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The 'Iranian Interference' Item

The 'Iranian Interference' Item

Monday, 20 November, 2017 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It is enough for Arab foreign ministers to open their world map to confirm that their emergency meeting in Cairo yesterday was justified and necessary.

Talking about the “Iranian interference” is not a passing accusation that lacks evidence. The insistence on discussing it never falls within the framework of harassment or escalation.

It is an attempt to crystallize a unified Arab will to deal with a tense Arab reality in a group of countries and maps. Repercussions of continued interventions are not only limited to countries, in which Iranian-backed militias operate, but they can affect the balance of power across the region.

The most striking aspect of these interventions is that Tehran is not trying to deny them. The missile that targeted Riyadh bears a clear signature, and the Houthis were only used as a platform to launch it. General Qassem Soleimani’s pictures, touring among militants and between crescent states, leave no room for doubt.

Statements made by the generals of the Revolutionary Guard about the control of four Arab capitals are not just a blur or an exaggeration. President Hassan Rouhani’s words on the compulsory Iranian crossing complete the image.

“Iranian interference” is nothing new. The policy of “exporting the revolution” is primarily a declaration of the right to intervene in the affairs of other countries. What is new is the extent of this interference, the increasing threats it is posing and its growing exposure. Political changes, distortion of the power balance and demographic modifications to guarantee the consolidation of the new features…

“Iranian interference” is nothing new. But after the blatant Iranian role in Yemen, it took a more dangerous course. What is new, however, is that targeted countries feel that they can no longer avoid calling things by their proper name and that this interference is a fixed item in Arab meetings and talks with international powers.

What is also new is the presence of an American administration that is not reassured with the nuclear deal, the achievement of which was an obsession for Barack Obama. The current administration has included the item “Iranian interference” at the core of its relationship with the region and its crises.

What is new in the “Iranian interference” is that Tehran has not dealt with the nuclear agreement as an opportunity to show respect to international laws and covenants. One can say that what happened was exactly the opposite. After signing the agreement, Iran stepped up its intervention in the region as if it considered the deal an opportunity that must be seized and used for the sake of the “big coup” project. It was an unprecedented scene: removing maps’ immunity, violating international law and turning allied militias into small armies to topple some regimes and prevent the fall of others, regardless of the feelings of people, whose maps have been violated. The situation became more dangerous with the formation of rocket-armed militias, which complement abuses committed by militias through ground-based incursions.

What is also new in the “Iranian interference” is that talks about it reemerged after threats posed by ISIS diminished. There are those who believe that Iran’s sectarian-based policy of destabilization was the reason for the fragmentation of national unity in more than one Arab country and that ISIS was born out of these ruptures. Since the region is also a hub of vital fortunes and corridors for global economy, international concern over Iranian role in missiles and militias has escalated.

On the eve of the Cairo meeting, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron discussed the situation in the Middle East. The White House said the two presidents “agreed on the need to work with allies to counter the destabilizing activities of Hezbollah and Iran in the region.”

Iranian interventions have reached an unprecedented level. This reality is even embarrassing for countries that usually prefer to adopt lukewarm stances and treat Arab wounds with general repeated terms. It has become difficult for any Arab minister to justify the Iranian behavior or give pretexts to mitigate its role. The Iranian missile on Riyadh and the content of the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri presented new evidence to those who were still looking for proof.

Mounting interventions explained the rhetoric used by Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit at the opening of the meeting. They also explained the firm tone used by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. At the meeting, Iran was accused of pursuing sectarian policies, deploying its militias on Arab soil and interfering in internal affairs. All these accusations have put the “Iranian Interference” item at the top of the agenda of regional and international meetings.

One does not exaggerate when saying that the stance towards these interventions will be an influential factor in Arab inter-relations, as well as in Arab-international relations.

Three parties must reflect on the outcome of the emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers. The first is Iran, whose behavior was condemned by the participants. The question is whether it wants to coexist with its Arab neighbors, or it insists on trying to subjugate them… If it chooses the second option, the winds of confrontation will intensify and Tehran will face isolation. The second party is Hezbollah, which must think about its current image at the Arab level. Hezbollah is no longer seen as a resistance against Israel, but as a terrorist organization, based on its role in the Iranian coup. The third party is President Michel Aoun, who will be the biggest loser of the resignation of Saad Hariri. The presence of Aoun – the former Army commander - in the presidential palace, will be meaningless if he does not employ his position to defend the idea of the state, the factors for its existence and the interests of the Lebanese people.

Unless Iran makes a quick decision to stop its comprehensive offensive in the region, the “Iranian Interference” item will be the title of the next confrontation and the slogan for a new alignment. The same item will be the title of the move towards the Security Council and will leave its mark on the situation in exploding areas and those which are likely to explode.

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