Oceans of blood and profits for the mongers of war

By:Robert Fisk

(As casualties continue to mount in Afghanistan, so does the cost of war after nine years).

Since there are now three conflicts in the greater Middle East; Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/”Palestine” and maybe another Lebanese war in the offing, it might be a good idea to take a look at the cost of war.


Not the human cost – 80 lives a day in Iraq, unknown numbers in Afghanistan, one a day in Israel/”Palestine” (for now) – but the financial one. I’m still obsessed by the Saudi claim for its money back after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Hadn’t Saudi Arabia, King Fahd reminded Saddam, financed his eight-year war against Iran to the tune of $25,734,469,885.80? For the custodian of the two holy places, Mecca and Medina, to have shelled out $25bn for Saddam to slaughter his fellow Muslims was pretty generous – although asking for that extra 80 cents was surely a bit greedy.

But then again, talking of rapacity, the Arabs spent $84bn underwriting the Anglo-American operation against Saddam in 1990-91 – three times what Fahd gave to Saddam for the Iran war – and the Saudi share alone came to $27.5bn. In all, the Arabs sustained a loss of $620bn because of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – almost all of which was paid over to the United States and its allies. Washington was complaining in August 1991 that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait still owed $7.5bn. Western wars in the Middle East, it seemed, could be fought for profit as well as victory. Maybe Iraq could have brought us more treasure if it hadn’t ended in disaster. At least it would help to have paid for America’s constant infusion of cash to Israel’s disastrous wars.

According to Israeli historian Illan Pappé, since 1949, the US has passed to Israel more than $100bn in grants and $10bn in special loans – more than Washington hands out to North Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Over the past 20 years, $5.5bn has been given to Israel for military purchases. But for sheer self-abuse, it’s necessary to read of the Midas-like losses in the entire Middle East since just 1991 – an estimated $12,000,000,000,000. Yup, that’s a cool $12trn and, if you don’t believe me, take a look at an unassuming little booklet that the “Strategic Fortnight Group” published not long ago. Its statistic caught a few headlines, but was then largely forgotten, perhaps because it was published in faraway Mumbai rather than by some preposterous American “tink-thank” (as I call them). But it was funded by, among others, the Norwegian and Swiss foreign ministries. And the Indians are pretty smart about money, as we know as we wait in fear of its new super-economy.

So since there may soon be a new Israel-Hizbollah war, let’s get an idea of the astronomical costs of all those F-16s, missiles, “bunker-busters”, Iranian-made rockets, smashed Lebanese factories, villages, towns, bridges, power stations, oil terminals – we will not soil ourselves with Lebanon’s 1,300 pathetic dead or Israel’s 130 pathetic dead in the 2006 war for these are mere mortals – not to mention the losses in tourism and trade to both sides. Total losses for Lebanon in 2006 came to an estimated $3.6bn, for Israel $1.6bn – so Israel won hands down in terms of money, even if its rabble of an army screwed everything up on the ground. But among those who paid for this were American taxpayers (funding the Israelis) and European taxpayers, Arab potentates and the crackpot of Iran (funding Lebanon). So the American taxpayer destroys what the European taxpayer rebuilds. It’s the same in Gaza; Washington funds the weapons to blow up EU-funded projects and the EU rebuilds them in time for them to be destroyed again. But boy oh boy, in the Lebanese war, US arms manufacturers make a packet – and so, to a lesser extent do the Iranian and Chinese missile dealers.

Let’s break down the 2006 Lebanon war figures. Bridges and roads: $450m. Utilities: $419m. Housing: $2bn. But military “institutions”: a paltry $16m. Hizbollah apparently spent $300m. Overall, rebuilding came to $319m, infrastructure repairs to $454m, oil spill costs to $175m. Just for sadistic fun, you can add forest fires ($4.6m), displaced civilians ($52m) and Beirut airport ($170m). But the biggest cost of all? Tourism, at $3-4bn. Now Israel. Tourism lost $1.4 bn, “government and emergency services” $460n, businesses $1.4bn, compensation paid out $335.4m, forest fires $18m. What have the Israeli army and Hizbollah got against forests? In all, the Israeli losses amounted to 1.5 per cent of GDP, the Lebanese 8 per cent of GDP.

And just look at the Middle East “arms race” – the jockeys being the arms manufacturers, the punters being the countries of the region and, of course, their “huddled masses”. Saudi Arabia, as the Mumbai report said, leaps in a decade between 1996 and 2006 from $18bn to $30bn a year – it’s just negotiating a $60bn deal with the US – and Iran from $3bn to $10bn. Israel has gone from $8bn to $12bn. In fact, there’s an interesting correlation between Israel’s state-of-the-art democratically minded missile-firings between 2000 and 2007 – 34,050 – and Hamas’s evil, terrorist-inspired missile firings: a rather piffling 2,333.

