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Opinion: Zarif – “We Coordinated With Saudi Arabia in Lebanon” | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“Iran and Saudi Arabia were able to actually stop impeding the process of the presidential election in Lebanon. We have a success story.” This is what the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He expressed his country’s desire to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in order to resolve the issues of “Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries” in front of those attending.

The Iranian minister’s proposal for joint action with Saudi Arabia to end conflicts in the region from the open stage is a new call that Iranian officials have repeated recently. Why? Are we seeing a shift in Iran’s aggressive policy that aimed to blockade Saudi Arabia and its allies? Or is Iran preparing itself for developments on the international scene considering the signs of change that we are seeing in US policy as a result of its friend Barack Obama’s departure, and the arrival of a new US administration that openly expresses its intention to confront Iran, as well as indications from Russia that it does not want to remain an ally and partner in the war with Iran and Syria? The third possibility is that Zarif’s comments regarding his country’s desire to cooperate with Saudi Arabia are just part of a public relations programme to improve the Republic of Iran’s image at the Davos forum.

Zarif’s proposal for cooperation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, specifically working together to end the conflicts in the region, should not be met with disapproval. However, it is strange that it is coming from Iran. It is a positive development except for the fact that the Iranian regime’s interpretation of the term “cooperation” here is that we politically accept Iranian crimes and aggression in Syria and Yemen. It is now seeking to impose its concept of “cooperation” in Syria and at the Astana conference, and it tried to do this previously in Bahrain but the Gulf states foiled this attempt.

Was there actually cooperation between the two countries in Lebanon and can it serve as a model that can be reproduced? In order for Michel Aoun to be accepted as president in Lebanon, there were tugs of war between Lebanese forces themselves. After a lengthy power vacuum, government action was suspended and state institutions were taken out of action. Iran’s proxies were not able to cooperate, especially after Saudi Arabia announced its refusal to deal with the Lebanese issue. They were not even successful in removing rubbish from the streets. As long as the new president does not adopt hostile attitudes against Saudi Arabia, does not allow anyone to carry out hostile activities on Lebanese territory and as long as Lebanese factions are satisfied, Riyadh will not have any reservations, and that is what happened.

As for the oil cooperation that Zarif referred to, the truth is that the cooperation was between Saudi Arabia and Russia and that Iran was not directly involved in it. The Russian government assumed responsibility for compelling the Iranians to respect their share of the previously agreed production.

This does not mean that there is anything wrong with the principle that Zarif expressed when he said that “I do not see any reason why Iran and Saudi Arabia should have hostile policies towards each other. We can in fact work together to put an end to the miserable conditions of the people in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere in the region”.

The only country that has an aggressive policy in the region is Iran. As for Gulf countries and other countries in the region, they have resorted to a defensive policy against Iran. Zarif does not need his country to wage wars in which hundreds of thousands of people are killed and millions displaced so that he can discover that there is no reasonable cause to feud with its neighbours!

The authorities in Tehran have succeeded in creating a militia that is collected from all around the region to wage wars and terrorist operations. However, this policy has now backfired on Iran, as it has opened the door to ethnic and sectarian conflicts and has forced countries in the region to engage in wars to defend themselves. All of this was caused by Iran which is directly involved in the fighting in Iraq and Syria and funds military rebels in Yemen.

Is it appropriate for countries in the region, specifically in the Gulf, to cooperate with Iran? I do not think so in light of Iran’s military attack. All that we can see now is that it is sabotaging all reconciliation efforts. Iranian forces on the ground tried to sabotage the Aleppo agreement between Russia and Turkey and are putting pressure on the rebels in Yemen to reject a political solution after they had accepted it.