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Iran is our neighbor, and we are theirs

The Islamic Republic is not an ordinary country with a small sphere of influence

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

For obvious reasons, news of the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of states overshadowed all other world news.

The Iranian nuclear file is an important one, primarily because of its connection with the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

This is not to mention the fact that Iran is not an ordinary country with a small sphere of influence. Moreover, the region in which Iran exists and with which it interacts is one of the most sensitive and dangerous in the world.

Some observers had expected a deal to be reached following the renewal of Barack Obama’s term in office and the election of the only moderate presidential candidate permitted to stand in Iran’s elections, Hassan Rowhani.

In fact, some observers privy to the situation behind the scenes in Washington were aware for some time of the intentions of Obama and his advisors to open up to Iran, while shutting the window left wide open to the sandstorms of the Middle East by previous U.S. administrations, most recently that of George W. Bush and the “neocons.”

At this point, we should not forget that Obama is a “liberal” president who prides himself on being “reasonable” and an “intellectual.” This halo was consecrated when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Exploiting the American public’s weariness of Bush’s adventurism, during his election campaign Obama pledged to follow a foreign policy of non-intervention.

The problem is that events of historic proportions shook the Middle East in late 2010 and throughout 2011. The Americans dubbed these events the “Arab Spring” before anyone else.

Since then, however, it has become clear that Obama was not as ready as the leader of the world’s only superpower should have been to deal with these events and their consequences. Moreover, Obama lacked a realistic and moral vision for resolving the problems facing the region, which has been of strategic importance to US interests for decades.

Establishment of Israel

Regardless of Arab oil and Washington’s interest in it since the 1930s, the U.S. was the first country in the world to recognize the establishment of the state of Israel in the heart of the Mashreq in 1948. The region, including Iran and Turkey, also played a significant role following the Cold War with respect to the West’s strategic alliances, which aimed to contain Communism and especially the Central Treaty Organization CENTO, once known as the Baghdad Pact.

During the Suez Crisis, the U.S. inherited the West’s influence, and particularly British influence. It was particularly keen to maintain its strategic interests in the face of the growing Soviet threat in the Third World.

One acknowledges the fact that the Iranian people have suffered from the international sanctions imposed on their country and have every right, just like any other people, to benefit from their country’s resources

Eyad Abu Shakra

Last but not least, the U.S. encouraged and supported “political Islam” during its confrontation with communism, recruiting it in its battle to put an end to the Soviet era, starting with Afghanistan. In fact, “political Islam” played a crucial role in the creation of the unipolar U.S.-dominated system that emerged from the rubble of its old Soviet foe.

The Middle East is an important region to those who want to exploit it; however, it is also a dangerous place for those who ignore its complexities. It appears now that President Obama has chosen to wash his hands of the region and leave it to its fate, or—and this is the more dangerous scenario—he has decided to subcontract it to the present administration in Iran.

U.S. interests are, of course, an American affair, and the buck stops at the president.

Every U.S. administration has its own political priorities, and the country today is slowly recovering from one of the worst economic crises in its history. However, superpowers have commitments and regional alliances as well as cultural, political and economic ties.

Those ties are bound to be affected, one way or another, when one administration decides to change its priorities without taking into account the interests and concerns of its regional allies.

Endless deprivation

At this point, one acknowledges the fact that the Iranian people have suffered from the international sanctions imposed on their country and have every right, just like any other people, to benefit from their country’s resources. In humanitarian terms, the Iranian people—who live in one of the world’s richest, most beautiful countries which boast one of the most ancient civilizations—must not suffer endless deprivation.

However, based on the same logic, the patient Iranian people are already suffering in a different way under a radical regime that is being increasingly dominated by a security apparatus while its decision-making is being hijacked by the ultra-conservatives. Every report issued by international organizations confirms that the Iranian regime has been acting heavy-handedly against its domestic opposition, including even those who until recently occupied high offices of state. The same reports also confirm that Tehran practices a policy of ruthless discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.

Beyond its borders, Iran is carrying out blatant military intervention and provoking sectarian strife in a number of neighboring countries. Tehran is imposing a de facto occupation on three Arab states, namely Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, while inciting sectarian violence in other countries. The Iranian regime is exposing sectarian and religious sensitivities that will, first and foremost, benefit radical groups. In many cases, these are the same groups that Tehran has denounced as “infidels,” and so Iran is simultaneously confronting and sponsoring these radical organizations.

Iranian rights

Once again, I stress that it is the right of the Iranian people to enjoy a decent standard of living in their country. Furthermore, a state such as Iran has every right to develop whatever technology they see fit so long as it is for peaceful purposes. This is particularly the case given that there are some neighboring countries that have already developed nuclear capabilities and currently possess a nuclear stockpile.

The only problem the nuclear deal with Iran raises is the fact that it did not take into account the political actions of the powers that be in Tehran. This is made worse by Washington’s lack of transparency over its approach, which aimed at politically “rehabilitating” Iran at a time when it is embroiled in a devastating civil war in Syria and is in the process of transforming both Iraq and Lebanon into failed states.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry—who never misses a chance to thank Russia for “facilitating” the deals on Syria’s chemical weapons and now the Iranian nuclear file—is seeking to assure Washington’s friends and regional allies. The reality is that the problem with Kerry and Obama is that by begging for a deal with Tehran, they have taken some of their European allies—as well as Israel, Washington’s number-one ally in the Middle East—by surprise.

Given this unpleasant reality, Washington will face great difficulty in convincing the rational observer of its future promises. Although Washington said that it will seek to test Iran’s intentions over the next six months, turning the page on the Assad regime and limiting Iran’s regional ambitions truly represent the key test of Washington’s intentions.


This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 28, 2013.

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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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