On 18 January, the official Iranian news agency IRNA stated that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will pay an official visit to Abu Dhabi on 7 February. However, the appointed day has passed without Raisi showing up in the UAE. The clear change to the schedule comes after a number of attacks with drone planes and ballistic missiles launched by the Yemeni Iran-backed Ansar Allah movement, also known as the Houthis, and after an obscure group in Iraq declared its responsibility for an unauthenticated attack with a drone plane on the UAE following an exceptional visit made by UAE National Security Advisor Sheihk Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Tehran.
Additionally, on 31 December 2021, it was announced that an Iranian trade delegation, headed by the industry, mining, and trade minister along with other high-ranking officials, was scheduled to visit the UAE on 6 and 9 February to attend a UAE-Iranian symposium on business and investment opportunities. However, the Houthi rockets started to fall on Abu Dhabi, and the forum was cancelled.
In the same vein, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian had a telephone call with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, where Abdollahian described the mutual ties as “positive and progressive,” adding that the ongoing conflict in Yemen “does not serve the interests of the warring sides or the region”. Abdollahian also criticized the expanding Israeli presence in the region, labeling it as a threat to all countries there.
It is well-known that Tehran has always claimed its keenness on converging with near Arab countries. Anyway, it is incapable now of doing anything in that regard, since Israel has established a clear presence at the Iranian southwestern maritime border.
Recently, the Houthi militias have suffered severe losses on the battlefield at the hands of the UAE-backed Al Amaliqah brigades, which prompted Tehran to push the Houthi militias to further action. However, this time the retaliation to Iran came unexpectedly from the UAE’s activation of its strategic agreement with France, and from the US’s assignment of some of its warplanes to defend Abu Dhabi under the leadership of US Central Command Head General Kenneth McKenzie. Thus, Raisi’s visit has been delayed.
In the same context, it is noteworthy to track the developments last Friday related to lifting the sanctions on Tehran before the latter signs a nuclear deal, which till then was an issue out of discussion for the US administration. The statement made by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian shocked everyone with its tone of challenge to the world’s strongest country – for the time being at least. It was astonishing to see the Iranian minister displaying overstated self-confidence when he demanded assurances that would bind future US administrations to abide by the agreement’s articles and prevent them from withdrawing from its terms and conditions, as was done by former President Donald Trump. Such a demand is in the first place a violation of US’s Constitution and political norms. Additionally, Abdollahian pointed out that US’s new measures regarding the sanctions were “good, but inadequate.” Earlier, he also made a statement indicating the necessity of compensating Iran for the damage caused by the sanctions since the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal, even noting that Tehran has informed Washington through mediators that the latter is obliged to prove its goodwill! Abdollahian said: “We have demanded assurances on all the political, judicial, and economic levels.” One wonders where this amount of self-confidence stems from! Moreover, why should the US yield to the defiance and dictations of Tehran and its leaders since the Iranian regime only represents bloody oppression of its own people, and flagrant violation of the sovereignty and well-being of the regional states and peoples through its proxies?
At last, but never least, what about the Iranian threat to the Israeli state? It was described by the leaders in Tel Aviv as an existential threat to Israel, adding that the latter would act unilaterally if it had to in order to eradicate the Iranian nuclear program by the use of force. Last Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Neftali Bennet said that US President Joe Biden is openly in favor of Israel’s freedom of movement in taking any action against Iran, regardless if a new nuclear deal with the latter is approved or not. Bennet added that Biden expressed his opinion in that regard during a telephone call between both personalities last Sunday, during which the US President expressed his “firm support of Israel’s security and freedom of action.” However, Biden did not mention Iran in particular within the context of that statement.
At any rate, it should be admitted that Tehran has well considered US Democrat’s mindset and the strategic tendencies of President Biden and his administration, which surely constitute a continuity in the path of former President Barack Obama.
