The Arab world has been subjected to a whole new campaign of disinformation about Iran’s nuclear program. The principal aim is to perpetuate the felt need for US protectorate power against what is billed as Iran’s coming nuclear menace. The latest manifestation of this is a multinational naval exercise led by the United States off Iran’s west coast.
Thus a prominent article in the New York Times on Sunday titled “Islam, terror and the second nuclear age” claims that the Arab world is today more concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions than Israel’s nuclear arsenal. To substantiate this claim, the author, Noah Feldman, writes: “When the Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, called for ‘a Middle East free of nuclear weapons’ this past May, it wasn’t Israel that prompted his remarks. He was worried about Iran, whose self-declared ambition to become a nuclear power has been steadily approaching realization.”
A careful scrutiny of Moussa’s statements reveals a completely different picture. In May, in an interview with China’s official Xinhua News Agency, Moussa clarified that “it is not a nuclear issue of Iran but a nuclear issue of the Middle East”. And the Jerusalem Post, dated May 30, quoting Moussa, rightly concluded: “Moussa’s remarks appeared to be targeted at Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but refuses to acknowledge or deny it.”
What is more, in January at a meeting in Cairo, Moussa was quoted by the Arab and Turkish press as stating that “he welcomed Iran’s proposal for declaring the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone”.
Thus the New York Times’ apparent distortion of Moussa’s position on Iran raises a curious question: What exactly is behind such concerted efforts to scare the Arab world away from Iran precisely at a time when the US military is conducting joint maneuvers in the Persian Gulf with the participation of some Arab states, such as Bahrain?
The answer becomes clear when we notice that Israel, along with Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, has been invited as an observer at these maneuvers, imitated under the rubric “Proliferation Security Initiative”. This coincides with a four-day international conference in Qatar on “new democracies” to which Israel has also been invited.
Ideally, Israel may wish to complement the United States’ protectorate role by offering a conventional and nuclear deterrence to the rich oil sheikhdoms allegedly rattled by Iran’s “nuclear ambitions”. For some time, Israel has been trying to insert itself into the security calculus of both Central Asia and the Persian Gulf, with its agents playing an increasingly active role in, among other places, Azerbaijan and Iraq.
This may be wishful thinking as long as Israel fails to resolve its long-standing problem with the displaced and much-repressed Palestinian people. At best it will have marginal influence in the Arab and Muslim world.
In a recent statement to the United Nations General Assembly, Jan Ziegler, special UN rapporteur on the right to food, stated that there was mass starvation in the occupied territories and in Lebanon. “Much farmland” has been destroyed and Israel’s “unexploded cluster bombs” littering southern Lebanon have made it nearly impossible to grow food. Obviously, none of this bears positively on Israel’s image in the Arab world.
Israel’s much-touted “strategic relations” with Turkey are principally due to Turkey’s economic, rather than strategic, interests and are unlikely to be replicated in the Persian Gulf region, no matter how hard Israel, the US and the media blow the horns of Iran’s nuclear threat.
Recent statements by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have expressed the need to respect Iran’s right to possess peaceful nuclear technology, and even certain Saudi leaders, including Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, have echoed this sentiment, in sharp contrast to the views of the new Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Turki al-Faisal.
The GCC’s ambivalent, and one may even say contradictory, stance with respect to Iran’s nuclear program is partly fed by the avalanche of systematic disinformation, such as the article cited above, and less by any empirical evidence of proliferation on Iran’s part.
To counter this, on Sunday Iran proposed that the six member states of the GCC – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman – plus Iran and Iraq sign a security-cooperation treaty. Tehran said this would be the best way to defend security in the Persian Gulf.
It has not escaped the attention of the Arab world that Israel, which has defied repeated UN Security Council resolutions calling for its withdrawal from occupied Arab lands, is now championing the cause of the Security Council. It is pushing vigorously for the implementation of the resolutions on Iran and Lebanon, the latter including Hezbollah’s disarmament. Israel’s and the United States’ selectiveness regarding UN resolutions cannot possibly help their common cause against Iran.
Already, a number of Iran’s neighbors have stated categorically that they will not allow their territory to be used as launching pads for any military strikes against Iran. In his latest press conference, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that his country would oppose any international sanctions on Iran.
The success of even “mild sanctions” depends to some extent on the cooperation of Iran’s neighbors, which might not be forthcoming as long as the US and its European allies fail to convince the world that Iran is proliferating nuclear weapons.
For its part, Iran’s public diplomacy – of trying to convince the world that it is being penalized for standing up to US power in the Middle East – has not altogether fallen on deaf ears, as can be seen in recent commentaries in the Arab press. These include an article in Beirut’s Daily Star making the case that it is Iran’s “growing power” that is behind the present Western hostilities.
As for the implications of Shi’ite-Sunni troubles in Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world, contrary to the assertion of certain pundits, the centrality of outside interventionism continues to act as the geopolitical glue transcending sectarian hostilities.
Of course, that is not to say that all is well when it comes to Iran-Arab relations. Iran needs to redouble its efforts, particularly through the Organization of Islamic Conference, to play a constructive role in conflict management in Iraq. A great deal more Iran-Arab confidence-building measures are required to counter the view of Iran-Arab rivalry, as disseminated by much of the Western press.
A full normalization of relations with Egypt, for instance, is long overdue, and yet this is held back by marginal misgivings and mutual suspicions, as if diplomatic relations required a full resolution of all points of tensions between Tehran and Cairo.
Clearly, that is not the case, as the United States’ relations with China demonstrate, and a major breakthrough in Iran-Egypt relations would undoubtedly go a long way in neutralizing the systematic disinformation about Iran’s intentions and actions aimed at wresting Arab sympathy away from Iran in the latter’s quest to develop its nuclear program.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of “Negotiating Iran’s Nuclear Populism”, Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote “Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent”, Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran’s Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction. Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times