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Failure in Bahrain and Syria: Khamenei and Ahmadinejad clash - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In 1981, the Gulf States were threatened by Iran and the possibility that its revolution could be exported over its borders. In 2011, the same danger still exists. In 1981, the Gulf started to think of protecting itself; the US was preoccupied with Afghanistan and confronting the Soviets, Iraq was preoccupied with Iran, Egypt was isolated from the Arab world as a result of the Camp David Accords, and Yemen was unstable. Thus the Gulf States established the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to serve as a defense alliance, and 30 years later the Iranian threat has increased, and has now become definite, overt and widespread.

Dr. Sami al-Faraj, Director of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies and advisor to the GCC, says “Iran’s influence is gaining territory at our expense, and at the expense of other regional countries including Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Israel. It is doing so through aid and investments. For example, the 2006 Lebanon War (The Israel-Hezbollah War) dealt a fatal blow to 2.5 billion dollars worth of Gulf financial investment in Lebanon. Afterwards, Hezbollah brought 350 million dollars from Iran and said it wanted to start rebuilding.”

In 2011, once again, the US is involved in Afghanistan, the situation in Iraq is vague, Egypt is out of service due to its transitional period and current economic conditions, whilst Yemen is on a tipping point. Now the Gulf States have found themselves compelled to incorporate other monarchies into their regional alliance. Dr. Al-Faraj explains that “When we talk about the Jordanian option, for example, this is both positive and negative. It is positive because it slightly increases our membership range, yet it shall pull us toward the Arab-Israel conflict territory, the shared borders with Syria, if Iran’s influence persists, and toward new borders with Iraq, other than the ones it shares with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.” Dr. Al-Faraj adds: “If we consider Morocco, a negative impact [of it joining the GCC] would be the issue of Algeria. Yet the positive thing is that we would have closer links with Europe.”

Many sense that something is due to happen in Iran in the not too distant future. Dr. Faraj says: “We are talking about a country towards which we harbor no evil intentions, but we simply want to curb its malicious practices. The arrogance and contempt exhibited by Iran in its estimation of matters worries us, and is likely to increase Iran’s internal problems.”

Dr. Faraj gave an example of such arrogance with reference to what happened in Bahrain and Syria. In both cases, Iran had a plan and failed to fulfill it. In Bahrain, Iran wanted to promote the idea that the public protests were not organized by the Shia, but rather by the oppressed masses. Dr. Faraj says: “Iran deployed personnel to commit acts of sabotage. They revealed their true intentions by declaring an Islamic republic in some isolated areas. What is more serious is that the majority of the Gulf inhabitants are non-citizens, and this applies to the Iranian community which specializes in construction work, banking and retail.” Dr. Faraj wonders: “Why didn’t the Indian or Philippine community in Bahrain go on strike in support of the protests? We noticed that the Iranian community closed down their food stores. No one would do such a thing on their own because, as a foreign citizen, they would be risking their visa and residency. The order must have been passed down to them from a higher body.”

Dr. Al-Faraj believes that Iran was guilty of a miscalculation with regards to what happened in Syria. Though Iran had an intelligence presence there, it failed to predict that such mass protests would erupt. The Syrian scenario was based on the regime’s confidence in its security apparatus, and its ability to confront any challenges on the street. Yet the Iranians should have served as the devil’s advocate, and considered the worst possible outcomes. Dr. Al-Faraj explains that both parties are now trying to support the regime in a disorderly fashion.

Al-Faraj went on to say that “proof of Iran’s failure is the current crisis in Iran itself. Needless to say, foreign policy is being attributed to the president. The Supreme Leader of the Iranian Revolution, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wants President Ahmadinejad to take the blame for this failure in Syria, so that he can avoid any criticism.” Dr. Al-Faraj added that: “President Ahmadinejad might turn against the Supreme Leader because the idea of resigning and leaving the political arena is not evident in the Persian agenda (at least with regards to Ahmadinejad and Masha’ei). Ahmadinejad refuses to resign on the basis that he failed to anticipate the outbreak of popular protests in Syria. Instead, Ahmadinejad sacked Oil Minister Heidar Muselhi, making him a scapegoat. But the Supreme Leader does not want to sacrifice Muselhi, and his primary concern is not to be seen as the one responsible for the failure in Syria”.

