The Dangers of Refusing to Link JCPOA to Tehran’s Behavior

“What is negotiation but the accumulation of small lies leading to advantage?”
(Felix Dennis)

It was a nail-biting moment for many as they waited for President Donald Trump to announce his position on “certifying” the nuclear agreement between major Western powers (plus Russia and China) and Iran; officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although many leaks and announcements about Trump’s position proved to be true, it was so important that it drew immediate responses.

In the Middle East, the region most directly concerned about Iran’s nuclear plans, contrast in reactions could not have been greater. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani angrily condemned Trump’s position widespread applause came from Arab countries disadvantaged not only by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but also its political exploitation of the international community’s silence towards it.

It is the silence that has allowed Iran to conquer and expand in the Region, thanks to its militias and conventional weapons.

Indeed, in the Middle East, specifically in the Gulf area, there are two serious threats posed by Iran’s ambitions for hegemony, including the nuclear agreement. The first is political, the second is nuclear.

The political threat is for all to see in the armed sectarian agitation, aided and sponsored by Tehran, whether through geographically dominant militias such as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in Iraq, ‘Fatemiyyoun’, ‘Zaynabiyyoun’ and Hezbollah militias in Syria and Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen; or through gangs involved in terrorism and clandestine activities as the ones we hear about in Bahrain, other Gulf states, and North African countries.

Sure enough, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which plays a vital role in Iran’s political, security and economic life, continuously highlights its interventions and has openly boasted its ‘control of four Arab capitals’. Moreover, Qassem Suleimani, the Commander of the ‘Quds Brigade’ of the IRGC, never misses an opportunity to appear inspecting the front lines in Iraq and Syria, although he is supposed to be ‘wanted’ and chased by the international community as a terrorist suspect!
As for the nuclear threat, it is no less dangerous from a purely scientific viewpoint.

It has a geological-seismic dimension that has adverse consequences on the safety of the Gulf region; given the fact that Iran straddles highly unstable, and thus, dangerous seismic faults. Furthermore, many Iranian nuclear reactors and installations have been built in vulnerable earthquake fault lines; and if we remember that only a short distance separates the port of Bushehr (home to one the major installations) and the eastern shores of the Arabian Peninsula, we may imagine what disaster may befall the whole region from any leakage like that we witnessed in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011.

Of course, the governments of Germany, France and the UK have every right to oppose or agree with Washington’s policies, but their insistence on defending the nuclear deal with Iran is based, in a large part, on economic interests. These governments, spurred by German, French and British companies and banks eager to enter Iran’s market of 90 million customers, refuse to acknowledge the link between the agreement and Iran’s harsh treatment of opposition at home, or its aggressive interventions in neighbouring Arab countries.

Indeed, Iran’s aggressive interventions have caused two major problems:

1- The refugee problem afflicting the countries of Western and Central Europe.

2- The problem of extremist terrorism under ‘Sunni’ Muslim slogans, provoked by Iran’s ‘Shi’ite’ Muslim slogans.

According to reliable statistics, Iran’s exports to EU countries have risen by % 375 between 2016 and 2017, European companies have invested heavily in the almost ‘virgin’ Iranian market, and there is rapid progress in banking facilities that is running parallel with these investments.

Thus, the three European governments’ positions look no different from that of Barack Obama’s administration which sponsored Tehran’s rehabilitation, accorded it all kinds of excuses, and gambled on making it a regional ally. They, just like the former US Democratic administration did before, are intentionally separating between nuclear technology and political repercussions. The three governments have ignored the fact that Iran’s lies second the World (after China) in the number of executions and first relative to population; and that many of these are of a political nature, mostly targeting ethnic and sectarian minorities.

Furthermore, the three governments, while claiming to defend human rights, have done nothing with regard to Tehran’s maltreatment of figures that were part of its regime’s elite like ex-premier Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and former Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, not to mention the first president of ‘The Islamic Republic’ Abolhassan Banisadr, still living in exile in France!

Berlin, Paris and London, which are repeating Obama’s same excuses that limit Muslim terror to Sunnis, refuse to admit Tehran’s active role in aiding and abetting even extremist Sunni Muslim groups worldwide, and co-operating with them, including Al Qaeda.

The three governments want us to accept former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s inverted logic when he stated, time and time again during the US-Iran nuclear negotiations, that they solely touched on the nuclear side and never included any “other issues”. It is the same “logic” that Kerry reiterated this week as he criticized President Trump’s refusal to “certificate” the JCPOA while taking a tough line too against the IRGC and its appendages after highlighting their destructive role regionally and globally. As for the “other issues” mentioned by Mr Kerry, and ignored then by the Obama administration, were Iran’s political, military and intelligence interventions in Arab countries.

Finally, the three European governments which have always claimed the moral high ground in welcoming refugees from the Middle East, could do better by adopting the maxim “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

The ounce of prevention in this case, is simply, ridding the World of the evils of extremism, destruction and hatred, all of which create and fuel terrorism.

Scrutinizing The Kurdish Referendum

It was really significant that the coffin of Jalal Talebani, the ex-Iraqi president, was wrapped by the national flag of Kurdistan rather the flag of Iraq, during his funeral in his hometown As-Suleimanyyah.

What we are now witnessing is a virtual ‘divorce’ between the ‘Kurdish political mood’ in northern Iraq and all the Arabs. Even if this ‘divorce’ is neither final nor official yet, it is indeed a psychological ‘divorce’ the reality of which could not be diluted by polite and tactful words.

With a psychological ‘divorce’, as the one we see today in Iraq, Arabic and Islamic names such as Jalal, Mas’oud, Mustafa, Salaheddin and Ahmad Mukhtar are fast disappearing only to be replaced with Kurdish names like Kameran, Dilshad and Showan. Given this fact, it is highly unlikely to maintain a ‘friendship’ between neighbours, as friendships require trust. Personally, I reckon the Kurdish leadership does not trust the Arabs anymore, and many Arabs no more view the Kurds as partner in destiny, history and geography.

Of course, no one must blame Iraq’s Kurds for their negative attitude, given the suffering under Saddam Hussein’s authoritarianism and Nuri Al-Maliki sectarian subservience (to Iran). However, it would not be fair that the Kurds should regard their long association with their fellow Iraqis – indeed, the Arabs – as an ‘unequal’ relationship, whereby the Arabs discriminated against them and sought to marginalise and even obliterate the Kurd’s national identity.

It is true that there are ‘factional’ trends throughout the Arab world, but they are not really different from what is prevalent in similar societies. Some, in many cases, are religious or sectarian; but mostly they are tribal and clannish. Noteworthy, here, is that with periods of extremist chauvinism aside, Arabs in the Near East had no problem living under a Kurdish prime minister or a Kurdish provincial governor; and for that matter, never minded living under a Turkmen, Circassian or Bosnian prime minister of governor. Before the Ottoman Turks ruled the Near East for four centuries, the region lived also for centuries under the (Kurdish) Ayyubi dynasty and the (Turkic, Mogul and Circassian) Memlukes, and yet there are no records of Arabs maltreating the Kurds simply because they were Kurds!

Later, under the two periods of the British Mandate and Independence, I – a son of a father who lived with and befriended the Kurds for years – know of no specific anti-Kurds discrimination. Actually, in ‘post 1920 Iraq’ as well in previous periods the Kurds lived almost like every other Iraqi community; and from their ranks rose prominent figures since the Independence such as Jalal Baban, Jamal Baban, General Bakr Sidqi, Musleheddin Naqshbandi, and Ahmad Mukhtar Baban …Iraq’s last prime minister before the ‘republican revolution’ of 1958.

All the above are facts; and any Arab not inclined to delusions and self- loathing, must realise the dangers faced by the Region; indeed, more than our region if we look further and see what is happening in Western Europe, and America too.

The concept of the ‘nation-state’ is relatively recent, and so are ‘national boundaries’. Germany, the leading country in central and western Europe did not develop its ‘national identity’ except in the 19th century. Before that, the ‘Wars of Spanish Succession’ (1701-1714) following the death of King Charles II of Spain without an heir, set in motion great political developments and redrew the map of Western Europe.

Then, in Eastern Europe, when was the ‘nation-state’ born? What happened in the Caucasus? How did the Russian Empire grow? How did its peoples, ethnic groups, religious and linguistic groups exist even before diversity was – one way or another recognized in the former USSR? Isn’t what is taking place in the Ukraine today a carryover from the old heritage shared and fought over between its Orthodox East and Catholic West … with its partial Polish dimensions?

A big problem with our dangerously unstable world lies in trying to agree on definitions; as there is a disagreement on defining political terms as well as interests.

After Brexit, Europe is no more a dream of great pioneers like Robert Schuman, Charles De Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer and Paul-Henri Spaak. Europe now needs to redefine itself as an idea, a political term, as well as vital interests. The ‘national unity’ of its entities is no more a forgone conclusion, but is now rather dependent on several considerations, conditions and counter-conditions.

Scotland is now waiting for a rise in world oil prices, Catalonia is trying to avoid economic boycott, and other dreamers pursuing secessionist projects are now diligently working out their feasibility far from the slogans of integration, and inclusive ‘Western Civilization’, in the midst of the struggle between ‘expansive’ globalization and ‘reclusive’ racism.

Well. Let’s leave Europe for a moment and look at North America. Is it now more cohesive?

Donald Trump, the president of the USA, the greatest immigrant destination in the ‘New World’, is keen on building a ‘dividing wall’ along the borders with Mexico in order to separate the two nations and prevent incoming immigrant from the south, while insisting that poor Mexicans pay for it! He also wants to ‘stop exporting’ American jobs to Mexico in the hope that the USA maintains its economic well being and industrial base, thus, making Mexico’s poor even poorer, and more insistent on immigrating, despite the ‘wall’.

Across the America’s northern borders, however, Canada’s young Liberal premier Justin Trudeau is happy to head a record-breaking ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse cabinet, which he describes as “a cabinet that looks like Canada”. Lately, after Trudeau’s appointment of a Lebanese-Canadian as Canada’s new Chief Science Adviser, the opposition’s Left-leaning New Democratic Party elected a young lawyer of Indian Sikh origins as its leader.

It is this real world that our folks, the Kurds, need to recognize before they reach the point of no return against the principles of ‘friendship’ and ‘good neighbourliness’.

Geography dictated that peoples of the world cannot chose their ‘neighbours’, but they can choose to make them either ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’.

Furthermore, millions or tens of millions do not automatically qualify any group for independence; otherwise, why is Uttar Pradesh (with a population of more than 204 million people) is a state in India just like Manipur (inhabited by only 3 millions)?

Both Turkey and Iran are currently opposing the referendum of Iraq’s Kurds, relying on their size, influence and exploitation of the current interests in international affairs. The same applies to Spain as it opposes the Catalonian referendum. It is also worth mentioning here that the USA would not have been the power it is today had it accepted the secession of the southern Confederate States.

In politics, proper calculations are a must; and they should take into account not only internal wishes, but also external conditions.

It is vital to appreciate the dangers of bad timing and double-standards, and also changes of governments and shifts in alliances.

Newton’s Third Law in a Country Held Captive

I would have preferred today to write something about the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum and its likely consequences; as it presents a true landmark regardless how one looks at it. However, the sentences passed by Lebanon’s Military Court against the hardline sheikh Ahmad Al-Asir and his followers after convicting them of “confronting the army” is worth some deliberation.

For a start, I would like to say that I do not support sheikh Al-Asir, who has been sentenced to death, nor do I believe he represents the Sunni Muslims whether inside or outside Lebanon. I would even venture further to say that Sunni Muslims benefit nothing by being represented by the sheikh or those like him.

In fact, it is precisely because I regard sheikh Al-Asir an extreme sectarian phenomenon, I am deeply concerned that the above-mentioned sentence – directed exclusively at his person and his sectarian and political current – would recruit hundreds, perhaps thousands to his cause after he becomes a wronged martyr. The Lebanese, whether they are willing to admit it or rather continue with their acts of denials which they have mastered, know only too well the circumstances surrounding the verdict.

They realize the present huge imbalance on the ground in Lebanon. They know where the “legitimate arms’ stand vis-à-vis the ‘illegitimate arms’. Who rules the land and issues orders. Who is ‘guiding and directing the population’ in order to fit its conditions set for the homeland, citizenship, and its ‘certificates’ in patriotism and morals, including his teachings with regard to family life and upbringing. Who escapes justice thanks to its arms-backed power and influence… and who are those solely accused of extremism, ‘terrorism’, ‘takfirism’(i.e. religious extremism), and of course being ‘agents of Israel and America’.

The Lebanese are fully aware of all the above. Indeed, if one thing was missing, it was brought home through social media recently by the footage of a lecture given by sheikh Naim Qassem (the Deputy Secretary General of Hezbollah). In this lecture, sheikh Qassem unequivocally uncovered his candid views about the Lebanon he seeks, its ‘Islamist’ society and politics … from ‘resistance’ (i.e., fighting against Israel and USA), to preventing divorced women from teaching children!

Of course, in such a situation there is no need to ask whatever happened to the suspects in the assassination of Rafic Hariri and his colleagues sought by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). No need either to question why the killer of Lebanese air force officer Samer Hanna in 2008 was set freed on bail 10 months after the “manslaughter”; or what became of the ‘identified’ suspect in the assassination attempt against MP and ex-cabinet minister Butrus Harb, or those who carried out the massive explosions in the Taqwa and Salaam mosques in the city of Tripoli in 2013, in which 49 were killed and more than 800 injured.

Furthermore, is it not strange that Al-Asir was sentenced to death amid ‘doubts’ about the role claimed to have played by his armed adversaries in his case with the Lebanese Army?

Then, if defending the safety and security of the homeland were behind the death sentence, is it not strange that retired Brigadier Fayez Karam was only sentenced to three years imprisonment, later commuted to two, after being actually convicted of “giving information to Israel’ without any objection from Hezbollah which both is an ally of Karam’s party (the Aounist ‘Free Patriot Movement’) and the self-proclaimed sole enemy of Israel? Is it not strange that ex-MP and cabinet minister Michel Samaha, a close friend of the Syrian regime, was only sentenced for 13 years imprisonment despite being convicted to transporting arms and explosives intended for use in a bombings and assassinations campaign aimed at inciting civil strife in Lebanon?

