by Mordechai Kedar
“When the Lord has finished all his work in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:
By the strength of my hand I have done this,
and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.
I removed the boundaries of nations (and their futures),
I have plundered their treasures;
like a mighty one I subdued kings.
As one reaches into a nest,
so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations;
as one who gathers abandoned eggs,
so I gathered all the countries;
not one flapped a wing,
or opened its mouth to chirp.”
Isaiah, in chapter 10, relates the hypothetical words of the King of Assyria, the hero of his day, who extended the range of his rule by conquering lands and peoples so easily that he boasted that he had collected all of the surrounding peoples as one who collects abandoned eggs from the field. Observing the way Iran behaves these days, there is no choice but to conclude that the regime of the Ayatollahs sees the countries of the region as no more than abandoned eggs.
We have written about Iran how dominates Iraq in this column before. Bear in mind that Iranian influence on events in Iraq began while there were still coalition forces in the Land of the Two Rivers, and that influence increased with the approaching withdrawal of the American army at the end of 2010. Currently, Iraq serves as the operational arm of Iranian policy, especially in everything regarding the war in Syria, where regular forces of Iraq and Iran are engaged.
But the meteoric growth of Iranian influence on its environment began last month, before the signing of the Geneva agreement and especially after the West signed the agreement with Iran on November 24th. Those who live near Iran - and there are approximately twenty such countries - feel the strong sense of strength and self-confidence that Iran radiates these days, and understands that "if you can't beat them, join them".
The Silver Egg
The first country that the Iranians want to come to an agreement with is Afghanistan. Around the end of 2014, the United States army is scheduled to withdraw from this war-torn but resource-rich country, and the American government is trying to come to an agreement with the regime of Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, that will perpetuate the American hegemony in this country, and especially that it should allow the United States to leave an army base there.
This is exactly what Iran objects to. Last week Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, was urgently summoned to Teheran for a meeting with Rouhani, in which it was made clear to him that he was "invited" to sign a cooperation pact with Iran that would include strategic cooperation in the diplomatic, defense, economic and cultural spheres. Karzai understood a long time ago that when the United States withdraws from Afghanistan it will be far away, beyond the Atlantic Ocean, while Iran is right over the border, and is not going anywhere. The ability of the United States to harm Karzai if he disappoints the US is quite limited, whereas Iran is quite capable of inflicting much damage, especially if it is emboldened by becoming a nuclear power or a power on the threshold of becoming nuclear.
Karzai - since he had no choice - yielded to the Iranian dictates, and the task of drafting the "cooperation pact" between Afghanistan and Iran was transferred to the foreign ministers, meaning to those who would implement the policy, so that it could be signed before the agreements between Afghanistan and the United States were completed. It can be assumed that the Iranians will insist that the cooperation pact will not allow Afghanistan to agree to "foreign forces" remaining on its soil, and there are three main reasons for this:
One is Iran's hegemonic intention to prove to "near and far" that it calls the shots in Central Asia and the Islamic world, and no infidel will ever be able to have control over even a small territory within the Iranian sphere of influence. The elimination of the United States from Afghanistan will be presented by the Ayatollahs as the ultimate victory of Islam - and especially Shi'a Islam - over heresy. There is a broad hint here, directed at Sunni Saudi Arabia, which is still in America's pocket.
The second reason is that American bases in Afghanistan would be used by American intelligence bodies to keep tabs on Iranian media networks, to run agents inside of Iran, to send saboteurs to damage the Iranian nuclear program and to be a place of refuge and a base of activity for those among the Iranian regime's opposition who flee to Afghanistan.
The third reason is the desire of the Iranian regime's leaders to take control of the most lucrative industry in Afghanistan - the opium industry. It is enormously profitable, and if the export increases the amount of drug addiction in the West, this too will be part of the Iranian victory over the infidel sons of the West.
