It may not come to one’s mind that the most important player against Iran today is its own president, Ahmadinejad. My classification of the man might sound strange, contrary to what many people think; namely, that he is behind stirring sedition and causing wars against his Arab neighbors in Iraq and Lebanon. However, if we are to judge by actions, rather than words, then the Iranian leader is the one who tightened the siege on Iran and mobilized world opinion against it.
The Arabs were previously divided into three groups in terms of how they perceive Iran. The first group believed that there is an imminent danger because it is a stone throw away from Iran and because it views Iran’s conduct as a cause for concern. There are other Arab countries, which believed that Iran is maneuvering, by, for example, building a nuclear reactor, only to have the sanctions on it lifted. A third group saw in Iran an ally in the face of foreign danger and thinks that the things in common with Iran are greater than the points of disagreement.
However, since Ahmadinejad became president and Mohammed Khatami, the meek man, left the scene, the picture has changed. Most Arabs now believe that Iran is indeed a country that poses a threat because of its involvement in Iraq and the emergence of death squads and the sectarian killing of tens of thousands of Sunnis, as well as the great rift that appeared between the Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon, with Iranian support. What is certain is that President Ahmadinejad, with his extremist policy, has frightened most of the Arabs, who had previously been on the side of Iran.
Ahmadinejad has caused Iran to lose its friends in the West, who had formed a bloc in the face of US plans, including decisions and actions against Iran, such as France, Germany, and Russia, besides China. Even these countries could no longer remain neutral on the Iranian issue due to Tehran’s hard-line policy, which causes concern for everybody. The Europeans had previously engaged in a political battle with the Americans over the nuclear file and eventually obtained Washington’s approval of holding negotiations with the Iranians. The Europeans offered different concessions in several rounds, including political, economic, practical, and nuclear concessions, which were also opposed by the United States. But according to the Americans, Ahmadinejad rejected these concessions, thus uniting the West against him. The vote at the Security Council last month was evidence of the wrong extremist policy of Ahmadinejad. In a rare show of unanimity, all 15 members voted against Iran.
Until recently, whispers had been heard in top Arab echelons, voicing concern over American-Iranian reconciliation against the background of the failure of the United States in Iraq. Rumors spread about a secret deal between the two sides, which were reinforced after the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton committee that explicitly urged President Bush to reach an understanding with Iran. But fortunately for the Arab states, President Ahmadinejad nipped the idea in the bud through his threats and his insistence on his nuclear project, as well as the involvement of the groups that are believed to be backed by Iran in Lebanon and Palestine in the battles. Thus, convictions grew that there is a dangerous regime in Tehran.
Anyone who reads the articles that were written in the wake of these incidents will feel how strong the conviction has become, even on the part of moderates in the West, that reconciliation with the Iran of Ahmadinejad seems impossible, even with the promised concessions and understandings on Iraq. As for the Arabs, they know very well that an Iranian-American understanding in the region will mean one thing: an extreme makeover in the map of the region against them for a long time to come. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Iran cannot take a step backward, just as Washington cannot take a step forward.