Misrepresenting the Arabs on Iran

Manal Lotfy in London , Monday 29 Apr 2024

Israel is doing itself greater damage through its genocidal war on Gaza than can be made up for by any supposed Arab cooperation in defending it against Iran.

Misrepresenting the Arabs on Iran
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with a group of senior military leaders in Tehran (photo: AP)


What’s the shortest path to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Answer: the overthrow of the Iranian regime to reassure Israel of a non-hostile regional environment. Once reassured, Israel could agree to the two-state solution, leading to the establishment of the long-awaited Palestinian state.

How can we create a stable Middle East?

Answer: encourage more Arab countries to align with the US-Israeli axis in any confrontation with Iran and its proxies.

These questions and answers are not fictional; rather, they represent opinions and ideas widely discussed in reputable publications in the West over the last few days.

It seems that the reported contributions of some Arab countries during the recent Iranian attack on Israel, whether through providing intelligence or intercepting Iranian drones in their airspace, have ignited a sudden wave of “optimism” amidst the catastrophic events unfolding in the Occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The suggestion is that the region may be on the verge of a new era marked by closer ties between the US, Israel, and moderate Arab nations in response to Iran’s retaliatory actions against Israel.

In an interview with the UK newspaper the Guardian, Reza Pahlavi, the former Iranian crown-prince now living in exile and leader of the National Council of Iran, advocated a unified Western effort to support Iranians in overthrowing the regime in Tehran.

He said he doubted that Israel would be prepared to make peace while it feels threatened by proxy groups backed by the current Iranian regime. Thus, regime change in Iran could convince Israel to back the peace process and the two-state solution, Pahlavi said.

In an analysis in the US magazine Foreign Policy titled “Can Israel Harness Its Rare Moment of Regional Support?”, the author said that the involvement of some Arab countries in intercepting a number of Iranian drones and missiles and allowing the US and other countries to use their airspace “marked the first significant test of a burgeoning, if uneasy, alliance in the Middle East against Iran, even as Israel’s war in Gaza has outraged people across the region.”

In the UK newspaper the Daily Mail, former editor of the UK Sunday Times Andrew Neil, wrote that “with Iran ever closer to getting the bomb, Israel and its new Arab allies must unite to bring down the mediaeval mullahs before it’s too late.”

Similarly, in the UK Daily Telegraph, Jake Wallis Simons, the editor of the UK Jewish Chronicle, wrote that “Israel must strike Iran’s nuclear sites – and soon.”

Jonathan Freedland, a Guardian columnist, stated in an opinion piece titled “In this shadow war between Iran and Israel, the outline of a different future is visible,” that the support by some Arab countries for the efforts to shoot down Iranian drones “represents an enormous diplomatic opportunity, one that could give Israel the thing it has lacked since its founding: an accepted place in the Middle East.”

The condition for this acceptance is to offer the Palestinians a political horizon.

“If the Israelis can make that move, an entirely new future could be unlocked – one that would see Iran finally hemmed in by a coalition of countries united in their resolve to stop Tehran wreaking regional havoc via the militias and regimes it controls,” he said.

Shifting the focus to the potential open confrontation between Iran and Israel and its implications for Middle East stability, global security, oil prices, and the international economy would be convenient, particularly for those in the West who are reluctant to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

“Many officials in the region were surprised by how some Arab countries’ positions regarding the Iranian response to the Israeli attack were portrayed, particularly depicting them as aligning with America and Israel against Iran,” a Gulf diplomat based in London told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“But this portrayal lacks credibility. The reality is that the countries of the region declined to allow the use of their land and military bases for attacks on Iran. In other words, American military bases were neutralised in any potential attack on Iran.”

“We have our disagreements with Tehran on various issues, but this does not translate into an alliance with America and Israel aimed at targeting Iran. Our stance was established prior to the Israeli military campaign on Gaza, and the conflict has only served to reinforce it rather than weaken it,” he said.

There are three reasons behind the refusal of many Arab countries to play a role against Tehran in any potential confrontation with Israel or the US or both.

The first reason is the recent rapprochement between Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain that has been marked by the restoration of diplomatic relations and the signing of security, economic, and energy agreements. This enhancement of relations is not merely a tactical manoeuvre but is also a strategic choice.

“The Gulf countries in their pursuit of forging a prosperous future and an economy less reliant on oil aim to diversify sources of national income and attract tourism, foreign investments, and projects,” the Gulf diplomat said.

“This cannot be achieved if the region constantly transitions from one conflict to another. Regional stability is a prerequisite for prosperity and economic growth, and this principle guides our strategic decisions.”

The second reason is the unclear gains that could come from supporting Israel and the US in any potential confrontation. Israel, as many Arab countries have been informed, is not prepared to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state any time soon. It has sent clear messages to the Arab countries that cooperative relations with Israel must be separated from pursuing a political path towards a Palestinian state.

The third reason is that relations with Israel have become a burden and a source of significant popular anger in the region. Public opinion polls in the region may not even be necessary; the sentiments expressed on social media platforms in the Arab world reveal shock and anger at the extent of the Israeli atrocities in Gaza and the perceived failure of Arab governments to do anything to aid the Palestinians.

“There was once enthusiasm among certain sectors and economic segments to foster relations with Israel, particularly as a hub for advanced industries such as artificial intelligence, clean energy, and modern agricultural production methods. However, the brutal scenes coming out of Gaza have cast a shadow over this outlook, prompting many to reconsider their stance on relations with Israel,” the Gulf diplomat said.

In recent months, Riyadh has conveyed to the US administration that its conditions for normalising relations with Israel remain unchanged and include the establishment of a Palestinian state.

However, given the bloody Israeli military campaign in Gaza and the statements made by Israeli officials, notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, regarding the intention to maintain Israeli forces in Gaza and to carve out approximately 20 per cent of the Strip to create buffer zones where Palestinians will not be permitted to return to their homes, Saudi Arabia’s conditions to normalise relations with Israel have been revisited.

They now include the establishment of a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as one of Riyadh’s top priorities. Saudi officials, having previously shown an openness to accepting a credible Israeli commitment to establish a Palestinian state, now insist on a specific roadmap and timetable for negotiations, rather than relying solely on assurances.

The UAE has suspended several promising cooperation projects with Israel, citing the unfavourable regional situation. Last month, Abu Dhabi’s national oil company ADNOC suspended a deal with BP to acquire a 50 per cent stake in the Israeli energy company NewMed.

They attributed this decision to the “external environment,” presumably referring to the ongoing war in Gaza.

It would be unrealistic to strengthen cooperative relations with Israel while there is still a bloodbath taking place in Gaza, the Gulf diplomat said.

In recent days, eyewitnesses and medical teams have spoken of the discovery of some five mass graves in the Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza, where the bodies of nearly 500 Palestinians have been found. Many of the corpses were without heads, some were without skins, and some had had their organs stolen. Many were stripped naked before they were killed.

These shocking images are only part of the picture.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, an independent organisation based in Geneva, has reported that residents of the Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Gaza have testified that the Israeli Forces are using drones to broadcast fabricated crying and screaming for help from women and children in the late hours of the night to drive Palestinians to leave their tents to try to help, only for Israeli drones to shoot them.

The strategy of trying to divert attention from the events unfolding in Gaza does not appear to be yielding the desired outcomes for Tel Aviv and Washington. This is not because Iran is playing a clever game, but because of the level of brutality and sadism practised by Israel in Gaza.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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