Eyad Abu Shakra

Arab Concerns Ignored by the International Community

The last few days, the Middle East witnessed two visits by two senior Iranian and American officials, as well as Iraq’s general elections. But if the nature of the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was clear and widely mentioned in the media, I can claim no knowledge of the topics discussed by Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor; although I do not think Iran was absent from the talks.

In fact, if we remember that Iran is very much present in the Iraqi elections and next year’s Lebanese elections - not to mention its military presence in several parts of Syria frequently targeted by bombardment - this means the future role of Tehran in the region imposes itself on Arab politics, whether the Arabs like it or not.

The reality is that not one Arab statesman takes lightly Iran’s regional role, its importance, or its need to “protect” itself from real or imagined threats.

Indeed, the opposite is true. Arabs leaders - including those Tehran regards as enemies, and attacks their territories directly, or through its militias - have continuously expressed their willingness to open a new page of understanding and coexistence as neighbors who respect each other’s rights. However, what has happened in return is Tehran’s persistence in incitement, aggression, destruction of institutions, and ruining the countries that fall under its control.

In Yemen, for example, there are no signs that the Houthis are “independent” from Tehran’s regional policy, nor are willing to accommodate international wishes and initiatives. Here, the opposite is true; and while their transgressions are met by a dubious international silence, the Houthis continue their military expansionist campaign towards Marib, in addition to their attacks on civilian targets inside both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

As for Lebanon, which was visited by Mr. Amir-Abdollahian, the latter behaved there like feudal lord inspecting his fiefdom surrounded by his agents there. Iranian Foreign Minister also reiterated Tehran’s continued its current policies, that are based on diminishing the Lebanese state, dominating its remnants, and cutting off its Arab and International relations. Moreover, he affirmed his government’s commitment to increasing fuel “exports” to Lebanon, in total disregard to the international – specifically American – boycott of trading with Iran.

What is worth mentioning here, is that the Iranian Foreign Minister, widely regarded as a pro IRGC “hawk”, arrived in Beirut after visiting Moscow, and before travelling to Damascus. This fact was described by Mr. Alexander Zasypkin, the former Russian Ambassador to Lebanon, as a “highly symbolic matter that underlines the high level of cooperation between the three countries visited”. He went on to say “Iran today is much closer to Russia than before, and their relationship goes beyond partnership”, as it “ensures security in the Caucuses and the Gulf”.

Words like these must be taken seriously, more so, while several Arab governments seem to be optimistic about weakening Tehran’s influence in Syria. Add to expected US military withdrawal from Iraq, where Iran’s militias enjoy a great sway that is unlikely to be ended after the elections.

Ongoing Arab attempts to “rehabilitate” the Damascus regime, and normalize relations with it, since last year, have been based on two premises:

- The need to get Iran and its militias out of the Syrian picture.

- To bring the Damascus regime back to the “Arab option” as an alternative to its reliance on Tehran.

Well, Ambassador Zaspykin’s statements do not give the impression that there may be contradictions in the interests of Moscow, Tehran and Damascus. Furthermore, there seems to be no absolute US-Israeli refusal of continued Iranian presence in Syria “under certain conditions” that may resemble those present in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

With Washington’s insistence on limiting its protracted “battle” with Tehran to the nuclear issue, that may mean that its prime interest lies only in preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons that would threaten Israel and the West.

On the other hand, Arab diplomacy has always pointed out to Washington, and other Western capitals, that the IRGC’s militias have never used nuclear weapons in virtually “occupying” Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen… in addition to their hegemony over vital areas in Syria.

The problem worrying the peoples of the four Arab countries that the IRGC boasts about controlling is Iran’s “occupation”, not its nuclear capabilities.

Their problem is with an “occupation” that is tearing apart their countries’ social fabric, destroying their economic, developmental, educational, and legal institution, while also driving away their talents, and instilling in those left behind extremism, ignorance and dependency.

These days the international community is selling us a “magic cure” called elections!

What elections?! Under what conditions… and what political culture?!

How is it possible to organize elections under ever changing rules dictated by armed groups, and conducted in the shadow of their weapons; with all the intimidations and threats associated with them??!!

Yes. Iraq’s elections may bring about some changes, and the same may apply to the promised elections in Lebanon next year. However, the few positives expected are immeasurably fewer than the big negatives. This is because elections carried out in such a state of power disparity - including emigration and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people - will only be an “endorsement” to the “occupiers”. This, actually, means nothing but ridding the international community of any “guilt” towards our misfortunes, of which it is largely responsible.

The international community is well aware of what is going on in the Middle East, although this is not reflected in its actions. Much vaunted idealism aside, one might wonder how interests so blatantly disregard principles and ethical considerations.

Examples of this includes the French President Emmanuel Macron’s ignoring the fall the “Lebanese state” victim to a “statelet” that exists in its shadow and devours it from within. In imposing a government that acts as a façade to Hezbollah’s power, Macron is simply rescinding an emotional, and somewhat “folkloric”, image of France’s commitment to the well-being of the Christians of the Orient. Instead, he looks more interested in contributing to a “regional set up” that serves France’s economic and geopolitical interests in the Middle East.

As for Washington, the question that needs an answer from the White House is about the expected outcome after the US military withdrawal from Iraq. Incidentally, this answer may be far easier than the one regarding the future of Syria!

Given all the above, we – the Arabs – are facing a comprehensive regional strategic problem, which the international community is working overtime to avoid solving, while leaving us busy with its trivial details.