Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat
July 16, 2010 - 12:00am

Whatever feelings one might harbor towards international individual and group stances on Arab problems, it would be useful for everyone to carefully analyze these stances. Indeed, such stances are adapted to the nature of relations between international players, most prominently the five nuclear countries that are permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France. Arab concerns during this period are focused on what is going through the mind of Israel and Iran, as well as Turkey to a lesser extent. Arab arenas that have remained on top of the list of concerns are Palestine and Lebanon, as well as Syria if a regional war were to break out. Iraq, in spite of being highly important, remains in the upper half of the list, but not on top. Arabs are concerned with what is happening in Egypt, albeit from a distance. Yemen comes to mind from time to time, although it might be the most dangerous Arab country. Somalia makes an appearance every time it deepens the hole it is digging for itself.

Sudan, which ranks quite high in terms of international concern, nearly goes by unnoticed on the screen of Arab cares. There are numerous and noteworthy examples of the standing of Arab issues on the list of priorities. Nevertheless, what retains the highest rank in terms of protest, reproach, blame or hatred is the broad US policy that has accompanied all presidents and administrations with negligible measures of difference, characterized by the traditional bias and blind loyalty to Israel. And because the Iranian-Israeli equation reflects, and in fact sometimes erupts, in Arab arenas, it is imperative to closely examine the stances of China and Russia today towards each of Iran, Israel and the Arab arenas between the two that are likely to erupt, knowing that it has never happened in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries or the two peoples for a direct clash to take place, in small or large-scale battles. Such arenas are most prominently Palestine and Lebanon, as well as Iraq. International attention is turned first and foremost towards Iran, whereas Arab attention is focused on both Israel and Iran.

Highly noteworthy was the warning by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week for the first time that “Iran is moving closer to possessing the potential which in principle could be used for the creation of nuclear weapons”, in what seemed to echo the statement made by Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Leon Panetta last month, which Medvedev had then considered “worrying”.

Both the US and Russian warnings coincided with an Iranian stance being issued that asserted Iran’s possession of a large amount of 20 percent enriched uranium, in a clear and direct challenge to the two countries and the recent UN Security Council Resolution which imposed additional sanctions on Iran.

Russia and China are not alone in excluding a military strike against Iran. Indeed, US President Barack Obama also does not want military engagement, but rather political engagement through dialogue and negotiating with Iran. The Security Council Resolution has granted the authority to impose sanctions and made clear that such authority does not include that of undertaking any military action.

Yet Russia and China will not be able to continue to protect Iran if the leadership in Tehran continues to challenge and defy in the nuclear issue. Even Russian and Chinese diplomats are at a loss regarding the behavior coming out of Tehran, from the nuclear issue, to the stoning of an Iranian woman accused of adultery, up to a social dictatorship that imposes “legal” hairdos under the threat of being punished by the government.

Iran’s escalation may result from overwhelming anger at the extent to which the sanctions are harmful to the leadership and the regime, even if the Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) claims to benefit from them.

It is unlikely, though not entirely excluded, for the purpose of such escalation to be that of inviting an Israeli, American or Israeli-American military strike against Iran in order to turn the tables – in other words, for inviting a military strike against Iran to be tantamount to calling upon the Muslim street to line up behind Iran against Israel and the United States.

The fate of the Iranian leadership’s wager on the Muslim street may be the same as that of toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s wager on the Arab street. Indeed, the regime was ousted and the street did not move with the momentum to save it, neither before nor after the Iraq war. Furthermore, mobilizing the Muslim street seems to be a race between many, most prominently the Iranian regime and Al-Qaeda, knowing that they both compete against each other under the banner of fighting the US and Israel, in spite of the sectarian disagreement between them.

What is important about this, from an international perspective, is that the US is not the only one to be afraid of and to oppose any Muslim mobilization whatever its reasons and regardless of who is behind it. Indeed, Russia and China do not want any Muslim mobilization because each of them has its own battle with extremist Islamists. Thus Iran’s wager on China and Russia may be a losing one, especially if the escalation is based on two fundamental issues – the nuclear issue and that of Muslim mobilization – because China and Russia being forced to join the United States and Europe in sanctions may be unavoidable. Furthermore, such a wager on escalation and confrontation may lead to increasing the odds of military authority being given by a Security Council Resolution as a means of preempting and containing a reckless Israeli adventure against Iran. Today, this is highly unlikely. Tomorrow, it might be on the radar if the leadership in Iran fails to realize it. That is why such risk-taking is dangerous.

