Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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An Iran-US deal: A potential disaster

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In light of the unprovoked and utterly illegal Russian incursion into Ukraine, an ongoing crisis that has sent shockwaves throughout the world, signals from Washington and Tehran suggest that an American-Iranian deal on the nuclear program is imminent. The issue of signing a new agreement, one of whose consequences is returning to the old agreement signed in 2015, is expected in the near future. The Islamic republic sent a message to its allies such as the Syrian regime that it can take advantage of the Ukrainian crisis and of the global and European need for the gas it possesses to reach a satisfactory deal with the Biden administration—a deal that is to a great extent in its interest.

In but a few years from now, it will become clear whether the Iranian optimism was right and whether the US administration is able, in light of the US circumstances, to sign such an agreement with Iran— providing the Islamic republic with billions of dollars after it was nearly brought to its knees by the previous administration’s escalating sanctions. These billions will allow Iran to bring new life into its expansionist project, which has already devoured several Arab countries, starting with Lebanon. Iran managed to destroy Lebanon and its social fabric in ways even that country – long torn by decades of civil war – had never experienced before. It also succeeded in spreading all forms of desperation and disarray in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The Islamic regime—with the aid of Houthis—managed to turn part of Yemen into nothing more than a launching pad for the Iranian missiles and drones that pose a threat to the Arab Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In Syria, Iran managed to change the demographic makeup on sectarian lines and succeeded in keeping Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. This was accomplished with the help of its sectarian militias, and especially with heavy Russian involvement, as of 2015. In 2011, 90% of Syrian crude oil exports went to Europe, as per the United States’ Energy Information Administration; in 2020, agriculture and raw materials formed the overwhelming majority of Syrian exports to the EU. In 2018, Russia obtained exclusive rights to rebuild the Syrian oil and gas sector, which is to say control over Syrian oil. 

In Iraq, Tehran has derailed political life. No new president has been elected, and no cabinet has been installed though the parliamentary election was held last October. 

It’s no secret that a considerable number of officials in the US administration in Washington believe that it’s possible to engage with Iran as part of a policy that seeks to achieve, among other objectives, to find other sources for the gas Europe imports from Russia. 

What is the Biden administration appears heedless about is the fact that it should avoid making the mistake of reinvigorating Iran, which necessarily includes its expansionist project and militias. Reaching a deal on the nuclear program is no longer singularly important. What is important is the comprehensive approximation to the region’s problems, whose core cause is the Iranian policy that fuels extremism and racism. 

For example, the Palestinian case has become nothing but a Trojan horse Iran uses to whitewash its activities in the region even as it actively persecutes the Ahwazi Arabs within its borders while looking to subjugate those beyond the Shatt-al-Arab.

In many respects, most immediately concerning the citizens of nations throughout the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear deal is something of a secondary issue compared to the Iranian activities in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Bahrain—to name a few. For example, are the Lebanese people concerned about the Iranian nuclear program or the weapons Hezbollah militias illegally possess, which they use to sabotage the country, its institutions and claim to be defending it? Are the Yemeni citizens concerned about the Iranian nuclear file and reaching an agreement between Washington and Tehran, or are their genuine concern about restoring the remains of state institutions and stopping the Houthis, i.e., “Ansar Allah” with Iranian support, from establishing their own state in northern Yemen over the corpse of a literally fragmented country? 

Whether another sham agreement is reached on the Iranian nuclear weapons program or not, there’s no discernible sign of a plan that will actually stop the Iranian nuclear project aiming to acquire atomic capability. 

The Islamic republic and Vladimir Putin remain nothing more than two sides of the same coin. Iran is currently manoeuvring to cut a deal with the Great Satan, nothing more and nothing less. It was remarkable that it abstained from voting on a UN proposed resolution to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine before the General Assembly. Iran, just like China, staked out a balanced position towards the Russian president’s adventure. This allows both nations to send a message to the US president and his administration. 

