Unity against Iran? (Business Recorder (Pakistan))

US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Switzerland on Sunday to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, to work out details of a prospective deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. The same day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington at the invitation of Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, to challenge Obama Administration’s foreign policy in a speech before Congress. Despite controversy over the Speaker inviting another country’s leader to undermine US’ own leader, only 59 (most of them AfroAmericans and a few Jewish legislators) out of 232 congressional members of Obama’s Democratic Party stayed away from the speech.
Israeli Premier is a regular at US Congress. During his last address there he received no less than 28 standing ovations. This time his speech, aimed at undercutting President Obama’s policy towards Iran, drew about the same number 26 of standing ovations. That shows the level of influence the Jewish lobby wields in American politics. An informal alliance of influential Jewish individuals and organisations use their positions and money to steer the US government into blindly supporting the Jewish state. They have made examples of legislators, public office holders, journalists, and academics who dared to criticise Israel’s acts of aggression and oppression. Netanyahu knew he could afford to openly insult the world’s most powerful leader right on his home ground.
Standing before the US Congress he criticised the US President, saying the deal under discussion could “pave Iran’s path to bomb” and was a threat to the entire world. Of course, no one even if they wanted, was going to question him about his own country’s possession of hundreds of N weapons, which encouraged Iran to follow the same path to ensure its security. Obama was compelled to defend his strategy of using an effective sanctions regime to commit Iran to a verifiable freeze of its nuclear programme for at least 10 years, saying Netanyahu had offered no viable alternative. The alternative, which Israel has been pushing for a while is for the US to join hands with it to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. That is not doable, first, because the facilities are spread out in different difficulttoreach locations, requiring several bombing raids, which would invite retaliatory fire and possible downing of intruding aircraft. Second, Iran could respond by attacking, through its proxies, US troops in the region. Third, such an attack would be fraught with destructive consequences for a Middle East already in a state of flux because of George W Bush’s misadventure in Iraq and Obama and his European and regional allies’ earlier misguided policy to turn a prodemocracy movement in Syria into a raging civil war by backing insurgents, who came to be dominated by Sunni extremists of the al Qaeda and ISIS variety.
Iran is not going to give up its right to what it regards its right to peaceful use of nuclear technology. Obama administration has wisely concluded that the best way forward is to use sanctions as a pressure lever to negotiate a deal that would allow Iran to retain a limited capability to enrich uranium under strict IAEA scrutiny. Even if Congress does not approve a likely deal, the president can use his executive power to do what he thinks can keep Iran from making nuclear weapons.
Iran is in the cross hairs of not only Israel but also the Gulf states. Led by Saudi Arabia they are trying to curb the country’s influence in the region by forging unity among the Sunni states. During the last couple of weeks, officials from Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and UAE turned up in Riyadh to discuss, according to the Saudi Press Agency, means of enhancing cooperation in various fields, issues of common interest, and ‘external developments’. Egypt’s President General Abdel Fattah elSisi, who received the first congratulatory call form Riyadh upon ousting the Islamic Brotherhood’s elected president Mohamed Morsi, is already on board. (It is worthwhile to note that Morsi too was a Sunni, yet unacceptable because of his approach to regional issues. At play is power politics rather than a SunniShia schism ) Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan and our Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, arrived back to back this week in Riyadh at the new Saudi King’s invitation. The most important ‘external development’ in the region, of course, is the rise of the socalled Islamic State (IS). In case IS is the subject of discussions, Iran should have been included considering that it is already playing a significant role to defeat IS in both Iraq and Syria. Given the state of relations between Riyadh and Tehran, no one expects a Saudi invitation going out to President Hassan Rouhani despite the latter’s attempts to reach out to Riyadh. All interested in countering IS could meet on a neutral platform. But the object of concern is not IS; like Israel, it is the possibility of a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 paving the way for Tehran gaining acceptance as a regular member of the international community. That gives them the fear that after the lifting of painful sanctions, Iran would have greater scope to exert its influence in the region, and challenge the status quo.
Pakistan has nothing to gain but a lot to lose from becoming part of any antiIran Sunni axis. This country is already paying a heavy price for rendering mercenary services in the past to the outsiders. The Gulf states’ proxy war, via violent sectarian groups, has caused loss of thousands of lives, and immense damage to the peace and harmony of this society. We have no issue or dispute with any of the Middle Eastern nations. Saudi Arabia is a good friend, so is Iran. We must stay away from their mutual antagonism.