It sounds like an incredible question, but is Iran being lured in order to stabilize US hegemony in the geo-strategically vital Middle East? Yes, that’s right: is Iran being co-opted to, effectively, collaborate with the US in securing Western imperialist interests?
These interests include an accommodation with the oil-rich Persian Gulf Arab monarchies and regime change in Syria.
The question seems counterintuitive given the long history of implacable enmity between the US and Iran.
For 34 years, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Islamic Republic has been cast as Washington’s nemesis in the region, and vice versa.
The hostility reached a peak in 2003 when then President George W Bush decried Iran as part of a global “axis of evil” along with Iraq and North Korea.
Western governments and media have frequently accused the Iranian leadership over several decades of being “a sponsor of international terrorism”. Lurid but unsubstantiated claims charge that Iranian agents have had a hand in atrocities such as the 1992 and 1994 bombings of Israeli consular sites in Argentina and, more recently, in a string of assassination plots ranging from the US to Thailand, to India, Georgia, Bulgaria and Kenya.
No matter that Iran vehemently denies involvement in such terrorist acts. It has dismissed the myriad claims as the figment of Western propaganda, aimed at besmirching the country’s international reputation and undermining its geopolitical influence.
Iran points to its principled support of anti-Zionist resistance, mainly in the form of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, as the sole basis for the “terrorist sponsor” charge emanating from Washington and its allies. Just because Washington, European NATO allies and Israel have designated Hezbollah as a terrorist organization it does not necessarily follow that Iran is a terrorist sponsor. As the Iranians see it, the pejorative label is a politicized, subjective term bereft of factual or legal veracity.
Nevertheless, the point is that in Western political rhetoric, laws and ideology, Iran has up to now been defined as a pariah state. Years of biting diplomatic and trade sanctions on Iran are proof that, whatever about the veracity of the West’s claims, these powers ostensibly believe their own propaganda.
The Western-backed Wahhabi Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, have also indulged this demonizing of Iran, partly because of an intense theological antipathy towards Iran’s Shia Islam, and partly as a way for these autocratic regimes to inoculate their own populaces from the relatively progressive political influence of the Islamic revolution.
And for its part, Iran has been unsparing in its condemnation of the American “Great Satan” and its “imperialist lackeys”, in particular the “Zionist entity” (Israel) and Britain (the “most treacherous regime in history” according to a speech by Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009).
The question is: is this litany of enmity, bad blood and hitherto Western threats of war on Iran about to undergo a sea change whereby partnership and alliance become the normal order? It seems disorientating to even ask such a question.
But the pace of recent political changes suggests that the unthinkable is indeed taking shape in the wake of the interim accord brokered on 24 November at the P5+1 negotiations in Geneva. That deal has offered Iran the prospect of sanctions relief and a thawing of the Cold War in Western relations, in return for Iranian concessions over its nuclear program.
But it is a moot point whether these concessions are balanced.
The Western powers – the US, Britain and France – appear to be making significant shifts to accommodate Iran. Washington in particular has faced down objections to détente with Iran from hawkish voices from within its Congress, and President Barack Obama’s administration has surprisingly developed some political backbone to shun hysterical protests from its historic ally in Israel.
The White House has also appeared to sideline the muted grumblings of its other historic ally, the House of Saud, over the rapprochement with Iran.
How about the concessions from Iran? Apart from the obvious compromises over its nuclear program, there are signs that Iran is being maneuvered into accepting more profound geopolitical structures that underpin US hegemony in the Middle East.
A report this week in Voice of America suggests that the US motives for its putative accommodation of Iran are more tactical than strategic.
‘Iran Says Seeks Better Cooperation with Saudi Arabia,’ read the headline in VOA. The Reuters copy reported: “Iran said on Sunday it wanted stronger cooperation with US ally Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to ease concerns among Gulf Arab neighbors about a potential resurgence in its influence following a nuclear deal with world powers”.
Let’s look at the two parts of the above sentence, both of which indicate an historic compromise by Tehran towards US hegemonic interests. “Iran said… it wanted stronger cooperation with US ally Saudi Arabia”.
Given that Saudi Arabia has been covertly sponsoring the Wahhabi terrorist networks in the de facto Western regime change war on Iran’s regional ally, Syria, for the past two and a half years – a criminal war of aggression that has caused untold death and suffering for Syrian civilians – it is surely astounding that the Iranian government is now expressing a desire for “stronger cooperation with US ally Saudi Arabia”.
On returning to Iran this week from a three-leg tour of Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reportedly said: “We hope that the misunderstandings that have existed will clear and that we expand our ties with Saudi Arabia in a good fashion”.
Now, let’s look at the second part of the above quoted VOA report. “[Iran] seeks to ease concerns among Gulf Arab neighbors about a potential resurgence in its influence following a nuclear deal with world powers”. The forswearing of “a potential resurgence” in Iranian influence following the P5+1 deal is a coded message that Iran appears willing to accept the status quo of the Saudi absolute monarchy and the other US-backed Persian Gulf Arab dictatorships.
Such an accommodation on the part of Iran would be highly significant. As well as holding the Israeli state in contempt, Iran has always, up to now, been scathing of the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies as despotic stooges of American imperialism and as collaborators with Western-backed Zionism.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif reportedly went on to say of his meetings with the Saudi client regimes in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar: “My interpretation is that these countries as a whole are very much interested in opening a new chapter in their ties with the Islamic Republic, which we hope will benefit peace and stability as well as the progress of the people of the region”.
The VOA report cited the top Iranian diplomat as saying: “We believe such conflicts of viewpoint should not adversely affect the good neighborly ties of the countries, since we regard southern Persian Gulf and regional countries as especially significant; and this region’s security is tied to the welfare and economic progress of its people and nations”.
The report added: “Zarif further underlined that he reached consensus with the officials of Kuwait, Oman and Qatar that ‘regular political consultations in all areas, bilateral visits and organized talks’ should continue between Iran and the noted countries even on areas of disagreement such as the crisis in Syria”.
So, is this the political price that Washington and its Western allies are tacitly demanding off Iran for the interim P5+1 deal and the keenly desired relief from crippling trade sanctions on the Iranian economy?
To avail of sanctions relief, which have hit Iran’s oil trade by $35 billion over the past year alone and have locked up some $100 billion in Iranian overseas’ assets, the implication is that Tehran is being expected to accommodate itself with the US hegemonic order in the Middle East. That order is predicated on the continued untrammeled existence of the Persian Gulf Arab oil monarchies, just as much as it is on the existence of the Israeli regime.
Moreover, it appears that Iran is being lured through the promise of sanctions relief to act as an interlocutor with Syria. As an editorial in the influential Economist magazine put it recently about the new diplomatic opening between Washington and Tehran: “The immediate test, and opportunity [for better relations] will be Syria… if anybody can bully Mr Assad to offer concessions it is [Iranian President] Mr Rouhani”.
Iran has so far remained staunch in its support for the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad. But in the run-up to the Geneva II political negotiations, scheduled for next month, on the transitional future of Syria, it would appear that Iran is being lined up to extract concessions from its Syrian ally in order to meet Western objectives of regime change in that Arab country. The multi-billionaire-dollar sanctions relief being dangled in front of Iran by the West and the normalization of economic relations could prove to be an acute pressure point on Iran to peddle these Western demands.