Whenever American-Iranian political reconciliation looms on the horizon we panic. This is what is happening these days after Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama crossed paths in the corridors of the United Nations building, but did not meet.
Some of us might go to the extent of thinking a “conspiracy” is being cooked up, others might believe that there is a hidden alliance and cooperation between the two countries and will soon be revealed. An American-Iranian alliance will officially be announced at our expense, us in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. We would then fall from sitting on the lap of the U.S., only to see Iran taking our place there at the expense of our interests and rights.
I believe that we all need psychotherapy sessions and courses in real political science so we can recover our self-confidence and see that we are stronger than we think. I would like to quote here Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former ambassador to U.S. and head of Saudi intelligence, who once stated that “Iran is a tiger made of paper.”
With a President like Barack Obama, Iranians can arrange a “settlement” for a long-term peace agreement in the region with their wide smile.Jamal Khashoggi
We simply need to be focused in order to identify our strategic allies and our constant interests, and realize that the Arabs were able to make a place for themselves in the history of the Middle East that also was home to super powers, such as the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine kingdom.
The Middle East is then capable of containing every country of the region, including Iran and Turkey, and we have to be aware that a reconciliation with Iran is in the interest of everyone and that we have to look forward to it more than the Americans. However, we need to form a block of allies that are not affected by narrow interests and who share with us the same vision of a “nation,” a noble term that some are trying to destroy in order to achieve a bigger interest.
We should all forget about the old fighting rules that prevailed in the region until the end of the seventies. We no longer need the post of the “region’s policemen,” which was the main reason behind the rivalry between the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Israel.
Saddam Hussein had at the same time thanked and blamed the U.S. presence in the Middle East. Saddam altered the ethical codes for Arabs in the region after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The average Gulf Arab was shocked and did not recover yet so it welcomed the U.S. military presence in the region after it had previously rejected it with the rest of the Arabs.
An inevitable conflict
The second rule that should also be abolished is that the Iranian-Arab conflict is inevitable. Some of us would go farther and give it a sectarian side, speaking of a Sunni-Shiite conflict, so they call to mind historical facts about the confrontations between Safavid and Ottoman Empires, the conspiracies of the Shiites in the Abbasid palaces, and their struggle with Salah ad-Din. These subjects should not be brought out of history books and injected in our contemporary political scene. Iran bears the responsibility for it more than others because it has distinguished itself since its revolution victory, through a “sectarian” constitution that was stretched to reach “vulnerable” Shiites in the Arab world, and was ready without any hesitation to fight “vulnerable” Sunnis, if they ever revolted against a secular Baathist repressive regime like Syria’s.
The rise of Shiite fundamentalism has coincided with the rise of similar Salafist fundamentalism, which is an Islamic current, soaked in the history and conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites. The two intellectual and ideological cases interlaced with the real policy, hence the relations conflicted but there was an always wise person like Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who set the standards for the relationship with Iran during the presidency of Rafsanjani who was also a wise president. When the Ahmadinejad came to power, the relationship deteriorated. Nevertheless, the Saudi king has never stopped trying to recover the ties with the Iranian president but in vain.
So the quest for the normalization of relations with Iran is a “real policy,” from which the kingdom will benefit. Saudi Arabia has tried it several times and the UAE are still practicing it through enormous economic relations despite its firm demands to restore the three islands occupied by Iran. Oman has also implemented this policy during the first visit to Iran by a foreign leader since moderate President Hassan Rowhani came to power. Sultan Qaboos is said to have conveyed a message from the United States to Iran.
The U.S. and the West have changed; there is no longer an aggressive America that is willing to order its intelligence agency to conspire and overthrow an elected prime minister as it did in the fifties with Dr. Mossadegh, which formed a wave of hatred between Khomeini's Iran and the great Satan. America and the West abandoned their “colonial” character and their mission as the world’s police from the Philippines to Panama through Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Gulf too. Unfortunately for the Syrian people, the purification moment has only hit the old imperialist world, while they are in dire need for an “unconcealed imperialist interference” that would save them from a dictator who is ready to kill them with a chemical weapon.
Therefore, the reconciliation -and not deal since it is an imperialist word”-with Iran is now possible more than ever, but the problem is Iran because the Iranians are the only ones who do not want to change. They want to use all the previous changes for the interest of their policy; for instance, negotiating on their nuclear project means that we will continue to negotiate and they will continue with their project. As for the peaceful solution in Syria, it means that Saudis and Turks should stop supporting the opposition, while Iran continues sending tons of weapons and thousands of men along with Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Qods Force, to protect the Sayeda Zeinab’s shrine! And while doing this “holy” task, Bashar will eventually stay in power, and may all the Takfiri Syrian people go to hell.
With a President like Barack Obama, Iranians can arrange a “settlement” for a long-term peace agreement in the region with their wide smile, the kind articles of president Rowhani and his good willing promises published all over American newspapers. During that time, the projects of Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader will be sustained, with the graciousness and kindness of Sheikh Rowhani.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Sept. 29, 2013.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi