Arab states don’t trust Iran – can they work with Obama to confront Tehran?
Fox News, December 30, 2008
Alireza Jafarzadeh (Foreign Affairs Analyst)
Amid reports that the international sanctions on the ayatollahs’ regime are having an impact, a welcome –- albeit long overdue –- meeting was held two weeks ago in New York to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany met with senior diplomats of eight major powers of the Arab world. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters after the meeting, “All there expressed their concern about Iran’s nuclear policies and its regional ambitions.” Secretary Rice said that all the Arab countries were backing the UN Security Council’s efforts, adding, “Noting the utility of the consultations, the states present agreed that they will want to continue their meetings on a regular basis.”
Meanwhile, back in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reacted almost immediately. He usually saves his statements for very important developments, and his thinly disguised alarm only underscored the significance of the meeting. On December 18, just two days after the UN summit, Khamenei said that “Certain forces made efforts to make some Arab leaders confront the nuclear rights of Iran and some other demands of the Iranian nation… This is the most that the enemy can do…”
The Arab states’ eagerness to take an active part in the international campaign is well-founded. Clearly within the reach of Iran’s long range missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia know full well that Iran’s hegemonic regional ambitions would be strategically enhanced if it passes the nuclear point of no return.
Recent media closely tied to Supreme Leader Khamenei have called for the overthrow of the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the execution of their top leaders.
On December 7 the daily newspaper Jomhouri-e Islami called Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak a “dictator” and “pharaoh.” The newspaper Keyhan editorialized on December 2, “If [the Egyptian people] rose up, no one would dare oppose them. They should learn from the Iranian, Lebanese, and Palestinian people [how to] stand fast and resist…”
Arab capitals have learned the hard lessons of the past three decades. Since 1979, Tehran has waged a relentless campaign to subvert their governments and foment instability in the region. Today, most Iranian ambassadors in Middle Eastern embassies are members of the Qods Force, the elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In the few embassies that are not led by a Qods Force officer, the unit has a presence with at least two or three members on the embassy staff whose job is to recruit locals and ensure that the ambassador strictly follows the IRGC line.
Arabs leaders see Tehran’s role in Iraq as deceitful and sinister. They are anxious and distrustful not of the Shiite majority administration, but of the tremendous sway Tehran has over Iraqi political and security policies. Furthermore, they see Tehran not as a Shiite power per se, but as a terrorist-sponsoring expansionist regime with long-held hegemonic ambitions to install an Islamic empire modeled after its own in the Middle East. And they know that in pursuit of its regional agenda, Tehran crisscrosses between religious divides, simultaneously supporting the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sunni Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine.
On his recent trip to the Persian Gulf region, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will stay on in the Obama administration, addressed the issue:
“There is no doubt that Iran has been heavily engaged in trying to influence the development and direction of the Iraqi government –- and has not been a good neighbor. Much of that effort has been focused on training and supplying groups intent on undermining the government -– more often than not, through violence and attacks on Iraqi security forces and government installations and officials.”
Secretary Gates also decried Tehran’s missile and nuclear programs, urging the Persian Gulf countries to keep up the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran by fully implementing the financial restrictions called for by the United Nations.
Faced with the rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, Jordan, is becoming increasingly outspoken about Tehran’s meddling in Iraq and campaign to silence independent, non-sectarian Iraqis. During a joint meeting of members of the European and Jordanian Parliaments on December 17, the majority of the Parliament of Jordan declared its support for the residents of Ashraf City, according to a statement released by the Friends of a Free Iran, an EP group.
The Jordanian statement called for continued protection of Ashraf city, home to members of Iran’s main opposition People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), by the U.S. military. The statement stressed that Ashraf’s residents are protected by the Fourth Geneva Convention and should enjoy the stipulated protections.
Clearly, the regional and nuclear threats posed by Tehran are unwelcome in Arab capitals. It is also clear that the “tough diplomacy” the president-elect has talked about can be successful only when the Arab states of the region are on board. Judging by the declaration of the Jordanian parliamentarians, they would welcome meaningful, practical steps by the next administration to flesh out the “tough diplomacy.”