Interaction with Arab States Easier than Détente with US
Iran Review - (DECEMBER 12, 2013) Gholamali Khoshroo
Senior Editor and vice president of the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islam
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s renewed focus on dynamic and active international diplomacy, which has come about in the early months after changes in the country’s diplomatic apparatus under the 11th administration has engendered a sweeping wave of positive and negative diplomatic moves in the region. Under conditions when Iran is trying to reduce tension in its relations with the West within framework of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 group [of world powers], it seems that certain regional countries are gradually feeling alarmed about the high degree of Iran’s political maneuvering at international level. In reality, however, Iran’s relations with the Arab states are independently important regardless of the relations that Iran has with the European countries or the United States. Iran has always taken the first step in establishing amicable and constructive relations with the Arab countries. There have been many reasons for Iran to do so, including its neighborhood with the Arab countries, being a Muslim nation, sharing the same fate [with the Arab countries] in the region, issues related to [regional] oil and energy [reserves], as well as membership in a number of regional and transregional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Non-Aligned Movement. Judging on this basis, one may claim that bilateral interests of the two sides could be only met and protected under conditions when Iran and the Arab states in the region are not rivals, but work together in an atmosphere of cooperation. A good instance of successful cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, for example, has been already experienced with regard to the global oil prices in the early months of [Iran's] seventh administration. At that time, the rivalry between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia had caused the price of every barrel of crude oil to fall below USD 10. At the same time, the cost price for production of every barrel of oil stood at 5 dollars while the same barrel was sold for only 7 dollars on the market. That situation had caused all major oil exporting countries to suffer heavy losses, although it greatly benefitted the consumer Western states. A while later, Iran and Saudi Arabia decided to turn rivalry into cooperation in order to return oil to its real price. At any rate, the present attitude of the regional Arab states toward Iran is the function of a number of factors the most important of which include follow:
1. Since the early days following the [victory of the Islamic] Revolution [in Iran], certain political circles have been trying to depict Iran as a dangerous country in the region. In doing so, they have did their best to scare Arabs of Iran by introducing the Islamic Republic as a revolutionary and dangerous state. The insane war launched [by the former Iraqi dictator] Saddam [Hussein] against Iran was a spinoff of this way of thinking. This is why for years, the Arab states in the region called Saddam the Commander of Qadisiya in his confrontation with Iran.
2. We saw that on the eve of [the new round of] nuclear negotiations [between Iran and the P5+1 group in Geneva], a Saudi prince alleged that the Persian Empire is expanding its influence and domain and this process should come to an end. In reality, however, no such thing is actually happening. Iran has never considered itself as an empire vis-à-vis the Arabs.
3. Any form of discord stoked in the region is the ominous product of the evil hands from outside the region that seek their own political, economic and other interests. We must be aware that Arabs are not the opposite side of Iran. The existing animosity between Iran and Arabs is spurious because no such enmity should exist in the reality. There is no reason for hostility between the two sides. Iran is an ancient nation with a remarkable national power base and political stability. Arabs should finally own up to the fact that they have been treading the wrong path [in relation to Iran], both when they took sides with Saddam in his invasion of Iran, and when they lent their support to the Taliban [in Afghanistan]. They should also know that by attacking the Shia population in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, they will not be able to boost their standing in the region. The best position that Arabs can have [in the region] will come through friendship with Iran. Perhaps, some Arab countries will think that following a possible military attack by the United States against Iran, the Islamic Republic will be broken down into a number of smaller countries and will become economically unstable. This, however, is just fanciful thinking. Iran has been so far able to weather various crises through powerful and wise leadership.
4. During recent years, Israel and other enemies of Iran have been banking on the international standoff over Iran’s nuclear issue in order to introduce the Islamic Republic as a direct menace against its neighbors and to depict Iran as a major threat to the entire region. It should be noted that the challenge in Iran’s regional relations has been, in fact, a direct outcome of the challenge that existed in Tehran’s ties with the European countries and the United States. Although Iran and the P5+1 group have gotten close to a political understanding, there are still many remaining technical issues which should be properly addressed and resolved. However, the Arab states are outraged about the mere outlook of an agreement [between Iran and the West] and the bright horizon ahead. Their outrage is due to the possibility of increased collaboration between Iran and international community, which will inevitably lead to reduction of tensions and concerns on both sides and consequently end in the economic, cultural, and social progress and development of Iran. In other words, some Arab states in the region are concerned about the outlook of stability of the situation in Iran.