Worse still, is it not curious that many suspected Sunni ‘terrorists’ and ‘Islamists’ jailed in Roumieh Prison (East of Beirut), have never been legally accused, not even of crimes the sentences for which are shorter than the period they should serve had they been actually convicted?!

Facing a preposterous situation like this, I reckon this must be the surest way of recruiting new members for extremist organizations like ISIS. This huge injustice drives many into the bosoms of extremist and terrorist organizations and movements.

This has, in fact, been successfully tried before in Iraq and Syria. The Iranian leadership, whether directly or through its subservient agents in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, had striven to weaken the nationalist, liberal and moderate leftist Sunni Muslims through methodical marginalization and intentional humiliation in order to frustrate and dispirit them; and then accusing them of religious extremism and terrorism … to justify crushing them.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki used this method with the Sunnis of Al-Anbar Province (western Iraq) thus creating an unwilling sectarian ‘incubator’ for Al Qaeda; however, after the ‘Sahwat’ (the Awakening Uprisings) rebelled and expelled Al Qaeda, al-Maliki carried on his policies of intentional marginalization and persecution until ISIS appeared on the scene. The same ISIS Al-Maliki’s government and Iran’s General Qassem Suleimani allowed to attack and occupy the (Sunni) city of Mosul and its environs, which were almost handed over without a shot fired in anger!

In Syria, Al-Assad’s regime invested heavily, for years, in self-proclaimed (Sunni) Islamists, such as Mahmoud Qul-Aghassi “Abu Al-Qa’qa’”. Their task was to smuggle extremists across the borders into Iraq in order to hassle American troops and push for its withdrawal; thus, leaving Iraq an easy trophy for Iran and its subservient Shi’ite ‘Popular Mobilization Forces’ (PMF).

Last but not least, in Lebanon, the same strategy has been adopted to paint the Sunnis as ‘ISIS sympathizers’; although this is completely untrue. Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims are the furthest from religious and sectarian extremism. One of their great ‘muftis’ (religious leaders) was the late Pan-Arabist prime minister Abdul-Hamid Karami, whose two sons Rashid and Omar also became prime ministers.

Indeed, it is ironic that the statue of Abdul-Hamid Karami which stood in his city, Tripoli, for years was taken out by extremists nurtured by the Syrian intelligence agencies. In addition to Karami, it is worth mentioning that at present one of Lebanon’s Sunni ‘muftis’ is the son of a Christian mother, and another has Shi’ite sons-in-law and daughters-in-law! Even as far as prime ministers go, Lebanon has had prime ministers who converted from Sunnism to Shi’ism for reasons connected to inheritance.

Yes, Lebanon’s Sunnis are not ‘extremists’, but there are certainly those who are keen to push them to that corner, without realizing that this is a double-edged sword.

Those pushers betting on Isaac Newton’s ‘Third Law of Motion’ where “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” are risking a lot.

They, through pushing Sunnis to extremism in order to incriminate and destroy them, are not only gambling with the fate of the Middle East and Muslim world; but are also cultivating within their own communities ills that will prove fatal sooner or later.

Too Much Democracy may Damage your Health!

One quote widespread in the Arab region, a few decades ago, was that it was facing the danger of ‘partitioning what has been already partitioned. Those days, several Arab capitals were run by leaders who cover their tribalism and sectarianism by claiming to be ‘Pan-Arabists’ as well ‘Anti-imperialist Globalists’!

No doubt the region was affected by the demise of the Arab Nationalist project after the defeat of 1967, and later the end of the ‘east – west’ rivalry in the late 1980s and 1990s as a result of the collapse of the ‘Berlin Wall’ and later the USSR. Thus evaporated all fake slogans, and emerged the true chemistry of most of these regimes.

It did not take long before the discourse of armed ‘Political Islam’ began establishing itself at the expense of that of ‘Arabism’ and the ‘liberation of Palestine’ as well as globalist discourse of the Socialist Left and Liberal Right. However, there was no place for any armed groups under state authority; which meant that this kind of armed ‘Political Islam’ – namely, Sunni –, bolstered by some electoral successes, became the ‘democratic choice’ in the struggle for political change against regimes unwilling to accommodate reform. On the other hand, the states’ legitimate armies and security forces (and later Shi’ite militias, as we have witnesses in Iraq and Syria) became the effective means of stemming the tide of Sunni ‘Political Islam’.

What has been called the ‘Arab Spring’ has been a turning point.

While many Arab intellectuals continue to debate the true meaning of this term, many have been questioning and arguing some serious issues, such as:

Why seek change if the human, political and economic cost was so high? What’s wrong in tolerating dictatorships if the alternative is chaos? Aren’t we immature nations that hardly deserve democracy anyway .. so why ask for what we don’t deserve? Why must we show empathy with other suffering Arabs who trouble us and let us down instead of looking after our own interests? And last but not least, what’s wrong in being weak – even against regional challenges – when we can always rely on Super Powers that are always ready to protect us?

I reckon that being able to address these questions would ‘enrich’ our political culture, and refocus our outlook to the challenges faced by the Region and its peoples. On a negative note, however, we are approaching these questions neither in a responsible way nor with a commitment to accountability.

For example a lot has been written about the Palestinian Conflict and the ‘nature’ of Israel to the extent that many have lost interest. Later, we lived and continue to live under the Iranian project for hegemony which today runs four Arab capitals. We also read and follow Turkey’s tumultuous hankering to go back to Ottoman times after turning the page of the Ataturk Experiment with all its possible regional ramifications. In the meantime, Arab division and disintegration gather pace, against a back drop of inflated snippy individualism, and delusions about what the future might hold for the Region.
In Sudan, the South has already seceded and this may only be the beginning; and in some North African ‘Magharebi’ countries there are stirrings of dormant factional problems.

In Yemen, too, the Houthi phenomenon, coming hard on heels of the Qaeda phenomenon is surely a worrying sign. However, the real catastrophe is that taking hold of Iraq and the Levant.

The Kurds have decided on full independence from Iraq, and had things been more conducive, would have done the same in Syria. The truth is that as ‘inventing’ ISIS has brought down the Syrian popular uprising and rehabilitated Al-Assad Regime under US-Russian auspices and Iranian firepower, the transgressions of the reigns of Saddam Hussein and Nuri Al-Maliki have provided the leaders of Iraqi Kurds ready-made excuse to seek an independence that had really worked for all along, regardless of what they diplomatically claim today.

Sure, there is no moral or political justification to oppose the Kurds’ right to seek independence, whether in Iraq or Syria, or even Iran and Turkey for that matter. But, as it is often said, ‘the devil is in the detail’. What sort of country will the new Kurdistan be? What are its borders going to look like? What political system will it have? What are non-Kurds to expect in a ‘nationalist’ Kurdish entity?

The early signs in the ‘disputed areas’ are not encouraging.