There’s a host of other goodies in this appalling list of financial and social horrors. On 11 September 2001, just 16 people were on America’s “no-fly” list; by December, it was 594. By August 2008, it had reached an astonishing 100,000. At present rate, the US “terrorist watch list” will reach two million souls in two years’ time. Since 1974, UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights have cost $47.86m while the UN has forked out $680.93m for its forces in southern Lebanon since 1978.

So coming soon to a war near you; oceans of blood, bodies torn to shreds, of course. But bring your credit card. Or a cheque book. It’s big business. And there may be profits.

(Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent of the The Independent, he has primarily been based in Beirut for more than 30 years.He has published a number of books and has reported from the United States’s attack on Afghanistan and the same country’s 2003 invasion of Iraq).


NOTE:This is a cross post from The Independent.

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  • Faisal Malik  On November 27, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Cash comes and goes………………..economies are sunk only to resurface again,


    a life lost will never again be regained.

    THAT, imho, is the biggest loss of all in this tragedy.

    wonder if Shakespeare was still alive, what piece of tragic literature the world to come might have witnessed.

  • Shaukat Qadeer  On November 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Fisk is amongst those journalists that I allways enjoy reading. Writes it as HE sees it; and it continues to come from the heart. Thanks again. Best.

  • Taz  On November 27, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Didn’t someone threaten his (Fisk’s) life a while ago?

  • Haidre  On November 27, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    It is now an established fact that invariably all wars these days and especially those in which America is involved, are actually American/Western military contractors’ wars aimed at loot and plunder, to be shared with American govt. However, what is amazing is the ruthless tolerance, in the bargain, of the loss of lives and limbs of thousands of soldiers and the pain inflicted on millions of their family members back home. But obviously, soldiers are ordinary citizens and the war profits go to the pockets of the elite. So in essence there is hardly any difference between the way common man is exploited for personal gains in the advanced West and the backward East. Universal law of the Survival of the Fittest ?

    The biggest culprits, in fact fools, in this whole drama are the Arab Sheiks and Kings, especially Saudi King, who are lavishly doling out their national wealth to the Western war mongers to ward off the imaginary danger from previously Iraqi and now Iranian WMDs. Will their future generations forgive them ?

  • Rathore  On November 28, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Respected Haider Sahib,

    Could not understand how you justify biggest culprits, in facts fools, in this whole drama are Arab Sheikhs & Kings, sepecially Saudi King. As far as I feel Arab Sheikhs like UAE ISTELAT owner Mr. Omran or Omron, who has chated Govt of Pakistan & forcibly taken over PTCL (Pakistan’s only profitable organisation). Someone wrote a book PAKISTAN’s MAALIATO SCANDALS. He wrote/published in this booklet that he only paif 10% & took over PTCL swince 2003/2004 & in the firsr year he obtained orofit of Rs 30 billions. But never paid balance of 30% & 60%. He is still ignoring Govt earning although he is defaulter & taking ^0 Billions of profit every year since 2005 to 2010. It is because all NRO Players are settled in Palaces in Dubai & are not in a position to cancel his Privatisation deal. It is published every day (yesterday Saturday Govt has reported to SECP REGULATORS to take STERN ACTION). But even the Chief Justice of Oapkistanhave no power to check them, Dont know who are these Arab Shaekhs who have most of looted money in the country banks from Pakistan looted by NRO Players.

    Perhaps I am wrong because there is no bank account of any Pakistani Looteraaz in Saudi Arabia. Anyhow Mr Haier’s analysis is besed on more real informations.

  • Windows 7 Starter Key  On November 28, 2010 at 9:15 am

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  • KHAN ZIA  On November 28, 2010 at 1:09 pm

    Thanks. How much do you think the war that Pakistan has brought on itself has cost us so far and why are we not looking for a way out of it? Why is no one asking this simple question? The senseless war has bankrupted the economy; not a single new hospital, university, road, railway line, water storage dam, power generation plant or industry worth the name have been added to what had already existed ten years ago. The population has increased by at least thirty million in the meantime. The money that should have been spent on development has been squandered indiscriminately and most unwisely bombing, rocketing and shelling our own mostly innocent and helpless men, women and children.

    It is going to bring unmitigated disaster on all of us and our children. Yet all the newspapers and TV channels for the most part choose to ignore all this. It is the same with all the so-called people’s representatives, self-styled security experts, media pundits, generals and bureaucrats, etc. who live off the people’s money, ostensibly to look after their interests. We all seem to suffer from myopia of the worst kind and gross levels of ignorance about the true nature of the reality that confronts us. At this rate it won’t be long before this once perfectly wonderful country turns into a veritable hell-hole of the damned. If there is to be a salvation it has to come from we the people and no one else. The time to act is now.

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