Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Time for Iran to Go back to its Borders

Europe has enjoyed decades of stability because it derived the necessary lessons from bitter experiences. It has recognized that the only way for the future is for each country to respect the borders of others despite the differences between their people and affiliations. Europe has accepted coexistence based on the principle of respecting the differences between countries. It has also committed to fortifying international borders and stood against violating them.

In this new Europe, a country no longer has the right to meddle in the affairs of or destabilize its neighbor. A country no longer has the right to form a militia on the other’s territory and usurp their decision-making power. Germany, for example, no longer has the right to consider the fate of Germans living in abroad as its responsibility and as justification for its violations of country borders.

Countries now have to pass through legitimate gates and methods that are approved by international laws and norms. Roles are no longer determined by the sizes of armies, but by the success of an economy. This is demonstrated in the prominent role Germany is playing in the European Union.

These countries believe that international borders present opportunities for cooperation, not walls for isolation. They believe that governments must prioritize education, job opportunities, the environment, comprehensive development and the daily lives of the people. A country no longer has the right to invade the other under the excuse of defending a cause, imposing an ideology or changing the way of life. In other words, you no longer have the right to speak on behalf of others and usurp their voice and will.

Over the past decades, the countries of the Middle East were not the arenas of a destructive world war. However, if we look at the outcomes of the Iraqi-Iranian war, invasion of Kuwait and Iraq, explosions of the “Arab Spring,” particularly in Syria, and Palestinian and Kurdish struggles, then we will find that they are not too dissimilar to a scene out of World War II.

The turbulence in the Middle East has harmed coexistence between and within nations. International borders came under terrible violations, at times by groups that do not even believe in boundaries and at others by countries whose rulers harbor projects greater than their own borders and who consequently led armies or militias on to other people’s land.

Despite the political and demographic changes caused by the conflicts in some countries, it is clear that we are not headed towards the redrawing of maps or emergence of new nations. Proof of that are Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, who may all differ on several issues, but always agree, during extreme moments, to dash the dreams of the Kurds.

Perhaps the first lesson that can be derived from the experiences of the past few years is that meddling in the affairs of others has exacerbated ongoing conflicts and led to others, even if it appeared that it may have temporarily succeeded in saving a regime or stifled a coup.

There is no doubt that any serious step to steer clear from the edge of the abyss starts with respecting the borders of countries and ceasing policies that seek to fragment and alter demographics. The “Baghdadi State” is no more. It was never destined to last. ISIS did, however, increase instability and sectarian divisions and stoke coup attempts that harmed ties between and within borders. The necessary and fateful battle to destroy ISIS led to the launch of the spring of foreign and militia meddling combined.

Now, after everything we have seen in Syria, can the time for respecting borders begin? Given the Russian military intervention in Syria, the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki would not have been scheduled had this presence been such a source of annoyance to the United States. It is most likely that the majority of countries prefer to see a Russian Syria than an Iranian one.

In other words, can Iran go back on the major coup that it staged under the claim of “exporting the revolution” and which it intensified after the collapse of the barrier that was the Saddam Hussein regime?

Some believe that Iran is afraid of going back to its border, not because it prefers to wage conflicts on other people’s lands, but because some of its own citizens, especially those born after the 1979 revolution, are asking the regime what it has presented to them. They are wondering why the regime has invested so much in “exporting the revolution” at the expense of improving their livelihoods. This was clearly demonstrated in the recent protests in Iran. It is hard to believe that Trump is behind these movements.

Can Iran build normal ties with Iraq that are based on mutual respect? Can it withdraw from Syria and establish normal relations? What about its role in Lebanon and backing of the Houthi adventure in Yemen? Can General Qassem Soleimani be persuaded to deploy the Quds Force within Iranian territory alone and not roam maps and capitals?

There is no doubt that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement dealt a heavy blow to Tehran. Iran achieved major gains from the pact that saw it neutralize the US and avoid sanctions, as well as reap funds and continue with its agenda to “export the revolution” through experts, advisors, missiles and a destabilization policy. The greatest success for Tehran was keeping its regional behavior off the nuclear negotiations table.

Trump’s decision returned this behavior back to the forefront and Washington has kicked off a series of pressure moves against Iran, such as targeting its oil exports.

The news of the Helsinki summit likely did not sit very well with Tehran. Russia’s interests with the US are ultimately greater and more important than its interests with Iran. This does not mean that we are approaching a crossroads between Moscow and Tehran. It is certain, however, that the imminent end of the Syrian conflict and Syria’s hand over to Russia will remind Iran that it will soon be faced with having to return to the confines of its own borders.

The Iranian deployment in the region is too great for its economy to withstand. It is too great for the region and the world to tolerate. The region and the world indeed have an interest in seeing a stable and prosperous Iran that respects the borders of others, while the other option would be a long and costly conflict.