Will the US administration that was scared off by the Russian president’s threat to use its nuclear arsenal now fall for the Iranian manoeuvre? The US administration has taken the clear position that it will not provide air cover for Ukraine for fear of a head-on Russian-American collision. Unfortunately, NATO has embraced the same position, and thereby made an absolute mockery of its very purpose. As a result, Ukraine has been left alone in the face of the Russian military bloodily advancing towards its cities, displacing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians or the number of civilians being killed. To the survivors of Syria, both sights are all too familiar: seeing the tanks and warplanes attacking their cities, and seeing the other nations of the world turn away rather than taking action.

It is not a popular position, but it must be stressed that the Iranian expansionist project must take overriding precedence over its nuclear program. It seems ready every day to use it to destroy the Arab countries in the region. And that is the point – Iran’s desire for nuclear capability is not its own strategic goal, but a key component of its grand strategy aimed at conquering the Middle East.

It seems difficult—in light of the recent past experience – for the US administration to absorb this equation. As the US has failed to stand up to Russia in Ukraine, the impression is that Washington prepares itself for an era where the Iranian nuclear weapon will protect the expansionist project of the Islamic republic. 

It’s heartbreakingly clear that the US administration isn’t ready to learn from the recent past experiences— with Russia or with Iran. Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine wasn’t without a reason, and was not based on a whim. He waged the war after he saw no meaningful reaction from America when he decided to punish Georgia, annexed Crimea from Ukraine and sent his bombers to Syria to partake in the war waged by the oligarchic regime on its people, with direct support from the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

As to Iran, there’s no sign that the US will understand the flawed regional situation since George W. Bush decided to effectively hand over Iraq on a silver platter to Iran in 2003 and the shockwaves that reverberated throughout the region. Yet there’s no sign that the US administration ever grasped something so basic as the danger posed by the Obama administration’s decision to release billions of dollars in assets that Tehran used to expand throughout the region. 

The nations of the Middle East must understand these concepts now, and their leaders must engage in their own strategic analyses.

   Arabs must make their views clear to the world 

  • Amid all of the self-dealing between the US, Russia, Europe and Iran, no party has adequately consulted with Arabs, though the chaos facing Arab states is significantly caused by the Iranian project. 

  • Europe has acquiesced to Iranian interests and came to the conclusion that the Arab response won’t be shocking, harmful or even causing awkwardness. 

 If a nuclear deal is signed between Iran and the West in the coming few days, this means Iran will be given a free hand in the region. It’s a frightening scenario that no one could believe. It will be a terrible scenario seeing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states falling under the Iranian guillotine. Is it possible that the US could abandon its Arab allies and interests in the region just to please the Iranians? Or to surrender to Russia? This is unacceptable—even as a joke.

Iran is nothing but its militias that are battling throughout four Arab nations—and the door is open for entering other countries. It’s hard to imagine the US dealing with countries with diminished sovereignty. The storm of accepting a nuclear-armed Iran will blow out all the region’s countries. Yet it will harm the Western interests—foremost of which is the US interests. 

 Will the West be able to strike the right balance?

 Without its ability to export its revolution, the Iranian regime will seem toothless. This will happen only if the regime is forced to abandon the hostile policies it’s implementing through its proxies. As it seems, Vienna talks didn’t see any meaningful negotiations demanding that Iran cease its sabotage of other nations.

Once upon a time, the US promised to take the concerns of its allied Arab gulf nations and Israel about any deal that doesn’t curb Iranian policies into account. And Europe was very enthusiastic that the negotiations include the issue related to Iran’s support for the militias, given that it’s the basis of the chaos from which the region is suffering. However, something behind the scene has dampened this enthusiasm—triggering an enthusiasm in the opposite directions: Bringing back European interests in Iran to the era preceding the imposition of US economic sanctions. 

Europe doesn’t care that such behaviour would cause harm to its interests with the Arab countries. The Europeans are assured that their relations with Arab countries will not be harmed. This assuredness deserves some appreciation and respect, doesn’t it? 

