Voices from the Arab press: Iran's bells and whistles

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

DEBRIS DOTS a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station that Yemeni Houthis say they attacked, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on November 24.  (photo credit: NAEL SHYOUKHI/REUTERS)
DEBRIS DOTS a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station that Yemeni Houthis say they attacked, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on November 24.
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 28
The missile fired by the Houthi militias at an oil tanker docked outside the Port of Jeddah had no military value, but rather an informational one. It was done purely for propaganda. The event took place on the direct orders of Iran, and the weapons used in the attack were likely shipped directly from Tehran. But the goal was to divert attention away from the exceptional success made by Saudi Arabia at the recent G20 summit, which gave the kingdom a significant economic boost while tightening its relationship with the European Union and the US.
The mullahs see and understand the kingdom’s growing role both in the Gulf region and on the global arena. They worry about this. In response, they seek to destabilize the region with whatever means they have, including through their proxies in Lebanon and in Yemen. Iran has no choice but to negotiate with the West and sign a new nuclear agreement that would lift the economic blockade reimposed upon it by the Trump administration. Otherwise, it will most surely face political and economic collapse. It can be said that the tanker attack was in fact a message aimed at the new American president, Joe Biden, as well as at the Europeans, reminding them that Iran is still harmful.
However, what the mullahs are failing to take into account is that the countries of the region are much stronger today than they were when president Obama signed the JCPOA. The normalization of ties with Israel changed the political equation and created a new united regional front against Iran. No matter how much Iran tries to bully its neighbors, it is in a very weak position, both economically and militarily. The world has grown tired of Iran’s support of armed militias in the Middle East, and has placed many of these groups, including Hezbollah, on the terror watch list.
The fanfare that Iran’s militias create – whether in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq – is nothing more than bells and whistles. It will not strengthen Iran’s negotiating power or enable it to evade international sanctions. Obama’s vision for the Middle East proved to be disastrous. Thankfully, geopolitical changes that took place in the region over the course of the past four years ensured that Iran doesn’t have the upper hand as Biden steps into office.
– Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, November 29
When Joe Biden takes office on January 20, Gulf security will be among the most important issues his administration will have to deal with. Biden is no stranger to this issue, being involved in it during the era of president Barack Obama. Prior to that, Biden spent 35 years in the Senate as a prominent member and occasional chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, in which Gulf security has occupied a crucial position over the past decades.
Biden’s election marks a return to the traditional course of US policy after President Donald Trump, who came from outside the traditional establishment that dominates Washington. Biden represents stability and has good relations with leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties. There is bipartisan consensus that the security of the Gulf is paramount to US national security. Despite the unusual personal style of President Trump, his administration relied heavily on the Gulf security architecture that was devised well before he took office.
Since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a security framework has been developed based on the need to secure international shipping routes and American strategic interests in the Arab Gulf, which confirms the central role played by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in maintaining regional security. This framework has not changed much throughout the years, and Biden is not expected to change it unless Iran’s behavior changes drastically.
During the war to liberate Kuwait, America relied heavily on the GCC. Amid the events of the Arab Spring and the turmoil that led to the growing Iranian interference in the region, the two sides agreed to establish a Strategic Cooperation Forum that would facilitate even closer cooperation between the GCC and the US. In March 2012, the founding meeting of the forum was held in Riyadh, headed by the late Prince Saud al-Faisal and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton. It was attended by ministers and senior officials from GCC countries and, on the American side, by a large delegation of administration officials.
The forum paved the way for the first summit between the GCC and the US at Camp David in May 2015. The second summit was held in Riyadh in April 2016. At the time, it was agreed to expand the scope of cooperation to include issues such as economic diversification and youth empowerment. In May 2017, the third Gulf-American summit was held under President Trump, affirming the strong commitment to the Camp David Accords, while greatly expanding the scope of cooperation.
There is an agreement among political parties in the US regarding the importance of the Gulf-American partnership. This does not mean that the American political system is rigid and that changes in policy don’t happen. However, the fundamentals of the GCC-US partnership are based on a deeply-rooted alliance that has only grown stronger each year. Both parties understand that the Gulf’s security provides stability of energy markets, strengthened trade and investment, and a calmer Middle East. Therefore, the American policy toward the Gulf will not change under Biden’s leadership.
– Dr. Abdul Aziz Hamad Al-Oweishek, assistant secretary-general for political affairs and negotiations, GCC
Al-Mada, Iraq, November 27
When Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano published Football in Sun and Shadow, the phrase he insisted on putting on the cover read, “Football is the mirror of the world, revealing a thousand stories on glory, exploitation, love, and misery... it represents the struggle between freedom and fear.” To Galeano, football was a choreographed war in which “11 men in shorts are the sword of the neighborhood, the city, or the nation” and wherein “old hatreds and old loves passed from father to son enter into combat.” Thanks to players like Maradona, and before him Pele and dozens of others, football has become a mirror to everything happening in the modern world: It provides people with a sense of identity and belonging; it allows people to fight over competing ideologies; and it has even been shaped by businesses, multinational corporations and dirty money. What Maradona did for his country of Argentina not even a thousand Argentinian diplomats or policy-makers could do. He brought Argentina to the homes of millions of viewers around the world who watched him use his exceptional skills to manipulate and overtake his rivals on the field.
Despite our preoccupation with the matches taking place inside the halls of the Iraqi Parliament, we in Iraq also follow football. But at a time when the world is grieving the loss of legend Diego Maradona, who was nothing short of a magician in the world of football, we are unfortunately dealing with another “magician,” Nouri Al-Maliki, seeking to delude us that the political failures taking place during his eight years of service have been the fault of everyone but himself. If it weren’t for the international conspiracy against him, Al-Maliki claims, Baghdad would have been competing with Singapore, Tokyo and Berlin.
And Al-Maliki isn’t alone; it seems like many of our politicians are suffering from amnesia that prevents them from remembering our country is suffering from bankruptcy and corruption carried out under the delusion of progress and development. Maradona led his country, Argentina, to victory over most of the countries of the world. He scored hundreds of goals against his opponents on the field. Unfortunately, it seems as if our esteemed parliamentarians are seeking to score goals against their own people by serving their own interests instead of ours and introducing laws that further restrict our freedoms and liberties.
– Ali Hussein
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.
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