Israeli Extremism, Iranian Influence

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Said Refaat
Editor in Chief, Shoun Arabiyya (Arab Affairs Journal) 

Active ImageThe developments which the region has witnessed lately have revealed the crystalisation of opposing trends in the Arab policies that are characterised by clash in concepts, conflict of wills, competition between axes, a variety of opinions about the resistance’s activity in an opposing situation with the state’s responsibilities, a different evaluation in regards to considering the Iranian activity a major threat to the Arab states, than the Israeli role. These facts have doubled the manifestations of division and disintegration in the Arab row. They also increased tension and alignments in regional relations. All these happened when the New American Administration’s policy moved in a different direction that concentrated on the line of opening and appeasement in the region. It started by escalating its relations with Turkey to constitute an access for it to the Islamic World, and dealing with as the state/example on its arena. At the end, it endeavours to move the peaceful settlement efforts in the Palestinian question on two-state solution, in a clear contradiction with the policy of the new Israeli government.

If the “cordial” political movement, which the Obama’s Administration is performing on the Arab and regional levels was difficult to be considered a real change in the American policy in the region, it is evident that he managed to confuse all the assessments, to shuffle the cards, and to change the concepts of the Arab side with both its moderate and opposition axes. That was revealed by the feverish movement which some “Moderate” Arab states did towards the United States, to fine tune the rapprochement movement with Iran, on the assumption that it will be at the expense of the Arab interests, and will contribute in impairing the region’s security and balance. Israel invested this to claim that it stands side by side with the Arab states against the Iranian threat. This movement’s efforts were reflected also on making it difficult for the “Opposition” states to demonize the American policy. That happened after the new American Administration managed to abort all the opposition axis’ pretexts by lifting the slogan of “change”, and removing the constraints in its Arab and regional relations, dropping its pretexts of the link between terrorism and Islam, closing the concentration camps, and investigating the torture accusations. That clarified, in its totality, the confusion of the Arab policies towards the American President’s orientation in the region, and consequently its inability to inspire expectations from it, especially in establishing stability in the Asian neighbourhood region.

Active ImageIf the Arab efforts for reunion and reconciliation had not been successful, or had not achieved tangible results to appease relations between Arab states, it is clear that the main reason is due mainly to the situation in Iran. Most Arab states apprehend Iran’ expansion of influence in the region, the escalation of its influence in the Arab strategic issues, and they are concerned of the Iranian Nuclear Programme’s reflections on security, stability and balance of power in the region’s arena. Perhaps what increases Arab sensitivity in that regard is the condescending and challenging attitude which the Iranian policy has adopted, without understanding or caring for the reasons of the Arabs’ concern and its insistence to deepen division between Arab axes. Iran resorted to either to push some Palestinian resistance wings, which have ideological orientation, to spontaneously support the Iranian objectives, to polarise some Arab states that aspire to play a role on the arena which is more than their political capacity or their geographical size, to abort the reconciliation efforts that aimed at forming a national unity government, or blocking the inter-Arab reconciliation efforts.

Given this Iranian intensive political assault in the region’s arena, it was assumed that the Arab states will get together to repair inter-Arab relations, reject petty sensitivities, start to concentrate their efforts on Arab strategic issues that represent elements of strength in the Iranian stances, influence their developments, participate in efforts to settle them, and contain differences. That would have limited Iran’s movement to interfere in such issues, and limit its ability to barter them in its international relations.

This orientation would have, as well, raised the Arab role’s value in the American policy’s eyes, either by its ability to influence the Iranian status or mitigate the burdens of American responsibilities in the Asian neighbourhood states. This would have taken place if the Arab stances were careful to confine their differences with Iran in the Arab framework and in its political side, and keep the dialogue and negotiation option with it open without external influences or hostile backgrounds.