Analogous to what is happening now, the commitment shown by Arab countries has encouraged the West to show complacency towards their duties in relation to respecting their relations with Arabs. It insists on turning a blind eye to the Iranian belligerent project to protect its interests in Iran—feeling no concern about its interests in the Arab world. 

After all, the Arabs of Ahwaz know all too well how European complacency is easily bought and transferred when a new would-be autocrat simply promises to guarantee that its interests will be protected. That is, after all, exactly how sworn British promises to the Emir of Ahwaz were revealed to be worth less than dust when the future Shah promised he would protest British oil interests in the 1920s.

 Europe won’t take these considerations seriously unless policymakers there are forced to listen to the Arab voice. The Israeli voice was singularly strong in protesting against any proposed deal. It reminded Europe and the US alike that Israel is capable of preventing Iran from transitioning from a rogue state to nuclear power, and will do so because of the existential threat Iran poses. The Arab nations do not possess such Israeli strength, but are seen to possess the opposite.  

There are at least three Arab countries totally ruled by Iranian militias. Lebanon is ruled by Hezbollah, Yemen is ruled by the Houthis, and Iraq is ruled by the Popular Mobilisation Forces. Could those countries be enough for these would-be masters of the world? It will be said that it’s too early to speak of an Iranian-Western compromise whereby they can share the Middle East—excepting Israel. It will be said that it’s an imaginary idea. It will be said that the differences between Iran and the West cannot be confined to the nuclear issue or could be settled by an agreement from which the West could withdraw overnight as the US did before. 

Very well then. But no one has consulted with the Arab world though the chaos gripping it is – to be stressed again – partly caused by the Iranian project, which the US and Europe don’t care enough to curb. The Israelis have successfully imposed their vision regarding the post-deal phase. Do Arabs possess the will that enables them to impose their own vision? 

This crucial question is the most complicated question for Arabs—compared to the Israelis for whom it is simple. And yet, through raising this question, they could reconsider their relations with multiple entities— especially the US and Europe. 

When the policymakers in Washington lose clear vision, everything becomes possible, because it is necessary: A disaster in Ukraine that we witness its episodes daily, and a potential disaster represented in reaching a deal with Iran whose woeful implications will definitely harm the entire region. 

But the Arab nations are neither the backwards countries nor the fragile entities that Western ideologues across the political spectrum seem to believe. 

The utter failure of NATO to act in Ukraine is not merely cause for serious alarm, but provides an opportunity. The Arab nations of the Middle East should look to the fact that NATO members, from Poland and westward, have received the benefit of joint protection. Membership has its privileges, and regional cooperation and mutual protection are proving ever more critical in light of a toothless and conniving United Nations and American weakness.

There is opportunity in this challenge. The Middle East is not simply Arab, but it must be an Arab leader who rises to this moment. Has the time not come for the nations of the Middle East to create their own treaty organisation, with economic cooperation and mutual defence at its core? The more forward-looking Arab leaders have already begun massive shifts in their economies and cultures alike, recapturing the innovation that was stymied during the Ottoman period. Will there be a leader who can step forth and call for a NATO of the Middle East, united against the Iranian threat to everyone?

It was Abu Nasr al-Farabi, the brilliant philosopher revered even in the medieval West as a catalyst for its Renaissance, who said long ago that man cannot reach his perfect state by himself unless others come together and supply what each can, so that the contribution of the entire community rises together. He was speaking of a perfect state of being, while we are speaking of a far darker challenge. Still, this is not the time for further fragmentation or fantastic delusions for the nations of the Middle East. As Iran rises, so too must an Arab leader, to stand against it and to unite as many as he can. Sometimes the answer to noise is silence. Sometimes the answer to outside forces looking to fragment nations is to draw those nations together and also to look outward to build on that strength. And those sometimes are not tomorrow or the next day, but now.

Coauthored by Rahim Hamid and Aaron Eitan Meyer

 Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42

Aaron Eitan Meyer, an attorney admitted to practice in New York State and before the United State Supreme Court, and a researcher and analyst. He has written extensively on lawfare, international humanitarian, and human rights law.  Meyer tweets under @aaronemeyer. 

 

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