Obama’s Historical Mistake Has Dire Repercussions

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

The deed has been done. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the nuclear deal, the key to the lifting of anti-Iranian sanctions.

Iran’s parliamentarians are hugging one another; most US Republican lawmakers are highly sceptical if not downright enraged at what they perceive to be a deal with the devil. President Hassan Rouhani says Iran “has opened a new chapter” in respect to its relationship with the world while hailing the sanctions-lifting “a glorious victory”.

It certainly is a victory for Iran, especially when the IAEA has stated its nuclear weapons ambitions were shelved nine years ago. Not only does it stand to receive its frozen assets worth in the region of $100bn, global corporations are queuing to negotiate lucrative deals including major oil giants. Moreover, word has it that Iran has been stockpiling oil to flood the market; this at a time when there is a glut that has driven down prices.

President Barack Obama has sought to silence the deal’s critics, asserting Iran’s implementation of the agreement “marks a fundamental shift in circumstances with respect to Iran’s nuclear program”. This is nothing but a red herring. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry were pushing for a US-Iranian detente long before they took office.

In fact, I predicted this dark day – so detrimental to Arab interests and security – would come years ago. At its core, this has little to do with nuclear weapons and all to do with facilitating Iran becoming a regional power in league with Washington to exert control over Arab States, in particular, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States, and to rebalance regional power in America’s favour.

Iranian-born American academic and author Vali Nasr warned of an upcoming showdown between Iran and Saudi Arabia in his book “The Shi’a Revival,” claiming that Iran’s growing strength and reach makes it a preferred US partner because it is too strong to destroy and should be brought onside with engagement rather than confrontation.

Obama’s former Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel was quoted saying, “the United States must find a new regional diplomatic strategy to deal with Iran that integrates our regional allies, military power and economic leverage.”

I am convinced there is much more to this narrow deal than meets the eye. I transmitted my concerns of a potential ‘Grand Bargain’ in a report to Gulf leaderships during June 2013 and I have laid out my fears in numerous columns since. If I was concerned then, I am deeply disturbed now. This is one time I hate to be right.

However, faced with this fait accompli the Arab world must join forces to shore up its defences. Thankfully, there are concrete moves in that direction. Saudi Arabia has woken up to the dangers following Iran’s direct interference in its internal affairs not to mention its use of proxies in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen. I am somewhat relieved that a Joint Arab Force is on the table and a Muslim anti-terrorism coalition has been formed with the participation of 34 predominately Muslim states.

Sad to say that among our sister nations there are those enjoying close relationships with Iran in a less than transparent way. We know that behind the scenes they have been furthering Iranian interests during its years of virtual isolation. Now they are no longer needed, it is only a matter of time before Iran turns on them too. They need to be cautioned by the GCC and if they continue their pro-Iranian policies, then we have no choice but to build a Trump-style wall between us and them.

Most importantly, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States can no longer rely on mere verbal assurances from their US ally purporting to be their protector when President Obama and his Secretary of State celebrate the release of billions of dollars to the biggest supporter of terrorism in our times. Obama has admitted that there are no guarantees that a portion of those billions will not go to advance Iran’s ideological and territorial ambitions within the region.

Hezbollah, which the US has generously removed from its terrorist blacklist, will continue its killing spree in Syria and Iraq with impunity and will be free to transform Lebanon into an Iranian province. Iran’s efforts to grab control of Yemen and Bahrain, upon which it has made successive territorial claims, will be strengthened by mega sums of cash. Obama is aware the money will be spent on terrorism and the further destabilisation of the Middle East and in particular the Gulf, but has ignored the concerns of America’s friends in his rush to seal a narrow agreement which fails to take Iran’s crimes into account.

Obama has tried to placate GCC countries with an invitation to heads of state to meet with him at his Camp David retreat. Just last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir to persuade him there is nothing to worry about, which according to press reports he is not buying especially since the Obama administration expressed its “dismay” over the execution of convicted terrorist Nimr al-Nimr while seeming less dismayed over the torching of the Kingdom’s embassy and consulate by rabble suspected of being in the regime’s pay.

Fact is the US must put its money where its mouth is. Sweet words partnered with yet more offers of weapons sales will not provide us with a good night’s sleep. Basically, our governments must receive clarification from Mr Obama whether the US is with us or with Iran. We must demand that the White House proves it genuinely has our interests at heart by leaning on Tehran to comply with the following measures:

• The official severing of Iran’s relationship with Hezbollah, which is strangling Lebanon and has chosen the wrong sides in both Syria and Iraq.

• An end to Iran’s arming and financial support of Shiite Houthis in Yemen.

• A commitment from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to dismantle its terrorist cells within Gulf States and to quit their infiltration with spies.

• Tehran’s agreement to negotiate the independence of Arabistan, renamed Khuzestan following Iran’s seizure, so that the Ahwazi Arab population reduced to third-class citizens can regain their independence, their natural resources and their dignity.

• Iran’s acceptance that the body of water it refers to as the “Persian Gulf” is henceforth known as “the Arabian Gulf” given that 85 per cent of the population of countries surrounding the Gulf (including Ahwazi Arabs) are Arab.

I must point out that I have nothing against the Iranian people of whatever faith or sect. They have all been oppressed socially, economically and politically since 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini turned up to send the country back to the Middle Ages. Despite its wealth, 55 per cent of urban Iranians live under the poverty line. People there live in fear in a country where women are stoned, men hung from cranes in public places and even poets and songwriters are jailed and lashed.

Given that the US, which fought hard for the deal, is now Iran’s prime benefactor, the Obama administration should find ways to ensure the billions of dollars released are used to build the economy, improve infrastructure and create jobs and must tie any future rapprochement to an improvement in Iran’s miserable human rights record.

I look forward to the day when the Iranian people reject their fanatical regime and reclaim the freedoms and prosperity they enjoyed under the Shah. Only then should Iran be welcomed into the community of nations – and in that event I will be celebrating too.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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