People stand on the ruins of a building destroyed in the airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Aug. 25, 2017. On the surface, the United States has often portrayed itself as a peace broker in the volatile Middle East, which has long suffered chaos, violence and conflicts. Such peaceful gestures could be deceiving until one reads the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which shows the United States is the largest weapons exporter to the Middle East. (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed)
by Xinhua writer Zhi Linfei
CAIRO, March 14 (Xinhua) -- On the surface, the United States has often portrayed itself as a peace broker in the volatile Middle East, which has long suffered chaos, violence and conflicts.
Such peaceful gestures could be deceiving until one reads the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which shows the United States is the largest weapons exporter to the Middle East.
Smell a rat? A peace broker is in fact the largest supplier of the most deadly tools of destruction and killing.
"The increased flow of arms raises concerns over their impact on international peace and security," warned Jan Eliasson, chair of the SIPRI Governing Board.
NEARLY HALF OF U.S. WEAPONS EXPORTS FLOW TO MIDEAST
The SIPRI report released on Monday finds that in the five-year period of 2013-2017, U.S. arms exports increased by 25 percent from the 2008-2012 period, extending its lead as the top arms exporter in the world.
The United States accounted for 34 percent of total global arms sales during the 2013-2017 period. Notably, nearly half, or 49 percent, of the total U.S. arms exports flew to the Middle East.
Accordingly, the war-stricken Middle East stood out as the largest weapons market, accounting for about one third of the total global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled during the 2013-2017 period.
The region also houses the biggest number of leading arms importers in the world, including Saudi Arabia, the No. 2 importer; Egypt, the No. 3 importer; and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the No. 4 importer. Israel, Iraq and Qatar are also major buyers of weapons in the region.
Oil-rich Saudi Arabia registered a 225-percent rise in its arms imports during the 2013-2017 period, while Egypt's imports climbed 215 percent and Israel's, 125 percent.
The sharp increases in arms imports by Mideastern countries vividly mirror the geopolitical situation in the region, where ongoing wars against terrorism, worsening rivalries for regional influence and rising tensions among Gulf neighbors have led to a race among regional states to build up their own arsenals of weapons.
"The Middle East, being a conflict zone, inevitably attracts the attention of arms exporters. Because there are also oil-rich countries in the region, there seems to be a lucrative market for arms sales," Ilter Turan, a professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University in Turkey, told Xinhua in an interview.
Hussam Al-Dagany, a Palestinian lecturer in the Al-Aqsa University and Al-Azhar University in Gaza Strip, believes that the U.S. government has been subject to the powerful lobbying of the weapons industry.
"And certainly, the best venue for the manufacture of crises and conflicts is the Middle East," Al-Dagany told Xinhua in an interview.
He said that the United States will not play its role in resolving the crises and conflicts despite its political and military power. Instead, the U.S. arms sales to the region are "aimed at creating sedition" as they are used to creating "strife in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and everywhere."
FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS
In any sense, the United States has long been benefiting from the chaos in the Middle East.
"Of course, the U.S. has benefited in a way or another from the chaos and wars that have engulfed the Middle East and the Arab region in particular," Saeed al-Lawendy, an expert on international relations at the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Egypt, told Xinhua.
Behind its profitable arms exporting business lies the U.S. contribution to the chaotic situation in the oil-rich Middle East with its interventionist policies, including its notorious invasion of Iraq in 2003, its military intervention in Libya in 2011, its support for the turmoils in North Africa and the Middle East, and the current involvement in the civil war in Syria.
"This was certainly true that the U.S., by invading Iraq, broke down a regime and destroyed the domestic peace of Iraq, although that peace was highly authoritarian and cruel. But what we have got afterwards is not any better," Turan noted.
"Similarly, the later U.S. interventions in the Middle East have not helped to improve the prospect of peace in the region," he said.
Backed by Washington, Saudi Arabia, together with the UAE and several other Arab countries, has been fighting a highly costly war against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen since 2015.
The United States has also long been feuding with Iran, regarded as an enemy by both Saudi Arabia and Israel, sounding alarm about the nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Republic.
For a long time, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been preparing militarily for a possible showdown with Tehran, by acquiring advanced U.S. weapons.
The latest crisis in the Gulf, in which Qatar squares off with the Saudi-led quartet of Arab countries that also includes Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE, has also benefited the United States, which is blamed by some for instigating the standoff.
"We can see the main goal of U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to the Gulf countries was to sign arms deals and to incite the conflict and dispute with Qatar, so the U.S. can sell weapons to Qatar and all the Gulf states," said al-Lawendy.
He referred to the first Middle East tour last May by Trump, whose first stop was Saudi Arabia. Following the visit, Riyadh abruptly severed its diplomatic ties with Qatar last June and imposed a total blockade on its tiny oil-rich Gulf neighbor.
However, since the eruption of the crisis, the United States has signed massive deals on selling weapons to the rivaling sides, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The United States and Saudi Arabia signed an arms deal worth 110 billion U.S. dollars during Trump's visit, which was followed by Qatar's signing of a 12-billion-dollar deal to buy U.S. fighter jets in June, 2017.
"So the U.S. is the sole beneficiary of the chaos and violence in the region," al-Lawendy pointed out.
ARMS SELLER OR PEACE MAKER?
The United States has painted itself for years as a broker of political settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and mediator of a diplomatic solution to the Gulf standoff.
However, many are critical of the U.S. role in the region, noting it has a moral debt to pay off if it wants to be an honest and genuine peace maker.
"Of course, we doubt the U.S. integrity as a mediator in the peace talks in the Middle East, because how can the top arms exporter enter any peace settlement?" said al-Lawendy.
Faisal Abu Shahlah, a member of the Legislative Council of the Fatah Movement and the Fatah leader in Gaza Strip, told Xinhua that the United States is creating instability in the region because it benefits from the arms trade.
"Because it wants to sell arms to stir the problems in our region and not to achieve stability, the recent U.S. positions, even its previous positions, have proved that America is not an honest broker," he said.
Al-Dagany also said that the United States "has not proved that it is possible to be an honest broker in any of the region's conflicts," citing Trump's controversial decision to recognize the disputed holy city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital despite widespread protests.
As a result, the Palestinians have rejected the United States as the sole sponsor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"This is a disgrace to the United States that it does not work to end the crises in the Middle East," Al-Dagany said.
Analysts are more worried about the recent attempt by Trump to renew the Iranian nuclear crisis by threatening to pull out of the historic nuclear deal signed in 2015.
Al-Dagany said the goal of the U.S. strategy in the Middle East is firstly to achieve the fragmentation of the Arab region to ensure the superiority of Israel, and then to ensure Israel's integration into the new Middle East by inflating the Iranian threat and portraying Israel as a partner for Arab countries in stopping the alleged Iranian expansion.
Professor Turan said that the American decision to challenge the Iranian deal is "an ill-considered action."
"The U.S. has not been acting very prudently or responsibly in the Middle East, and it has contributed significantly to peace being undermined in the Middle East," Turan added.
(Li Yiyan in Cairo, Emad Drimly in Gaza, Zeynep Cermen in Istanbul contributed to the story.)