The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

13th April 1997



Oil and fundamentalism

A dangerous mixof the Arab world

by Mervyn de Silva

In by far the greater part of the time, the Jewish diaspora has been better treated than in Christendom. If and when Jews and Christians submit to Muslim rule and pay a surtax, Muslims are under an obligation not only to tolerate them but also to protect them.

This obligation is written into the Qur’an. Jews and Muslims under Christian rule have never enjoyed any corresponding guarantees," wrote Arnold Toynbee widely regarded as the foremost western historian of his time.

Toynbee was director of the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs in London when he wrote a foreword to STORM OVER THE ARAB WORLD by Eugene Fisher, a veteran journalist "covering" the Arab world and Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian professor of law who had taught international affairs and law at several American and European Universities.

The problem of Palestine is almost always presented as an Arab-Israeli conflict that has its roots in an Arab refusal to acknowledge the simple fact that the Jews had a right to a state in their traditional homeland, Palestine. But that’s not the whole story or even a part of the true story. Closer attention has to be paid to US and western strategic interests.

As the world war came to a close, a State Dept. analysis (1945) spoke of Saudi Arabia as "a stupendous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." This prize was threatened by two forces, internal and external; popular revolt and the Soviet Union, often both when Moscow assisted local radical or revolutionary groups. Thus, Greece, and the Truman Doctrine (March, 1947).

"It is necessary only to glance at a map" to recognise that if the rebels won "confusion and disorder might well spread throughout the Middle East." A.C.I.A. analysis (1948) warned if the rebels won, US would face "the possible loss of the petroleum resources of the Middle East compromising 40 percent of the world reserves." Soon, a Russian threat "was fabricated" to justify US intervention, observes Prof. Naom Chomsky (M.I.T.) one of the Jewish American community’s "superstars."

The next shattering blow to the strategic interests of the US-led alliance was of course the Iranian revolution led by a lonely Muslim cleric, the Ayatollah Khomeini, living in exile in Paris. It was a double blow - Iranian oil and the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the guardian of the Gulf. Iran remains a major target of the US-led NATO, not only because of oil but also the rise of Islam, a global force - a Khomeinism that threatens western interests more dangerously than Communism. With the Shahenshah the King of Kings gone, Israel was the ideal substitute, a supercop on the Middle East beat.

Jewish State

How did the state of Israel come into existence in Palestine when Theodore Herzl, the author of Der Judenstaat asked the British for a site in Cyprus?

It all started with the Dreyfus affair, as the authors of "STORM OVER THE ARAB WORLD" point out as they trace the history of Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State.

In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, was tried by a French military court, and sent to prison on "fraudulent charges of treason". Some witnesses (all gentile officers) lied in court to protect their fellow aristo. Theodore Herzl, a lawyer-cum-freelance journalist covered the case for the Vienna weekly Neue Freie Presse. Shocked by what he saw, Herzl was convinced that the Jews could expect justice only in their own state. Zionism was born with Der Judenstaat. The first World Congress was held in 1897 at Basle, Switzerland and Theodore Herzl was elected the president of the World Zionist Movement (WZO).

When Herzl asked for a site in Cyprus, the request was promptly rejected by the UK. But the British did take his basic idea seriously. They offered the Jews territory in Uganda. Though Herzl was ready to accept it, his colleagues demanded territory in Palestine. And so to the Balfour Declaration.

On Nov. 2, 1917, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur J. Balfour informed Baron Rothschild in a confidential letter:

"His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best efforts to facilitate the achievement of this object..." Of course he did add that the civil and religious rights of other communities will not be adversely affected.

Oil and Islam

Oil and Islam may not mix but, in the Middle East, the mixture does shape politics and foreign policy. Though the past decade has seen a "relative oversupply of oil.... the political reality is a global dependence on Middle Eastern oil for the foreseeable future" the C.I.A.’s director John Deutsch told the US Senate six months ago. The widespread belief among US Middle East pundits encouraged the view that Washington would be compelled to follow a more "evenly balanced policy". What the Economist, for example, expected was "pressure on Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians along the lines agreed in the 1993 Oslo Accords."

Those accords however were negotiated by Shimon Peres, the Labour party veteran, who could rely on two special sources of strength. First, he had invited Yitzhak Rabin, the much-decorated war hero to lead the Labour party at the polls.

On matters of national security, the average Israeli voter could trust Yitzhak Rabin’s judgement without question. And the Norwegian mediators, in turn, could trust Peres.

With his long Histradut connections Peres had many friends in the Norwegian trade union movement and the Labour leadership. Thus, the Oslo Accords, the major achievement on which Peres-and-Rabin were certain the Labour party would defeat the rightwing Likud. An unknown young man armed with an old army revolver decided to make history by assassinating a general associated with Israel’s scintillating three-front, six-day war.