It is important to note that Karzai was not enthusiastic about American forces remaining in his country after the withdrawal anyway, because he knows that as long as even one American soldier remains in Afghanistan, it would be an excuse for the various jihadists and and their organizations to continue to fight the regime "until the elimination of the infidels, the unclean occupiers, from the pure and holy Islamic land”.
The Iranians and Karzai see that with the approach of the withdrawal around the end of 2014, the Americans are increasingly concerned, not for the welfare of Afghanistan but for that of the American forces, who will be exposed to attacks by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the rest of the militias operating in Afghanistan, without having any capability to fight back during the months when the withdrawal is being carried out and the bases and defense posts are dismantled in order to send the combat and intelligence equipment back to the United States.
Chuck Hagel, the American Secretary of Defense, has been concerned with this matter for several months, and he is even willing to accept an agreement between Iran and Afghanistan, if only American soldiers will not be sent back to the United States in coffins because they had been picked off like sitting ducks since the army had already dismantled their defense systems. The strange thing is that Iran is even willing to support the Americans during the period of decampment on condition that the United States turns down the pressure on Iran over the nuclear matter, and that is why Obama and Kerry object to the initiative in the Senate to place new sanctions on Iran, since this initiative would reduce the chances of Iranian support to allow the United States a safe withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan will fall as ripe fruit into the Iranians' hands because of the American fear of jihadists. It is reasonable to assume that this will have a greater influence on the contracts that Iran will sign with Afghanistan – than on its agreements with the western countries – because Iran’s goal is to exploit Afghanistan's natural resources in the future. Iran’s gains will not only be psychological and political, but also financial, and the profits will be great indeed.
The Golden Egg
West of Iran – on the other side of the Persian Gulf – lie the thirteen states of the Arabian Peninsula: six separate states: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Yemen, and the seven states of the United Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Qaiwain. They are all quaking with fear of Iranian domination, and they are all furious with the West in general and the United States in particular for abandoning them to the tender mercies of the Ayatollahs. John Kerry attempted to calm them recently with a visit to some of the states, but he totally failed in this mission.
The Iranian regime senses the rising tension in these states, and has begun a policy of gradual domination through smiles and visits.
Iran has been involved for a long time in the events of the Arabian Peninsula: It supports the Shi’ite revolt against the authority of the al-Huth family against the central regime, it encourages the Shi’ite-Persian majority in Bahrain to rebel against the Sunni-Arab minority, and it stirs up quarrels among the Shi’ite minorities in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Emirates.
Several days ago, Dr. Abdullah al-Nafisi, a Kuwaiti public figure, revealed that he was a member of a Kuwaiti parliamentary delegation that visited Teheran a few years ago. The delegation met with Hassan Rouhani, who was then head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Iranian parliament. In the course of this meeting Rouhani told them clearly that the entire western coast of the Persian Gulf, from Kuwait in the North to the sultanates of Oman in the South belong to the Iranians, and the day will come when Iran will take this area from its Arab residents. According to Dr. al-Nafisi, Rouhani was not at all embarrassed to say these explicit words to the Kuwaiti delegation. Now, the Gulf States watch as the Iranian plan is about to be realized right before their eyes and they are helpless to stop this hostile takeover.
From their point of view, the way the United States behaves is even worse: after signing the agreement in Geneva, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel came to the Gulf States for a tour, and they put pressure on the leaders there to agree to the Iranian demands that were written in the agreement. From the Gulf leaders' point of view, the United States – in her eagerness to come to an agreement at any price – became the representative of Iranian interests. For its part, Iran is trying to relax the Gulf States by sending highly placed representatives for visits intended to bring down the level of pressure, using smiles made in Hassan Rouhani’s workshop, in the best tradition of Shi’ite takiyya – deception. However, the leaders of the Gulf States are not convinced: in desperation, the foreign ministers of the Gulf States gathered in Kuwait for a coordination meeting this week, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing call to increase their level of cooperation into a full consolidation was the item on the agenda.