Dr. Al-Faraj personally believes that the Syrian regime will fall sooner or later. The worst-case scenario for both regimes, in Iran and Syria, is the downfall of the Syrian regime. Perhaps the best possible scenario at the moment is for the Syrian regime to undergo a drastic change, totally altering its features. This would mean adopting democracy, accepting partisan plurality, and President al-Assad distancing himself from other members of the regime.

Western States are giving Syria plenty of opportunities for reform, fearing that any other course of action could provoke an imminent confrontation with Iran, something that America does not want to consider before 2014. Some reports say that by 2014 Iran will have reshaped its nuclear program and produced three nuclear warheads. Yet because 2014 is the year of the US troops’ scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran has come to observe every withdrawal as a go-ahead signal for a military operation against it.

Dr. Al-Faraj believes that Iranian strategic planners must be aware of the fact that Syria’s regime is likely to collapse; therefore Iran is preparing to move towards Lebanon if possible. Dr. Al-Faraj wonders what prompted Secretary General of Hezbollah Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah to deliver a speech of support for the Syrian President, after all this time? He believes “This means Nasrallah didn’t want to do show support. He wanted to arrange for his strategy in Lebanon internally.” Dr. Al-Faraj notes that “What Hamas has ventured to do by seeking a deal with Fatah could be attributed to its conviction that the regime in Syria will fall. If we take that into account, then what would prevent Hezbollah from moving in that direction inside Lebanon?”

Iran’s process of retreat began in Lebanon when Hezbollah, in collaboration with the Lebanese army, prevented the Palestinians from organizing a demonstration on the 12th of June in southern Lebanon, even though they had demonstrated earlier at the Golan Heights. Hezbollah seemed to be saying: “This is my ability, and these are my limits.”

During the unrest in Syria, it became clearer that the “trump card” which the regime has been threatening to use to ignite the whole region (Hamas, Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and Iran) has dropped from its hand. The same applies to the Iraqi Baathists, who fall into the category of Iranian setbacks in Iraq.

Dr. Al-Faraj gives several examples about Iraq: firstly the assassination of the head of “Iraq’s Hezbollah”, or executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission Ali al-Lami. In Al-Faraj’s opinion, al-Lami was gunned down by the Baathists “Because they want to get out of Syria and rebuild their bases in Iraq, on the foundation of the political victory Iyad Allawi had pulled off.”

Dr. Al-Faraj also points to the demonstration which Muqtada al-Sadr recently staged, where his men marched with the Iraqi flag depicted on their chests. This means that al-Sadr is repositioning himself within the Iraqi political context. Then Dr. Al-Faraj referred to Allawi’s withdrawal from al- Maliki’s government after saying that all the pledges al-Maliki had made were false, and that it was high time he stopped disdaining the will of the Iraqi people.

Dr. Al-Faraj comes to the conclusion that: “These changes do not serve Iran’s interests. Retreats are being made in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and also with Hamas. In light of these Iranian setbacks, the Turks could raise the slogan of protecting the Sunnis in Syria. But what prevents these setbacks from reaching the Iranian street? This is why Iran had to mount a counterattack, and so it chose to target the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) via the language of sectarianism.”

Meanwhile, and due to the events in Bahrain, the Gulf States are seriously considering unifying all their military capabilities under one united army, and under a sort of political federalism. This would provide them with the ability to make rapid responses to any potential threats. Were such a unified army to be created, there are also calls to “obtain nuclear weapons as a means of counteracting the power of Iran”.