IRAN’s treasury is overflowing. President Hassan Rouhani, touring European capitals on a shopping spree, is being treated like royalty. Italy was so keen not to offend the sensitivities of their guest that white panels were placed around ancient statues in a museum and was rewarded for its hospitality with deals totalling over $18bn. France’s government welcomed Rouhani promising a new beginning in relations prior to the mutual signing of 20 lucrative agreements worth billions.
They say money talks. This time it is shouting loud, trumping Europe’s so-called values and the interests of the continent’s tried and true friends. Forgotten is Iran’s shocking human rights record along with its terrorist proxies, aggression towards Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states; concerns regarding Tehran’s partnership with the Syrian butcher conveniently shelved. Ignored are the Ayatollah Khamenei’s ongoing chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”. Glossed over are its repression of the Iranian people and its relegation of minorities, such as the Ahwazi Arabs, to third class citizen status.
It was left to ordinary citizens who went to the streets of Paris and Rome as well as children in the bombed-out Syrian city of Aleppo to vent their disgust at Rouhani’s grand European tour. “Ask Iran to stop killing us in our country” read the children’s posters. But Italy and France had more important priorities. This was not the moment for finger-wagging in their view when the Iranian President was poised to sign on a whole host of dollar illuminated dotted lines.
It is as if we have woken up to find ourselves in a parallel universe where everything we hold dear has been reversed. Iran signed up to abandoning a nuclear weapons program it had binned in 2009 according to the nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), and is promptly welcomed into the international’s community’s fold like a long lost favourite son flush with a bonanza of up to $100bn and the opening of doors to oil, gas and trade deals.
As if the sight of European heads of state bowing and scraping clutching begging bowls to gain the favour of a representative of a country considered an enemy state a mere few months ago is not humiliating enough, the once mighty United States is accepting Iranian insults and slaps with a virtual ‘Thank you, Sir!”
First we hear that Iran detained ten US naval personnel whose vessel “accidentally” strayed into Iranian waters. They were made to kneel with their hands behind their heads on the deck of their own ship before being paraded on Iranian State TV to offer apologies. Quite a propaganda coup for Iranian authorities and the hordes of anti-Western hardliners! And even as Iran was milking their captives’ humiliation for all its worth, the White House assured Americans thus: “We do not see this as hostile intent. They have been well treated.”
And now we read the headline “Iran warns US warship to leave waters near the Strait of Hormuz” followed by a report beginning, “Iran navy warned a US warship on Wednesday to leave waters in the sea off Oman near an area where the Islamic Republic was performing military drills.” The US vessel beat a hasty retreat even though it was in international waters and was later accused by Iran’s fleet commander of spying on Iran’s activities.
The question now for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states, which have been assured by President Barack Obama that their security is paramount, is how can the US cooperate with us against Iranian plots when its own navy appears to be running scared and its Commander-in-Chief hails the new détente and makes excuses for Iran’s shameful behaviours?
How much abuse is the most powerful country with the strongest military on earth willing to swallow and why is Obama doing his utmost to keep the ayatollahs sweet? It is hard to believe that the US that has always flexed its muscles to save a single American citizen is now making prisoner swap deals with their kidnappers to release seven dual nationals.
A top Iranian commander disclosed that an amount of $1.7bn was paid in exchange for their freedom. The State Department issued a statement to the effect the amount was paid in relation to a pre-1979 case related to a sale of military equipment plus $1.3bn in negotiated interest. That is a pretext to cover America’s long-held policy of not paying rogue states or terrorists to avoid encouraging further abductions. When the payment was purportedly due in the 1970s, only a simpleton would neglect to ask ‘Why now?’
It is little wonder Rouhani’s smile is wide these days when billions are pouring in courtesy of the Obama administration that initiated the sanctions-lifting and the unfreezing of Iranian assets, a hefty portion of which will no doubt be spent on bolstering Iran’s military capability and that of militias and spies on Arab lands.
Iran’s policies towards the West and its meddling in the affairs of Arab states remain unchanged. Its leaders’ rhetoric may have softened temporarily because they are desperate to revitalize their country’s aviation industry with new airplanes and spare parts, not to mention securing buyers for its oil and other commodities. They must be chuckling seeing the haste with which major European states are racing to re-open their embassies in Tehran while showering the Iranians with praise and invitations to arrive on state visits.
Let us face it, Iran the global midget has gained the upper hand merely because it has agreed to more intrusive IAEA monitoring for a ten-year period and has put a percentage of its centrifuges to bed. Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have robbed the American people of their pride. They have greatly diminished the international status of their great nation that not so long ago inspired respect and instilled fear in the hearts of its enemies.
Obama has been widely accused of leading from behind on foreign policy. Not so today! He is the one who is being led and if GCC member states fail to recognise how the Obama administration is wittingly or unwittingly altering the regional order, I am afraid we may be being led to the slaughter.
It seems an age ago since the Muslim world was excited hearing Obama’s promises made during a visit to Cairo University in 2009. He called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims. He pledged to give Iraq to the Iraqis whereas it is a de facto province of Iran. He pledged to pursue a Palestinian state with patience and dedication, which has now been scrubbed off his ‘to-do’ list. He later stepped back from rescuing the Syrian people but he was instrumental in toppling Muammar Gaddafi before abandoning that country to armed militias and terrorists. Adding insult to injury, he is complicit in furthering Iran’s territorial and ideological ambitions.
I can only respectfully ask GCC heads of state to take a long hard look at the big picture and take decisions accordingly. If America continues to bend to Tehran’s diktats perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our relationship with Washington. A friend who plays both sides is no friend at all.
By Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor – UAE Businessman