However, it is noted, in this regard, that the Arab policies that are under pressure of internal differences, retreat before the Iranian vital movement and weakness of Arab enthusiasm to confront it. These Arab policies have resorted to behave in such a way that revealed the Arab stance’s fragility, its lack of self-strength factors, and its dependence on its external allies’ support. This is shown in the following:

First: Putting all cards of the Arab Iranian relations in the American basket, to the extent of making the Americans feel how scared and concerned are the Arabs because of the American-Iranian rapprochement, manifesting the risk of this rapprochement on the security and stability of the region’s states, and expressing the Arab side’s apprehensions of the possible conclusion of a deal between the American and Iranian parties, at the Arab expense. This only shows the Arab’s political inability to influence matters with their self-capabilities. It shows also their lack of tools to control their political fate and their desire to keep the status quo in the region as it is, as well as their wish to continue the political stagnancy in their arena, and to apprehend all currents of change – from whatever source – that forcibly knock at their region’s doors. In addition, these Arab tendencies showed that they are compatible with Israeli orientations vis-a vis Iran. This  fact reinforces the new Israeli government’s stand in its call for giving priority to the American effort to stop the Iranian Nuclear Programme, while not giving momentum to the settlement efforts of the Palestinian Question.

Secondly: The Arab policies have ignored the nature of the new developments in the region, the American interests’ direction on its arena, not understanding the US needs to cooperate with Iran to achieve a minimum degree of stability in the region to enable the Americans to withdraw – even partially – from Iraq, to decrease violence in Afghanistan and to establish positions in Pakistan. That is in addition to a control of the Iranian Nuclear Programme, to reach a consensus on the nature of Iran’s regional role, and the limits of its expansion in the region. This clarifies that the United States’ desire to open a dialogue with Iran is due to the political and security reasons connected with protection of the American interests. At the same time, the United States has to deal with Iran’s regional ability to positively and negatively influence these interests. This position is completely different from the status of the Arab states that are allied with the United States but do not possess the strength or influence in the region which may give them a special leverage in strategic issues, or what can empower them to be more effective and independent in their arena, or what can allow them to help the United States to get out of its accumulated or new crises in the regional arena.

Thirdly: The Arab policies depend on the media as a main weapon to manage the conflict with Iran, with the consequence of concentrating on the blunders of some practices of its allies in the arena, exaggeration in arranging political and security consequences on these practices, in portraying Iran’s relations with them and its effective influence, and to rush in directing factional and ideological accusations, so as to put all Shiite trends in the region in one trench and automatically extend their effects to factions that are not loyal to Iran or its allies in the arena due to their ideological tendencies alone. In addition to the fact that the effectiveness of the media’s weapon in the region has been weakened due to its numerous machines, diversity of the sources of its funds, contradiction of tendencies in its arena, which led to nutralising each one’s role of the others. Therefore that weapon lost its credibility as a tool to unveil facts and sensitise the peoples. It has also lost its importance as a political pressure tool towards rectifying orientation or fine tuning the movements’ balances.

As for the escalation of non-Arab regional roles in the region’s arena and the American attitude towards them, the Turkish role is presenting itself as an effective regional power. Turkey is supported by the trends of its “soft power” which is represented by its political, economic and cultural potentials and its political democratic regime, in addition to its aspiration to build its role in the region calmly, wisely, and rationally. It moves from a better position as a moderate Sunni state that enjoys good relations with all the Arab, regional and international parties. It has performed positive roles, either in mediation between Syria and Israel or in its support of the Hamas movement during the Israeli aggression on Gaza, and its historical decision not to allow the American forces to use its territories to cross to invade Iraq. Turkey took that decision in spite of its membership in the NATO, and its special relationship – in the military field in particular - with Israel.

The results of this independent policy were apparent when the new American Administration encouraged Turkey to play a regional role in the region so as to balance the Iranian influence. It was also an attempt to use Turkey’s status to penetrate to the Islamic world through it. The Turkish role in particular, does not raise Iran’s sensitivity or cause concern for the Arab states, perhaps because the Arab states concentrate their apprehensions on the Iranian activity in the region. Probably these Arab states believe that the Turkish interest in the region is not motivated by ideological beliefs or political ambitions. It may be due to their estimation that the Turkish interest in the region occupies the second priority of Turkey itself, as the first is its main aspiration to join the European Union. Its role in the region, which is welcome by the Arabs, can be invested as an effective card in that direction.