The suffering of the Iranian people due to the sanctions that affected the infrastructure and tremendously worsened the living standards, making 70% of them live under the poverty line, is the least concern to the totalitarian regime in Tehran who never cares about the well-being of its own people. This innate carelessness of the regime helped it prolong the talks and procrastinate the key issues with the countries at the other side of the negotiation table, foremost the US, never shedding a tear if half of the Iranian people die of starvation. In that respect the Tehran regime is identical with that of North Korea, whose people had suffered a famine just to preserve the regime of Kim Il Jong and his son Kim Jong On, and their nuclear arsenal. Apparently, the US administration is again opting for relinquishing the weapon of sanctions in exchange for halting the Iranian nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has passed the first year of its term with no significant achievements domestically or internationally. Some believe that President Biden is incapable of achieving progress in any of the pending key files, due to his old age and reluctance. This administration considered the US withdrawal from Afghanistan an accomplishment, whereas many regarded it as a humiliating departure that partially diminished the prestige of the strongest army in the world. Hence, President Biden is in need of a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear file, since such a deal would polish his image as a significant achievement during his presidency. Furthermore, it is important to recall that congressional midterm elections are due next November, and it became almost a custom that the ruling party would lose these elections. Currently, the Democrats have only a very slight majority in the Congress, and this is prompting President Biden to ease the burden of troubles he took upon his shoulders. Hence, a deal with Iran might help in that regard if it results in a halt of Tehran’s nuclear program. Additionally, such a deal would give the US administration the chance to focus entirely on China and its affairs, taken that the latter constitutes the foremost competitor to the US for the position of the world’s most powerful country.
Returning to the Iranian threat to Israel, the statements made by Neftali Bennet and his military command oppose any concessions made to Iran in the negotiations before the latter dismantles its uranium-enrichment plants, and hands over a large portion of its enriched material, considering the Iranian nuclear program and ballistic missiles an existential threat to the Israeli state. However, the recent announcement by the US Secretary of State on a partial lifting of sanctions on Iran went almost unnoticed by Tel Aviv, as if it were the least side interested in it!
As a matter of fact, there is a common opinion among leading figures of the Israeli military that Iran’s obtainment of nuclear weapons will not grant it military superiority over its Israeli counterpart since Tel Aviv possesses scores and scores of additional nuclear warheads. Besides, history illustrates that the likelihood of resorting to these weapons is quite meagre, and thus some Israelis seem not to really mind Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. However, this entails that it is the Arabs who should be most concerned with such a possibility, rather than Israel.
Accordingly, Tel Aviv’s silence indicates its apparent indifference to the presence of the so-called Iranian existential threat, which is reminiscent of its indifference to the late Egyptian President Jamal Abdel Nasser and his nationalist anti-Zionist trend that swept through the entire Arab world, and its indifference to the emergence of President Saddam Hussein. The Jewish state is a mixture of various and incompatible nations and peoples of irreconcilable traditions, norms, and values, including East European, West European, American, Moroccan, Iraqi, Iranian, and Yemeni Jews, let alone those who were brought in from Ethiopia. Thus, the one thing that would bind them together is an imminent state of war and the presence of an external enemy, and this is where Iran and its proxies, including HAMAS, Hezbollah, and the Houthi militias perform their required role as an enemy that is lying in wait in order to wipe out the state of Israel, albeit such role is merely performed through noisy military parades, brigades names, slogans such as “O Jerusalem, We Are Coming,” or illusionary triumphs. This is the formula that would unify the Jewish peoples inside the state of Israel.
If honest Arab hardliners wished to review the history of conflict with Israel from an objective viewpoint, they would recognize that the Israeli community was never split during wars, but only when the late Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat embarked on visiting Jerusalem, causing a vertical division in the Israeli community between the proponents of the “Peace Now” movement, and the hawks of the ultra-right.
However, what about Iranian aspirations regarding the recent US proposal?
Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji said that Iran will become a gasoline and gasoil importer in the two or three forthcoming years because of high local consumption, adding : “We have signed additional contracts worth 1.46 daily barrels within a period of 4 to 6 years for oil refineries that produce the raw materials for petrochemical plants.” He pointed out that there is a need for some 2.5 to 3$ billion to be able to add 100.000 daily barrels to the oil refinement productivity, adding that arrangements will be made to supply the needed amount. Owji noted that Iran is capable of exporting 2.5 million barrels daily, adding that its daily productivity reaches about 4 million barrels per day.
In the same vein, Iranian National Oil Company envoy member deputy Farooq Alikhani said: “If US sanctions on Iranian oil exports were lifted, we will become capable of raising our productivity back to their 2018 levels which reached 4 million barrels per day, and this is the aim we are seriously seeking to achieve by 2022 to 2023”. Owji pointed out that his country is considering large foreign investments, particularly from Russia and China, saying: “In the forthcoming eight years, we will dedicate some 15 to 20$ billion to developing oil and gas fields. According to a 25-year agreement with China, a similar sum will be invested, and we will attempt to close an identical deal with the Russians.”
Iran is also keeping an eye on Saudi Arabia, as the fifth round of talks between Tehran and Riyadh has been delayed. Meanwhile, a Saudi source declared: “We seek to achieve an oil productivity of 13.5 million barrels per day by 2027.”
This article was published in, and translated from pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.