‘Protectorates’ of the post-Lausanne Era

Two thoughts came to my mind after listening to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, then U.S. President Barack Obama and the following day Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani speak on the Iran nuclear deal.

The first thought was that all agreed that what was decided in Lausanne was an “achievement.” This was surprising given the fact we had heard for days on end that “sticking points” threatened to derail the whole negotiating process. The discussions were said to be concentrating on technical issues and sanctions relief without touching on politics. Negotiators talked a lot about technical details that are barely understood by ordinary people, though they mean much to a country hoping to join the “nuclear club.” Sanctions were also an important issue, especially as the Tehran regime sees them as an economic blockade aimed at defeating it politically.

The second thought was: why does Iran need nuclear capabilities—not to mention nuclear weapons—when the international community has tacitly recognized the regional status it was seeking when it raised the banner of “exporting revolution” in the early days of Khomeini’s takeover? The only difference we see today is that Tehran’s rulers do not need to cover their hegemony project with an Islamic veneer. Their project is now uncovered as “Persian hegemony,” proven by no less than the controversial words of Ali Younesi, President Rowhani’s adviser, who described the Iraqi capital Baghdad as the “capital of the Iranian Empire”!

Shrewd hagglers

Throughout the last few years Iranian nuclear negotiators have been negotiating like shrewd hagglers in a bazaar. They were later emboldened by the realization that they were dealing with an American administration that has turned the classic Washington strategy for the Middle East upside down. In fact, it is worth remembering too that as the nuclear negotiations were taking place, Washington and Tehran were secretly talking in Muscat, keeping Washington’s European and Arab “allies” in the dark. These Muscat talks were most held in full knowledge of the political map in the Arab Middle East where three Arab countries have fallen to Iran’s hegemony.

Throughout the last few years Iranian nuclear negotiators have been negotiating like shrewd hagglers in a bazaar. They were later emboldened by the realization that they were dealing with an American administration that has turned the classic Washington strategy for the Middle East upside down

Eyad Abu Shakra

The early signs of Washington’s change of direction, at least vis-à-vis Iran, became clear after President Barack Obama gave two frank interviews with American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg last year. Obama was outspoken in blaming America’s Arab Sunni allies, saying: “I think that there are shifts that are taking place in the region that have caught a lot of them off guard. I think change is always scary,” adding, “What I’ve been saying to our partners in the region is ‘We’ve got to respond and adapt to change’.”

Then the full implications of this change of direction were confirmed when the Obama administration agreed to take part in military operations in support of the pro-Iranian Iraqi government against the onslaught of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This came after three years of consistently refusing to establish safe havens and enforce no-fly zones in Syria in order to protect civilians, even after Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons and indiscriminate shelling in the form of barrel bombs.

Gulf reassurance

In his speech after the “agreement” in Lausanne, Obama was keen to sound cautious and reserved in his moment of “achievement,” but his reservation hardly convinced those who are now fully aware of what he is really seeking. Still, perhaps the most significant part of his speech was his confirmation that, in spite of the agreement with Tehran, Washington would remain committed to the security of its “allies.” First and foremost, of course, is Israel, to whose security America will always be committed regardless of the differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then came the turn to reassure the Gulf Arab states (particularly members of the Gulf Cooperation Council) of America’s commitment to their protection against aggression, and invite their leaders to a Camp David summit scheduled soon.

Well, the problem is neither here nor there; i.e. it is not with those whom Obama choses to reassure, but rather the unlucky ones he has chosen to discard and ignore.

The American president did not say a word about Iraq, Syria and Yemen where Iran is fighting on the ground, nor did he mention Lebanon which is virtually occupied by Iran’s Hezbollah and remains without an elected president because Hezbollah insists on appointing its own puppet to the post. The capitals of all four countries that were totally absent from Obama’s speech are said to be under Iranian control, according to Tehran officials.

A few years ago an Arab monarch warned of what he described as the “Shi’ite Crescent” being established by Iran in the Fertile Crescent region (Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon), which was later rightly corrected to “Persian Crescent”; a much more precise description. Later, an Arab president—now ex-president—criticized what he considered to be “some Arab Shiites’ full loyalty to Iran.”

Aggressive expansionism

During this period too, just before the now dead and buried “Arab Spring,” Iran’s aggressive expansionism accelerated in several Arab countries, as did its agitation, weapons build-up and interference in their internal affairs, in addition to outbidding Arab governments—even the Palestinian leadership—on issues like the “liberation of Palestine” and “fighting against America and Israel.”

However, the so-called “Arab Spring” brought with it upheavals and unpleasant experiences that uncovered how unhealthy Arab politics is, and how bad long-term dictatorships were, especially in terms of the damage they wreaked in their respective countries.

Consequently, the anathema of extremist terrorism appeared as a result of deep despair, frustration, the collapse of institutions, discredited national and nationalist slogans, and doubting everything and rejecting every opposing view. The terrible overall situation, alas, pushed many to find excuses for, and even empathize with, this damaging phenomenon. Sympathizers did not realize that this is exactly what their enemies hoped they would do in order to pigeon-hole them all as terrorism supporters; consequently making them a target in the global war on terrorism launched by the international community.

President Obama’s words about “protecting” America’s Arab allies while giving Iran the green light to conquer and occupy other Arab countries is a dangerous and destructive policy. We find ourselves faced with the scenario of protecting Arab countries surrounded from the north and the south by two “Persian Crescents.”

Are we about to accept being turned into “protectorates” after thinking of our countries for some time as independent states?

 

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 8, 2015.

 

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Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

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