This is what Trump is doing in the Middle East while you’re distracted by coronavirus

While the news is dominated by the fight against Covid-19, the US president has taken the opportunity to start blackmailing his allies across the region

Robert Fisk
3 hours ago

And still the virus shrouds Donald Trump’s mischief in the Middle East.

First it was his sly retreat from Iraq. Now it’s his cosy military exercises with the United Arab Emirates – famous in song and legend as a former Saudi ally in the bloody Yemen war – and his cut of $1bn in aid to Afghanistan, because its presidential feuding may hamper another retreat deal with Trump’s newly established chums in the Taliban. And then there’s Iran…

So let’s look for a moment at the extraordinary mock city built in the Emirates – complete with multi-storey buildings, hotels, apartment complexes, an airport control tower, oil refineries and a central mosque – which Emirati troops and US Marines have been assaulting with much clamour. According to the AP reporter who watched this Hollywood-style epic, Emirati soldiers rappelled from helicopters while Marines “searched narrow streets on the Persian Gulf for mock-enemy forces.”

But who were these “forces”? Iranian, perhaps? In which case, the mock-mosque was presumably Shia, the oil refineries presumably in southern Iran, the old streets in one of Iran’s ancient cities. Surely not Shiraz. Surely not Isfahan.

Brigadier General Thomas Savage of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force didn’t eem to think the Iranians might find all this a bit suspicious. The exercise – Operation Native Fury, whose name seemed to carry its own colonial message – is held every two years. “Provocative?” asked the aforesaid Savage. “I don’t know. We’re about stability in the region. So if they view it as provocative, well, that’s up to them. This is just a normal training exercise for us.”


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