The Arab-Iranian Relations: The Joint Impasse

By: Azmi Bishara*

Arabs are not alone in the crisis of Syria and Iraq, including affecting the Arab identity of the two countries and their unity. In fact, Iran is undergoing a real crisis there, too. Iran’s attrition has recently prompted the Islamic Republic to handle the restlessness within the Iraqi Arab Shiites. Man can imagine how things will be like after one decade.
Does Russia consult Iran about its operations in Syria? Absolutely not. However, the situation is far worse. For example:

1. Iran doesn’t know anything about the US-Russian communications concerning the solution of the Syrian crisis. The “Russian ally” has left Iran a prey to speculations based on picking news from various diplomatic sources.

2. Russia does not keep Iran or Syria informed about the ongoing important consultations between Putin and Netanyahu, who are linked by bonds of friendship, not the least of which are the deep feelings of hatred they both have for Obama. Though Israel is the US’s ally in the first place, however, this does not prevent that the mutual friendliness between Putin and Netanyahu can include a “deeper” understanding on diagnosing the region’s issues. Putin and Netanyahu also discuss together the future of Syria, including the Golan Heights.

3. Also, Russia doesn’t consult Iran when it opens the Syrian skies for the Israeli warplanes to carry out airstrikes against Hezbollah’s moves that it (Israel) suspects.

I have previously explained that the social base of the regime in Syria, and its cultural and political elites that have not left it yet, prefer Russia to Iran.

The above description is not an overstatement at all, as this is how the current Iranian impasse seems in Syria. No one wants the presence of Iran in Syria except for its allied militias. In order to prove its presence in any future political solution, the Islamic Republic finds itself forced to reveal the number of its dead soldiers and their names; and it even recognizes its direct military involvement in this Arab country. Moreover, Iran is pessimistic towards any solution reached by the Russians and the Americans that may affect its interests as well as its regional contacts.

The Syrian opposition, together with the Arab states that have been supporting it, had recognized their predicament earlier, as they had bet in an unrealistic and uncalculated way on the external intervention, which had delayed for long before it came in the end in the form of a support to the Syrian regime. Also, the alleged allies of the Syrian revolution in America and Europe let the Syrian regime (of the explosive barrels) innovate in committing genocide crimes (against civilians). However, all this has not helped the Al-Assad regime, which was not rescued by the Iranian intervention alone. Even with the direct Russian airline intervention, the Syrian regime has been relatively defeated.

What is more important is that the crisis arch in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon has become a continuous ring for a civil war between sects, on their own behalf and on behalf of regional powers. The Iranian dream of dominating and controlling the region, extending from Tehran to Beirut, has also failed. In fact, Iran was surprised by the Saudi-led Al-Hazm Storm Operation in Yemen.

However, the Arabs have not sought to achieve an Arab dominance system instead of the Iranian hegemony. Also, the dream of the Syrian activists -who started the protest actions against the regime’s tyranny in March 2011- to achieve a democratic system in a unified Syria, is (unfortunately) drifting away. This noble dream, which was shared by Arab and non-Arab democrats, was turned into a nightmare by the Syrian regime. Also, the civil war that came as a reaction to the violent (explosive) ‘barrels’ regime and the Iranian unlimited support to it, has extended (to the east) to connect with the civil war in Iraq; and now It is warning of many disasters and cancerous ramifications against both the Arabs and Iran.

It will not be possible to progress towards building a stable and strong Arab economy, in light of this attrition. Also, it will not be possible to progress towards building an institutional country, as well as democracy, under this kind of sectarian wars, that are backed by regional powers. Also, it will be difficult to control the erosion of the situation and the scrambling toward Israel through passing contacts and steps of normalization. There is political chaos, accompanied by chaos in values in the absence of references. And under the pretext of anti-authoritarianism and its use of the fair cause of Palestine as a tool to justify injustice, Israel will become acceptable to some regimes, or will not be classified as an enemy at the very least. And under the pretext of ‘peace as a strategic option’, and ‘coordination against terrorism’, the forces of ‘resistance’ (against Israel) will seek to be accepted as members in the same club with Israel, as they will attempt to convince the world that they are the only guarantee for stability and for the security of the state of occupation and settlement (Israel). To control this chaos in light of the chaos of the regional war that breaches communities is almost impossible. Also, controlling chaos in such circumstances, where every party considers the other party its main enemy while neutralizing Israel and others, is a pure kind of fantasy.

The losers are the Arabs, both regimes, and peoples, as well as Iran, both as a regime and a people. There is no guarantee for the stability of regimes in light of such wars, nor can the peoples realize their aspirations because the result is chaos, not the achievement of dignity and freedom. Instead of one tyrant, chaos will spawn hundreds of minor autocrats.

You cannot avoid this great confusion. Achievement of an Arab-Iranian dialogue, and reaching an Arabic-Iranian consensus, preceding the American-Russian consensus, has become the main task, and the crux of the cause. The disease must be diagnosed before seeking its medication. Iran, which was able to reach an agreement with the “Great Satan” (as it used to call the United States) on issues that it once deemed as a sovereignty matter, can reach an agreement with the Arab states. Also, Saudi Arabia, which presented a peace initiative with Israel to appease the United States after the events of September 11, can provide a common vision for a joint living with Iran in the region even with conditions.

There is no other solution. We must agree on the issues of the region, where Iran would abandon its expansionary policy that has made the sectarian division of the Arab societies as one of its interests, and supported the armed militias against any Arab country; Iran can achieve this in spite of its contradiction and struggle with the logic of the state itself. In return, Arab states would give up the dream of overthrowing the Iranian regime, as this is none of their business. The democratic change (both reformist and revolutionary) is the task of communities and peoples. The difficulty of this task has become prominent in the Arab Mashreq (Arab countries in the Middle East) through the existence of sectarian division and militia polarization, fueled by a regional conflict. This issue is strongly existing and it is extremely influential to the extent that it cannot be ignored.

*Azmi Bishara is an Arab public intellectual, political philosopher, and author. Bishara, a Palestinian from the Upper Galilee, is presently the General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

(Published in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on June 20, and translated for MEO)