Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
Tag Archives | Syria-Iran Relations
The past few months have seen Iran busy.
Apart from elections and a new President, a proposed nuclear deal still being discussed and despite past efforts neither side has walked away from the negotiating table. Additionally, with the United States no longer directly engaged in Iraq, Iran’s role in the region seems to be growing, to the chagrin of the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Furthermore, the Iranian nuclear deal might just put an end to the status quo between the Gulf countries and Iran. If so, how is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) going to react? To begin with, the Arab countries are having a hard time trying to find some common ground. When it comes to the Iranian situation, different member countries of the GCC are adopting different approaches. For instance, Oman is trying its best to be neutral. In fact, Oman acted as the facilitator during the US-Iran negotiations for the nuclear deal. On the other hand, Qatar is waiting to project itself as the key player in the region, ahead of both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In early December, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
The Israeli and Iranian media have not paid much attention to this statement so far, probably assuming that such a meeting is unlikely to happen and that the individuals lack the power to cut a deal. Peres’ position as Israeli President is largely ceremonial and the real power is vested in Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister. For Iran, although President Rouhani runs the government, ultimate power is vested in Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. Logic might suggest - therefore - that there is little in Peres’ offer. A deeper look into the issue, however, reveals a very different story.
Peres has been a major figure in Middle Eastern politics for over six decades. He understands that reducing tension with Tehran would serve Israeli interests in many arenas. Iran has its fingers in almost all the region’s pies. Several of Iran’s allies pose real threats to Israeli national security, most notably Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The latest UN General Assembly gatherings have served to reiterate the grand spectacle of what is wrong, and in some ways right, about world politics. The usual players have turned up to make a scene.
We have a vibrant Brazilian leader Dilma Roussef scolding the United States for its surveillance fetish. We have a bobbish Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani wishing to make his mark. And there is the large question mark over what is to be done about Syria.
President Barack Obama is seen to be in a bother. There is the issue of government shutdown at home. The Syrian outfoxing, even if exaggerated, was notable enough to get those on Capitol Hill huffing about American inadequacy. At the United Nations, the President has found himself having to insist he did, in all earnestness, want to bomb Syria, which is another example of how one good violation of international law deserves another. Now, he is insisting that the Assad regime hand over chemical weapons with speedy urgency. In this heady ride on the carousel of bad events, Obama needs a deal – fast. Iran, the great detractor, might just be an option, though its President may well prove too wily for the plodders of the American empire.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he is prepared to engage in “time-bound and results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear programme. He told the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting in New York that sanctions against Iran were “violent”.
He also welcomed Syria’s acceptance of the Chemical Weapons Convention and condemned the use of such weapons. Earlier, US President Barack Obama said he was encouraged by Mr. Rouhani’s “more moderate course”. He told the General Assembly that the diplomatic approach to settling the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme must be tested. Mr. Rouhani, who was elected earlier this year, has pledged a more open approach in international affairs. Iran is under UN and Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme. Tehran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes but the US and its allies, including Israel, suspect Iran’s leaders of trying to build a nuclear weapon.
President Rouhani said the “so-called Iranian threat” was imaginary. “Iran poses absolutely no threat to the world or the region,” he said. “Nuclear weapon and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security and defence doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions. Our national interests make it imperative that we remove any and all reasonable concerns about Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme.”
The Times of Israel reacted strongly on Friday to the UK’s vote against joining America in punitive air strikes against Syria’s Assad regime: “Perfidious Albion hands murderous Assad a spectacular victory” thundered one headline, denouncing what founding editor David Horovitz called a “perfect storm of political ineptitude, short-sighted expediency, and gutlessness.”
Elsewhere, as speculation of the form and timing of a possible US military intervention in Syria gathered pace, editorials talked up the moral rectitude of action against Syria while at the same time cautioning readers about the dangers this posed to Israel’s security as emphasised by a comment from Syria that: “If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn.”
“There can be no passivity when a coterie of evil powers hurls deadly threats at Israel in the context of a struggle in which it is uninvolved,” opined the Jerusalem Post. Israel has generally avoided any entanglement in the uprisings and political changes of the Arab Spring. This avoidance of internal Arab politics has been wise, reducing the chance of getting sucked in and issues being reframed in the classic Arab-Israeli conflict paradigm. Though most Israelis – as expressed in Ha’aretz and Yedioth Ahronot – undoubtedly share Obama’s and Cameron’s conviction against the use of chemical weapons, it is clear that an Israeli punitive strike would be too provocative to consider. When Israel has perceived its vital interests as being threatened by the Syrian civil war, however, they have reacted.
It remains uncertain just who is responsible for last week’s alleged chemical attack that left scores dead and scores more injured.
