The problem with Lausanne’s deal and Iran

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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The nuclear deal reached in Lausanne between Iran and the West has stirred a big controversy. The debate is building up in the lead up to the forthcoming Camp David summit that U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to hold with the leaders of the Arab Gulf states to discuss the deal and its repercussions.

The last ‘preacher’ on the deal was Vali Nasr, an expert in the region’s affairs, a writer, political science professor, and adviser to a number of official departments in Washington. He stated in the “New York Times” that he does not know why Arabs are unhappy with the deal between Iran and the West, as he believes it is in favor of the Arabs.

He thinks that the Lausanne deal will incorporate Iran into the global economy, and this alone would automatically exert restrictions on Tehran’s government’s policy on the region and on its behavior.

Nasr criticized Arab countries and said they were still adopting a reverse logic, because they believed Iran was the main component responsible for their countries’ instability, and that Iran’s aggressiveness was inoperable.

He also believes that Arab countries should seize the opportunity that is looming on the horizon and take advantage of Iran’s commitment, in order to work on the development of their economies, which actually represents a real challenge.

His opinions echo comments Obama made in an interview with Thomas Friedman, in which he said the Arabs were blaming their neighbor Iran, and yet they were at risk from the inside.

'State of hopelessness’

Are we being paranoid about Iran, or is Mr Nasr just a used-car salesman who thinks that he is able to advertise what the U.S. administration has failed to promote?

First, we are not in a state of hopelessness, rather a state of anger. Arabs had hoped Obama would not only care about discontinuing Iran’s nuclear capabilities or keep mum about its policy and aggressive behavior.

Iran is more like North Korea, a state that believes in force and confrontation and rely on maneuvering. This is not paranoia but a long record of Iranian sponsorship of violence in the region

Iran is not Cuba, an old communist country, whose utmost ambitions today are to sell cigars and be a touristic destination for the Americans, and whose danger wiped out with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties.

In fact, Iran is more like North Korea, a state that believes in force and confrontation and rely on maneuvering. This is not paranoia but a long record of Iranian sponsorship of violence in the region.

‘Ethnic wars’

Iranian officials are proud about the existence of militias. Iranians are involved in the fighting in Syria and Iraq, and Iran has sponsored and supported the rebels in Yemen for years, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has confirmed that.

I am surprised that a professor like Nasr would say that Yemen has been suffering from ethnic wars for decades, and that therefore there is no blame on Iran. This is not true.

He might say that about Somalia or Lebanon, but Sunnis and Yazidis were living peacefully in Yemen. Yemen’s tribal feuds were limited and over the years, there were only clashes between Houthis and the central government. As for the Sunnis and Yazidis, they did not take part in the conflicts prior to last year.

The problem with Iran is not sectarian, even though it publicly supports and funds Shiite extremism such as the Lebanese “Hezbollah”. Conversely, its strategies are also to fund different armed groups such as the Sunni “Islamic Jihad” and Palestinian “Hamas” as well.

Sabotaging the Middle East

We cannot be accused of paranoia, because Iran holds a 30-year-old record of sabotaging the Middle East. The irony is that Iran’s hostile activities have dramatically increased during its recent negotiations with the “P5+1” group of nations.

Nasr suggests that the Gulf countries should benefit from years-long nuclear-freeze and take heed to develop their economies, rather than engaging in a fight against Iran. Will he be able to enlighten us on how to do so?

The deal only prevents Iran from developing nuclear arms for at least 10 years. But it does not restrict Iran from waging an assault

A visit to the two shores of the Gulf shows the nature of the two regimes; quite similar to the border landmarks between North and South Korea. On the east bank, where Iran is, there are deserted beaches, desolate mountains, and huge military camps.

Whereas on the west bank - the six Gulf States - there are thriving modern capitals, massive industrial petrochemical complexes, oil refineries and many industrial cities.

Iran does not have anything to lose if the Gulf countries waged a war against it, as they spent most of their savings on the development of military capabilities. So what exactly does Vali Nasr want the Arab States to do, especially when President Obama decides to free Iran from the cage? Should the Gulf countries blindly trust this deal?

The deal only prevents Iran from developing nuclear arms for at least 10 years. But it does not restrict Iran from waging an assault, which might be more dangerous for the Arabs. It’s like the Western countries signing a nuclear agreement with North Korea and then withdrawing their troops from the demilitarized buffer zone - would they be able to guarantee that North Korean forces would not sneak into Seoul?

The challenges with Iran are not only on a military level, but also tackle security issues. What else could have been done in a draft deal with Iran?

Eradicating the tension

I believe it could have included clauses dealing with the source of tension, including guarantees assuring Iran that there would be no aggression from Israel and the West, because Iran is always worried about this issue and claim it is the reason behind its development of conventional and nuclear military capabilities.

By that same token, the deal should also guarantee there will be no aggression from the Iranian side on the neighboring Arab countries. The deal should have also included the region’s countries at variance with Iran, as well as Israel, to draft an agreement reassuring everyone and eradicating the tension between the countries.

When the United States negotiated with the government of Pyongyang on its nuclear program, the concerned countries of the region were all involved, including Japan and South Korea. As for the deal with Iran, all the countries of the region were kept in the dark. They heard about the deal through leaked news in the Israeli and American press. The deal is suspicious as it addresses the needs of the West alone.

This article first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 17, 2015.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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