Friday 24 May 2013

The West’s appeasement of Iran

This is an edited translation of excerpts from the weekly think piece of leading American-Lebanese journalist Raghida Dergham for this morning’s edition of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat:
The West’s ambiguous attitudes towards the Islamic Republic of Iran raise many questions.
For instance, is the collective objective of the United States, Britain and France to allow Iran to thwart a Syrian Opposition victory in Syria?
Or, is their shared aim to push Iran and Hezbollah deeper into the Syria quagmire?
The West is also out to lunch in the run-up to next month’s presidential election in Iran. It chose to get some shuteye when it was supposed to be exposing the establishment’s increasing dogmatism. That’s what the West did in Iran’s 10th presidential election in 2009, before the reformist movement was crushed.
Unlike in 2009, when it encouraged Iran’s reformist movement, the West made nothing this week when the Guardian Council, a body of theologians and jurists, disqualified reformist ex-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running and approved only eight conservative candidates to stand for president.
In their on-off nuclear negotiations for a decade, the West continues to give Iran elbowroom to press ahead with its most contentious nuclear work. Here too, the West comes across as appeasing the Mullahs.
As to the regional role to which Tehran lays claim, the West seems content to play a double role. On the one hand, the West appears to give Iran free rein in the Arab countries it covets, chiefly Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
At the same time, Washington, London and Paris give the impression of being pleased to see Sunnis and Shiites crossing swords in Syria’s war of attrition, thus keeping both sides at bay from their cities.
Public acknowledgement of the presence of Iranian forces in Syria leaves the West in a quandary. A UN Security Council resolution (Resolution 1747 of 24 March 2007) bars arms exports by Iran under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
In paragraph 5 of the said resolution, the UN Security Council “Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel…”
Would the West be invoking the breach anytime soon?
The West explicitly warned Hezbollah recently against intervening militarily in Syria. And as a response to the group’s joining the war on the side of Assad’s regime, Europe is hinting it “might” designate Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist entity.
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted this week to pass a bill that will be highly unpopular in Moscow, let alone Damascus.
The “Syrian Transition Support Act” would provide arms to Syrian rebels in support of a regime change.
The bill heads first to the Senate, then to the House and finally to the president.
If the bill is passed, will President Barack Obama sign it?
So far, his policy has been to prevent a victory in Syria either by the armed opposition, which includes not more than five or 10 percent from Jabhat al-Nusra, or by the Iran-Hezbollah-Russia triumvirate.
As usual, Britain and France continue to warn on Syria, only to backtrack later. Both have been talking for months about arming the opposition, even at the cost of busting the European Union arms embargo, only to put their moves on hold afterward.
Are Britain and France acquiescing to the war of exhaustion and attrition in Syria, to help their intelligence services -- and the West generally – gather invaluable information on Sunni extremists belonging to al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra and the likes?
By flying to Amman this week for the “Friends of Syria” core group meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looked more like Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s Geneva-2 salesman.
Whereas Washington was previously calling on Assad to stand down, the Amman closing statement simply said Assad “cannot play a role in the future of Syria.”
Russia wants Iran to be in Geneva-2. And the United States has yet to say no. All Washington said this week in a background briefing on Kerry’s trip to Amman was, “We’ll certainly have to talk to the Russians more, and we’ll have to talk also to the United Nations because they very well will have a big role. So the final attendance list is still under discussion.”
The now-defunct Soviet Union spent decades trying to reach the warm waters of the Mediterranean. Russia reached them via Tartus. Iran is already there via Hezbollah in Lebanon.
All these intertwined elements warrant a rethink. Talk of the Syria war being a quagmire or a Vietnam hemorrhaging Iran and Hezbollah is offset by whispers of a behind-the-scenes grand bargain whereby West and East hand Iran victory in her Vietnam war against Sunni extremists in Syria, plus a say in the regional balance of forces.