The US showdown with Iran is not about the interests of the Arab world

The Arabs must be full partners in a new set of the rules and conditions that would be established beyond Pompeo’s notorious terms.
Sunday 19/05/2019
White House national security adviser John Bolton. (Reuters)
White House national security adviser John Bolton. (Reuters)

Hearing the affectionate words that US President Donald Trump used to address Iran, you would think that whoever gave the orders to dispatch to the Gulf the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and a flotilla of naval vessels, supported by B-52 bombers, was some other party or entity in the administration in Washington.

Trump spoke about dialogue with Tehran and invited its leaders to communicate with him. He spoke of the United States’ eagerness to cooperate with Tehran to restore Iranian economic power.

Trump spoke in the way he knew best — as a businessman, as someone who loves making deals and scoring “achievements.”

Washington’s military actions and national security adviser John Bolton’s hawkish statements about Iranian schemes against US interests in the region are to the liking of Trump. The US president is waiting for an Iranian overture that would free him from the burden of a militarisation, which he had promised to end before he was elected.

The mixed signals from Washington, from ominous military warnings portending a great clash to peaceful messages inviting a new “strategic agreement,” encourage Tehran not to make the move that Trump expects.

If Trump — perhaps due to considerations and ambitions related to the US presidential elections in 2020 — is in a hurry to conclude his deal with Iran, Tehran has all the time in the world to weave its carpet as it wishes, especially since the buildup of US naval vessels in proximity to Iranian shores makes it easy for the Iranian regime to cast any internal opposition as agents working for the enemy.

US calls for a new agreement that would turn Iran into a “normal” state are naive and cast doubt on Washington’s true intentions and on what the United States wants from Tehran. Post-revolution Iran was not created to be a normal state. Any changes to, or retreat from, the regime of velayat-e faqih and its doctrinal and philosophical underpinnings will lead, in Tehran’s mind, to the collapse of the regime.

Iran’s nuclear programme and its ballistic missiles are mere technical details of a strategic choice that underpins the behaviour of the regime. Tehran, which may someday, perhaps soon, return to the negotiating table, will present such technical programmes in a way that would recast them in a new configuration, which it hopes would reassure the outside world in general and Israel in particular. In exchange, Tehran expects not to be pressed to veer off a line of behaviour that would undermine the legitimacy of the Islamic Revolution.

Contrary to Trump’s claims, the Iranian regime’s behaviour will not change through economic sanctions no matter how harsh and historic they may be, nor will it change under the pressure of internal popular movements because Tehran has become expert at dealing with them.

The regime’s behaviour will not change according to the “Arab spring” blueprint or according to the model of popular resistance witnessed in Algeria and Sudan. Any change in Iranian behaviour will happen only through force and coercion.

No one in the world, including the United States, wants force to be applied in Iran’s case. People in the region fear the scenarios of Iraq and Afghanistan. Such scenarios will not enjoy Western backing. Iran knows that it faces no imminent danger.

The aim of this escalation is purely American and has nothing to do with the security of the region. Europe agrees with the United States that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons, first because the superiority in this matter in the region should always remain in Israel.

Second, Iran’s ballistic missile programme is perceived to be a threat to EU countries, especially if Iran’s missiles are developed to carry nuclear warheads in addition to their long-range capacity.

So, if we assume that the “inevitable” negotiations will result in the destruction of Iran’s nuclear weapons and in limiting the range of its missiles, Washington and the European capitals, and even Beijing and Moscow, will not care that much about controlling Tehran’s behaviour towards the Arab world.

As it puts pressure on Iran, the Trump administration needs to achieve a strategic breakthrough within the time period wanted by Washington and not the one desired by Tehran. Furthermore, by pushing the military option, Trump and his administration are placing themselves in an irreversible position from which they cannot back out before achieving their goal.

However, the seriousness of the American effort, which may enjoy European cooperation and Russian-Chinese complicity, is aimed at achieving Washington’s agendas in accordance with the interests of the deep state in America and in accordance with Trump’s election interests related to the 2020 elections.

Clearly, Washington is not motivated by what the people of the region want and aspire to within the prospects of war and peace with Iran.

By American standards, Iran is supposed to be a sponsor of terrorism but Trump’s friendly message to Iran confirms that Washington is seeking to achieve, with the help of friends and the complicity of foes, a bilateral understanding with Iran. What this bilateral deal holds in its folds are matters of concern to Trump and just Trump.

It is surprising that, at the height of this escalation, whose price is going to be at the expense of the interests of the Gulf countries, the Arab region stands as a mere spectator, in awe of the details that are unfolding daily.

Iran’s nuclear capability may not change much in the strategic security equation that concerns countries like Russia, China, the United States and Israel but it should concern much more the Arabs who are living in an area within the aim and the range of everybody’s nuclear weapons.

Therefore, the Arabs must be full partners in a new set of the rules and conditions that would be established beyond US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s notorious terms.

Trump and his team may have the precedence of having raised the issue of the flawed spirit of the nuclear deal with Iran. Now the Arabs must move in to impose their agenda so any deal with Iran will lose its spirit and wisdom without first securing the agreement of the countries of the region on its terms.

What is happening between the capitals of the world is cross-referencing interests for the best formula for an inevitable future international agreement with Iran. There are no plans to bring this regime down. The major capitals of the world may conclude an agreement and leave the region as open territory to Iranian behaviour that would have been adjusted to their interests.