Accusations have become a game of ‘he said, she said’ at the highest levels. US and other Western governments hold the Syrian government accountable, while Russia and Iran blame the assault on Syrian rebel groups eager to ramp-up international condemnation against the Assad regime. The UN has negotiated for its monitors to inspect the alleged attack site, however, as the US mulls over possible action in Syria, it remains unclear how intervention would further US interests. In fact, it would seem that President Obama has potentially backed himself into a corner, and perhaps endangered US influence, as allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria tests his ‘red line’ policy.
Syria’s humanitarian crisis is unequivocally tragic yet the gulf in public opinion surrounding the conflict has widened over the years. US policy has consistently remained focused on containing Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles, or at the very least deterring Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons during the ongoing conflict. The recent attack in eastern Ghouta crossed the ‘red-line’ which many deem necessary for intervention. However, should it turn out that Syria’s rebels forces are indeed behind the August 21 attack as Russia suggests, questions will linger on how the US will and should react, potentially exposing a double-standard in US policy.
Last week President Morsi announced that Egypt would be the third Arab state to sever ties with Syria and voiced his support for a western-imposed no-fly zone.
He made the announcement while standing with hardline Sunni clerics who called on young Egyptian jihadists to wage a holy war against President Al-Assad’s Army and Hezbollah militants in Syria. While Egypt remains far less influential in Syria than other powers opposed to Assad, Morsi’s shift underscores the Middle East’s dangerous move toward sectarianism. From the start of his presidency, Morsi expressed solidarity with the Syrian rebels and called on Assad to relinquish power. While expressing opposition to foreign military intervention, Egyptian policy was not to arm the Free Syrian Army. Instead, Morsi proposed that local powers (such as Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey) attempt to resolve the conflict through a negotiated settlement.
As the Syrian crisis has progressed, relations between Egypt and Iran have become warmer, as indicated by restored diplomatic relations, visits between the heads-of-state and renewed bilateral tourism. Morsi’s improved ties with Syria’s most important state sponsor and his inclusion of Iran as party to a proposed diplomatic settlement limited the extent to which he could rightly claim that he had earned revolutionary credentials within the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other Sunni Islamist rebels.
Israeli air-raids on Gaza have stopped. Palestinian rockets are not being fired at Israel. The cease-fire seems to be holding.
After seven days of war, and 157 Palestinian deaths (the great majority of whom were hapless civilians), international leaders are congratulating each other for achieving an end to hostilities. But the obvious question is, how long will it last? The war and the ceasefire negotiations highlighted a number of factors that are less than reassuring for the prospects of peace.
The United States and Australia made it clear during the war that they stood firmly with Israel. No objections to Israel’s disproportionate use of force. No condemnation of civilian death during Israel’s air raids. No questioning of the Israeli interpretation of self-defence. The Obama administration found the perfect opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the special bi-lateral relationship which had become somewhat of a hot topic during the electoral campaign. But this was not a campaign trick. This reaffirmation came after Obama’s electoral victory and pointed to an established pattern of pro-Israeli policies which has been the subject of heated debate in the United States.
This article is in response to “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now,” by Michael Doran and Max Boot, which appeared in the September 26, 2012 edition of the International Herald Tribune.
The greatest failure of the Obama Doctrine may lie not in its great success but its perceived easy exportability to any other conflict in the Middle East. The “lead from behind” approach and the targeted bombing campaign that worked so admirably in Libya was clearly on the minds of Doran and Boot as they put together their argument for intervention in Syria. But the Libya model has been stretched to its breaking point in their struggling attempt to fit it into the framework of the Syrian conflict.
Let’s look at how they justify a new, “muscular American policy” in Syria.
It should come as little surprise to anyone that the fragile cease-fire in Syria has failed and is evidence that - contrary to what many pundits contend - the tide continues to be on Mr. Assad’s side, given the time that has passed, the fractured nature of the opposition, and the bungled manner in which the West has addressed the subject.
As Syria demonstrates, with each passing month the Arab Awakening evolves in new and unexpected ways. The question is whether the West is evolving along with the Awakening, or will remain stuck in a unidimensional view of MENA. As pressure mounts on foreign powers to consider intervening militarily in Syria, analogies are naturally being drawn between what NATO accomplished in Libya and whether something comparable may be possible in Syria. Military intervention would perhaps make the West feel better — knowing that it attempted to do something concrete to end the bloodshed — but it is unlikely to be successful for several reasons. An air and sea campaign against Syria would likely prove more difficult than in Libya.
The Syrian military — which numbers more than 500,000 men (including reservists) — is more formidable than Gadhafi’s forces and would prove more challenging to impact by air. Syria possesses more than 10,000 armored fighting vehicles, 4,000 surface-to-air missile launchers, and a formidable array of anti-aircraft systems. Moreover, unlike in Libya, the Free Syria Army (FSA) has not established territorial control over any discernible part of the country, which makes it very difficult to imagine defending any positions. Any military campaign would likely result in numerous instances of mistaken identity and civilian casualties, so what would a military campaign be supporting at this time?