Indeed, during ‘the war on ISIS’ Iraqi Kurds made haughty pronouncements such as “the Peshmerga (the powerful Kurdish militias) will never withdraw any territory they liberate”; and then there is the volatile situation in the oil-rich mixed-race city of Kirkuk, and the issues of Tel Afar and the towns of the Nineveh Plain, without forgetting the bouts of ethnic and sectarian ‘cleansing’ in Diyala Province.

Not to be outdone, Syria’s Kurds are steadily working to establish their ever-expanding Rojava ‘autonomous region’ at the expense of Arab, Turkmen and Syriac/Assyrian/Chaldean towns and villages; changing their mostly Arabic names in the process.

Mr Masoud Barzani, president of ‘Iraqi Kurdistan Region’, who has insisted on including the ‘disputed areas’ in the independence referendum, is continuing to reassure world leaders that the new independent ‘Kurdistan’ would be a Northern Europe-style pluralistic democracy… but under the arms and banners of the Peshmerga. The Kurdish parties working for a Kurdish ‘autonomous area’ in northern Syria, which are also trying to impose its hegemony over mixed areas, claim they too are committed to ‘democracy’ and have been conducting ‘elections, under the watchful eye of what is attractively called “Syrian Democratic Forces’ which are actually dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

This brand of ‘democracy’ does not reassure many living whether within or outside the Kurdish dominated areas. In fact, if helpless minorities find themselves willing to accept a ‘lesser of two evils’ when faced with two worse options: either living under Iran’s Shi’ite militia led by Qassem Suleimani or under ISIS, others do not feel compelled to accept such a scenario.

Honest aspirations and goodwill, aside Kurdish leaders today face many serious doubts and strong opposition, and if Arab lamentable weakness cannot save the identity and sovereignty of Iraq and Syria, Iran’s and Turkey’s national interests may be capable of disturbing Kurdish calculations, and impose conditions of their own.

On their part, it may be in the interests of the Kurds to be cautious in over-relying on international promises of support. They may be wise not to burn all their boats… even with the Arabs who are now the weakest player in the Near East.

The Near East’s Costly Wrong Bets

As uncertainty engulfs a bleeding Near East, besieged by regional and global powers each pursuing its own agenda, dormant ambitions and sensitivities are waking up and finding the current situation suitable to express themselves.

To begin, such dormant ambitions and suppressed sensitivities would have never emerged had it not been for the huge regional disorder and radical change of international balance of power.

It is true that domestic consensus towards ‘national’ identities and boundaries is not guaranteed these days, even in western democracies that values human rights – as the Scots and Catalan nationalists seek to secede from the UK and Spain, respectively, through the ballot box – yet internal instability remains a sure prerequisite to animosities and partition as we witness in Iraq and Syria.

Without dwelling too much on history, be it true or not quite true, it is obvious that there is a close relationship between loyalties on one side and interests on the other. Under multi-ethnic empires such as the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Arab Near East for four centuries, many oriental constituent ethnicities accepted interaction, coexistence and intermarriage, and thus many Arabs became ‘Turkified’ while many Kurds, Syriacs and Chaldeans were ‘Arabised’.

Those days, pragmatic interests necessitated interaction and coexistence, even assimilation. Moreover, internal migrations, as well as population exchange sometimes, became almost common phenomena within that great political, social and economic space. So when some constituent ethnicities or sects appear as if they are “correcting” the mistakes of the past or “avenging’ old injustices, they are not really doing that because they are necessarily braver or more decisive than their predecessors, but because times have changed, and they may allow them now to get away with what was impossible to in the past.

Some proponents of ‘political Shi’ism’ who are now openly calling to avenge the murders of the ‘Talebis’ (the descendants of the fourth caliph Ali Ibn Abi Taleb) and “reclaim the legitimacy” of government in the Muslim world in favour of the ‘Mullahs’ of Iran against the (Sunni) descendants from the House of Omayya. This would have not been possible had it not been for the active support of Tehran and the west’s turning a blind eye to its plans for regional hegemony and acquiring nuclear capabilities.

Others among religious minorities – namely, Christian – were hard pushed to openly welcome foreign protection had it not been for the emergence of ISIS, an extremist sanguinary and dubious phenomenon. ISIS’ atrocities have actually managed to divert the attention away from plans for hegemony and “revenge” carried out by Iran and its subordinate henchmen; and thus we see these minorities not only convinced of the need for foreign protection but also for building an “alliance of minorities” too!

Then, there are large ethnic and linguistic minorities, like the Kurds, who discovered that they are enjoying a unique opportunity to establish their unfulfilled dream of a ‘nation-state’ over the ever-expanding territories they now control, and claim as their own. The Kurds may have genuine grievances that would tempt some of their extremists to risk open animosities with the Turks and Iranians – whom the Kurds have long accused of discriminating against them -, as well as the Arabs, led in recent decades by regimes that combined chauvinist discourse with tribal structure.

However, the Kurds, themselves, are not totally blame-free from discriminating against others. Indeed, it could be argued that what they perpetrated against the Assyrians and Chaldeans early in the 20th century in northern Iraq and Hakkari Mountains may be regarded as “ethnic cleansing”. Furthermore, the arrogant attitude currently adopted by some Kurdish leaders in several ‘mixed areas’ in northern Iraq, like Kirkuk, Tal Afar and the villages and towns of Nineveh plain, as well as large areas in northern Syria, specifically, in the provinces of al-Hassakah, Al-Raqqah and Aleppo, does not augur well for a future free of hatred and bad blood.

Here lies the real challenge. Here it is very important to realize the dangers of adventures, opportunism, burning boats and over-reliance on foreign promises of support. This is risky not only for religious, sectarian and ethnic minorities in the Arab Near East, but also for the religious and sectarian majority too.

The mere presence of a phenomenon like ISIS is a symptom of a dangerous crisis in both the Arab and Muslim Worlds. Past experiences and lessons of history have taught us that moderation and openness were always signs of periods of renaissance and ascendancy, while extremism and intolerance were signs of weakness, decay and internal division. Terrorism and indiscriminate murder also reflect a failure to understand the world, and to take into account the repercussions of such heinous actions. Obviously, the outcome for all to see throughout the Arab and Muslim Worlds today is the retreat of intelligent dialogue and broad agreements in the face of violent and exclusionist mob rhetoric.

Given the above, the greatest fear is that the worst may still to come, and the heavy price paid already may not be enough. In fact, this background provided the excuse for former US president Barack Obama to sign the nuclear treaty (JCPOA) with Iran’s rulers after describing them as “not suicidal”, and the veil Western powers hid behind as they conspired against the uprising of the Syrian people.

Still, there is no guarantee the current situation is permanent. Sooner or later Iran’s exploitation of and investing in ISIS will end, more so in the light of accelerating international military involvement in Iraq and Syria. Then, there are too many contradictions between competing regional plans which hope to sell the bear’s fur before hunting it!

In northern Iraq there are danger signs of potential confrontation between the pro-Iran ‘Popular Mobilisation Forces’ (MDF) and pro-independence Kurds. This is natural as it is quite unlikely that Iran, which has its own secessionist Kurds, would be happy to see an independent Kurdish state on its western borders north of an Iraq that Iran had subdued and destroyed.