If on the other hand the leaderships in Tehran have in mind to detonate the region through the gateways of Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon, then each gateway has its own considerations which should be carefully examined, especially from the perspective of the Arabs who applaud the roles played by Iran and forget about the restrictions that besiege and weaken such roles.

Thus, detonating the region from the gateway of Iraq is dangerous for Iran because it is surrounded, besieged, isolated and weak. Indeed, any fragmentation or war erupting in Iraq near Iran would only threaten Iran’s stability, through its border and within its own territory, in view of the number of minorities who are not at ease in Iran, including the Arab minority.

Iraq detonating by an Iranian decision would only be the decision to commit suicide by the regime and the leaderships in Tehran. Indeed, Iran’s interior is discontented, and what took place a year ago was not a storm in a teacup, but rather a radical crack in the regime’s infrastructure. Thus if one were to add all of these internal elements to the danger of a tense and unstable hub near Iraq and to international discontent with Iran’s behavior, one could conclude that any Iranian decision to purposely cause a detonation in Iraq would be suicidal.

Detonation from the gateways of Lebanon and Palestine would not only mean escalation against Israel, but would also necessarily mean dragging Syria into the battle and perhaps into a regional war. The question then would be: does Syria want to get implicated militarily in a direct battle against Israel by an Iranian decision, while it has repeatedly declared that its strategic choice was negotiations and not war? Is a regional war into which Syria would be thrust by a decision from Tehran in Syria’s interest?

An Iranian decision of this kind would therefore represent a challenge for Syria, not just for Israel. This brings us to Israel’s position in international considerations and relations.

Political realism, whatever bias and prejudice it may reveal, indicates the following:

Israel finds itself today in perhaps unprecedented international isolation, at the level of governments and public opinion. It is besieged by international legitimacy and by global monitoring of its violations and infringements of international law and international humanitarian law.

If a regional war were to take place, through an Israeli or Iranian provocation and invitation or by proxy, it would be the means to save Israel from its isolation and its predicament. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might resort to such a war himself if his hopes for the first “bullet” to come from the other side were to remain unfulfilled. Indeed, a regional war today would be different from one during the Cold War era. It would be a war without political division and without a Soviet “sponsor” for one of the parties in the region, but rather a war on the background of rare international unanimity. It would be a new kind of war, with new standards and new biases.

Israel would come out of isolation through a regional war even if it was the aggressor. It would be punished later, if there is any way to punish it. Furthermore, a regional war may not really be regional in the literal sense, if Iran continues to fight only through its proxies. It would be an Arab-Israeli war, yet not in the full sense, as Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel and, of the countries of “encirclement”, only Syria and Lebanon remain.

If the war were to start from a measure coming from Hezbollah, the balance would shift even more in Israel’s interest and against Hezbollah, because from an international point of view it would be a war started by armed fighters outside of the context of the Lebanese state and legitimate Lebanese armed forces. In other words, no matter how much Israel is the position of aggressor, Resolution 1701 asserts the necessity of the state’s monopoly of the country’s sovereignty, the use of military force and the decision to go to war. This decision excluded Hezbollah from the South by reinforcing UNIFIL troops. This means that Lebanon would be in a situation of violation of UN resolutions if the war were to start from its soil through Hezbollah. This also means that the international community will not wait until the “dialogue” to resolve the issue of Hezbollah’s arsenal has matured, but will rather increase the pressure on Hezbollah while Israel brings itself out of isolation.

The battle against the UNIFIL is a battle against the major powers at the Security Council. These countries are always unanimous when matters become dangerous to such a degree. Yet talk of a connection or a relation between the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to try those implicated in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and the UNIFIL is either ignorance of the separation between the tribunal and the Security Council except in terms of funding, or a purposeful condemnation of Hezbollah in advance by certain parties, or a truly strange self-condemnation.

What happened in Sudan, in terms of confirming the condemnation of President Omar Al-Bashir by the ICC Chief Prosecutor in a precedent of leveling charges of having committed a massacre against a president in office, has proven that the formula of stability first and justice second has not at all strongly taken root. In the issue of political assassinations in Lebanon, as in issues regarding justice, accountability and trials of Israeli leaders for war crimes and perhaps crimes against humanity, justice is pursuing those who have committed crimes, however much they may wrongly presume that they will not be held accountable.

A regional war will not help to gather evidence against Israel to build up the case against it. Israel’s isolation is an important asset and war will only be saving Israel and Iran from isolation, at the expense of the Arabs, with Arab lives, Arab resources and dwarfing the future of coming generations.


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