Last week, the Iranian ambassador to Jordan, Mostafa Mosleh-Zadeh, appeared on a Jordanian TV channel, Jo SAT, for an extended interview that covered a host of sensitive subjects. Having listened to parts of the interview, which was aired twice, I must admit that I found the ambassador’s answers consistent and reasonable.
However, the whole idea of granting the Iranian ambassador so much time on a Jordanian satellite TV was surprising in view of the fact that we, in Jordan, are part of the camp of moderation that views Iranian schemes for the region with much suspicion.
To stir further argument, and amidst the heated debate amongst Jordanians over the recent government measures to raise energy prices, the ambassador offered to supply Jordan with its energy needs for 30 years in exchange for Jordanian goods that his country needs, and for allowing religious tourism from Iran into Jordan. Some reports quoted the ambassador as offering the oil free. That would have been a stunning offer, too good to be true. Soon after, it actually proved not to be true, as it was denied by the Iranian embassy in Amman.
The Iranian embassy issued a statement on November 23 denying that the ambassador made the acclaimed offer.
“All that the ambassador has suggested” the statement affirmed, “was that concerned Iranian and Jordanian delegations meet to discuss the promotion of commercial, political and cultural relations, so that such negotiations would clarify which goods Jordan could supply Iran with in exchange for oil.”
The statement did not make any reference to religious tourism.
It is difficult to know where the truth of the matter lies, as during the interview, the ambassador spoke in Persian with simultaneous Arabic interpretation. There could have been room for misunderstanding.
Regardless of what the ambassador really offered, it would be foolish to believe that any country would offer 30 years of free oil to another country just in return for goods and pilgrimage to holy shrines they revere, as it was initially reported. Jordan, moreover, is supposed to be an open country that encourages all kinds of tourism, and therefore Iranians should be no exception.
Jordan has full diplomatic relations with Iran and its relations with this Muslim republic should be normal. Supposedly the citizens of both countries are allowed to obtain visas and freely exchange visits. I never thought that allowing Iranians to visit Jordan would require such an enormous price, particularly when such visits are of religious nature.
Accessibility to holy places is a right that no country can restrict. Neither did I ever believe that we, in Jordan, consider Muslim Shiites in any way different from their Sunni brothers. This was never part of our tradition or mindset, unless the anti-Iran hostility as driven and orchestrated by Israel and the US is radically changing our attitudes for reasons that are not only incompatible with our regional relations, even obligations, but also harmful to our national interests.
Now that the assumed Iranian offer has been denied, there is no point in debating it any further. Many observers and writers who rushed to condemn the offer as an insincere tactical ploy could have been a bit patient. But with or without the offer, the question remains: Why should we keep our relations with Iran so strained?
I never thought any Arab hostility towards Iran was justified. Neither did I believe that Iran was pursuing a hidden ambitious political agenda that implies any threat to any of its immediate or distant Arab neighbours. Even if such hidden agendas do actually exist, should we not objectively assess and monitor the situation until any such intent is proven? Should we base our relations with an important regional power on mere suspicion, not even our own suspicion?
Mostly, and indeed sadly, many Arab countries, had to blindly go along with alien policies, mainly of Israel and its Western supporters, which have been aggressively targeting Iran as a country that sponsors terrorism, seeks nuclear capability and supports the Palestinian struggle against Israel, which, in their view, is a form of terrorism, too.
The case against Iran is primarily and solely Israel related. Israel has been seriously threatening military attack against Iran, pressuring the US to attack it on its own, to join in the attack if Israel commences hostilities, or at least give Israel permission to act alone, allegedly to destroy Iran’s nuclear plants, but actually to punish Iran for its hostility to Israel as well as for supporting Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas.
Many Arab countries were mobilised against Iran as a result of direct incitement from Washington, accusing Iran of pushing a Shiite agenda against the Sunni majority in the region.
The administration of former president George Bush tried hard to establish a bloc of moderate Arab countries and Israel against the extremists in Iran, Syria, Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Intensive propaganda campaign against Iran and its extensions in the region succeeded in convincing Arab countries and some Arab intellectuals that Iran is the real enemy, not Israel.
The fact that Israel is the actual occupier of all of Palestine, and of Syrian and Lebanese territory, that Israel is committing unprecedented crimes against the Palestinians, that Israel possesses more than 300 nuclear bombs ready for use, and that Israel has been opposed to any effort to reach a reasonable settlement for its conflict with its Arab neighbours is often totally ignored.
It is incomprehensible that Arab countries should see and prepare to confront an assumed danger from Iran while at the same time they ignore the real, ongoing, Israeli aggression and assured threat.
Iran may have political ambitions in the region, but this has yet to be proven. It has territorial disputes with some of the Gulf states and this has to be negotiated. All that is known of Iran’s “crimes” is its support for the struggle of the Palestinians to regain their rights and that should work in the Iranian favour from the Arab view.
The Iranians may have plans for building military nuclear capability, but this has not been substantiated either, and in comparison, one should not overlook the huge existing Israeli nuclear arsenal, mainly built to consolidate Israeli aggression against the Arab countries and, at the same time, mobilise much international muscle to chase a ghost project in Iran.
The Middle East should indeed be free of weapons of mass destruction, but that should also include Israel, the only nuclear power in the region.
Much more dangerous than any political discord is the ensuing Sunni-Shiite schism that has been growing and intensifying. Israel’s strategy is to further weaken the Arabs by igniting and feeding such sectarian strife that has already taken roots. The Arab countries should not fall deeper into this dangerous trap.
In response to the Iranian — now denied — offer, Jordanian officials commented that Jordan cannot deal with Iran lest that should jeopardise Jordanian relations with Gulf and Western states.
Are we not an independent country that can conduct independent foreign relations? If we were to pursue our interests with Iran, should there be a real opportunity? We, in principle, would be doing the right thing as long as it is not directed against other friendly nations.
Some Jordanians have been urging the government to tactically explore the occasion, if only to provoke positive response from our Arab Gulf brothers and our other allies who failed to come to our rescue. That might not be the kind of principled diplomacy worthy of our usually better function. If there is an opportunity, we should genuinely study it and pursue it, once proven correct, promising and valid.
It is obvious that Iran is suffering from sanctions and isolation. Jordan is a potential partner and major benefits can be reciprocal. Our bilateral relations should be reviewed on the basis of what serves our legitimate needs first and foremost.
Iran is an important regional power and an effective player. It is not an enemy and should not be seen that way to please Israel.
(The writer is a columnist at the Jordan Times, where this article was published on Nov. 28, 2012)