“It is not in our hands to prevent the murder of workers…and families…but it is in our hands to fix a high price for our blood, so high that the Arab community and the Arab military forces will not be willing to pay it.” – Moshe Dayan, Warrior: the autobiography of Ariel Sharon
As Israel has faced the threat of Arab armies and Islamic terrorism throughout its history, it has struggled to maintain a strong deterrence in the Middle East, one that will prevent other countries in the region from continuing to attack and to kill Israeli citizens. One of today’s most important issues in foreign affairs is Iran’s quest to obtain nuclear weapons and how their journey towards nuclear dominance in the Middle East might bring America and Israel into the conflict.
In Israel this issue is arguably more pertinent than anywhere else. The fear of a second Holocaust at the hands of an unstable regime in Iran is feared by most every citizen in Israel and their government is doing everything in its power to prevent Iran from achieving that goal. From a country who has called Israel “a true cancer tumor on the region that should be cut off,” Israelis have every right to be afraid of Iran achieving their goal of nuclear weapons and Israel has every right to continue to defend against that threat.
“As Prime Minister, I will never gamble with the security of the State of Israel.” – Benjamin Netanyahu, in a speech to AIPAC, March 5, 2012
Even before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at the 2012 AIPAC conference, the crowd of more than 13,000 participants knew what the topic of his speech would be: Iran. Speaking with passion unmatched by any of the other notable speakers, including US President Barack Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres, PM Netanyahu used biblical quotes, touching personal stories, and unbridled rhetoric to ensure that those in attendance understood that Israel would no longer stand by as Iran developed a nuclear weapons program.
His speech made it clear that Israel was losing patience with the diplomatic approach that has been favored by President Obama, and that Israel was seriously considering unilateral military action. This threat, credible or not, would not create the stability that PM Netanyahu seeks for his country. On the contrary, unilateral military action by Israel could possibly be the worst course of action available. Iran’s search for nuclear weapons has created a regional and global political environment that is substantially more beneficial to Israel than ever before. Such an environment would no longer exist should Israel pursue pre-emptive military action.
As we inch closer to the crucial nuclear talks between Iran and the world powers, the so-called P5+1, the primordial question is whether this time will be different: Is Tehran willing to make necessary compromises – from greater nuclear transparency to more stringent restrictions on its enrichment activities - to reverse the economic siege that is bringing the country close to the edge? Is she going to use the talks as a delaying tactic or will she finally strike a mutually-acceptable deal with the West?
From the perspective of the Iranian leadership, with sanctions beginning to squeeze the Iranian economy - atop intensifying threats of military invasion and a growing Western naval presence in the Persian Gulf - the nuclear impasse is worryingly morphing into a question of regime survival. Sure, the regime has significant resources – both financial and military – as its disposal to head-off growing international isolation, and pursue its nuclear program, but growing external pressure can affect the very foundation of Iran’s trillion-dollar industrializing economy. Moreover, growing economic uncertainty – compounding decades-long structural economic challenges - could also impact the country’s very social cohesion, amidst lingering discontent among certain quarters of the population.
This is precisely why this time could be different, and there are no shortages of diplomatic overtures on the part of Iran, signaling Tehran’s interest in resolving the crisis. If there is one thing that is consistent with the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is her undying instinct for self-preservation. Moreover, the Iranian regime is anything but monolithic: even within the upper echelons of the politico-military leadership, pragmatic forces have always sought to prevent any crisis or conflict, which would endanger the country’s territorial integrity. After all, the 1979 Iranian Revolution was nationalistic: its founding principles emphasized Iran’s territorial integrity and independence.
Arguably, growing tensions over Iran’s nuclear impasse represent today’s greatest international security challenge.
Current Western sanctions against Iran are biting hard, but they are also hurting both the Iranian population and global consumers. With rising concerns over a possible “supply shock” — as Iran struggles to sell its oil and alternative producers such as Saudi Arabia and Libya scramble over dwindling spare capacity — energy prices are inching closer to their staggering 2008 levels. While commodity markets are already feeling the shockwaves, global consumers are struggling to keep pace with rising energy costs.
Economists are seriously concerned that growing tensions in the Persian Gulf are undermining global recovery. In the event of a direct conflict, the world economy could slip into the abyss of a double-dip recession. The last thing the world needs is a major conflict at the heart of a democratizing region so vital to global economic stability. A U.S. or Israeli war with Iran would not only lead to a humanitarian tragedy but would put the entire Middle East on the precipice of conflagration — possibly dragging other great powers such as China and Russia into the picture.