The common predicament of Arab-Iranian relations

The common predicament of Arab-Iranian relations

Comment: Identity is in crisis in a crucible of sectarian civil wars, proxy geopolitical power struggles and genocidal leaders, writes Dr Azmi Bishara.
6 min read
21 Jun, 2016
An Arab-Iranian dialogue is now a crucial task, writes Dr. Azmi Bishara [Getty]

It is not Arabs alone who are caught in the crises of Syria and Iraq, whose Arab identity and unity are at risk. Iran is also facing a real crisis there. Iran is so drained in these two countries that it has had to take action to address the state of restlessness among Iraqi Shia Arabs. One can only imagine what Iran's position in Iraq will be like a decade from now.

Does Russia consult with Iran on its operations in Syria? The answer is no.

Iran knows next to nothing on the contacts taking place between Russia and the United States regarding the solution in Syria. The Russian "ally" often leaves Iran in the dark, learning information only through various secondary sources, and speculating.

Moreover, Russia does not brief Iran - or Syria - on the crucial consultations that take place between Vladimir Putin and Binyamin Netanyahu, who are not only partners but also friends, not least because of their joint loathing for US President Barack Obama. Although Israel is first and foremost an ally of Washington, this has not prevented the mutual cordiality between Putin and Netanyahu to reach "deeper" agreements on diagnosing the region's key issues, including Syria's future and the Golan Heights.

Meanwhile, needless to say, Russia does not consult Iran when it allows Israeli planes to operate in Syria, and bomb Hizballah troops in certain situations defined "suspicious".

And as we argued before, the regime's social base and political and intellectual elites that have yet to abandon it favour Russia over Iran.

The Islamic Republic is finding itself forced to reveal the numbers and names of its casualties in Syria

The analysis above is not an exaggeration, but a fair assessment of the Iranian predicament in Syria. No one wants Iran to be in Syria except for the militias backed by Tehran.

In truth, in order to book itself a place in any political solution in the future, we find that the Islamic Republic is finding itself forced to reveal the numbers and names of its casualties in Syria, openly admitting to its direct military presence in this Arab nation. Iran is visibly pessimistic about the repercussions of any solution that the Russians and Americans might agree on for Iranian interests and regional influence.

For their part, the Syrian opposition and the Arab countries that supported it had learned of their predicament early on. Indeed, they had unrealistically and naively staked their bets on foreign intervention, which after a long delay, came in support of the regime instead of the opposition.

Since then, the alleged allies of the Syrian revolution in North America and Europe let loose the genocidal Barrel Bombs Regime. Yet none of this has allowed it to prevail, nor did the unilateral Iranian intervention; until the Russian air force brought its full might to Syria, the Syrian regime had been all but defeated.

More importantly, the crisis arc from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon has become a contiguous arena of civil wars, both direct and proxy wars on behalf of regional powers (we hope the war remains cold in Lebanon). The Iranian dream of dominating the area between Tehran and Beirut has fallen, however, and Iran was also surprised by Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen.

However, no Arab system of dominance replaced the Iranian dominance project in this region. Meanwhile, the dream of Syrian activists who started the protests against tyranny in March 2011 of a democratic system in a unified Syria looks more distant than ever.

It was a noble goal shared among many Arab and non-Arab democrats, but the regime has turned this dream into a nightmare. The civil war that resulted from the barbaric reaction of the regime and unlimited Iranian support merged with the Iraqi civil war, which has been raging since the US invasion. And more disasters and metastatic cancers are promised as a result, both in the Arab region and also Iran.

It will be impossible to take strides towards building a strong and stable Arab or Iranian economy in light of this bloodletting. It will not be possible to build the state of institutions, let alone democracy, surrounded by this kind of sectarian wars fueled by regional powers.

Furthermore, it will be difficult to control the collapse of the situation and the sprint towards Israel, including quasi-covert contacts and steps for normalisation with the  country that occupies Arab lands. The political chaos reigning is being accompanied by a chaos of values and an absence of leadership.

Under the guise of opposing tyranny and tyranny's exploitation of the just Palestinian cause to justify oppression, Israel has become an acceptable option for some, or at the very least, one that is not classed as an enemy.

On the other hand, under the pretext that peace is a "strategic choice" and the pretext of coordination against terrorism, the forces that call themselves mumanaa ["resistance of dictates"] including the Syrian regime itself have also sought membership of the same club that includes Israel. The mumanaa forces are trying to sell the idea to the world that they can be the only guarantors of stability, and of the security of the occupying-settler state.

The ultimate losers are the Arab governments and peoples, but also Iran's government and its people

Reining in this chaos set against the crucible of civil war and social fragmentation is near impossible. Controlling it at a time when every party considers the opposing party as its main enemy while removing Israel and others from the equation is pure fantasy.

The ultimate losers are the Arab governments and peoples, but also Iran's government and its people. Neither the stability of regimes can be guaranteed by such wars, nor can peoples fulfill their aspirations, because the result is chaos rather than dignity and freedom - the slogans of the 2011 revolutions. And instead of one tyrant, chaos spawns hundreds of smaller ones.

This major dilemma cannot be sidestepped. An Arab-Iranian dialogue and an Arab-Iranian accord ahead of a Russian-American one is now the crucial task, the crux of the matter.

Iran, which managed to reach a deal with "The Great Satan", as it used to describe the US, on issues it once considered sovereign, can likewise reach a deal with the Arab countries. And Saudi Arabia, which put forward the peace initiative with Israel to improve its image in the United States after 9/11, can no doubt come up with a vision and terms for coexistence with Iran in the region.

There is no other way. The issues of the region must be agreed upon. Iran must abandon its expansionist policies that has made the sectarian division of Arab societies beneficial to its interests. It must stop backing armed militias against Arab countries and states.

On the other hand, Arab countries must abandon the dream of toppling the Iranian regime, which is not their business. Democratic change, whether through reform or revolution, is the business of societies and peoples. But the sheer impossibility of this task has become exemplary, in the presence of sectarian division and militant polarisation fuelled by regional conflicts.

We must ignore this issue no longer.

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.