In spite of the active movements which the region witnessed, and the political intensive contacts that took place in its arena, it is evident that these contacts aim at exploring stances, opinions and trends, either to be sure that the development of relations with the great powers will not be at the expense of alliances that had already existed in the region. This will be rather a preparation for intensive negotiations that will be concluded with the American side in Washington. These negotiations are expected to discuss the realities of the situation, the volume of concessions and the nature of interrelations between different issues. The United States is the one that possesses the ability to move and initiate. It has the tools that empower it either to grant or deprive. All hopes are hanged on its efforts to present ideas and suggestions, to initiate projects in order to move the issues and to determine formulas to be presented for negotiation between different parties.

However, it is clear that in spite of the United States’ desire to open to all parties, and the adoption of stances that are more balanced in the region’s issues, it is believed that the political circumstances that prevail in the arena and the concerned parties’ stances on strategic issues are not mature enough to push the efforts towards reaching solutions that are negotiable or to reach conclusions for these issues, based on consensus. The indicators for that are shown in the following considerations:

First: Although Iran aspires to open a comprehensive dialogue with the United States, there are evidences that it is not ready to solely concentrate on the issues that attract the United States’ interest such as the Iranian Nuclear Programme and the explosive problems on the Iraqi Pakistani and Afghani arenas. Iran desires that the negotiations should cover all the regional issues including those of Palestine and Lebanon. It estimates that these issues constitute elements of strength in its stances. At the same time they are connected with borders of its expected regional role. This means that the American-Iranian negotiations will be long and complicated because Iran represents the leverage centre in the new American movement. The negotiations will deal with a broad list of issues that are synchronised and controversial at the same time because of the security sensitivity and the political and economic interests of both parties.

Secondly: The Palestinian issue has imposed itself on the new American Administration as a result of a new position that was crystalised in the arena, and led to an extremist and rightist government that has assumed power in Israel. In return, there has been an escalation of the Iranian influence in the region that raised concern of the Arab states on their security from Iran’s regional extensions and its nuclear programme. The Israeli government tried to invest this position by presenting a new equation in which it claims that the priority of the American effort should be concentrated on the problems of the Iranian Nuclear Programme, and to syncronise between the action to stop this programme and the fight against terrorism in the region. The United States, on the other hand, sees that peace efforts in the region should be synochronised with dealing with the Iranian Nuclear Programme. Progress towards the two-state solution will reduce the Iranian threat, and will strike imbalance inside the Opposition Axis which is led by Iran. It will, at the same time, secure that the “Moderate” Arab states will support the Western efforts in pressuring Iran to reach an acceptable settlement about its nuclear programme.

Thirdly: The Arab states have lost their positions in the regional equation in the region, and are no more able to compete with non-Arab regional roles which have influence and effectiveness on their arena. The Arab hopes are confined to the “presumptive roles” which the United States give, out of generosity, and these roles do not represent recognition of a special leverage in the arena, and have no real impact on the developments or balances in the region. Nevertheless there is special care to magnify the media value of these roles, and to use them to show the importance of the position and the effectiveness of the roles.

Consequently, the Arab action can acquire more clear vision to determine Arab priority in setting the Palestinian cause before confronting the so-called Iranian threat. Accordingly, this Arab action can abstain from offering any concessions according to the Arab Initiative, under the pretext of enabling the American Administration to encourage and give incentives to Israel, not only because such concessions will not impress the Israeli side, especially with an ideological, rightist and extremist government, but also because it is evident that this government will only change its stances of the peace process, in a superficial and plastic surgery way. It estimates the risk of any change on its ruling coalition structure. And it knows that the American President’s capacity to pressure it is limited, in the light of his desire to nominate himself for a second presidential term. He has already responded to some internal pressures by a series of retreats of his electoral promises. Therefore, it is important that the Arab efforts are directed to abort the Israeli equation, and to stress the priority to settle the Palestinian question.

This can be achieved by adhering to the Arab Initiative, and across the distinction between the Israeli Nuclear Programme as an established threat, and the Iranian Nuclear threat as a possible threat, especially as the American Administration made it a point to declare to the world its differences with the Israeli policy, and put it in the framework of impairing American interests. This raised the anxiety of the Israeli government and its Lobby in the United States because of the reflections on shaking the image of absolute American political support to Israel, and its ramifications on the Israeli public opinion which greatly appreciates the importance of the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and the former's readiness to sacrifice any Israeli government that threatens this relationship.

Source: Arab Affairs Journal

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