Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A One Package Deal | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Anyone that tries to understand the Doha agreement between the Lebanese adversaries from a Lebanese perspective would be making a mistake because the correct perspective to understand this agreement is not Lebanon but Iraq. First of all, the Doha agreement between the Lebanese adversaries is a diplomatic package deal by all standards. But the issue is not in Doha nor is it in Lebanon. The issue is that of two battles, two camps, two states, and two operation theaters. As the countries of moderation in the region thought that Lebanon was the principal theater for diplomatic action, the eyes of the United States, Iran, and Turkey were on another playground; namely, Iraq. Iraq is the true arena for diplomatic action. Iraq is where everything is taking place and is the large strategic playground that is full of diplomatic prizes. That is why all the steps taken by these three states [United States, Iran, and Turkey] and all their energies were on this playground rather than on Lebanon as the Arabs imagined. While Arab diplomacy -represented by the Arab League and Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa were busy in the Lebanese playground, the US-Iranian-Turkish diplomatic game was about to end on the Iraqi playground.

As the Arabs were expecting US President George W. Bush to announce the establishment of the Palestinian state – in his speech in Sharm al-Sheikh during his recent visit to Egypt – the United States, Iran, and Turkey (the other team in the other playground) were seeking to end the dream of the establishment of the Kurdish state. A Kurdish state is the common threat to each of Iran, Turkey, and Syria; they are obsessed with this threat. No doubt, the dream of establishing the Palestinian state is not a concern for the Turks and the Iranians. Their concern is the establishment of a Kurdish state. As everyone knows, the Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] is a thorn in the side of the modern Turkish state. This party that is known for its radicalism and its activities in northern Iraq and southern Turkey has forced the Turkish forces to enter Iraqi soil several times in order to chase the PKK Kurdish rebels. There are more than 20 million Kurds in Turkey, that is, more than 40% of the entire population, and about six million Kurds in Iran that are concentrated in four provinces in northwest Iran. They represented a real threat to the Iranian state before and during the reign of the former Shah and even after the establishment of the Islamic Republic although the Kurds initially supported this republic. It is the joint Kurdish threat to both Iran and Turkey that drove the Iranians and the Turks to sign an agreement during the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran. This agreement provides for cooperation between the two countries to confront the Kurdish fighters and prevent them from establishing an independent Kurdish “entity” in northern Iraq that may lead to strengthening the Kurdish secessionist movement and establish a Kurdish state in the region.

In Syria, the Kurdish problem may assert a lower presence than in Turkey and Iran; however, this problem does exist. The riots in Al-Qamishli in northeastern Syria in the past few years attest to this presence. There are about two million Kurds in Syria. They are to be found inmost of the major Syrian towns and regions and they are concentrated in most of the towns and villages of the Province of Al-Hasakah. Syria’s Kurds have always been influenced by the Kurdish activities in the neighboring countries. Syrian Kurds have volunteered to serve in the ranks of the Peshmerga in northern Iraq and the almost public presence of the PKK in the Syrian arena revived the spirit of Kurdish nationalism. The revival of this spirit of nationalism drove the majority of the Kurdish youths to fight in the mountains of Kurdistan.

The main point here is that the largest strategic arena in which the United States invested its diplomatic efforts was in Iraq not in Lebanon. The United States wants to stop the attacks on its forces in Iraq and its basic goal in the region is to score an acceptable victory. Meanwhile, Iran wants to have strategic influence in southern Iraq and wants an Iraqi government in Baghdad that is close to Tehran. It also wants to crush the dream of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq. The United States is ready to negotiate with Iran to obtain what is mentioned above in return for ceasing its nuclear enrichment activities, ending its confrontation with the United States in Iraq, and ending its support for the military religious parties such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others. Turkey wants the same thing but in return for Iran’s influence in southern Iraq, it wants to have its influence in northern Iraq. In addition to its wish to end the dream of the Kurdish state, Syria wants the Golan in return for Lebanon, as I said in a previous article.

The interests of all these states intertwine with those of the United States in the Iraqi playground. The three countries (Iran, Turkey, and Syria) are key players in the Iraqi arena and Iran and Syria are also key players in the Lebanese arena. Since the main concern of the US Administration is to score a modest face-saving victory in Iraq, it has concluded that it should negotiate with these three countries despite all the differences and the reciprocal animosity. Thus, the Doha agreement to solve the Lebanese conflict constitutes part of a deal to appease the Iranian and Syrian players for the sake of US interests in Iraq not in Lebanon. We should also not forget that the United States is well aware that it is Hezbollah that has the military power in Lebanon. This was demonstrated in two recent events: The July 2006 war with Israel and the military control of Hezbollah’s men on Beirut during the recent Lebanese crisis.

Naturally, Qatar has a very important side issue with Iran concerning the northern oil field [Haql al-Shimal] that sits on a quarter of the world’s gas reserve. This field may cause tension in international relations and a serious problem similar to that of Saddam’s against Kuwait on the Al-Rumaylah oil field that led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Furthermore, Qatar has important diplomatic relations with the United States. The two major military bases of the United States are on its soil. This is what brought the Qatari role and made Qatar the diplomatic mediator of the United States with the countries in the region. The interconnected interests of the United States, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Qatar drove Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa AlThani to visit Syria, Tehran, and southern Lebanon. These interests also led to issuing an invitation to Iranian President Ahmadinejad to attend the recent Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] summit that convened in the Qatari capital Doha.

It is these intertwined interests that also brought in the Turks and the Israelis in the person of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to attend the activities of the Doha Forum for Democracy, Development, and Free Trade in Doha following Qatari and Turkish visits to Syria and Syrian visits, on the level of the head of state, to both Turkey and Qatar. These intertwined interests cooked a joint peace deal in one package and led the Doha agreement on Lebanon, the announcement on the Syrian-Israeli negotiations, and the secret negotiations between Hamas and Israel to coincide with one another. It is perhaps the US Administration’s reassurance that the success of this diplomatic deal – that solved several thorny files – is imminent that drove US President George W. Bush to take a hard-line stance with Egypt in his speech in Sharm al-Sheikh. When the United States sensed that the camp of moderation in the Arab world is not docile and is not open with it as it wishes, it decided to deal with the original hard-liners – Iran, Syria, and the radical movements – believing that if it has the chance to deal with the original hard-liners, why should it deal with conventional ones?

What happened simply is that while the Arab League was playing with the Lebanese teams on the Lebanese playground, the United States and the countries that have similar interests were running the game in the Iraqi playground.

It was a professional ploy that “resolved” all the issues in one package deal.