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Obama’s historic mistake has dire repercussions

The deal has little to do with nuclear weapons and all to do with facilitating Iran becoming a regional power

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Published: Updated:

The deed has been done. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal, the key to the lifting of sanctions against the country.

Iran’s parliamentarians are hugging each other; most U.S. Republican lawmakers are highly skeptical if not downright enraged at what they perceive to be a deal with the devil. President Hassan Rowhani says Iran “has opened a new chapter” in its relations with the world while hailing the sanctions-lifting “a glorious victory”.

It certainly is a victory for Iran, especially when the IAEA stated that its nuclear weapons ambitions were shelved nine years ago. Not only does it stand to receive its frozen assets worth around $100 billion, global corporations, including major oil giants, are queuing up to negotiate lucrative deals. Moreover, Iran has reportedly been stockpiling oil to flood the market; this at a time when a glut has driven down prices.

President Barack Obama has sought to silence the deal’s critics asserting Iran’s implementation of the agreement “marks a fundamental shift in circumstances with respect to Iran’s nuclear program”. This is nothing but a red herring. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were pushing for a U.S.-Iranian detente long before they took office.

Saudi Arabia has woken up to the danger following Iran’s direct interference in its internal affairs and its use of proxies in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

In fact, I predicted this dark day – so detrimental to Arab interests and security – would come years ago. At its core, this has little to do with nuclear weapons and all to do with facilitating Iran becoming a regional power in league with Washington to exert control over Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states in particular, and to rebalance regional power in America’s favour.

Iranian-born American academic and author Vali Nasr warned of an upcoming showdown between Iran and Saudi Arabia in his book "The Shia Revival" claiming that Iran’s growing strength and reach makes it a preferred U.S. partner because it is too strong to destroy and should be brought onside with engagement rather than confrontation.

Obama’s former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel was quoted saying, “the United States must find a new regional diplomatic strategy to deal with Iran that integrates our regional allies, military power and economic leverage.”

‘Grand Bargain’

I am convinced there is much more to this narrow deal than meets the eye. I shared my concerns of a potential ‘Grand Bargain’ in a report to Gulf leaderships during June 2013 and I have laid out my fears in numerous columns since. If I was concerned then, I am deeply disturbed now. This is one time I hate to be right.

However, faced with this fait accompli the Arab world must join forces to shore up its defences. Thankfully, there are concrete moves in that direction. Saudi Arabia has woken up to the dangers following Iran’s direct interference in its internal affairs not to mention its use of proxies in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. I am somewhat relieved that a Joint Arab Force is on the table and a Muslim anti-terrorism coalition has been formed with the participation of 34 predominately Muslim states.

Sad to say that among our sister nations there are those enjoying close relationships with Iran in a less than transparent way. We know that behind the scenes they have been furthering Iranian interests during its years of virtual isolation. Now they are no longer needed, it is only a matter of time before Iran turns on them too. They need to be cautioned by the GCC and if they continue their pro-Iranian policies, then we have no choice but to build a Trump-style wall between us and them.

Most importantly, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states can no longer rely on mere verbal assurances from their U.S. ally purporting to be their protector when President Obama and his Secretary of State celebrate the release of billions of dollars to the biggest supporter of terrorism in our times. Obama has admitted that there are no guarantees that a portion of those billions will not go to advance Iran’s ideological and territorial ambitions within the region.

Hezbollah, which the U.S. has generously removed from its terrorist blacklist, will continue its killing spree in Syria and Iraq with impunity and will be free to transform Lebanon into an Iranian province. Iran’s efforts to grab control of Yemen and Bahrain, upon which it has made successive territorial claims, will be strengthened by mega sums of cash.

Friends’ concerns

Obama is aware the money will be spent on terrorism and the further destabilisation of the Middle East and in particular the Gulf, but has ignored the concerns of America’s friends in his rush to seal a narrow agreement, which fails to take Iran’s crimes into account.

Obama has tried to placate GCC countries with an invitation to heads of states to meet with him at his Camp David retreat. Just last week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir to persuade him there is nothing to worry about. According to press reports he is not buying this argument especially since the Obama administration expressed its “dismay” over the execution of convicted terrorist Nimr al-Nimr while seeming less dismayed over the torching of the Kingdom’s embassy and consulate by rabble suspected of being in the regime’s pay.

The U.S. must put its money where its mouth is. Sweet words partnered with yet more offers of weapon sales will not provide us with a good night’s sleep. Basically, our governments must receive clarification from Mr. Obama whether the U.S. is with us or with Iran. We must demand that the White House proves it genuinely has our interests at heart by leaning on Tehran to comply with the following measures:

• The official severing of Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, which is strangling Lebanon and has chosen the wrong sides in both Syria and Iraq.

• An end to Iran’s arming and financial support of Houthis in Yemen.

• A commitment from Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei to dismantle its terrorist cells within Gulf states and to quit their infiltration with spies.

• Tehran’s agreement to negotiate the independence of Arabistan, renamed Khuzestan following Iran’s seizure, so that the Ahwazi Arab population, which has been reduced to third-class citizens, can regain their independence, natural resources and dignity.

• Iran’s acceptance that the body of water it refers to as the “Persian Gulf” is henceforth known as the “Arabian Gulf” given that 85 percent of the population of countries surrounding the Gulf (including Ahwazi Arabs) are Arab.

I must point out that I have nothing against the Iranian people of whatever faith or sect. They have all been oppressed socially, economically and politically since 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini turned up to send the country back to the Middle Ages. Despite its wealth, up to 55 percent of urban Iranians live under the poverty line. People there live in fear in a country where women are stoned, men hung from cranes in public places and even poets and song writers are jailed and lashed.

Given that the U.S., which fought hard for the deal, is now Iran’s prime benefactor, the Obama administration should find ways to ensure the billions of dollars released are used to build the economy, improve infrastructure and create jobs. It must tie any future rapprochement to an improvement in Iran’s miserable human rights record.

I look forward to the day when the Iranian people reject their fanatical regime and reclaim freedom and prosperity they enjoyed under the Shah. Only then should Iran be welcomed into the community of nations – and in that event I will be celebrating too.

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Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.

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