The Fate of the JCPOA and Iran-Europe Cooperation in the Middle East

Monday, August 13, 2018

Seyed Hadi Borhani

Assistant Professor at the University of Tehran’s Faculty of World Studies


Q: Is it possible to bring the concerns that Iran and the European Union (EU) have about the Middle East issues closer? If yes, in what field this could be possible?

A: In my opinion, out of global powers like the United States, Russia, China, etcetera, the European Union is considered as a power, which is more sensitive about and attentive to those values, which are related to legitimacy and enforcement of international regulations and the United Nations resolutions. Therefore, the EU can be considered as a force that both prevents and criticizes law breaking at international level. This is why we can find common grounds with the EU for cooperation and getting our views closer together. When it comes to the Middle East, these common grounds are related to those cases in which international regulations are violated or come under pressure. One of these cases is about Israel and the government of its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is considered as a law breaking government, which overtly violates international laws and regulations. In addition to Iran and other Islamic and Arab states, the behavior of the Zionist regime has been criticized by the European Union as well. Another prominent example in this regard is the decision by US President Donald Trump to quit the nuclear deal with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was breach of an international agreement. We were witness that the European Union harshly slammed the United States’ decision and its voice in this regard was louder than other international powers, which were parties to the JCPOA.

I would like to point out that with regard to issues related to the Middle East, we practically lack a cooperation channel with Europe. At the present time, positions taken by us and Europe on these issues are poles apart in certain fields and we have not even tried to find common grounds with the European Union to bolster dialogue and cooperation. A first step in this direction for us is perhaps to have a look at the world map, understand ongoing developments, and understand that recent opposition by the EU to Israel’s policies is, in its own right, valuable. If we compare the position taken in this regard by Sweden to positions of China and India in the face of Israel, we would see that the position taken by this European country is more suitable and of more help to the realization of the ideals of the Palestinian people in Palestinian territories. At the same time, our positions are, unfortunately, the opposite of Europeans and Israel is making the most of this issue. At the present time, the world has clearly accepted that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad is to stay in place and opposition groups have been defeated. Therefore, perhaps it is time to find common grounds for cooperation and coordination in that part of the region through dialogue between Iran and the EU, or at least, to distance from conflicts of interests and different goals that were pursued by the two sides in the past.

Q: Do you think that the emphasis by the Israeli regime on the need for Iran to leave Syria is simply a tactic or the sign of a more comprehensive strategy for the future of Syria?

A: In general, I view Israel’s policy toward Syria, especially against the presence and position of Iran, from two angles. The first angle is that developments in Syria are conducive to a categorical victory for the resistance front’s forces, including the Syrian army, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah in this country. At the present time, opposition forces fighting the Damascus government have been routed and developments in Syria have not proceeded as Israel was willing. Now, those forces that support the Syrian government, who have already gone through many battles, are filled with a sense of victory and self-confidence and this self-confidence is considered as dangerous by Israel. Tel Aviv knows that following improvement of domestic conditions in Syria and restoration of stability to this country, the next goal and focus of these forces will be Israel. Tel Aviv is not willing for this victorious excitement and feeling among the military forces in Syria to be directed toward Israel. Therefore, from the viewpoint of Israel, this self-confidence must be shattered. At the present time, Israel is trying to do away with this sense of self-confidence and prevent movement of these highly motivated forces toward its borders. The second angle is that, at any rate, Tel Aviv is discontent with Iran's regional policy and is waiting for an opportunity to cause this Iranian policy to fail. Israelis are now faced with an opportunity in Syria to achieve this goal. They are trying to take advantage of this opportunity to settle old scores with Iran in Syria and target Iran's influence and power in this country. Therefore, as long as they have not made sure that Iran's power in Syria has been adequately weakened, they will continue their measures.

Q: To what extent do you think what they call the mediatory effort by Russia between Iran and Israeli in Syria would be successful?