The assassin was no "nut." He was a member of a Jewish fundamentalist group; a semi-secret ‘cell’ in fact. David Gardner, the F.T’s Middle East editor warned that 1997 "could bring much to hearten fundamentalists (Islamist or Judaic) who would like to move the region backwards.... flare-ups will become more menacing and less containable." And that in turn would persuade the US to adopt a "dual containment" policy.

The targets? Iraq and Iran. But such a policy could also lead to a clash of interests between the US and its more important European allies. Carrot-and-stick policies to raise the difficult question of how much carrot and how much stick. Already differences in the 8-party coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have made his grand alliance, not so grand.

"We are trying very hard to control the ground. But under Netanyahu the peace process is slipping away," says Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s top negotiator. "I don’t care what form of government there is in Israel as long as it puts the peace process back on track." It does look a job that only the sole superpower can handle - and a US President who has won his second term is the right man.

A new suspect in heart disease

Inflammation, not cholesterol, may be underlying cause

A simple blood test can

help identify healthy

people who are most likely to have a heart attack or a stroke years before the usual warning signs appear, new research suggests, lending support to a radical new theory about the underlying causes of these leading killers.

The findings indicate that hardened or narrowed arteries, which typically lead to heart attacks or strokes, are caused by inflammations in blood-vessel walls - the same kind of reaction that triggers redness and swelling when a cut gets infected.

Researchers warned that it was too soon to recommend the widespread use of the test, which looks for a substance called C-reactive protein, a general indicator of inflammation.

But its ability to identify as much as eight years in advance those most likely to get a heart attack or stroke supports the unorthodox notion that inflammation is an even more fundamental cause of hardening of the arteries than high cholesterol or blood pressure.

If that is true, specialists said, then pharmaceutical companies developing drugs to prevent heart attacks and strokes might concentrate less on cholesterol-lowering and blood-pressure drugs and focus more on compounds that block inflammation.

The new study offers surprising evidence that aspirin’s usefulness in preventing heart attacks and strokes results not from the drug’s ability to prevent blood clots, as scientists have presumed, but from its ability to reduce inflammation.

"It’s really a major shift in the way we think about heart attacks and strokes," said R. Wayne Alexander, chief of cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "What’s really important about this is that it may provide a way to detect this disease process not just by looking for clogged vessels, which all of cardiac diagnoses until now has been based on."

By the time cardiologists find badly blocked vessels, they generally must resort to bypass operations or angioplasty, in which they clear the vessel. In either case, the vessels often become blocked again before long.

"This says something about the biology of heart disease," said Paul M. Ridker, who led the study with Charles H. Hennekens at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. "The inflammation is there way before the atherosclerosis and seems to be involved in the progression of the disease."

The standard view on heart attacks and strokes is that high levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood, and high blood pressure, can cause fatty deposits to line blood vessel walls - a condition called atherosclerosis. Eventually, a blood clot becomes lodged in that narrowed vessel cutting off the supply of oxygen to the heart or brain.

While not disputing that high cholesterol and the other standard risk factors add to the risk of heart attacks and strokes, the new findings suggest that the fundamental problem is inflammation, caused by overactive immune-system cells logged in blood-vessel walls.

The new view is that many heart attacks are caused by bits of scar tissue that have broken away from an inflamed vessel wall and become lodged there, rather than by blood clots getting snagged in narrowed vessels.

The study was not designed to tell what is stimulating the immune system cells, and the cause may be different in different people. Laboratory studies have suggested that the crashing of blood against vessel walls can cause sufficient damage in some people to attract white blood cells and trigger inflammation. Other research has suggested that persistent blood-borne infections by microbes such as chlamydia or "Helicobacter pylori," the bacteria that causes ulcers, or viruses such as cytomegalovirus can cause vessel inflammation. In that case, antibiotics or antiviral drugs may help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

The new study, which appeared in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, presents two lines of evidence that inflammation is an important early factor in vessel disease.

First, the researchers measured C-reactive protein levels in 1,086 healthy men and tracked their health for more than eight years. All had levels considered normal. But those with the highest normal levels were nearly three times as likely to have a heart attack by the end of the study, and twice as likely to have a stroke, compared with those who had the lowest levels.

Second, the researchers asked half the participants to take a 325-milligram aspirin tablet every other day for the full length of the study, to confirm previous hints that aspirin can prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Aspirin reduced the risk of a heart attack by 56 percent in men with high levels of C-reactive protein but not at all in those who scored low on the inflammation test. That suggests aspirin’s ability to prevent heart attacks comes from its anti-inflammatory properties rather than its anti-clotting properties.

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