Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dear Iran

How are you doing nowadays…?

By Marwan Bishara


I'll get straight to the point to spare you the cliches about the greatness of your civilisation; cliches that have been repeated by your friends and foes alike.  
Not that they're untrue, but when even the likes of Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu speak of your "talented people" blah blah blah, well, there's just no point really.
At any rate, I've noticed that your leadership is agitated nowadays. Let's say more than usual. Certainly more agitated than last month, when you seemed relieved by the diplomatic breakthrough with the US and the P5+1 powers.
The prospect of lifting the international sanctions following the signing of an interim nuclear deal has given you a renewed sense of optimism and confidence. And that's a good thing, a great thing if you build on it wisely and measuredly.
History of Iran-US relations
But instead of planning for a national revival and economic overhaul, your leaders have instead been overreaching throughout the Middle East, and overreacting when their regional ambitions in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere seem to be diminishing.  
Boasts and threats
Take for example, the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards, Mohammad Ali Jafari's boasting how the Houthi takeover in Yemen is "inspired" by the 1979 Iranian revolution, and condemning the "treacherous" Saudis who are seen on the brink of collapse.
Or Hassan Firouzabadi, the head of the military, who in March threatened those who threaten the Islamic revolutionary regime with "annihilation", and this month warned the country's delegation to the nuclear talks not to accept any Western limits on Iran's military power.
The same goes for the politicians. Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned against a Western plot to divide regional countries including Iraq, Syria, and Yemen following discussion in the US Congress on Iraq. And for a good measure of populism, he added that the West wouldn't think of doing that to "mighty" Iran.
And deputy foreign minister, Amir Abdollahian who wasn't going to be outdone by the ayatollah and the commander, warned that Yemen isn't Gaza and that the Islamic Republic "would never allow a blockade" of Yemen and noting that its security is that of Iran's security.
If you in Iran don't take a more sober approach to the crises paralysing the region, eventually the Middle East's calamity will come back to haunt you. Remember, you are not immune from potential blowback.

I am not sure how much of this and other inflammatory rhetoric is meant as an offensive defence to pre-empt regional and international pressure. Or how much of it is an orchestrated good-cop bad-cop theatrics designed to balance the diplomatic niceties at display in the nuclear talks.
A sense of entitlement
The ayatollahs' new obsession with Yemen might be surprising following their repeated denials of any interference and considering their preoccupation in Iraq and Syria.  
But if their rhetoric is any guide, the regime is dangerously nostalgic for the old days of the Persian Empire when it dominated a large swath of territories beyond its present national border.
It gives Iraqis and Arabs no comfort to hear a senior official speak of controlling four Arab nations and stating that: "Baghdad is our capital, the centre of our culture and identity - today as in the past."
Such conceit conveys a false sense of entitlement and privilege. Failure to attain it as we've seen in Yemen leads to disappointment, anger and ultimately to rash decisions with terrible impact on the whole region.
Already, the regime's divisive role in the countries it portends to control has proved destructive, just as its provocative and perhaps reckless naval manoeuvres around Yemen and the Gulf region could ignite another regional confrontation.
Dearest Iran, I am afraid your leadership has outdone itself. The use of sectarianism to advance the regime's regional ambitions has demonstrated its limits in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
As a reinvigorated popular resistance mounts against the ayatollahs' allies in these countries, the regime is suffering major setbacks.
If you, in Iran, don't take a more sober approach to the crises paralysing the region, eventually the Middle East's calamity will come back to haunt you. Remember, you are not immune from potential blowback.
Retrograde and repressive
But this is not to say the other regional players behave any more responsibly. Far from it. Most Arab regimes have been as retrograde and repressive as your regime.
Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi wave green flags in June 2009 [AFP]
Indeed, the Arab Spring has proved as "green" as your Green Revolution, because the same type of counter-revolutionary forces that tamed your uprisings, have broken ours.
In other words, we are all in the same boat. And it's sinking. But this is no reason to allow the power hungry to dictate our destiny and drag the Middle East into a regional war.
This is no time for despair.
Despite their inflammatory rhetoric and dangerous grandstanding, all the region's major players have, at least publicly, lent their support for peaceful solutions in those countries suffering from war. The same was emphasised by the GCC summit this week.
It's time to reject all calls for escalation of conflict and war regardless of their source and justification.  Nothing, and I mean nothing, justifies the march to war in a region that's burdened with so much violence.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

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