Let’s remind the Arab states that Israel is the arch enemy in the region, not Iran
Seyed G Safavi
International Peace Studies Centre (IPSC)
The West’s efforts to portray Iran as the arch enemy are aimed at creating discord among regional states. At present, most Arab states have taken refuge with the US and even Israel to escape the (so-called) threat posed by Iran. In addition to having dangerous results, this move poses a serious threat to regional peace, security, and stability. Many Persian Gulf and Middle Eastern states distrust Iran and erroneously believe that by supporting the opposition, the Islamic Republic is bent on changing regimes in regional countries. In turn, Iran distrusts the Arab states’ strategic ally, namely the US, and deems the US and Israel as highly perilous for Middle East peace and security.
Most Arab states are of the view that Iran intends to become a regional hegemonic power that will support the Arab opposition. An important theme of the Annapolis Conference which was unfortunately ignored by Iranian officials was the US, Israel, and a major part of Arab states coalescing against Iran. This Conference presented Iran, rather than Israel, as the biggest threat to the region. In addition, the US has launched a new phase of efforts by finalizing its missile defense project and arms shipment to the Persian Gulf states. Prior to this, of course, Patriot missiles had already been stationed in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. Based on new agreements, more arms will be shipped to the Persian Gulf states.
On the other hand, the Arabs’ distrust of Iran has created new power arrangements in the region, resulting in the Persian Gulf and Middle East regions to face greater instability. Iran is a rival to the Saudi Arabian and Egyptian governments in the Persian Gulf and Middle East. These states consider Iran’s role in Palestine contrary to their influence over Palestine and over the region in general. They do not like Iran to play an effective role in the Middle East. Iran’s influence over Lebanon and support of Hezbollah is contrary to the interests of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. These states are of the belief that Middle East issues such as Palestine, Hezbollah, and Iraq are Arab issues which Iran has no right to interfere in. In response, the Islamic Republic states that if the issue of Palestine is purely an Arab concern, why is it that the Egyptian administration, in tandem with Israel, works against the people of Gaza and lays siege to this region? How is it that the Saudi administration which calls itself the “servant of the holy shrines” fails to take any measures against Israel for bombardment of Gaza? If the issue of Palestine is an Arab issue, what role do the Arabs play (in trying to solve it)? Why have the Arabs left the Palestinians alone (and failed to help them)? And if the issue is a purely Islamic and humanitarian one, all countries, including Iran, should collaborate to resolve it.
Another issue that some Arab states bring up every now and then based on a fully erroneous perception is Iran’s creation of a Shiite security belt and its support of Muslim freedom movements in order to promote Shiism. This is while Iran’s most prominent efforts are aimed at supporting the Palestinian people who are Sunnis. Iran has all along paid heavily for supporting the Sunni Palestinians vis a vis Israel and the
West. As a result, the notion of Shiite supremacy over the region is a misconception. In principle, the Shiite – Sunni rivalry is a colonialist issue which benefits only the Western colonialists. Iran’s support of the two Sunni nations, namely Bosnia and Afghanistan, in the past and present flagrantly counters the above – mentioned misconception. In the case of Lebanon, too, Iran’s support is geared toward supporting the interests of the people of Lebanon. Iran opposes religious and ethnic sectarianism and has constructive ties with most players involved in the Lebanese issue irrespective of their religious tendencies. Iran also supports Iraq’s territorial integrity without regard for sectarianism. Iran, moreover, has friendly ties with Sunni Kurds, as well as Arabs who are independent of US colonialism, irrespective of what sect they are.
In the Middle East region, Iran is in rivalry with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Other regional states are in no position to compete with or take measures against Iran. Small Arab states have different approaches to Iran and Saudi Arabia policies as they are impacted by both. For instance, due to many problems with Saudi Arabia, Qatar has simultaneously established ties with the US, Israel, and Iran and pursues a policy to create balance among these three important countries vis – a – vis Saudi Arabia. Kuwait mainly pursues policies that are in tandem with those of Saudi Arabia while it distrusts Iran. Bahrain is of the view that some in Iran do not recognize Bahrain’s independence, keep calling Bahrain part of Iranian territory, and by supporting the opposition in Bahrain attempt to bring the Shiites to power there. With a population less than one million, Bahrain, due to its fear of Iran, has turned to the US and Saudi Arabia. Recently, though, Bahrain has made efforts to expand its friendly ties with Iran. Mutual visits by both countries’ officials indicate that the two governments are eager to improve their relations.
Arab lobbies and representations at the United Nations and other international bodies, as well as the Arab media, are of prime importance and should not be overlooked. Iran and Arab states should keep in mind that the US and Israel are the main threats to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. Since 1948, Israel has waged six major wars against Arab and Muslim states, while Iran has never initiated a war against any Arab state. Iran even supported the Kuwaiti people and administration in the face of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. This is while in all Israel – Palestine – Arab conflicts, the US has consistently and unilaterally supported Israel’s illegitimate interests. Since the culmination of the Islamic Revolution, Iran has always been supportive of the Arab nations. Unfortunately, the Arab states’ aloofness from Iran has been coupled with their closeness with Israel and the US.
The region’s elites and peace activists should adopt a strategic diplomacy to inform Arab states and nations of the disadvantages of Arab convergence with the US and Israel. On the other hand, Arab states are fearful of war between Iran and the US as they know they would be the first victims of any military confrontation between Tehran and Washington. Based on my knowledge, the Arabs do not encourage the US to launch a military attack on Iran. This is what differentiates the Arab policies from those of Israel since Israel believes that Iran is the main problem in the Middle East and that if the US had attacked Iran instead of Iraq, all regional problems would have been resolved.
Arab states are unanimous with Israel and the US in demanding a halt to Iran’s nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately, Iran has not as yet made effective efforts to neutralize Western plots and inform the Arabs of its friendly stances. Arab states have had relations with the US for years and cannot be disengaged from Washington in a short time span. They can, however, be enlightened about dangers posed by Israel and about the fact that Iran does not want to bring about a regime change in Arab countries. Iran recognizes the independence of Arab states and has no intention to dominate these countries. As such, Muslim countries in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East can engage in open, transparent, and constructive dialogs, as well as a wise, rational, and scientific diplomacy based on mutual interests in order to settle mutual issues and to turn destructive rivalries into beneficial convergence. Under such conditions, all regional states will benefit from the new status quo while chances of regional peace, stability, and security will increase.