A: I do not think that addressing concerns about Syria’s southern borders with Israel is among priorities of Russia’s regional policy. I even believe that Russians want Iran and Israel to be concerned about each other’s measures in Syria. This concern will justify both sides’ need to Russia and will enable Moscow to play its role in the best possible manner. Therefore, I believe that Russia is willing for the crisis in south Syria to continue and keep Iranian and Israeli officials flying to Moscow. At the same time, it seems that Russians have given remarkable leeway to Israel in many fields and Tel Aviv uses this opportunity to threaten and mount pressure on Iran in Syria in order to increase the cost of the Islamic Republic of Iran's presence in this country.

In general, it can be said that Russia’s official position is apparently the use of “public diplomacy,” which is based on meeting their real goals; those goals, which are defined solely on the basis of their own interests. Part of this public diplomacy is seemingly Moscow’s unwillingness to see escalation of tension between Iran and Israel in south Syria. However, I believe that in fact, Russians look at Syria as an arena and opportunity for taking advantage of the ongoing rivalry between Iran and Israel to achieve their own goals and meet their own interests. Moscow is well aware that Syria is important for both Iran and Israel, and both rivals are concerned about the situation in this country and both of them have interests in Syria. Moscow also knows that it is Syria, which can help these two parties to meet their interests in Syria or distance from them through its positions and moves. These conditions increase Moscow’s bargaining power and enable it to achieve its regional goals with more ease. The point, which I am willing to mention here, is that from Russia’s viewpoint, Israel and Netanyahu are of high importance to Moscow and this reality must not be ignored. I believe that it is not likely that Moscow attaches the same importance to us that it attaches to Israel. Tel Aviv, for its part, is aware that when it comes to the give-and-take between Russia and the West – especially the United States – and particularly in relation to the Western sanctions that have put pressure on Russia, Israel and its powerful lobby can be very effective. Therefore, it is very important for Moscow that Israel would be content with Russia.

Q: To what extent Israel's considerations play a role in shaping EU’s decision to preserve the JCPOA?

A: Israel has good relations with all global powers and can affect their decisions. Israel, in particular, has a powerful and influential lobby in the United States and Europe. In my opinion, however, at the present time and among global powers, it is the EU, which shows the highest degree of resistance to Israel and its demands. A glance at the positions adopted by the United States, the UK, Russia and China shows that they are not seriously against Israel. They easily cooperate with Israel on the bases of the “realpolitik” and to meet their own interests. However, it is the European Union, which has been causing troubles for Israel on the basis of the image that it has of itself as a power that believes in the accepted principles and norms and is more committed to international regulations. At the present time, Netanyahu is going through the hardest bout of his negotiations in European capitals rather than in Moscow and Washington. The image of Netanyahu in the European Union is one of the worse images of Israel at international level. This is because European officials consider the Israeli prime minister as a law-breaking person who does not respect international regulations and violates resolutions passed by the UN Security Council, which constantly cause this regime to drift away from such Western values as democracy and human rights despite its claims about being committed to them.

The recent law approved by the Israeli parliament, Knesset, about recognizing Israel as a Jewish nation-state and Hebrew as the sole official language, can be mentioned as one of the most prominent examples in this regard. I believe that the geopolitics of struggles against Israel is changing in the world. Those powers, which used to withstand Israel’s policies in the past, not only refrain from opposing it at the present time, but also cooperate with Tel Aviv. For example, the Eastern Europe, African countries and India, which once were motivated to oppose Israel, have now lost those motivations and have embarked on extensive cooperation with Israel. However, in the new world, media and even EU states and Western European countries oppose Israel's policies. We are witnessing that after approval of the “nation-state” law by the Israeli parliament, apart from Muslim countries in the Middle East like Iran, Turkey, and Syria, the European Union was also a major party, which showed the strongest negative reaction to this law.


Interviewer: Ramin Nadimi
 Expert in Defense and Military Affairs

*Photo Credit: dw
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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