Commentary

Obama's Parting Gift to Iran

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

President Barack Obama’s emotional farewell speech before a crowd of thousands was another fine example of the type of inspirational oratory that saw him elected eight years ago as President of the United States. Punctuated by standing ovations and deafening applause, there was hardly a dry eye in the house, including his own.

However, unlike my appreciative response to his masterful 2009 speech in Cairo University, promising improved relations between the US and the Arab World, on this occasion, I was unmoved. It has been proven over and over again that he is not a man of his word. At least with President-elect Donald Trump, we know what we are getting. We may be in for a rough ride but we will not be fooled.

Obama’s congeniality hid a dagger. He was instrumental in damaging my world, our Arab world, perhaps beyond repair for generations to come. And for that I will never forgive him. He has left the Palestinians in dire straits, without a shred of hope. Homes in East Jerusalem are being demolished as I write while his successor plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, signifying the death of any two-state solution.

He contributed to the ruination of Libya and permitted the proliferation of Daesh and other extremist groups on his watch. Even worse was his abandonment of the Syrian opposition just when they were gaining ground and opening the door to Russia’s military intervention.

Worst of all was his invitation to an undeserving rogue state, one that constitutes the region’s greatest threat, to rejoin the community of nations. For all their hate speech against the ‘Great Satan’ the ayatollahs, enriched by hundreds of billions, must be mourning the loss of their greatest benefactor and his Secretary of State John Kerry.

Jennifer Rubin, in The Washington Post, writes that Kerry made “efforts to open up the U.S. banking system so that Iran could get the ‘benefit’ of the deal” on its nuclear program and “followed up by acting as Tehran’s chamber of commerce, trying to cajole businesses to set up in Iran.”

Iran’s European spending spree is bearing fruit. Days ago, Iran Air took delivery of the first of 100 Airbus passenger jets on order and has signed a $16.6 billion deal with Boeing for 80 more. The carrier’s chairman described the delivery as “a great day”.

That was not the only great day for Tehran in recent times. Arguably, Iran’s greatest day was one that has been given little prominence by the mainstream media, perhaps deliberately so. The United States has joined the other signatories of the nuclear agreement with Iran -- Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany -- in approving a deal for Russia to supply Tehran with 116 metric tons of natural uranium, enough to fuel ten nuclear bombs if sufficiently enriched, even after Iran’s violation of the nuclear deal’s terms by exceeding its production of heavy water last year, in return for Iran giving up the excess heavy water.

Speaking to The Washington Post, political blogger and Iran expert Omri Ceren summed up this disastrous state of affairs. “We both allow the Iranians to exceed the heavy-water limits in the deal – and then richly compensate them with uranium that can be used for bombs. Our allies would be excused for thinking we are now promoting Iran’s interests, not the West’s.”

Providing uranium to an unstable state entity openly hostile to its neighbours and engaged in furthering its dominance over Arab countries certainly is not in the interest of Gulf States either. Trump has called the Iran deal “a disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. He has agreed to discuss it with its most vociferous opponent -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – once he moves to the White House.

That said, Trump has admitted unravelling the nuclear deal is no simple task because China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have no appetite to follow suit. They have their eyes on lucrative trade deals. Dollar signs have obliterated their so-called cherished values when it comes to Tehran. They are not fazed by Iran’s domination of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, its weapons supply to Hezbollah, its long-range ballistic missile programme or its military expansion.

We definitely are. Those of us who live on Iran’s doorstep are right to be concerned, especially now that sales of oil will vastly fatten the Iranian treasury which will undoubtedly play a role in strengthening Shiite militias in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Obama’s approval of 116 metric tons of uranium makes the situation even more worrying, particularly coming at a time when Congress is gearing up to slap Iran with yet more sanctions, a move viewed by President Hassan Rouhani as a violation of the deal and incurring “a harsh reaction”. “America cannot influence our path of strength and endurance,” he warned.

In that case, Iran could tear up the deal unilaterally, throw the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors out, remove monitoring systems, break seals on centrifuges and clandestinely take the nuclear weapons path with a vengeance. As unlikely a scenario as that may be when Iran celebrates its coming out of the cold, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

During his last days in office, Obama has damaged America’s Middle East allies again. It is clear that the nuclear deal was heavily weighted to benefit Iran on many levels, but what we were not told was its legitimization of Iran’s acquisition of uranium. The media is hot with discussions on Obama’s legacy. I can only wonder how many more harmful surprises are in store.

How many times do we have to be burned before we get the message that America cannot be trusted! Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council must shore up their defences in any way open to them. Forget diplomatic speak. We know who our enemies are and we know what they want. Ultimately, we can only rely on each other. That is the bottom line. If we believe that any major power will protect us if our backs are ever against the wall facing a nuclear Iran – treaty or no treaty – like Ukraine, we will be thrown to the wolves.