The last days had a few notable headlines in the Middle East, including two visits made by two high-ranking officials: an American and an Iranian, along with the forthcoming Iraqi elections. While the essence of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian’s visit is well-known through his statements that are circulated by media outlets, I dare not claim knowing the points of discussion between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and officials of the GCC countries, although I do not exclude Iran being high on the agenda in their discussions.
Meanwhile, one should recall that Iran is always present in the core of the two ongoing electoral battles in Iraq and Lebanon, and in particular areas in Syria that are being shelled in a semi-routine manner, which means that the future of Iran’s role in the region is a constant element in Arab political reality, whether the Arabs accepted it or not.
As a matter of fact, none of the Arab politicians underestimates the role of Iran and its significance, and Teheran’s need to protect itself against real or imagined threats. Contrarywise, Arab leaderships, including those of countries subject to Iranian hostility or others that are directly attacked by it or its militias, have expressed their willingness to open a new chapter of neighborly understanding, coexistence, and respect with Teheran. However, the actual events were and are a direct indication of Iran’s persistence on inciting aggression, dismantling the institutions, and undermining the social contract of the countries it either occupies or targets.
For instance, in Yemen there are no indications that the Houthis act independently from the Iranian regional policy, or that they respond to international efforts and initiatives. Instead, and amid the suspicious international disregard of their violations, the Houthis are continuing their expansionist military campaign towards Marib, meanwhile attacking civilian positions both in Yemen and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In Lebanon, Abdollahian seemed to behave rather like a landowner who was inspecting the condition of his property with his agents. The Iranian official in Beirut reiterated Teheran’s commitment to its method in dealing with Lebanon, undermining its statehood, dominating its remnants, and disrupting its Arab and international ties. Abdollahian also affirmed his government’s willingness to increase the amount of oil it will export to Lebanon, in a repetitive violation of international resolutions (particularly American), regarding commercial exchange with Iran.
It is worth mentioning here that directly before arriving in Beirut, the Iranian Foreign Minister – with his Iranian Revolutionary Guard background – visited Moscow, then Damascus. Former Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin commented on these visits, saying: “They point to the amount of coordination between the countries he visited,” adding: “Today, Iran has become closer to Russia, and their relationship extends beyond a partnership and works on guaranteeing security in the Caucasus and in the Gulf Region.”
Such statements must be carefully read, especially as some sides in the Arab World have started to become optimistic regarding a diminishing Iranian influence in Syria. In the same vein, as the countdown for US withdrawal from Iraq has started, it is highly unlikely that the results of the Iraqi elections would reduce the great influence of the country’s Iran-affiliated militias.
The accelerating Arab ‘normalization’ with Damascus during the last year was based on two justifications; the need to oust Iran and its militias from the Syrian arena, and an attempt to allure the Syrian regime to resort to the Arab option instead of Iran. However, Zasypkin’s statement does not indicate any considerable conflict of interests between Moscow, Teheran, and the Syrian regime. Additionally, the US and Israel do not seem to be categorically against an Iranian presence in Syria “according to specific conditions” like those that currently seem to apply in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen.
The US has been confining its carrot and stick policy with Teheran solely to the Iranian nuclear file, which indicates that the central issue to Washington is the likelihood of Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel and the West – although Arab diplomacy has already made the US and European countries aware that the militias affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard did not accomplish their de facto occupation of Lebanon, Yemen, Lebanon, along with significant parts of Syria through resorting to nuclear weapons. The residents of these four Arab countries have a problem with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is boasting the occupation of their four capitals, and not with the Iranian nuclear capabilities. Their problem is with an occupation that is tearing apart their social fabric, destroying their economy, development, education, and jurisdiction, causing a brain drain, and inciting extremism, ignorance, and submissiveness.
In spite of that, the international community is bragging about a ‘magic remedy’ called the elections. What kind of elections will be held under such factors and such a political culture? How could elections be regulated when their guidelines and rules are subject to change as per the wishes of gunmen? How could elections be held in the shadows of guns? How could the citizens cast their ballots and express their opinions freely if they do not feel secure and safe?
The Iraqi elections might bring about some change, and the elections scheduled to take place in Lebanon next year might also produce some slight alternations, but in both cases the few advantages that might result from the elections are meagre compared to their disadvantages. Any elections held under such conditions of tremendous imbalance of power, immigration, and displacement of scores of thousands are nothing more than a ‘certificate of good conduct’ granted to the occupier, and a method to ease off the international community’s share of guilt in our tragedies, of which it was also an instigator.
The international community is well-aware of the reality in our region, although it acts as if it is not. Apart from Ideals which we hear on each occasion, it is hard to see how interests always win against ethical principles and other considerations. This is why French President Immanuel Macron has entirely overlooked the reality of the Lebanese crisis and how the country fell under the control of a mini state that is living inside it, and on its account. When President Macron acknowledges a government that approves the influence of Hezbollah, he disregards a historical French heritage of the keenness of Paris to protect Levantine Christians. Instead, he works on establishing a ‘regional order,’ with which France has become economically and geopolitically connected.
Moving to Washington, one could pose a question to the decision makers in the White House regarding their expectations of Iraq’s future following the US withdrawal. The answer to that question, though, might be easier than what the US expects or aspired for in Syria.
We are going through a comprehensive strategic regional crisis, and the international community is excelling in innovating ways to avoid handling the core of this crisis, and instead wasting time by dealing with its façade.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.