Seemingly relieved after restoring some balance and trust in its often-troubled relationship with the U.S., Iran now hopes for better bilateral ties with the neighboring Western-allied Arab Gulf states.
Since President Hassan Rowhani’s assumption of office, Tehran’s official rhetoric on foreign policy has been remarkably marked with sentiments of “goodwill” and willingness to engage in amicable relations with regional countries and the world, of course as opposed to Iran’s longtime hard-line attitude.
For many observers, Iran’s new diplomatic policy under rule has been seen to improve relations with the U.S., the “Great Satan,” and other Western states, culminated first in the September’s “historic” 15-minute phone conversation between Rowhani and President Barack Obama and recently in the interim deal with the P5+1 group in Geneva. But is the U.S. still perceived and referred to in Iran’s official rhetoric as the “Great Satan” after this softening of its relationship with the longtime enemy? Not that major issue here in the article or in the Arab world anyway.
All in all, such an emerging “amicability” from Iran towards the neighboring Gulf states, manifested in sentiments of goodwill and official visits, need to be accompanied by tangible steps on the ground that help remove, or at least alleviate, the Arab states’ worries and dismay over Tehran’s “annoying” policies; otherwise, this diplomatic endeavor would be not more than a PR campaign of little impact.
Worth mentioning in this regard that any softening of tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states will definitely ensure Tehran better relations with Egypt and Jordan and, in less degree, with the Fateh-led Palestinian Authority and Saad Hariri’s influential March 14 Alliance of Lebanon, the other members of the so-called “Arab moderation camp.”
In that Iran is certain that any trust building measures with UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar will help pave the way for better relations with Saudi Arabia, it is also confident that a full “normalization” with the Arab world comes through and from Riyadh.Raed Omari
In that Iran is certain that any trust building measures with the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar will help pave the way for better relations with Saudi Arabia, it is also confident that a full “normalization” with the Arab world comes through and from Riyadh. That was the primary motive behind Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent tour of Gulf Arab states Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and UAE, needless to mention of course why not to Bahrain.
In all the Arab Gulf states he visited, Zarif was quoted as voicing Iran’s keenness on building strong relations with Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the region. “We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia should work together in order to promote peace and stability in the region …We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential regional country and we are working to strengthen cooperation with it for the benefit of the region.”
‘Who is ruling who’ in Tehran?
But is Tehran serious about building strong or normal neighboring relations with the Arab Gulf states? Is Tehran willing to make compromises more than those it has made with the P5+1 group?
It is a fact more than an opinion that Iran’s goal behind the deal with the world’s six powers, which stipulated lessening of sanctions in exchange of limited uranium enrichment, was primarily meant to sustain Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, through reducing the Iranians’ economic hardships and thus alleviating their hidden anger over their rulers. So, Rowhani was instructed by Khamenei to sign the agreement.
Let’s put aside the P5+1 deal with Iran and focus more on Tehran’s emerging willingness to engage in normal relations with the Arab states, although it raises the question of “who is ruling who” in Iran. Can it be that Rowhani’s diplomatic policy and Zarif’s “gentle” remarks cohesively and exclusively represent Iran’s official position or just a partial stance of one of Iran’s pillars of rule?
History says no anyway. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran has been unquestionably ruled by the Imams of Qom, who represent Iran’s powerful political authority from Ayatollah Khomeini to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not by presidential or parliamentarian systems.
Let’s assume that Rowhani is the real ruler of Iran and that Zarif’s statements represent the Iranian official stance on openness and engagement within the Arab region.
Iran, a ‘colonial’ power
In order for Iran to “win the heart” of Riyadh and consequently secure a normal and well-received and not “imposed” and “abhorred” presence within the Arab region, it is so much required to make big compromises or, in fact, recognitions of the sovereignty of Arab states not only in the form of diplomatic expressions of goodwill but in immediate tangible steps on the ground that help change its perception as a “colonial” element within the Arab world.
Iran is seen by many Arab countries as a “colonial” power that seeks to expand ideologically, geopolitically and even territorially within the Arab world. In fact, Iran’s policies and interventions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen all prove its colonial attitude towards the Arab world.
Iraq’s 1980-1988 war with Iran was fought against the Iranian “Shiite expansion” within the massively-Sunni Arab region – or as said at the time during which Baghdad was thought of as the “eastern gate” of the Arab world.
For many Arabs, Iran’s supreme leaders have long “hijacked” Syria from the Arab world under Damascus’ Alawite rulers, both the father and the son. An integral and inseparable driving factor behind the Syrian war is to end the Iranian “colonization” and replace Syria again within the Arab world.
Iran involved in Arab crises
Iran’s support of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah is also perceived in the Arab world as the direct cause of Lebanon’s insecurity and political instability. It is also seen as an assault against the sovereignty of an independent Arab state through imposing a “state within a state.”
It is Iran’s interference in Iraq that caused and is causing the sectarian Sunni-Shiite division in the Arab world. Both sects have long been living in harmony and peace until 2003, when Iran had the opportunity to penetrate within Iraq. Of course, Iran’s support of the Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon has led to the emergence of radical Sunni groups who view Tehran as the “real danger” to the Arab world.
But all in all, Zarif was right in saying that regional peace and stability can be achieved through cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia but all pending real steps on the side of Tehran.
Will Iran be ready to sacrifice its allegiances with an embattled regime and militia abhorred within its country for the sake of building strong and sustainable ties with sovereign Arab states?
It is up to Iranian leaders to decide.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2