Voices from the Arab press: Did Israel sabotage Iran negotiations?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

THE NATANZ uranium enrichment facility 250 km. south of Tehran. (photo credit: RAHEB HOMAVANDI/REUTERS)
THE NATANZ uranium enrichment facility 250 km. south of Tehran.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, April 14
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The bold Israeli move to blow up the Iranian power station, Natanz, was preceded by a series of interconnected events. Last Saturday, Iran defiantly announced that it had turned on the centrifuges in Natanz, which would enable it to enrich uranium 50 times faster than the old ones. This was Tehran’s way of putting more pressure on the Biden administration and the Western negotiators in Vienna. 
On the same day, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on a pre-scheduled visit to reassure his Israeli counterparts, who are angry at the negotiations. The next day, a power outage struck the Natanz facility by what seems to have been planned sabotage. It is likely that the Israelis did update the Americans on their plan to attack ahead of time. And because the attack took place on the same day of the US defense secretary’s visit, it raised questions. Austin sealed his lips and did not comment on the incident, giving no indication on whether he was pleased or dissatisfied with it. It is clear that Israel shuffled the cards, regardless of what the American president and his defense secretary had in store. 
Two weeks ago, Iran had the upper hand, using its Natanz reactor as a bargaining chip. Its message was clear: It will expedite its uranium enrichment process unless its Western negotiators agree to return to the concessions provided to Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Now Iran has lost its card due to the attack and has found itself in a difficult position on whether to continue negotiating or withdraw from the Vienna talks. Biden’s negotiating team fought to reach a speedy deal with the current Iranian government that would provide Tehran with $15 billion in credit. But despite his concessions to the Iranians, he has so far failed to move one step further. 
What made the task even more difficult was the series of many sanctions that former president Donald Trump slapped on Iran. And it seems that the humiliating Israeli attack on Iran, too, will be a blow to negotiators in Vienna. Rouhani’s government only has two months left before elections. I expect that despite the inherited obstacles and the Israeli attack, the US administration will insist on proceeding with negotiations, but it can no longer ignore Israel and the countries of the region that oppose the deal if it really wants its mission to succeed.
 –Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed
Al-Mada, Iraq, April 15
On March 27, China and Iran signed a Strategic Economic Cooperation Agreement that covers the two nations’ defense, cultural, political and economic ties. According to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, the value of the agreement, set to last 25 years, amounts to over $400 billion. 
This agreement and the secret annexes attached to it, which have not been officially released, did not gain public approval. Rather, the Iranian public expressed widespread rejection of it. Some Iranians went as far as calling for its cancellation, claiming that Iran is “not for sale.” Objectors and analysts described this agreement as similar to the Treaty of Turkmenchay, which was signed between Qajar Iran and the Russian Empire in 1828, bringing an end to the war between the two countries. 
As a part of the agreement, Iran ceded its territories in the South Caucasus and agreed to pay Russia 20 million silver rubles. Similarly, other voices in Iran likened the agreement to the 1890 tobacco concession granted by Nasir al-Din Shah of Persia to the United Kingdom, granting British control over growth, sale, and export of tobacco, which ultimately triggered massive protests in Iran. Only after security forces shot and killed seven demonstrators did Naser al-Din Shah Qajar finally agree to cancel the agreement. Ultimately, the demonstrations paved the way for extensive changes in the Iranian political system, including a constitutional revolution that strengthened the shah’s rule.
So the important question now remains: How will the Iranian public react to the recent Sino-Iranian agreement? Will demonstrations break out across Iran? And could the widespread objection to the deal lead to action on the ground? 
–Abdul Halim Al-Rahimi
Al-Etihad, UAE, April 13
The war over water is the greatest war that will dominate the world in the future because water is the most important resource for natural life on Earth. After all, without water, Earth has no advantage over the rest of the planets that fill our vast universe. There is no life without water. Therefore, the war over water is a war of existence and survival. 
The conflict in southeastern Africa over the Renaissance Dam built by Ethiopia is a real conflict that may lead to significant turmoil and have long-lasting repercussions on both the region and the world. Unlike previous conflicts we’ve witnessed in the Horn of Africa – which had limited global impact – the conflict over the Nile water is one whose effects will be felt for many years to come. 
A few days ago, Egypt and Uganda announced the signing of a military intelligence agreement – another practical step in Egypt’s preparation for the worst-case scenario in which it has to go to war with Ethiopia. Arab support for Egypt and Sudan is strong. No one in the region wants to see this conflict escalate. All eyes are set toward the negotiations and discussions between the parties, with the hope that a political solution could bring an end to the crisis and guarantee the rights of all parties involved. 
The Arab world still remembers the wars experienced in Iraq and Syria over their rights to the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which have been subjected to attacks by Turkey. The alarming truth is that no matter how brutal the consequences of a war between Egypt and Ethiopia may be, they will still be significantly less costly than tolerating the violation of the former’s legitimate right to the Nile waters. 
Is Ethiopia seeking to antagonize Sudan, Egypt, and the Arab world? While the official Ethiopian statements don’t say so, it is important to understand some of the motives that have led to Ethiopia’s intransigence on the issue. Internal disputes between social, religious and tribal elements within Ethiopia put tremendous pressure on the country’s leadership. This is understandable and Arab aid can be provided to Ethiopia to overcome these challenges and pursue significant development projects. 
While we can understand these motives and be empathetic to Ethiopia’s domestic crisis, it cannot be a justification for exporting the country’s problems abroad by violating the rights of other states and peoples. War is a costly option, from which Ethiopia only stands to lose.
–Abdullah Bin Bajad Al-Otaibi 

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.