The picture is not much different in Syria where Washington has encouraged secessionist Kurds – under the pretext of fighting ISIS – to establish their own mini-state along the Syrian-Turkish borders. This has been done with Washington’s full awareness that Turkey is the country in which lives almost half of the total the Kurdish population of the Middle East.

Thus, much of what becomes of the Kurds depends on Washington’s and Moscow’s overall visions for the Near East in the foreseeable future. As for what the Shi’a would achieve, along with their erstwhile Alawi extension in Syria, much depends on Moscow’s regional strategy and Washington’s reaction to it.

Iran’s Jaw-Dropping Hypocrisy on Qatar Crisis

Buildings are seen on a coast line in Doha

There is a famous saying that “in politics, there is neither a lasting friendship nor a permanent enmity, but rather a permanent interest.” It is true. The most successful policies are the most realistic ones, in which pragmatism trumps principles.

Take the US, established by its Founding Fathers with their Declaration of Independence bestowing the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Despite this foundation, the US had no qualms during the Cold War about supporting dictatorships in the Far East, Latin America and parts of Africa. It justified this support by saying the US feared the expansion of the “Communist Ghoul” into poor countries that were prone to political instability.

Or take the former Soviet Union, with its roots in the 1917 October Revolution that demanded a fair global society for the world’s workers, with no racial, linguistic and religious differences. But within its borders this “workers’ paradise” built individual police states and sheltered mafia groups with illegally obtained wealth. They enslaved hard-working people, limited the dreams of the poor and deceived those who believed in social justice.

And why look so far afield for examples of such pragmatism? At the very heart of our Arab world, have we not seen how some “progressive” parties ended up once they acquired power? In a short period of time, and in the absence of accountability, they awarded themselves castles, privileges and wealth.

In the end, words may be forgotten and data erased, but interests, and interests alone, determine the policies of the countries that are good at “handling” politics.

For decades, the US State Department has issued annual statements about countries that flout international law and support terrorism. Iran, Syria and North Korea invariably appear on that list. Let us disregard North Korea for the time being and examine how Washington behaved toward the other two during the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama.

Obama reached a deal with Iran that will allow the latter, after 15 years, to establish a nuclear military capability. That was not all. To reach this deal, the US disregarded the expansion of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) throughout the Middle East, inciting sectarian hatred and civil war.

At the same time, the US mocked the Syrian people’s revolution and denied it a path to success and any means of support. It also deceived the Syrian people and turned a blind eye to violence, starvation, displacement and destruction — crimes that have killed up to half a million Syrians and destroyed the lives of untold millions more. To put it simply, the Iranian and Syrian people have been overlooked, for the sake of a capricious deal that contradicted every principle of combating terrorism.

What applies to Obama’s Washington applies, in fact, to most developed countries that brag about their democratic heritage while lecturing a Third World that endures poverty, famine, disease and underdevelopment. It also applies to countries that claim to be living in accordance with divine spiritual principles that supersede political institutions, of which Iran is a classic example. To comply with the requirements of international relations, it elects governments and presidents, and establishes councils and surveillance bodies: But governance is exercised through the theory of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist or Wilayat Al-Faqih.

Two powerful forces form the core of the regime, apart from all the claims related to democracy and public freedoms: The IRGC and its institutions, and the moneyed group that provides the IRGC with the means of subsistence, expansion and domination, and benefits from its activities.

At the end of 2001, and in response to the 9/11 attacks, the US decided to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan because it supported and had close ties with Al-Qaeda. The Iranian leadership did not object to the presence of US and NATO troops on the Muslim lands of Afghanistan. Quite the reverse, Iran was happy that Washington had brought down a hard-line tyranny that it disliked.

The same silence followed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the toppling of the regime and the execution of its president. Moreover, despite the hostility to Washington and the “Death to America” culture that Iran spread through the areas under its influence and control, Tehran supporters actually benefited from the US occupation.

In Afghanistan, since the liberation from Taliban rule and the Afghan forces’ agreement on a consensual legitimate authority, Tehran has moved to secure a foothold in the country by re-establishing close ties with its “ancient foe,” the Taliban.

Almost the same thing happened in Iraq: The US did Tehran a favor by exterminating the Baathist regime, but once that was achieved Tehran had no interest in keeping the Americans there for long. To put pressure on Washington, Tehran gave the Syrian regime the task of exporting Al-Qaeda terrorism to Iraq with operations targeting the remaining US soldiers. That is how Iran forced the US to withdraw, leaving the arena clear for Tehran’s influence.

According to Tehran’s followers in the Arab region, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and now Daesh are takfiri organizations who accuse other Muslims of apostasy. This charge does not, of course, extend to similar organizations that are supported by Tehran.

Iran waged an aggressive war in Syria against its people, economy and national unity under the pretext of fighting takfiris. For several years now, Tehran’s spokesmen and Iranian policy advocates on Arab media have been attacking countries that they accuse of supporting takfiris. However, as soon as the Qatar crisis began, Tehran rapidly switched sides and stood shoulder to shoulder with the countries it had just accused of supporting takfiri ideology.

Some may describe this as “realpolitik,” and pragmatism trumping principles. Others may describe it as hypocrisy.

Iran’s Nuclear Deal Is Two Years Old

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”

(Winston Churchill)

Marking two years since Iran’s nuclear deal (JCPOA), we would be badly mistaken if we assumed that the ‘architects’ of Barack Obama’s policy of handing over the keys of the Middle East to Tehran rulers feel any kind of regret or remorse.

Not a bit. Obama’s ‘cabal’, which gave Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) a carte blanche throughout the region when it was in charge of it Middle East policies, is quite happy with what it has ‘achieved’ despite its admission that “Iran’s behavior in the region has not improved”.

The other day, Robert Malley, a leading member of the said ‘cabal’ tweeted an article co-written by Philip Gordon, another ‘cabal’ member with Richard Nephew – a researcher and expert who dealt with Iran’s nuclear file between 2011 and 2013 – in The Atlantic magazine. Malley, a ‘progressive’ admirer of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s rulers who detests Arab ‘conservatives’, tweeted ‘Why the Iran deal has worked, and why its critics have it wrong’. As for Gordon and Nephew, they chose for their article the following title ‘The ‘Worst Deal Ever’ That Actually Wasn’t’!

In their article Gordon and Nephew indirectly criticized American President Donald Trump’s and leading Republicans’ opposition to JCPOA by arguing “In fact, the deal is doing exactly what is was supposed to do: prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, demonstrate to the Iranian public the benefits of cooperation with the international community, and buy time for potential changes in Iranian politics and foreign policy”.

They added “Anyone who thought a deal would immediately change Iran’s regional agenda or who maintains that, if only America and its partners had insisted on such changes in the talks they would have materialized, has a misguided sense of what sanctions and diplomatic pressure can accomplish. Having been deeply involved in the negotiations, we think it’s important to be clear about the purpose, enduring benefits, and inevitable limitations of the agreement”.

