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Iran and its neighbors; Looking for a new horizon

The Washington Times

BYLINE: By Tulin Daloglu, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sir Winston Churchill once said, “It’s a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” There is so much speculation about whether or not the United States is preparing a military strike against Iran, and it assumes that Iran has embarked upon a uranium enrichment program necessary to build a nuclear weapon. However, there is still room for diplomacy to work. The reason for that is clear from the perspective of Muslims in the Middle East: In asymmetrical warfare, the key to victory is to win hearts and minds.
The United States has proved incapable of bringing stability and security to Iraq, and is now less popular in the Muslim world than at any other time in history. Creating a new military front in Iran will further worsen its status, ensuring the perception among Muslims that America is at war with Islam.
It’s possible that the chaotic environment may trigger a regional civil war. But it’s certain that the environment gives aid to radical forces in the region like al Qaeda – and that guarantees that everyone loses. As much as one may argue that the U.S. power in the Middle East has suffered, many believe that the United States determines the end results – which create an incentive for everyone to cooperate and prevent a doomsday scenario. For that reason, this time the countries of the Middle East are asking the United States to include them in the efforts to prevent Iran from going nuclear.
“[The] Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference should be given a role,” said United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed Hussain Al Sha’ali, who is minister of state for foreign affairs. “You can’t eliminate everybody and expect a solution.” He is neither willing to accept Iran with nuclear arms nor military action as a solution. The alternative is quite clear in his mind. “If the international community is genuine [in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons] they can do a lot,” Mr. Al Sha’ali said. “The reason why they can’t do more right now [is the perception that] there is a war in the horizon.” Mr. Al Sha’ali says he believes that any war could put at risk 30 years of investment in the United Arab Emirates – billions and billions of dollars. Yet Anwar Gargash, the minister of state for federal national council, denies working under conditions of fear. “At the end of the day, it’s a risky region. Yes, we’re vulnerable as much as other countries. But we can’t say we’re fearful and we can’t do anything about it,” he told me.
Although Gulf countries bluntly say that they will not cooperate with the United States in a military scenario, American University Professor Edmund Ghareeb says he believes that an Iranian military strike in the Middle East would not target Israel, but American interests in the Gulf. Therefore, such a threat makes the UAE – the host of the U.S. Fifth Fleet – one of the region’s most vulnerable targets. Alas, its location along the Strait of Hormuz, the key point for shipping in the Persian Gulf, at short distance from Iran’s southern shores, makes it strategically important.
The picture gets more complicated, warns Mustafa Alani, director of the Security and Terrorism Program at the Gulf Research Center, an independent think tank in Dubai. “We have no power to prevent Iran or to stop the U.S.,” he says. Mr. Alani argues that if the Gulf countries must choose between accepting Iran as a nuclear power or accepting a military strike, they will accept the latter. What’s more, he argues that “we [at the Gulf Research Center] don’t see any military action in Iran unless the U.S. disengages from Iraq.” Without disengagement from Iraq, he explains, Iran will continue to have the upper hand. The number of U.S. military casualties in Iraq will increase to hundreds per day – Iranians will retaliate indirectly. Mr. Alani argues that the Republican White House is dealing with Iran from a point of weakness. If the voters, however, elect a Democrat to the White House in 2008, Mr. Alani says, that could restart a grand bargain with Iran or it may mean a military strike is more possible.
Separately, what will happen if the U.S. reaches consensus with Iran? Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday that the nuclear dispute requires a “logical solution.” Logically speaking, then, Iranians are ready to make a deal with the U.S. where it will acknowledge Iran as a regional power. In that case, the question is whether the Saudis will accept it, for the sake of peace in a region that has seen wars involving Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Somalia and the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Logically speaking, the region has proved to defeat common sense each time it faced a crisis. But even though the decision on Iran will ultimately be made in Washington or Tel Aviv, the regional countries’ direct or indirect approach will shape it.
Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

Categories: The Washington Times