We were waiting for U.S. President Barack Obama to execute his pledge and strike the Syrian regime for the use of sarin gas in the killing of 1,500 people. But Obama struck his allies instead! Obama made a politically flirty phone call to Assad's ally, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani.
It doesn't matter who made the call
The phone call shocked decision-making circles in the Gulf, Jordan, Turkey, Israel and other countries.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
It doesn't matter who made the phone call. The question is how was Obama convinced of rewarding the Iranians by breaking a history of presidential silence before they gave him anything except the cheap sweet talk? The questions that worry the region's governments are: What can be behind this phone call? How deep is the relationship? We know that the Sultanate of Oman carried messages between Tehran and Washington and that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart Mohamed Javad Zarif a week ago. So did the phone call come to coronate that?
It's not possible to underestimate the importance of communication between the two rivals, and it's natural to worry about what may happen after it. As to why we should worry, it's because the United States is a superpower capable of changing the balance of powers in the region. It's the country that besieged Iran for three decades on the political, military and economic levels. If there's a change in U.S. policy, a lot will change in the relations of the region's countries. It's not understandable why Obama decided to open the door which was closed in front of a regime that all American presidents considered to be evil and decided to confront by containing and besieging. Does Obama want to be another Nixon who built relations with the Chinese enemy in the 1970's? Maybe. But what will the Iranians grant the Americans in exchange of this openness towards them? Nothing. Tehran's hawks received the wrong message as they considered that the American move meant America's retreat and defeat.
Without U.S. support and without its adoption of a strict position against Iran, Mideast countries cannot confront Iran, neither with nuclear weapons nor with conventional ones. In this case, Obama would have inaugurated a new era of conflicts in the region, particularly with the absence of a clear and transparent policy from his part towards Iran, which has begun to raise a lot of fears. This may push countries towards embracing new defensive policies to protect themselves when Iran is freed from the American prison.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Sept. 30, 2013.