The Co-writers then argued that “what the deal has done, at least for the next decade, is deter any realistic threat of a near-term Iranian nuclear weapon. The United States should use that decade wisely: standing up to and imposing costs on Iranian transgressions, supporting US allies in the region, making clear to the Iranian public that the West is not an enemy, and preparing for the day when some of the deal’s restrictions will no longer apply.

If, by 2030, Iran has not demonstrated that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and that it is willing to live in peace with its neighbors, the United States and its international partners will have difficult decisions to make about how to handle the issue going forward.

In conclusion, they wrote “But since there is a chance that Iran will have different leaders or policies by then—the current Supreme Leader will almost certainly be gone, and a new generation may have come to power—why make those difficult decisions now? The Iran deal has bought valuable time. Squandering that time without a better plan would be foolish”.

An important point to keep in mind as one reads those arguments is whether Malley and Gordon – both very close to Obama and Hillary Clinton – ever expected the Democrats to lose the race to the White House to Trump? Most opinion polls showed the contrary; and Gordon was indeed expected to be a member of Hillary Clinton’s team had she won.

Another question is whether the Democrats – under Obama – were simply postponing the crisis past the incoming Democratic administration, in order to entangle the next Republican president with its complex ramifications and consequences.

As we witnessed since the “deal’ – as described by Gordon and Nephew – the ‘Liberal’ Democrats fought strongly to defend it. Those ‘Liberal’ may be divided into two camps:

1- ‘Progressive apologists’ led by president Obama himself, who tacitly admire Tehran’s ‘revolutionary’ rhetoric against ‘militaristic’ and ‘conservative’ Arab regimes.

2- Trusted ‘Israel friends’ who believe that civil and sectarian wars within and between its neighboring states would be the best guarantee for Israel’s safety and security.

Giving Tehran’s mullahs the benefit of the doubt has been very much in the mind of Obama who once said they were not “suicidal”; and of course Israel’s interests have always been a strategic policy of every US administration. On the other hand, the fate of the Arab countries never occupied a high position in Obama’s list of political priorities, recalling how he reneged on almost everything he promised in what was his ‘historic’ 2009 Cairo speech. This fate hit an all-time low after the collapse of his ‘Red Lines” many had thought existed in Syria to prevent Bashar Al-Assad’s massacring of his own people by chemical weapons and other means.

Since the nuclear deal with Iran, many things have changed throughout the Middle East except in Iran, which is now convinced it has been given a carte blanche to do what it pleases. In fact, from the beginning, former Secretary of State John Kerry was frank when he reiterated that the JCPOA negotiations were restricted to the nuclear file, and never touched on other ‘regional issues’.

However, it was well known that among those ‘regional issues’ was the IRGC’s occupation of four Arab capitals, its destruction of cities in both Syria and Iraq, and uprooting and displacing tens of millions of Syrians and Iraqis most of whom were Sunni Arabs!

Furthermore, most of the crises in the Middle East were relegated to the shadows of ‘The War against ISIS’; that artificial terrorist phantom that was nurtured and built up, if not created and given its raison d’etre, by the policies of Tehran Moscow and Obama’s Washington during three years of the Syrian uprising.

The presence of ISIS has been the perfect excuse to redraw the boundaries of the ‘New Middle East’, and the much sought after factor to justify bringing down everything, leaving only’ failed states’, sectarian animosities, epidemics of ignorance and intolerance, and systematic destruction of institutions, landmarks of civilizations and cultural heritage.

The whole Middle East has paid – and is still paying – a heavy price for the ‘decade’ the nuclear deal has gifted to Iran. This price is being paid even by the ordinary Iranian citizen, who has been deprived by his mullahs, zealots and Revolutionary Guards his/her social safety net and welfare opportunities for future generations.

History’s Suicide and Geography’s Disintegration

The last hours were significant, highly revealing and had long-term effects.

From Hamburg we heard, for the first time, of US-Russian “common understanding” on Syria. From Baghdad came the good news about the “liberation” of Mosul, and from Lebanon we heard how eager those infatuated with Lebanon’s “sovereignty” were to rid their country of Syrian refugees by returning them back to the arms of the regime that had displaced them … although those arms have kept the Lebanese “warm” for more than three decades!

The “understanding” between Washington and Moscow regarding what remains of old Syria, firstly, stems from their own interests, and secondly from those of some regional players. However, if observers seek to know the details without delusions, they need to stop and assess some issues.

Currently, Moscow’s top priority in Syria is to maintain its presence in the eastern Mediterranean after losing big in Iraq, north Africa and south of the Arabian Peninsula (namely, former South Yemen); and for this reason the Kremlin has gone as far as direct involvement in fighting, establishing military bases, and even suggesting a blueprint for a new constitution. The second priority has been to fully exploit Iranian presence while twisting Washington’s arms in the hope of ensuring maximum American concessions, whether in the Middle East, Eastern Europe or elsewhere. These two priorities have been translated on the ground by Moscow in Syria after benefitting from Barack Obama’s belief in Iran as a regional partner against ‘Political Sunnism’. Indeed, the Russian leadership is currently striving to cement that belief under the present Republican administration, which Moscow hoped would reach the White House, if not facilitated it.

On the other hand, in Washington, and despite the entrenchment of ‘deep state’, we have witnessed a marked change in its handling of the Iranian file. It may be true that Donald Trump’s administration is not planning a war on Iran, as it could need it sometime in the future within the context of wider geo-political interests; But contrary to Obama’s eager positive approach, Trump’s Washington wants Tehran as a small partner that obeys when ordered, and not a big partner that decides and even enforces. This is also how Israel, Washington’s influential strategic ally in the Middle East, wishes to see the future role of Iran.

Like Moscow and Tehran, Washington too has far greater interests and objectives than the fate and interests of the people of Syria, let alone who would lead it and under what title; in has become a de facto partitioned ‘failed state’ whose cities and villages have been deserted by half of its population!

For a start, before the 2011 uprising, all political posts in the Syrian government, with the exception of the presidency, were meaningless given that the real power rested in the hands of the president and his security apparatus. However, today the real power lies in the hands of those who control military bases, order air strikes, organize mass displacement, and provide it with international legal cover. Thus, even the presidency has become redundant and meaningless, and the issue of who fills the post is now a minute detail in a much larger picture.

This is what has been taking place in Syria. As for Iraq, we have been hearing one question: What will happen after the liberation of Mosul? No doubt the answer or answers to this question would clear a lot of the region’s ambiguity!

Actually, ISIS – like Al Qaeda before it – has carried out the ‘task’ expected from it; destroying the political and demographic presence of the Sunni Arabs who played a pivotal role in founding modern Iraq in 1920. Today, between the effective Iranian dominance achieved through Tehran’s henchmen like Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, Hadi Al-Amiri and Qais Khazali on one side, and the countdown of Iraqi-Kurdistan secession on the other, Iraq’s situation does not look much better than Syria’s.

