Analysis: Most Arabs won't miss Iran's ayatollahs if they fall
Analysts: Terror groups' 'meddling' would be severely curtailed without backing from Teheran.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Many Arab governments, including the Palestinian Authority, are quietly hoping that the latest crisis in Iran will mark the beginning of the end of the radical regime of the ayatollahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Frustrated with Teheran's long-standing policy of meddling in their internal affairs, representatives of the relatively moderate, pro-Western governments in Ramallah, Cairo, Beirut, Riyadh and other Arab capitals are hoping that regime change in Iran would undermine radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah.
These proxy groups, together with Syria - Iran's strategic ally and facilitator in the Arab world - have long been viewed as a main source of instability in the Middle East.
Yet the Arab heads of state and their government officials appear to be doing their utmost to downplay the Iran crisis. They are obviously concerned that their constituents would follow suit and demand reforms and free elections.
Invoking Palestinian terminology, Arab editors and columnists have been describing the anti-government protests in Iran as an intifada.
"The pro-Iran camp in the Arab world is very worried," said Abdel Rahman Rashed in an op-ed in the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. "It's natural for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other pro-Iran groups to be afraid because their existence depends solely on the radical regime in Iran. If anything bad happens to this regime, they will suffer even more."
Rashed hailed the Iranian protesters for opposing their government's policy of funding Hizbullah and Hamas at a time when the economy in Iran is not doing well.
A number of Palestinian officials in Ramallah said they expected the collapse of the regime in Iran to have a "positive" impact on what's happening in the PA-controlled territories. "The Hamas leaders must be in a state of panic," said an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. "Without Iran's support, Hamas couldn't have staged a coup in the Gaza Strip two years ago."
The official claimed that the Iranian government had given Hamas more than $150 million in the past three years, enabling the radical Islamic movement to maintain its tight grip on the Gaza Strip. He said that more than 80% of Hamas's weapons come from the Iranians.
"Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollahs have long been working hard to export their radical Shi'ite ideology to Palestine," said another PA official in Ramallah. "We will be more than happy to see the regime in Teheran disappear, together with Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
But there is also concern in Ramallah that the crisis would force US President Barack Obama to focus on Iran rather than the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The "intifada" in Iran erupted just when it seemed that the issues of West Bank settlements and the two-state solution had been placed, thanks to the Obama administration, at the top of the world's agenda.
Unlike former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad never succeeded in winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinian masses despite his fiery rhetoric and threats to eliminate Israel.
Teheran's open support for Hamas in the power struggle with Fatah, as well as its continued attempts to undermine the relatively moderate regimes in Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf countries, have alienated many Palestinians. Echoing these sentiments, Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA-funded Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, held Teheran responsible for the ongoing sharp differences between Hamas and Fatah.
Egyptian mediation efforts between the two rival parties have failed because of the Iranians, who have turned Khaled Mashaal into another ayatollah, he said, referring sarcastically to the Syrian-based Hamas leader as "Ayatollah Mashalati."
Like many of his colleagues throughout the Arab world, Barghouti expected the crisis in Iran to escalate, resulting ultimately in the downfall of the ayatollahs. "The winds of change will eventually reach the top brass of the Iranian regime," remarked Palestinian columnist Muwafak Matar. "What's happening there is more than a power struggle in the regime. It could be the beginning of a new era of awareness among the young people, who are aspiring for stability and rejoining the international community. They want a new Iran that does not interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbors or countries that are far away."
Noting that Teheran had been meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians, Lebanese and Egyptians over the past few years, another Palestinian columnist, Rajab Abu Siriyyeh, said he did not rule out the possibility that Obama's conciliatory approach to the Arabs and Muslims could have been one of the main reasons why tens of thousands of Iranians decided to take to the streets.
"They see the last election as an opportunity for real change in Iran," he said. "Ahmadinejad's policies have strained relations between his country and the Arab countries. We saw how Teheran recently dispatched a Hizbullah cell to attack Egypt."
Abu Siriyyeh said that the Arab world, which is worried about Iran's territorial ambitions in the Middle East, would not tolerate another four years of Ahmadinejad's rule.
"The Arab countries will benefit in many aspects from the collapse of the current regime in Iran," said Mohammed Husseini, secretary-general of the Arabic-Islamic Council in Lebanon. "The demise of the regime will remove a real threat to Arab national security and put an end to Teheran's meddling in the internal affairs of others."
Husseini voiced hope that the next regime in Iran would learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and refrain from "sticking its nose" into the Arab people's affairs. He said that Iran's proxy groups in the Arab world will then realize that they had made a "huge mistake" by placing Teheran's interests above the interests of their own people.
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