5. Iran is interested in cooperation with the Arab states. On the other side, any time that the Arab states have tried to promote the idea of setting up security arrangements in the region in the absence of Iran, they have invariably failed. It should be noted that Iran’s border with the Persian Gulf runs along the entire length of this waterway. Therefore, a grave mistake is the only thing that has made Arabs work with Israel and the United States in order to head off the imaginary “Iran threat.” In fact, this is a skewed idea fed to Arabs by Israel and one which Arabs have mistakenly cherished. Arabs should see how Iran, which they always label as a grave threat to the region, has turned into the pivot of stability in the region.
6. Israel reaps great benefit from introducing Iran as a big threat. Therefore, if the issue of the ‘big threat’ is dealt with appropriately, Israel will be deprived of the lion’s share of financial, military and other kinds of aid and support that it is currently receiving from the United States. At present, all the American taxpayers are bearing the cost of financial aid paid to Israel. While Iran is engaged in negotiations with the member states of the P5+1 group of world powers – including France, the UK, Germany, China, Russia and the United States – those countries have also accepted Iran as a partner and are doing their best to reach a final understanding with Tehran. On the opposite, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are spending millions of dollars in order to depict a threatening image of Iran. However, all that spending has been rendered null and void [through the recent nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 group].
7. Saudi Arabia and Israel are bent on increasing Iran’s isolation [among regional countries], so that, the country would be finally forced to either bow down to them or have all its assets destroyed through a military strike. As a result, they are infuriated when they see that the Islamic Republic is taking peaceful measures in order to solve its problems. This is an unwise approach that the Arab states have taken to Iran because the best route leading to the progress, development and stability of Arabs is through cooperation with Iran. This is true as Iran has a vast market and great power in the region. The image of Iran that exists in the minds of Arabs is only the image of an imaginary threat visualized by them. Even most Arabs have now realized that this is only a fictitious threat and acceptance of such a clear lie has left them with a theoretical and emotional void.
8. During the recent years, Arabs and Israelis have considered two issues as a common threat: one of them is Iran with the other one being the Shia Islam. From their viewpoint, a revolutionary and Shia Iran – considering the fact that some Sunni schools consider Shias as infidels – can pose a grave threat to both of them. As a result of such a perception, they have put promotion of ethnic conflicts and the massacre of Shia Muslims on top of their agenda. This is only a product of Takfiri ideology and an effort to eliminate the revolutionary version of Islam which is being advocated by Iran. During the past four years, a daily average of 100 Shias has been killed by Takfiri militants [across the Islamic world]. Those Shias had not taken part in any war, but were either at their homes or worshipping at mosques. Despite the above facts, there are a number of steps which Iran can take in order to build confidence and reduce the existing tensions in its relations with Arabs, especially with the government of Saudi Arabia. Iran can cooperate more with Arabs in order to provide necessary grounds for trust and understand their concerns. Of course, this does not mean that Iran should ignore its national interests in order to get along with the erroneous perception of the Arab states. Another master key to the current locked situation [in the region] is to provide more grounds for dialogue between Iran and the Arab states. At present, the Iranian people know Europeans and Americans better than they know Arabs. This is also true about the Arab nations. The limited amount of information that Arabs have about Iran has been influenced by the Israeli media outlets as direct contacts between Iranians and Arabs have been very limited. Therefore, taking long steps toward expansion of two-way communication should be on top of the list of the incumbent Iranian administration’s priorities. This goal can be achieved by promoting tourism as well as trade and cultural exchanges between the two sides. Increasing bilateral meetings between officials from Iran and the Arab states at high political and diplomatic levels with the final goal of expanding relations and providing grounds for fostering mutual trust is another step that Iran and the regional Arab states can take in order to build confidence. Another important point is to find ways to widen the gap between Israel and the regional Arab states. At present and for a variety of reasons, there are a lot of similarities between the policies adopted by Saudi Arabia – whose leaders have a claim to being the leaders of the entire Islamic world – and Israel toward Iran. Therefore, Iran should take any necessary step to further isolate Israel in the region. The Islamic Republic should make the Arab states change track from animosity with Iran to the pursuit of such really important and urgent goals as the liberation of the occupied lands of Palestinians, protecting the rights of the Palestinian people, eliminating the existing restrictions against the Palestinians, removing Israel’s siege on the Gaza Strip, and fostering friendship and unity among various Palestinian groups. Without a doubt, it would be much easier for Iran to engage in interaction with the Arab states than to interact with the United States. Now, after Iran has proved successful in improving its standing among the international community through the process of nuclear negotiations, the country should take more serious steps at various levels, not just the government level, to expand relations with the Arab states in the region.