Currently, in light of the Iranian threat that has become more substantive since the Geneva agreement, there is more openness to the idea of consolidation, but an important link – the Oman sultanates – objects vigorously for several reasons, the first of which is cultural: Oman, which has enjoyed social and political stability for many years based on maintaining the customs and traditions of the tribes that it comprises, is not interested in joining up with Yemen, which suffers from al-Qaeda activities, just as much as it does not want to join with the Kuwaiti society, parts of which have modern Western characteristics.
The overall concern of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE is that if they consolidate, they will be swallowed up by Saudi Arabia, after having managed to keep their unique character during the half century of their independence.
In the meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs last week they welcomed the agreement that was signed in Geneva on the 24th of November between Iran and the representatives of 5+1 states, not because the Gulf states support the agreement but because they understand that their objections will not make the Americans less eager to thaw relations with the Iranians, and anyway, the agreement is an established fact. From their point of view it would not be right to push the envelope with Iran, after it had won international recognition of its right to enrich uranium, keep the heavy water reactor and develop inter-continental missiles, thus becoming a nuclear threshold state with American permission.
The Gulf States are also not interested in burning bridges with the United States, because they still do not have anyone else to lean on, and this might increase the United States’ efforts to develop independent energy sources, limiting their ability to influence the United States and the global oil market. This is why they have accepted the interim agreement between the West and Iran, with the hope that by the time a half year has passed, the world will have realized that Iran has deceived it and the world will return – inshallah - to a regimen of sanctions.
Nevertheless, the last two weeks have shown how weak the Gulf States are and how unable to consolidate even vis a vis the clear and explicit Iranian threat. The leaders of Iran read the situation and see the Gulf States as abandoned golden eggs waiting for the Iranians to collect them as well.
I would have expected from the president of Israel, a veteran of combat in the diplomatic arena, to show more understanding in matters relating to the Middle East, especially because in the nineties he professed to have engineered a “New Middle East”, as his book is named. By now, he should know that when a Middle Eastern leader says to the media “I am willing to come to some Middle Eastern country” or “I am willing to meet with some Middle Eastern leader”, it is only after he has covertly requested permission to visit or to meet, and covertly received the permission to say it to the media.
No self-respecting Middle Eastern leader would risk his honor and his name by declaring his intentions to visit any country or meet with any leader without first receiving permission for a public declaration of such a visit or meeting, because if he had declared such an intention and did not receive permission afterward, he would bring shame and disgrace, mostly upon himself.
But Peres does not understand the Middle East, and continues to live in his Israeli-Western cultural bubble. In the beginning of the week he announced that he is willing to meet Rouhani, and immediately afterwards, Iran announced that Rouhani is not willing to meet Peres, the president of the illegitimate Zionist entity, which has no right to exist, and that Peres’ words about a meeting with Rouhani are nothing but cheap propaganda in order to score a few points in the struggle over the Iranian nuclear matter in which Israel – and Peres, its president – has suffered a resounding defeat.
But the Israeli media, which worships Peres incessantly, (take, for instance, the grandiose celebrations to commemorate his 90th birthday) only knows how to obsess over the prime minister: his wife, his house, his estate, his expenses, the fact that he did not go to Mandela’s funeral and other matters, some of which are important and some not, but the president of the state’s delusional and harmful announcement about a meeting with Rouhani – as if such a thing is within the president’s authority – is something that is beyond the scope of Israeli journalists to deal with. They would never publish a word that would cast Peres - their idol for many years – in a critical or embarrassing light.
Peres has never understood the Middle East, and all of his actions in the region have stemmed from this misunderstanding. Agreements that he has signed on – especially the Oslo Accords – testify to a lack of basic understanding of the psycho-social mechanisms that influence the politics of the area. There is only one good thing he has done in his life that has a positive impact on the Middle East: the reactor in Dimona. At his advanced age I very much doubt if he will ever really understand the region that he so much wanted to create in his own image.
Dr. Kedar is available for lectures
Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Mordechai.Kedar@biu.ac.il) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.
Translated from Hebrew by SallyZahav with permission from the author.
Additional articles by Dr. Kedar
Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.