Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Palestine and radical Islam. So many of the problems of today’s Middle East can be traced to the events of one turbulent year: 1979.
This was the year of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution in Iran, of Saddam Hussein’s formal accession to power in Iraq, of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and of the bloody takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by Islamist radicals. More hopefully, this was also the year of the Israel–Egypt peace treaty; but within two years, Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat would be killed by Islamists. And by 1983, after Israel had intervened in the Lebanese civil war, the embryonic Hezbollah was attacking American, French and Israeli targets with the first of the region’s suicide car bombers – an exceptional tactic that has now become appallingly commonplace.
Lawrence Freedman, professor of war studies at King’s College in London and one of Britain’s best-known strategic thinkers, calls this the ‘second radical wave’ in the Middle East. Islamic militancy was, in part, a reaction to the failure