Raghida Dergham: Raising the Issue of Iran to Cover Up the Issue of Syria.The next few days will be difficult for the governments of Iran and Syria, which are responding to international criticism by handing out accusations of treason, interference and conspiracy. They will be difficult because “hiding behind one’s finger” has become an obvious gambit, and also because the time to be held to account is now imminent, and because Russia and its ilk in the alliance of “defiance” at the Security Council have not been able to protect the regimes in Tehran and Damascus from the consequences of stubbornly behaving with arrogance. But Iran and Syria are not alone in facing difficult days ahead. Their companion in arrogance, conceit and deception with regard to international and humanitarian laws and customs, i.e. Israel, is with them. For one thing, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is tightening the noose around its own neck in the process of hanging the Palestinians. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments to US President Barack Obama – which he was not supposed to say publicly – were, at the end of the day, sincere, when Sarkozy described Netanyahu as a “liar”. The fact of the matter is that most politicians, journalists and experts on the Middle East repeatedly describe Netanyahu as “a professional and pathological liar”. This time, the lies might not be restricted to promises about the peace process with the Palestinians, but could encompass what Netanyahu has in mind regarding Iran and Syria as well. There is a great deal of suspicion over this issue – and this would not be for the first time. The Israeli Prime Minister’s past record in supporting that the Syrian regime should be kept in place, and opposition to pressures on it, are well known, especially by the US Administration. It has been said that Israel changed its opinion in opposition to regime-change in Syria over the past few weeks, yet there are indications that this is being reconsidered, among them Netanyahu’s efforts to force a the subject to be changed and turn international focus away from Syria, and towards Iran. These are favors Netanyahu is providing to both Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the form of threats and suggestions that an Israeli military operation is being prepared to put a stop to Iran’s nuclear programs. Such “favors” benefit Netanyahu himself because they could implicate the US Administration in confrontations and excursions in the Arab region, something that would be of service to Netanyahu within the Palestinian-Israeli context and would keep pressures away from him. They are shared favors for Assad, Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu, their main feature being to divert attention in order to buy time; as well as a service for the trio’s intersected interests.
Any Israeli military attack against Iran would serve first and foremost to gather Arab and Muslim popular sympathy to the benefit of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is true because first, Israel is a nuclear state that challenges international laws and customs; second, because such emotions categorically reject Israel’s claim that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to its existence; and third, because Israel does not have the legal authority to take the matter of a nuclear Iran into its own hands, with complete disregard for the Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the world’s major powers. Furthermore, the timing of such threats and hints at an Israeli military operation against the Iranian nuclear reactor nearly represents a gift to Iran’s primary ally in the Arab region – i.e. Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria. If such an Israeli attack were to take place at this delicate stage for Syria, the regime would exploit this “gift” to its benefit at the expense of the opposition, and would seize the opportunity to crush the opposition on account of the transformation in the regional balance of power, especially at the popular and emotional levels.
The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the greatest fear of which is for Iran to obtain military nuclear capabilities, will see its strategy suffer a major setback, if Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak were to order a military strike against Iran. For inasmuch as some of those countries wish to sever “the snake’s head” in Tehran, so as for the two allies – Iran and Syria – to put an end to their dangerous axis, it is their view that the worst favor Israel can do them is that of taking military action against Iran. Such action is of great service to the rulers of Iran and Syria, not to those of the GCC. Netanyahu may be practicing the skill that he is addicted to, in a shrewd policy aimed at driving the major powers with permanent seats at the Security Council to stop delaying and being lenient with Iran, as it moves forward to obtain nuclear weapons. If his goal is to contribute to awakening Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States and informing them that their inaction is unacceptable and that they must take measures, then fair enough. But what some of those countries, and especially the United States, fear, is for Netanyahu’s decision to be aimed at dragging Washington into military action against Iran, or at least on leaving the impression that Washington has approved Israeli military action. In both cases, there would be a high price to pay for Washington.
