History does not always loom large over relations between countries. France and Germany overcame the bloodshed between them. As did Japan and the Koreas. As did Russia and Turkey, who fought more than ten wars against each other. History is an illness that can be cured if it is reread and if its lessons are understood. Its injuries can be treated and its toxins can be controlled.
History can be manipulated, but geography, in contrast, cannot. It is one’s fate to accept one’s geography. It picks your neighbors for you and you have no say in the matter.
This is the fate of the Middle East. Arabs, Persians, Turks and Kurds. Religions, sects and old and new wounds. An old memory and a mine of dreams and disappointments. Groups that have grown tired of their borders and dreamed of empires. They went forth, attacked, fought, won and prevailed. They were then defeated and had to endure disappointments within borders that they view as chains and narrow prison cells.
From time to time, a revolt, idea or ruler emerges that seeks to retaliate against history that has clipped the nails of empires and agendas to eliminate the other or usurp their voice. Fate has it that the Middle East also happens to lie on the crossroads of continents and for its land to boast massive wealth that is necessary for the global economy.
The current crisis in the Gulf is not a passing development. It cannot be written off as simply a standoff between Washington and Tehran. It is also a deep crisis between Iran and its neighbors. This is how local and regional affairs become intertwined with international ones. It is not enough to announce that no one wants to head to war. Underneath it all lies a difficult and deep problem that creates crises. It can be described as a difficulty to reach an understanding with the current Iran.
Every once in a while, Iran declares that it wants to peacefully coexist with its neighbors and that it is ready to reach an understanding with them and ensure that each side safeguards its interests. This diplomacy, which was promoted through the smiles of the likes of Mohammad Khatami and Mohammed Javad Zarif, could not convince countries in the region that it was not just a front for the actual policy that is being carried out by the Revolutionary Guards. It is a policy of constantly revolting against the traditional balances of power in the Middle East.
Since its victory, the Khomeini revolution launched the major revolt that aims to transform Iran into a major power in the region. Iran believed that it had three obstacles hindering its goals: The first was the American presence in the region. Iran believed that creating big holes in the American umbrella over the region will force the countries there to accept Tehran’s hegemony over them. The second obstacle was Saddam Hussein’s regime that forced the Iranian regime to defend its territories instead of pushing forward into the region. The third obstacle is Saudi Arabia’s clout on the Gulf, Arab, Islamic and international scenes.
After the demise of the Saddam regime, Iran escalated its moves in the major revolt to capture areas of American influence in the region and surround Saudi Arabia from more than one side. It relied in its efforts on a mix of ideology, weapons and money. It succeeded in infiltrating borders and threatening others. It lured Shiite minorities out of their national environment and merged them with its Wilayet al-Faqih agenda through militias, small mobile armies, rockets and drones. The rockets sought to convince countries that they were jeopardizing their stability if they chose to oppose or obstruct the major revolt.
Had these words been written a few years ago, they would have been dismissed as exaggeration. But we are dealing with facts. The timing of the latest Houthi aggression on Saudi installations confirmed what is already known: The Houthis are being ordered by the Revolutionary Guards. This does not need evidence. The generals in the Guards themselves boast about having four capitals in their Iranian circle of influence. An observer realizes that the formation of a government in Iraq is not possible without Tehran’s approval. The same goes for Beirut. In Syria, field developments have forced Iran to accept the Russian partner or competitor.
Amid all this, the Arabs find themselves confronted with a major coup. The real conditions for stability in the region demand that Yemen belong to the Yemenis and that they have the first and final word in shaping their future. Iraq for the Iraqis. Syria for the Syrians. Lebanon for the Lebanese. It is not normal for the Iranian ambassador in these countries to wield greater power than their prime minister or that Qassem Soleimani be vastly more powerful than their generals.
By quitting the nuclear deal, Donald Trump completely reopened the file of Iran’s behavior. The problem regional countries have with Iran is linked more to the major revolt than its nuclear ambitions. Europe is also concerned about the Iranian rocket program. Washington speaks about links between Tehran and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda. Placing the Revolutionary Guards on the American terror list has returned the spotlight on Iran’s destabilizing regional policy.
The current Gulf crisis is the product of the objection to the major revolt and an attempt to prevent it from creating new hotspots. We can therefore understand the Saudi and Gulf decision to accept the redeployment of American forces in the Arabian Gulf and some of its countries. We can understand Saudi Arabia’s call to hold a series of Gulf, Arab and Islamic summits in Makkah to reach a clear stance that sends a frank message to Iran that it must halt its agenda. These steps are not a precursor to war because everyone knows it will be costly. They aim to convince Iran that maintaining its attack, as part of its major revolt, will lead to unprecedented pressure that would deprive its economy from the ability to finance its vast destabilizing agenda.
The region cannot constantly live on the edge of war. Easing the tensions begins by having Iran go back on its major revolt in the region. Regional countries cannot accept to have their borders violated by rockets or militias or drones. The US cannot accept for straits to become hostages to the Revolutionary Guards.
Altering military balances on the ground in the region places Iran before a clear choice: It can either continue to take major risks or open channels to return to the negotiations table with lesser illusions. The strict measures in the Gulf are an attempt to revolt against the major coup that has stolen the voice of decision-making capitals, breached borders and depleted resources.
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