Zarif is wrong: Iran has no interest in peace

Zarif is wrong: Iran has no interest in peace
Comment: In his recent article, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif claims he will gift peace to the region; an assertion to be treated with suspicion and contempt, writes Malak Chabkoun.
5 min read
26 May, 2017
"Zarif doesn't mention that Iran still hosts members of the Taliban," writes Chabkoun [Anadolu]

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's offer to "gift peace to the region" would be more believable if there was a single admission of guilt in his article with regards to his country's role in instability and violence in the region.

The sentiment is certainly nice, particularly Iran's willingness to bestow peace upon Saudi Arabia "before anyone else," but given Iran's support to dictators and armed non-state actors across the region, it is difficult to treat this offer with anything more than suspicion and perhaps even contempt.

On the other hand, and to be completely fair, should a similar article be written by an Arab foreign minister, it should be received in the same manner: with suspicion and contempt.

Blaming Israel dodges Iran's responsibility for 'Iranophobia'

Zarif says in his opinion piece that "in recent years, some governments in our region sought to destabilise it, by escalating policies and measures aiming to promote extremism and a distorted version of Islam… One of the features of this policy is Iranophobia, created and promoted by Israel for many years now."

However, until Iran's overt intervention in Syria, its proxy Hizballah was actually quite well-regarded by many Arabs as a defender of Palestine and the resistance. Thus, despite Israel's criticism of Iran, Arabs did not really turn on its proxy until after the Syrian revolution unveiled Hizballah's role as an occupier in Syria.

Iran itself has very publicly participated in forced demographic change in Syria

And it doesn't stop with Hizballah, lest some attempt to argue that Hizballah doesn't represent Iran. Despite Zarif's claim that Iran's constant principle in foreign policy is a "rejection of hegemony", Iran itself has very publicly participated in forced demographic change in Syria. This has further fomented the idea that it is more concerned with increasing its own power in the country and the region, than it is with the interests of Syrian people - or even with the interests of the Palestinian resistance it is claiming to protect, by backing Bashar al-Assad.   

Furthermore, Zarif blaming Israel for Iran's negative image in the region ignores yet another reality he fails to acknowledge in his piece. Israel and Iran have managed - despite their public displays of hate - to work together on mutually-beneficial initiatives over the years, including projects for scientific advancement and reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged areas in Iran.   

Intervention is never positive

In his article, Zarif mentions that, "Iran, as a responsible nation with regional influence, has never fallen into the trap of warmongers and aggressors". He cites Iran's interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq as examples of Iran's commitment to "peace, security, reconstruction and development".

It is difficult to paint Afghanistan and Iraq as currently peaceful and secure, and it is even more difficult to paint Iranian intervention as helping either of these countries to become shining examples for the rest of the region.

  Read more: On Iran's booby-trapped gift

Intervention, no matter who is doing it, holds a negative connotation. Yet, Zarif does not acknowledge this in his piece. He points to interventions by others, and uses a common justification for intervention that is waging war on "Takfiri terrorists", but does not mention how religiously motivated Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have summarily executed and raped civilians in areas previously held by the Islamic State group.

Zarif doesn't mention that Iran still hosts members of the Taliban and supplies weapons to the Afghan Taliban, nor does he mention that Afghans seeking refuge in Iran are forced to fight for Iranian-backed militias in Syria. Zarif does not acknowledge that, even domestically, some Iranians are protesting against their country's intervention in Syria.

Perhaps most strikingly of all, Zarif indicates that the Iran-P5+1 nuclear deal pre-empted war in the region, but does not mention that assets unfrozen from the deal were later used to continue to fund the Assad regime, according to the head of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, Karim Bani Saeed.

But is there an Arab substitute for peace?

While it is true that Iran's hegemonic and violent practices in the Arab world - particularly in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen - have perpetuated conflict and instability, the reality is that other governments in the region have also failed to produce a political, social or even cultural response that would stop the violence and allow for development. Instead, they have also perpetuated conflict and instability.

Forming a vague Islamic coalition whose members didn't know they were added to it, is not going to unify the region or strengthen its lobbying in the US. Perpetuating hunger and war in neighbouring countries won't stop occupiers from continuing to move in to fill power vacuums in the region.

Neither Iran nor other governments in the region have been advocating for the interests of the citizens of the region

To put it more simply, neither Iran nor any other governments in the region have been advocating for the interests of the citizens of the region. None have acted in good faith to unify the Iranian and Arab people as citizens of one region.

And that is why it is wrong to present the argument that either Iran or Saudi Arabia (or any of the current Arab regimes) will bring peace to the region. Thus far, they have failed miserably, and it should not be an either-or dichotomy, with either Iran taking hegemonic control of the region, or any Arab state doing so.

These governments should instead turn to their own respective domestic situations and realise that their work begins there. 

The hypocrisy of all these leaders - Iranian, Arab and North African alike - would be laughable, were it not for the incredible toll it continues to take on human lives in the region.

The citizens of the region do not deserve this.

Malak Chabkoun is an independent writer based in the US.

Follow her on Twitter: @malaak_c

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.