Perhaps Netanyahu does not intend to take military action at present, but instead to put the option forward in such a way as to embarrass Barack Obama and unleash an electoral backlash against him, showing him as weak and hesitant in the face of a nuclear threat such as this. There is no love lost between the two men. The Israeli Prime Minister does not want the US President to win a second term that would make him more determined in dealing with Israel, whether at the level of illegal settlement-building or with regard to Netanyahu’s typical insincere two-state solution promises. The Obama Administration has given the Netanyahu government everything it wanted, yet in spite of this it is being blackmailed by the Israeli right and by the one-upmanship of the Republicans. As such, Barack Obama has been forced to progressively backtrack on the promises he had made at the beginning of his term with regard to the two-state solution, and has so far failed to stop illegal settlement-building. In fact, he has even been forced to use the veto power at the Security Council against the draft resolution on the settlements. This is while bearing in mind that American policy has for many years been based on opposing settlement-building.
Furthermore, regarding the membership of Palestine at the United Nations, the Obama Administration enlisted all its efforts to influence Security Council member-states in order to deprive the resolution on full membership of the nine votes it requires, so as not to be forced to make use of veto powers again, and so as to nip the Palestinian bid in the bud. In spite of all this, Netanyahu and his team dislike the administration. His priority is for Barack Obama not to remain in the White House, so as for him not to have the boldness to do in his second term what he was not bold enough to do in his first, for electoral or other reasons.
It would be better for Palestinian diplomacy to head to the General Assembly to secure a resolution in clear and plain language, one that would gather the greatest extent of support for it obtaining the status of a non-member “observer” state at the United Nations. Such a classification would not negate the status of “state” obtained by Palestine at the UNESCO. Indeed, one of the most important reasons for ensuring the status of a “state” is the subsequent ability to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to challenge Israel’s violations, such as the settlement policy, legally. Thus, the General Assembly recognizing Palestine as an “observer state” would take away from the hands of the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) and its head, Under-Secretary-General Patricia O’Brien, any pretext for rejecting the application of Palestine the “state” to join the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. It has been mentioned that O’Brien would find loopholes in a Palestinian application based solely on the UNESCO resolution, on the basis that it is one of many UN organizations. Legally, the flaws are in O’Brien’s own loopholes. Nevertheless, it would be politically more intelligent for Palestinian policy to obtain a clear mandate from the General Assembly.
This is no time to allow any party to exploit the Palestinian issue for any other considerations. It is true that the duplicity of the Obama Administration is as clear as its failure to fulfill its promises regarding the establishment of the state of Palestine, as well as regarding the Middle East peace process. Yet it is also true that the tension in the relationship between Iran and Syria on one hand, and the international community on the other, must not be allowed to make use of Palestine to fuel emotions to the benefit of Tehran-Damascus. The responsibility of the Palestinian leadership lies in preserving Palestinian interests first. And such interests now require lucidity, pragmatism and moving one step at a time towards achieving its goals, not towards failure and detonating the situation at the expense of Palestine.
The priority now should go to what is happening on the Syrian scene, where over 3500 people have been killed, and where the Arab League’s initiative is collapsing to the tune of continued oppression and killing at the hands of Syrian authorities. It is clear that Western states at the Security Council will not make a move until the Arab League does, a move that is expected to happen tomorrow, Saturday, during the meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo. It is also clear that Russia and its ilk in the defiance camp may seek to complicate the Syrian issue by forcibly linking it to the Iranian issue.
It is the duty of the Arabs not to fall into the trap of confusion or forceful complication, whether it comes from Israel, Russia, the United States or Europe, when those who have been killed are in the end, Arabs. The responsibility of the Arabs requires clarity of vision and of deeds, whether regarding Syria or regarding Netanyahu’s intentions towards Iran or Palestine, especially as the next few days will be difficult, and as the time of “hiding behind one’s finger” has passed for everyone.