran, but also against Iraq.
In response to this U.S. act of war, Iraq’s democratically elected parliament (which was ironically created by the United States) voted to expel the U.S. troops occupying the country.
Trump say no, refusing to leave. The far-right U.S. president then threatened to impose sanctions on Iraq.
Misleading media propaganda on ‘Iran-backed’ groups
Despite the U.S. government’s flagrantly neo-colonial policies, the Western media’s coverage of Iraq essentially portrays the situation as if Iran were secretly in control of the country.
When the U.S. carries out acts of war against Iraq, killing Iraqi officials who are part of the Iraqi state’s security apparatus, the Western media misleadingly describes these murdered Iraqi officials as “pro-Iran military commanders”.
This propagandistic rhetoric is reminiscent of how the Western media invariably refers to Yemen’s so-called Houthis, Ansarullah, as “Iran- backed”, trying to depict them as Iranian proxies. The same is true for Lebanon’s indigenous resistance group Hezbollah.
This is part and parcel of a Western media propaganda narrative that seeks to justify U.S. acts of war and neo-colonial policies against sovereign governments across West Asia.
US attacks Syria
Another clear example of this is recent U.S. attacks in Syria.
In November, the U.S. military launched airstrikes in sovereign Syrian territory. The BBC reported on this illegal U.S. act of war writing, “US airstrikes target more Iran-backed bases in Syria”.
The double standard is quite clear when one considers how these same Western media outlets would never dare to refer to attacks by Palestinian groups on Israeli military forces as strikes on “pro-U.S. forces” in “U.S.-backed bases”.
In fact, as Geopolitical Economy Report has documented, the U.S. is maintaining an illegal military occupation of Syria, and in particular of the nation’s oil-rich territory, where much of its wheat is also produced.
The stated policy of U.S. officials is to starve the Syrian government of revenue that it needs to rebuild after a decade of war fueled by the United States devastated the country.
In December, there was a resolution introduced in the Senate calling to withdraw the U.S. troops occupying Syria’s oil fields. It failed to pass in a vote of 13 to 84.
The US military has illegally occupied Syrian sovereign territory since 2014, preventing Damascus from accessing its own oil and wheat fields.
The Senate voted 13-84, rejecting a resolution to withdraw US troops.https://t.co/RC27DFnleC
— Geopolitical Economy Report (@GeopoliticaEcon) January 5, 2024
Israel attacks Syria
While the U.S. is bombing Yemen, Iraq, and Syria, Israel is also attacking multiple countries in the region.
In October, Israel repeatedly bombed airports in Syria, in both Aleppo and Damascus, killing Syrian troops.
In January, Israel launched many more attacks on Syria. And once again, the Western media misleadingly portrayed these Israeli acts of war as “strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria”.
The Western media seeks to make everything about Iran, implying that Tehran controls all of these governments, when in reality it is the U.S. and Israel that are at war with many sovereign states in the region.
Israel attacks Lebanon
Israel has also been repeatedly assaulting its neighbor, Lebanon.
Amnesty International acknowledged that Israel has attacked southern Lebanon with white phosphorus, a horrific weapon that is banned by many countries.
Amnesty International emphasized that Israel has been killing Lebanese civilians in illegal, “indiscriminate” attacks.
But Israel is not only attacking southern Lebanon; it has also carried out drone strikes inside Beirut, the capital of the country.
Lebanon’s resistance group Hezbollah has long defended the country’s sovereignty, expelling Israel in 2000 after the colonial regime carried out an illegal military occupation of Lebanon for 15 years.
Hezbollah has said Israel’s attacks in the capital Beirut cross a red line and are risking a wider regional war.
U.S. and Israel threaten Iran with war
While the Western media warns that U.S. and Israeli attacks on countries in the region “raise the specter of a wider regional war”, the reality is that Washington and Tel Aviv are already at war with Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
It is obvious that the main target of U.S. and Israeli neo-colonial wars in West Asia is Iran.
This was confirmed by a former top U.S. military general and NATO commander, Wesley Clark, who revealed back in 2007 that, after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Washington made plans to overthrow the governments of seven countries in the region in five years.
In an interview with Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, Clark said that the U.S. had plans “to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”.
In late 2023 and early 2024, the U.S. government has made this link clearly in public statements. Washington publicly blamed Iran for Ansarullah in Yemen launching attacks on ships in the Red Sea that are traveling to Israel, that are providing support to Tel Aviv as it carries out war crimes and faces charges of genocide at the Hague.
A top U.S. official claimed, “Iran is a primary, if not the primary enabler or supporter or sponsor of the Houthis”, and the U.S. government claimed that Iran is “involved in every phase” of what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called “illegal, dangerous and destabilizing attacks against U.S. and international vessels and commercial vessels”.
War hawks in Washington are using this as an opportunity to openly call for a U.S.-Israeli war on Iran.
John Bolton, the neoconservative extremist who served as Donald Trump’s national security adviser and was an architect of the Iraq War under former President George W Bush, published an article in the conservative British newspaper The Telegraph titled “The West may now have no option but to attack Iran”.
Bolton released that call for war on Iran on December 28. He likely coordinated it with Israel’s former prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who on the same day published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal titled “The U.S. and Israel Need to Take Iran on Directly”.
In his article, Bennett boasted that when he was prime minister, Israel carried out numerous attacks on Iranian soil. He also admitted that Tel Aviv assassinated Iranian officials.
Bennett called to “empower domestic opposition [in Iran], ensure internet continuity during riots against the regime, strengthen its enemies, increase sanctions and economic pressures”.
In his last paragraph, Naftali Bennett said in no uncertain terms, “The U.S. and Israel must set the clear goal of bringing down Iran’s evil regime”.
Using colonial language, the former Israeli prime minister declared that the so-called “civilized world” must overthrow Iran’s government.
This is clearly what all of this is heading toward: Some bellicose officials in the U.S. and Israeli governments want not only a wider regional war, but more specifically a full-out war against Iran.
Many of these hard-line imperialists in Washington have salivated for many years at the idea of war with Tehran. Back in 2015, Bolton wrote an article for the New York Times straightforwardly titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.
In fact, Michael Freund, a former spokesman for Israel’s current far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, published an op-ed this January in the Jerusalem Post titled “Iran is already at war with Israel and the US”. In this piece, he insisted that “Israel and America must act now”, calling for war with Tehran.
Freund’s bio conspicuously noted that he was previously “deputy communications director under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”. It is quite possible that he coordinated this article with Netanyahu himself.
On January 3, there was a terror attack on civilians in the Iranian city of Kerman. More than 90 Iranians were killed, at an event that was commemorating the anniversary of the Trump administration’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the top Iranian general.
Western media outlets claimed that “ISIS” carried out this attack. Iranian intelligence officials said one of the terrorists who planted the bombs that killed at least 94 civilians had Israeli nationality.
Benjamin Norton is the founder and editor of the independent news website Multipolarista, where he does original reporting in both English and Spanish. Benjamin has reported from numerous countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and more. His journalistic work has been published in dozens of media outlets, and he has done interviews on Sky News, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, El Financiero Bloomberg, Al Mayadeen teleSUR, RT, TRT World, CGTN, Press TV, HispanTV, Sin Censura, and various TV channels in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Benjamin writes a regular column for Al Mayadeen (in English and Spanish). He was formerly a reporter with the investigative journalism website The Grayzone, and previously produced the political podcast and video show Moderate Rebels. His personal website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.
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