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Hichem Karoui: Iran from plot to plot
October 22, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

It is hard to assess the soundness of the case against Iran, concerning the alleged attempt of assassination, if one is not aware of all the whereabouts, and mostly because this is probably more a legal case than a media story. However, even if we do not know everything — and who really does? — doubts are legitimate both ways: i.e. doubts about Iran and doubts about the USA. The political atmosphere between (and because of) them has been so filled with high tension, that people expect the explosion any time.

Saudi Arabia in these conditions may just be the victim of a double game that both Washington and Tehran have been playing since 1979, the facets of which when disclosed to the public sometimes (as it happened with Iran-gate, and later on with Halliburton’s secret deals) were quite worrisome, for they showed that none of them acted out of any moral concern. Some of those aspects caused the Arab elite to raise questions about what would be called “field understandings.”

Understandably, this happens mostly when we note that despite the decades’ long self-serving radical discourse that Tehran has been propagating for local consumption against the “big Satan,” it has never gone to the extent of a direct confrontation with the USA, but remained pompously bragging. On the other hand, Washington used almost ritually the same behaviour with several “rogue states,” showing them now a carrot, now a stick, and expecting a change of position.

All opportunities would be exploited, as we saw clearly with Saddam, Qadhafi, Assad, and the Iranian leaders... When he was in power and fighting against Iran, Saddam had “field understandings” with the USA as had the Iranian leaders at the same moment. Toward the end of their reign Hafez Al Assad and Muammar Qadhafi had had the same tacit “arrangement” with the USA. So the question is: why should we believe Washington?

Since the demise of Saddam, Iran came back to the limelight as a key player in Iraq and the Gulf. Because of the sectarian divide, Tehran’s influence grew in size and importance in several countries where the United States has been trying to advance its own interests on the draughtboard: in Lebanon, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in countries in the region and of course in Iraq. While the US was entangled in an expensive war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tehran was slowly and firmly pushing its pawns, and lingering miles away behind the hurrying IAEA, convinced that the Iranian nuclear programme has a secret armament segment. It is just obvious that such behaviour would end up making everybody nervous. Tehran would not relinquish its grip on anything and seems unable to read “correctly” the roadmap of general tolerance.

After the outburst of anger in several parts of the Arab world, the Iranian leaders showed perfect incompetence in grasping the sense of the Arab spring, and stuck firmly to their own interpretation of these revolutions: i.e. encouraging sectarianism in a country in the region while supporting the criminal Baathist regime in Syria. Lastly, in October 2011, Mr Obama began pressing United Nations nuclear inspectors to release classified intelligence information showing that Iran is designing and experimenting with nuclear weapons technology. The president’s push was part of a larger American effort to further isolate and increase pressure on Iran after accusing it of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.

The case is probably war-conducive, and if it is not yet, the tension it created between the GCC countries, the USA and Iran has reached high levels. The region seems again ready to explode. If the USA was seeking an excuse for war, the attempt against the life of a Saudi ambassador (whether true or made up), is a real loader.

To be sure, the faulty one here is Iran. The political blindness of its leaders is striking. They have never understood anything to their own history with the USA and the Arab neighbours. For had they had, an entirely different situation would be in place today.

Let us take just the nuclear issue that makes everybody nervous. Why were Pakistan and India allowed what Iran is craving for without threats or war drums? The answer is simple: because they were perceived as allies to the West. And so is the case of Israel.

People tend to forget today that Iran’s nuclear programme initially was not the ambition of the Mullahs. It grew from Muhammad Reza Shah’s vision of Iran as the prime military power in the Gulf region. He built up a military arsenal via petrodollars and actively funded opposition in Iraq, including Jalal Talebani and his Kurdish supporters, and supported a ruler in the region and the royalists in Yemen.

Iran’s nuclear research programme goes back to the 1960s. In 1967, a five-megawatt thermal research reactor at the Tehran Research Centre was established and supplied by the United States, then an ally of Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. The Americans trained Iranian technicians as well. Nuclear power and weapons development continued with the assistance of Germany, and later China and Russia, though the United States ended all nuclear agreements with Iran in 1979.

Of course, what is the point of helping a country becoming an enemy? The paradox is that Iran, while still holding a hostile discourse against the West, is materially and practically unable to pursue with the same logic, for its leaders know that this policy is an impasse, that their country is isolated in the region, that they will not be able to have normal relationships in their own regional area if they do not change of discourse and behaviour, and most of all that this policy may cause a war, and if it did, nobody of those who count in the region would support them for they have no friends left, and last but not least, nobody would regret them.

So, is there a plot against Iran, as Mr Ahmadinejad had recently pretended? Maybe there is one, but if he does not know who exactly are the plotters — apart from the old cliché of the CIA’s well concocted dish (still not excluded) — he should better look around him and ask himself: what was the part of Iran in this plot?

The author an expert in US-Middle East relations at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute).


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