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Iran: Threatening or Threatened? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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There was no exaggeration in Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s anger, gritting his teeth and speaking with as much diplomacy as he could muster, as he spoke about the way in which Iran has been manipulating both the feelings of the Arab public and the Palestinian cause itself by raising the Palestinian issue whenever it has a problem with the US or Europe. Furthermore, it uses the Palestinian issue whenever it wants to pressure Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Jordan. He said that the Palestinian cause is being used as a pretext by all those who desire to gain political popularity in this part of the world.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister accused Iran of using Palestinians and said that Iran acts in its own interest, not for the benefit of the Palestinian people. Aboul Gheit said, “Unfortunately, some Palestinians are puppets in the hands of Iran.” Aboul Gheit made these comments at Cairo airport prior to his departure for the Czech Republic in response to Iranian criticism of Egypt’s stance regarding the Rafah border crossing, and the current situation in Gaza. He added, “The truth of the matter is that they provide nothing to the Palestinian cause except hollow speeches and unfounded allegations.”

He made these statements at the airport, and perhaps, [upon hearing this], some have said that these comments were made in haste. But the truth is that the Egyptian Foreign Minister made similar comments during an interview with the Egyptian Al Akhbar newspaper. During this interview he accused Iran of seeking to use Arab issues as playing cards in its confrontation with the West and in defence of its nuclear programme. He said, “Iranian effects on Arab issues result in negative consequences for Arab lands,” and that those who cannot see this should reconsider their assessment of the situation.

As he spoke about the forthcoming meeting between the UN Security Council and some Gulf states on security in the Gulf, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told Al Hayat newspaper that the Gulf states attending the meeting would demand that they have a say in the security of the Gulf, a view which must be respected. Perhaps he summed up the concerns of (most) of the Gulf states with regards to Iran when he said, “We do not want to isolate ourselves from Iran, nor do we want Iran to be isolated.”

Although speaking on behalf of most Gulf states and not just Bahrain, he stressed that his address to the forum (during the Manama Dialogue Conference) was not a threat to Iran or anyone else. He said, “I did not threaten anybody and the message was: do not think that we will be more amicable than necessary. As committed as we are to diplomacy, we are also committed to the security and stability of our countries.”

Iran is currently in an extremely confrontational state. This could be due to the regime’s disappointment that President-elect Barack Obama will follow the same “carrot and stick” approach that George W. Bush followed as US president. This provoked Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, the “rational” member of the regime, who reacted angrily, and so, just as expected, Iran put its media machine into gear and began to incite its political allies in the region. This time the issue has gone as far as Iran using unknown groups whose numbers have mushroomed. Take for example the Ikhwan Al Radwan group, which, according to the Associated Press, was responsible for attacking the Saudi Arabian Airlines office in Tehran with Molotov cocktails on the pretext that Saudi Arabia is backing the peace process in the Middle East. Moreover, another group recently attacked the office of the Egyptian interest section in Tehran, chanting anti-Egyptian slogans and insulting President Hosni Mubarak, demanding that he re-open the Rafah border crossing in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Hamas also did not miss out on the opportunity to fully engage in this Iranian campaign of raising tensions in the region by playing on the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian cause is an issue that makes everything permissible; from general disruption to violating countries’ borders and even refraining from criticizing Iran and its policies. Iran can do what it wants so long as it says that it supports the Palestinian cause and meets with Khaled Meshal [political leader of Hamas] and Ramadan Shallah [head of Islamic Jihad] and others, and provides them with every reason for developing and strengthening [their organisations]. So long as the model for Hezbollah is successful, why should this not be refined to the point that the existing state is eliminated in favour of organisations or states built according to the Hezbollah model and “divine” Iran?

Didn’t the deputy chief of the Hamas politburo, Mousa Abu Marzouk, recently state to the Qatari Al Raya newspaper that the issue of the Iranian-occupied UAE islands is exaggerated and that “defaming Iran does not help the Palestinian cause”? In the same interview, Marzouk expressed his surprise over the uproar surrounding Iran’s occupation of the UAE islands and asked about “The reasons the issue of the UAE islands has been raised now.” He speculated that it was due to a change in Iran’s position.

However, following the UAE’s justifiable anger at such statements that disparaged its legitimate right to the islands, Hamas tried to retract its words by saying that Marzouk’s comments were misunderstood. But the Qatari media is not known for misinterpreting Hamas’s language and message.

These attacks on the media, not to mention the Iranian gangs who threw Molotov cocktails at Saudi Arabian and Egyptian offices in Tehran, coincided with the political and media escalation carried out by Hamas. It also coincided with charges of treason levelled at all countries except Iran, and the calculated media campaign allegedly launched by Syrians in Lebanon either through explicit articles written by affiliates of the Syrian media, or in interviews broadcast on satellite channels by “ignorant youth” giving lectures on the history of the Arab Gulf, and placing high value on the yellow flag of Hezbollah.

This two-fold attack launched both by Iran and its allies, and Syria and its allies, against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seems to be exploitation of the transitional period that the world is currently experiencing. It could also be attributed to Iran’s disappointment in its failure to convince the major countries within its region, and the world as a whole, to change their policies towards it, and not just with regards to Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian nuclear programme is just a symbol of the disagreement and differences [that the Middle East has] with Iran and it all centres on this question; do we recognize Iran’s territorial authority within the region, and adhere to its policies? Is Iran the country that sets guidelines and determines what is and what is not legitimate with regards to the policies of [the regional] countries and organisations?

Iran’s nuclear programme is a façade that conceals more hidden secrets, secrets of a deep-seated imperial ambition. As for Syria and its political regime today, in comparison to the ambitions of Iran, and despite all that Syria did and is still doing in Lebanon; Syria is comparably no more than a short entry in the records of the modern-day Iranian “Shah” empire.

The crux of the matter with regards to the regional political stability lies in the outcome of the political battle, the ideological struggle, and the conflict of interests between Iran and the Arab countries who are convinced of the threat of Iranian ambition. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit clearly expressed, there are countries who do not share the Iranian vision.

Only Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and some Gulf states are aware of the size and dimensions of this battle [with Iran], but we have yet to see any comprehensive or strategic counter-vision to the Iranian vision. Among the conditions that this counter-vision must fulfil is for there to be no integration or merging between the countries of the region and the interests of the United States of America. Even if there is no America, there is an Iran, with its own ideological, revolutionary and national ambitions, which represent a political and security threat to the countries of the region.

Chapter by chapter, we will watch as this fierce confrontation unfolds over the next few years, since this confrontation is still in its early stages. Perhaps Iran is threatening because it feels threatened…perhaps. But after all that I have said, and before all that is yet to come, let us echo the words of the Bahraini Foreign Minister, “We do not want to isolate ourselves from Iran, nor do we want Iran to be isolated,” as long as Iran does not want to isolate us, and in turn, isolate itself.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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