Furthermore, if Washington’s declared strategy towards Syria and Iraq is underpinned on the premise of planting a wedge between Tehran and Moscow, it should be said that Iran’s hegemony over Iraq is religiously, politically, and of course geographically, much stronger than its temporary effect in Syria. In fact, despite intensive campaigns of naturalization, Iranian presence in Syria remains practically a strategic ‘bridge’ to Lebanon and the Mediterranean.

In Syria, Russia may be willing to sacrifice its ‘special relationship’ with Iran if a regional agreement is in place taking into account Turkish, Kurdish and Israeli demands. Getting Iran out of Iraq, however, looks a far more difficult mission at this stage, more so without a serious American commitment, that does not seem to be there anyway.

Well, what about Lebanon? Here Hezbollah, which is Iran’s virtual occupation force, is attempting to finish off the phenomenon of Syrian refugees for which it was responsible in the first place. After uprooting and expelling the population of most Syrian border areas with Lebanon under the watchful eyes of the international community, from Tal Kalakh and Al-Qusayr in the north, and Al-Zabadani and Barada valley towns and village, via the area of Qalamoun, Hezbollah is now hell-bent on uprooting and displacing the population of Lebanese border towns which it feels are hindering its direct support to the Assad regime and Iran’s presence in Syria.

This means targeting the Sunni border town of Arsal which has played host to tens of thousands of displaced Syrians , and expelling its population under the pretext of eradicating “Takfiris”. This, incidentally, is the same justification used throughout the last few years in the demographic changes taking place through the Assad regime’s notorious ‘green buses’ and ‘liberation’ skills of the ‘Mobilization Forces’ in Syria and Iraq respectively.

I believe if there was an international decision taken at the highest level regarding the future of Syria, based on the recent US- Russia ‘understanding’, it would be pretty difficult to stop it. Several regional players that once claimed to be opposed either to the Americans or the Russians or both, seem to be now working with the two superpowers.

Moreover, regardless of whether Washington is willing or capable of getting Iran out of Iraq, the situation in both Syria and Lebanon looks quite different. The future of northern Syria is now linked to Turkish and Kurdish calculations, while what happens in southern Syria bordering Jordan, southeast Lebanon and Israel’s occupied Golan Heights will surely depend on Arab and Israeli moves.

In conclusion, if the US- Russia ‘understanding’ manages to rid Syria of Iranian presence and redefines its political and demographic affairs, the thorny issue of what to do with the Syrian president would lose its importance as real power is now somewhere else. However, if Iran maintains its foothold in Syria as a result of a tacit ‘deal’, then we should expect more suffering … and ‘green buses’!

Is it Still Possible to Coexist with the Tehran Regime?

Iran

Over the weekend, the French capital Paris played host to a massive rally organized by the Iranian opposition and attended by many international political figures. The timing of this rally was particularly significant, given the historical and exceptional current state of affairs in the Middle East and the unprecedented tense relations between its countries.

As expected on an occasion like this, the main stress in most positions expressed by Iranian, Middle Eastern and Western speakers was that it was impossible for a regime with a “chemistry” like that of the Tehran regime to change, and that all attempts to make it moderate its stances are doomed to failure.

Indeed, gambling on the “rationality” of the Iranian leaders, and regarding them as “not suicidal” – to quote former President Barack Obama in his marketing pitch for the JCPOA – are proving meaningless every day. And despite the atrocities committed by ISIS and its systematic destruction wherever it moves “achieved” by the tacit cooperation of players benefiting from it, there are two clear realities:

First is that Iran’s sectarian militias, as well as those supported by Tehran through its “Revolutionary Guards” (IRGC) do not differ much from ISIS in terms of brutal exterminatory practices justified by alleged religious legitimacy.

Second is that there is not much difference either between diplomatically-clad extremism, as reflected in Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and the brazenly-militaristic and sectarian extremism, as expressed in the gung-ho speeches of IRGC leaders like Mohammad Ali Jaafari and Qasem Soleimani as well as their militia henchmen in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria. In fact, all traces of “difference” disappear when positions being explained pertain to the Gulf region, the Fertile Crescent and Yemen.

Sure enough, Iran’s ambition of achieving regional supremacy did not start with Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 when it launched its campaign of “Exporting the Islamic Revolution,” followed soon by it diligent outbidding on the path of “Liberating Palestine.” As many remember under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iran was in 1955 a founder member of the Baghdad Pact – along with the UK, Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US, before Iraq withdrew resulting in re-naming CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). Later, the Shah made no secret of his ambition that Iran become “The Policeman of the Gulf” since it was the most populous country sharing its coast.

However, there is a big difference between the ambition of a regional leader to enhance the influence of his nation based on his belief in its civilization and capabilities, and the aggressive insistence of a theocratic regime on “exporting” its political and religious “legitimacy” to its neighboring countries by force and conspiring to overthrow their governments throw intrigue and sectarian incitement.

Since 1979, “exporting” the revolution, along with the notion of “Vali e Faqih” has been one of the two cornerstones of the Khomeini regime, and now still followed by his successor Ali Khamenei. This “project” suffered a setback during the Iran – Iraq War, which was ended by the international community. Checking Iran’s ambitions at that time was temporary, and they were never really eradicated because Tehran continued to build subservient sectarian military organizations throughout the Middle East. The first has been Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” – initially, under under the cloak of “Islamic Amal.” It was soon to be followed by Iraqi Shi’ite militias that had fought with the Iranian armed forces against the Iraqi army during the Iran – Iraq War. Many leaders of the latter today are the de facto leaders of Iraq.

Noteworthy here is the fact that the Hafez Al-Assad regime in Syria also sided with Iran during that war against Iraq. Actually, then Iranian ambassador to Damascus Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur (who later became Interior Minister in Iran) was the authority entrusted with founding “Hezbollah” in Lebanon. In fact, Tehran’s efforts were not limited to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, but were later expanded to include Yemen through the Houthis, and Bahrain through “mullahs”, who had no qualms about Iranian historical claims over their country.

On the other hand, Iran did not concentrate its efforts solely on Shi’ite organizations, but achieved a breakthrough with the Sunnis, namely in the Palestinian occupied territories. This far-sighted strategy had two aims: The first, was that backing Sunni organization in Palestine would give credibility to its slogans about “liberating Palestine”. The second, it would allow it to freely found, arm and support Shi’ite militias without being accused of practicing sectarian discrimination. Indeed, this is exactly what has happened and under the banners of “Islamic Unity,” Tehran has been bankrolling Shi’ite – Sunni groups that are acting as effective vehicles to its propaganda and defenders of its policies and adventures.

