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Iran's not the problem
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 28 - 06 - 2007

It takes more than complaints for the Arabs to curb the Iranian influence in the region. Rasha Saad and Doaa El-Bey report
During a visit to Syria this week, Mohamed Reza Baqeri, the Iranian deputy foreign minister for Arab-African affairs, explained that following Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 his country has adopted a friendly and sincere attitude towards Arab states. However, he added that some Arab states treated Iran "unkindly".
He specifically referred to a statement released by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit in which he accused Iran of aiding and abetting Hamas and thereby threatening Egypt's national security.
Some political analysts saw this statement as a sign of a shift in Egyptian policies while other pundits were more inclined to dismiss it as resulting from foreign interference and pressure.
Mohamed Abdel-Salam, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, sees Abul-Gheit's statement as a significant Egyptian policy shift and reflective of the belief that current conditions in the Middle East make the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Egypt and Iran unfeasible at present.
"Furthermore, there is substantial and credible documentary evidence supporting claims that Iran has been funding Hamas and several other resistance organisations in the Palestinian territories for some time. Hamas members have also undergone military training in Iran," explained Abdel-Salam.
However, another source close to the Iranians described Abul-Gheit's statement as an act of premature and exaggerated choreography ahead of the Sharm El-Sheikh summit. The source concurred, too, that Egypt is not ready to establish full diplomatic ties with Iran, at least in the near future.
But Gamal Salama, a professor of political science at the University of Suez, ruled out that Iran was involved in the takeover of Gaza: "this is merely a strategic mistake on the part of Hamas and an indication of the failure of Fatah. It is purely a Palestinian internal affair," he said.
In response to Abul-Gheit's assertions, Salama attributed the change in Egyptian policy to external pressures, possibly from the US or the Gulf states.
Unlike the extensive media coverage given to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement last month that Iran was ready to re-establish diplomatic relations with Egypt, Abul-Gheit's remarks were not given any prominence in the local newspapers.
Abdel-Salam explained that this lack of coverage was due to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry downplaying the importance of Abul-Gheit's remarks. "Instead, the headlines focussed on the crisis in Gaza. Besides, newspapers are sometimes reserved when they write about sensitive issues," he added.
There have been many questions raised about the absence of full diplomatic relations between Egypt and Iran especially since Egypt and Israel are the only two states in the Middle East that do not have relations with Iran. Although the controversial naming of a street in Tehran, despite protests from Cairo, is allegedly one of the reasons behind the freezing of relations. Many political pundits, including Salama, believe this is just a feeble excuse to obfuscate the real issues involved.
Iran named one of the main streets in Tehran Khaled El-Islamboli, after one of the assassins of president Anwar El-Sadat in 1981. Later, the street name was changed to Intifada, after the Palestinian uprising. But in an effort to appease conservatives who regard El-Islamboli as a hero, a large mural of El-Islamboli was erected and remains in the same street, despite repeated Egyptian requests for its removal.
"If the Gulf states have relations with Iran, I can't think of a reason why Egypt shouldn't," Salama said. Knee-jerk reactions, based on emotive reasoning, are not a sound basis for relations between states, he said.
Abul-Gheit accused Iran of supporting Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip and "since Gaza is only a stone's throw from Egypt, this represents a real danger to Egypt's national security," he added.
A month ago, Abul-Gheit described Ahmadinejad's proposal to establish relations with Egypt as positive. He added that he would discuss this with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki when he visited Cairo but to date this meeting has not materialised.
But if Abul-Gheit's remarks were not a true reflection of Egypt's official stance vis-à-vis Iran, other states in the region remain highly vocal in warning of Iran's growing influence in the region. Both Saudi Arabia and Jordan accuse the Islamic republic of meddling in the region's internal affairs with the intention of creating a Shia crescent in the region.
Iran holds many important cards in the region: its involvement in Iraq, its nuclear programme and its close relationship with Syria, and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Furthermore, it supports Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine and has close commercial ties with influential states such as Russia, China and Germany. Iran also has a strong relationships with the Northern Coalition in Afghanistan.
However, for analysts observing Iran's foreign policy it is no secret that Iran has always seen itself as a regional power so it is logical that it would try to get political mileage out of opor tunities coming its way.
In this context, according to analysts and numerous Western reports, it is further rational that Iran would take advantage of the situation in Iraq following the miscalculations by the US administration, which literally handed the Islamic republic a present on a silver platter.
Additionally, the vacuum left by the Arab states, has further aided Iran's regional ambitions. However, while Iran's support for Lebanon's Hizbullah is justified in the eyes of some, their role in Iraq has been strongly criticised. According to Salama, Iran's role in Lebanon is morally acceptable because the Islamic republic supports a resistance organisation which enjoys both Arab support and legitimacy.
However, Iran's role in Iraq is seen as "destructive" and counter-productive on the grounds that it empowers and supports the sectarian militias and parties which are also the backbone of the US-dominated political process.
Despite the fact that both Iran and the US are finally having a dialogue about Iraq's security, the pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear ambitions is believed to be a US attempt to curb Iranian influence in the region. In an attempt to increase pressure on Iran, world powers are currently in the process of drafting a new resolution to further strengthen two previous UN resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.
The draft of the resolution reportedly includes banning Iran Airlines from world airports and flying through international airspace. It also recommends preventing Iranian ships from using world sea ports or navigating in international waters, in addition to freezing its financial assets and the transfer of funds to at least one Iranian bank.
The news of tougher sanctions came despite reports of progress between Iran and the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) whose inspectors will visit Iran "as early as practicable".
This announcement followed talks between IAEA Director-General Mohamed El-Baradei and Iran's chief negotiator Ali Larijani this week. Larijani reportedly invited the IAEA to send a team to Tehran to develop an action plan for resolving issues related to Iran's nuclear programme.
For many analysts Iran will never be another Iraq for many reasons including the US failure to create a united front against Iran and the country's ability to withstand full sanctions due to its self-sufficiency. Nonetheless, there are some who fear a military strike against Iran is forthcoming.
Political analyst Jamil Theyabi asserts that Iran's regional meddling is widespread and a threat to some of the more stable Middle-Eastern countries. He further warns that Iran could be the target of a military attack by next autumn.
"Can anything be done before it is too late, before the Iraq scenario reoccurs in Iran, because of the arrogance of Ahmadinejad's policies and those who stand behind his government?" he asked.
Further exacerbating the situation is the faulty policies of the Arab countries. Analysts point out that the absence of progressive Arab governments in the area and their subordination to imperialism disable them from positively influencing the region either diplomatically or militarily.
Thus an increasing Iranian role in the region is the natural outcome of this state of affairs. A situation, analysts warn, will be exploited by either American and Israeli Zionist ambitions or Iranian designs for hegemony.
For Jordanian writer Hisham Bustani, the main enemy of all anti-Imperialists, and of the Arab liberation movement, is US imperialism and Zionism. Any other problems are secondary. "Therefore, those who say that Iran is more dangerous than the US or Iran is more dangerous than Israel" lack objectivity and furthermore, their analyses serve the interests of US imperialism," Bustani stated.
He further explained that portraying Iran as the main regional threat to the Arab states risked turning the US and Israel into provisional allies facing a common enemy in Iran.
This line of reasoning has recently been repeated by several Iraqi factions, even while the Saudi and Jordanian regimes repeat their warnings in regard to Iran. Such counter- productive disagreements further fragment Arab unity in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon when they should be supporting one another, he added.
"Making Iran the Arabs' number one enemy diverts the Arab masses away from the real danger of Zionism and American imperialism," concluded Bustani.

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