Last week Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of “Hezbollah”, said in a televised speech that “a war Israel launches against Lebanon and Syria will never be limited to these two arenas, but will open the door before thousands of fighters (Shi’ite of course) from Iraq, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in the world to join Syria (i.e., Bashar al-Assad regime) and the Resistance (i.e.. ‘Hezbollah’)…”

What these words mean could not be clearer. The man is prepared to invite – if an invitation is ever needed – Iran’s IRGC to fight on Lebanese soil, without even bothering to consult with a government in which his pro-Tehran party is represented. Nasrallah’s declaration came after the “reassurances” made by Iranian Defense Minister Hussein Dehghan that “Iraq is now a part of Iran!”, and the infamous proclamation by Iran’s ex-Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi that “Iran now controls four Arab capital cities (Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a)…”

In the meantime, Iran has been busy, both, directly or through its militia henchmen, in justifying its war of sectarian “cleansing” and displacement that it has been fighting in Syria since the 2011 uprising, as well as in Iraq. Tehran and its henchmen’s justifications have been fighting against “Takfir” and “Takfiris”, including al-Qaeda, al-Nusra Front and ISIS. However, the fact that there were old understandings and dealings between Iran and al-Qaeda is well known, which is why the terrorist group never attacked Iranian targets. More recently, ISIS rarely fought against Assad’s forces, choosing instead to attack its opponents, namely the “Free Syrian Army”. Moreover, Assad regime’s smuggling of extremist terrorists across the Iraqi border in order to hassle and harrass American troops in Iraq is well documented by Iraqi authorities, as is the extremist fighters’ “escape” from Iraqi prisons to join ISIS in Syria.

Today, now that the Iranian leadership has exploited and benefited from ISIS’ destruction of several (Sunni) Syrian and Iraqi cities, one needs to ask a serious question: Is it possible to coexist with the Tehran regime?

In Paris, thousands of Iranians exiled by the regime answered the question loud and clear, and so did millions of Iranians before at home: No. No coexistence with this regime.

If this is what Iranians themselves believe, how can we the Arabs disagree?

It Is Southern Syria, Smart Guys!

Israeli soldiers walk near mobile artillery units near the border with Syria in the Golan Heights

Waiting for Washington’s position towards old nationalist Kurdish aspirations, at least in Northern Syria, more interest is silently being accorded to what may be the most serious flashpoint in the Near East today. It is Southern Syria.

Recently, Asharq Al-Awsat published Israeli viewpoints on the region extending from Albu-Kamal, on the Iraqi border in the east, all the way westwards to the Ceasefire line in the Israeli Golan Heights, including Al-Tanf checkpoint on the Jordanian borders. What was expressed was quite interesting, although what we have learned from the experience is that the essence of Israeli policy is never what is being said, but what takes place on the ground.

Indeed, often, most public pronouncements are nothing but attempts of diverting attention, if not outright misleading and bluffing.

So, for a moment, let us leave behind what is being said and concentrate, instead, on the facts in Southern Syria.
The first is that the Syrian Regime, whether directly or through pro-Regime village-defense vigilante groups, is well-established near the Southwest corner of the country. Israel, on its parts, accepts the principle of village-defense groups for both humanitarian and sectarian reasons as long as it does not have to pay a political or strategic price for their existence. However, there is a military presence too for the Regime as well as Hezbollah militia – subsequently, Iran – on the eastern slopes and foothills of Mount Hermon. Thus, silence here means that Israel does not feel such presence is a threat.

The second fact is that in southwestern Dera’a Province (Southern Jadhour and western Hauran) exists an ‘enclave’ that comprises a few villages and is controlled by ISIS. This ‘enclave’ is supposed to be geographically isolated from the rest of Dera’a Province which constitutes the ‘heart’ of historical Hauran (Roman ‘Auranitis’) and would be vulnerable to air attacks; yet, neither the Regime – which has already destroyed Aleppo, Homs, and many Damascus suburbs – nor Israel has attacked it!

The third fact is that Israel, which in December 1981 officially annexed the occupied heights after the 1967 War, considers the annexed area an indivisible ‘Israeli territory’. In fact, since then the former Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and various Israeli leaders were engaged in political maneuvers regarding the ‘liberation’ of the Golan Heights. Both parties were doing their best to ‘justify’ why they were running away from a solution. Among the ‘justifications’ was the ‘disagreement’ on the future of Al-Batiha and Al-Himma lands on the shores of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), and the borders drawn by the tidal water level of the lake. Once, an Arab hydrologist who knew a lot about this issue told me that Hafez Al-Assad was keen to maintain the ‘no war no peace’ situation – including keeping the Golan under Israeli occupation – because this would continue to portray his regime as a bastion of “steadfastness and confrontation” against Israel, and thus, sparing him the risks of opening up to true democracy, freedoms and proper constitutional rule. On the opposite side, Israel would benefit from the Syrian regime becoming a fake umbrella for lip-service “steadfastness and confrontation” while serving Israel strategic interests.

The fourth fact is that since the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, which aimed at handing over all the regional cards to Washington, the Golan ceasefire line was the calmest of all regional ‘fronts’. Animosity towards Israel was never translated into military action except in Lebanon as part of qualifying to become part of the ‘Shi’ite Crescent’, the Palestinian Territories with the intention of fomenting a Palestinian civil war, and, of course, in popular TV series and patriotic songs. It is well known that the Syrian army entered Lebanon in 1976 to crush the Palestinian ‘resistance’ organizations with an American green light and Israeli blessings. The only thing that changed since then was the ‘details’ of the unwritten ‘accords of co-existence’ between Damascus and Tel Aviv in 1982, when the Israelis swept through Lebanon. However, things went back to normal after overturning Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Hafez Al-Assad’s participation in liberating Kuwait with the OS-led Allied Forces was rewarded by the Americans – and Israelis – by giving him yet again a free hand in Lebanon. The result has been the liquidation of the ‘Lebanese State’ in favor of Hezbollah’s ‘State of the Resistance’.

The fifth fact is that Israel has accepted, since withdrawing its troops from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and declaring the ‘victory of Hezbollah’, to co-exist with a Lebanon run by Hezbollah, which is an organ of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Israel, which is well aware of what Hezbollah is, to whom it is connected, and what it has done to the Lebanese fabric, was keen in 2006 to gift it another political victory in order to enhance its nationalist ‘legitimacy’. That year Israel launched a devastating war intended to ruin Lebanon’s infrastructure but not Hezbollah’s. After that, a tacit understating emerged by which it became clear that the pro-Iran militia could use its military arsenal anywhere within Lebanon and the Arab world but not against Israel.

The sixth fact is that after fighting inside Syria in support of Bashar Al-Assad’s Regime alongside other Iranian-led Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah was treated by Israel the same way Al-Assad regime was being treated; i.e. through coded messages. The reality is that Israel has so far regarded the survival of both Al-Assad regime and Hezbollah as an Israeli ‘strategic goal’, but under Israeli conditions. Hence, as we have been noticing recently, Iran and its henchmen and puppets have put aside fiery rhetoric and military marches for the ‘liberation of Jerusalem’, while using the deadliest weapons to ‘liberate’ Syrian cities and villages from their inhabitants and occupying four Arab capital cities!

As a result, if we look at what has remained of Syria, we cannot fail to see that the ‘De-escalation Areas’ format hides a grand plan, in which the ‘Iranian Crescent’ plays a central role; and if messages from Washington and Moscow to Turkey and the secessionist Kurds appear contradictory, Israel’s silence towards the situation in Southern Syria does not mean that Tel Aviv is disinterested.

In fact, Israel, which has implicitly defended Al-Assad in Western capitals, is now expecting its share in not only the ‘Syrian cake’, but also the “regional cake’. It hopes to place the whole of natural and historical Hauran under its sphere of influence.