Against the backdrop of the current U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations and the war on the Islamic State (ISIS), in recent weeks dozens of articles in the Arab press, and particularly in the Saudi press, have harshly criticized the Obama administration’s policy in the region – especially its Iran policy, which they term “destructive”, “idiotic”, “dangerous” and “narrow-minded.”
Expressing apprehension at the prospect of a U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement that would strengthen Iran at the expense of the Sunni countries, which are long-time U.S. allies, some writers stated that because President Obama seeks a nuclear agreement with Iran for his own personal glory, while the cost of such an agreement does not matter to him. They wrote that Obama disregards Iran’s actions, and is giving it and the organizations affiliated with it a free hand to operate in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, and by doing so is allowing Iran to further expand in the region.
Some of the writers argued that the U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that had given Iran freedom to operate in those countries had given rise to ISIS, since the U.S.-Iran alliance had humiliated the Sunni Arabs and created optimal conditions for the group to emerge.
One writer even called on the Arab countries and Turkey to confront the Obama administration, thwart its policy in the region, and come out strongly against any agreement it signs with Iran that does not absolutely prevent it from possessing nuclear weapons. Another speculated that the countries of the region could be better off finding someone else to rely on rather than the U.S.
The following are translated excerpts from several articles:
Saudi Intellectual: Obama Has Allied With Shi’ite Militias Against Sunni Militias
Saudi political commentator Khaled Al-Dahil argued in the London-based daily Al-Hayat that Obama’s policy in the region is destructive, and that the Arabs must not remain silent about it. He wrote that the Obama administration is allowing Iran and its militias in Syria and Iraq a free hand, and helping it fight Sunni organizations in the region, with the aim of pacifying it in advance of the signing of the nuclear agreement. :”… The Obama administration realizes quite well that the war on ISIS as it is currently being waged has destructive sectarian repercussions, which if not dealt with will blow up in everyone’s face. But has this administration…done a thing to correct how this war is being conducted?…Certainly not! This administration has acted, and continues to act, contrary to the fears that it itself has expressed. [It does] this because of its wish to ally with Iran, as part of the war on ISIS – in an alliance that will be secret until a nuclear agreement [with Iran] is reached and [U.S.-Iran] relations are normalized.
“Obama sees several advantages in this war [against ISIS]: It reassures Iran and gives it the sense that the U.S. seeks to rescue it from an additional enemy [ISIS], after saving it from the Taliban and from Saddam Hussein. Similarly, Obama hopes that in this way he will succeed in persuading Iran to make the necessary concessions in order to arrive at the longed-for nuclear agreement.
“However, Obama has gone further than that: together with Russia, he has given Iran a free hand in Syria to support the Syrian regime and crush the local opposition. Thus, the American president’s opportunism is very clearly exposed. As a skilled attorney and politician, he knows that ISIS, as a sectarian organization, is the natural and direct outcome of the sectarian wars that began with the American invasion of Iraq. [On the other hand], President Obama himself has called the Iranian regime theocratic – that is, a sectarian regime… – because a religious political regime is by definition, and necessarily, a sectarian regime. Furthermore, it was the Iranian regime that defined itself as sectarian in its [own] constitution (see sections 12, 71, and 115 of Iran’s constitution). This means that… Obama is fighting the sectarian ISIS with a sectarian policy and sectarian tools…
“True, Obama has not allied formally with Iran for the war on ISIS, but he has allied de facto with Iran… [and] with its militias and the militias under its influence. That is why the Obama administration disregards all Iran’s military and intelligence activity in Syria and Iraq – from its dispatching of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) fighters and its financing and training of Iraqi Shi’ite militias, to the fight against ISIS, whether by means of [Iranian] airstrikes against it or by means of these [same] militias.
“It is striking that the Obama administration has deployed over 3,000 troops to train the so-called Hashd Sha’bi [Popular Mobilization] Forces – a group of Shi’ite militias that was formed after the collapse of the Iraqi army and Mosul’s fall to ISIS last year. That is, the Obama administration has allied de facto with Shi’ite militias to fight Sunni militias…
“The Houthi takeover in Yemen opens an additional front in the Sunni-Shi’ite war. Is it conceivable that the U.S. could partner with Iran in the war against the Sunnis in Yemen, as it has essentially already done in Iraq and Syria?…
“There is nothing to warrant remaining silent about this American policy, because it is the main factor that generated the terrorism in Afghanistan. This terrorism further intensified following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and it split [into several streams] as a result of the American silence in the face of the holocaust being perpetrated in Syria by means of the Russia-Iran alliance with the regime there. It is wrong [for us] to remain silent in light of a policy that is dragging the region into more destructive religious wars just because Mr. Obama aspires to reach an agreement with the Iranians…”
Iran shoots at “Iraqi Sunnis” and “Syrian Sunnis” with U.S. sponsorship (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 18, 2015)
Obama’s Policy On Iran Nuclear Issue – “Gambling With The Future Of The Region”
In a second article, Al-Dakhil again attacked Obama, arguing that the deal that he was trying to make with Iran was based on the groundless assumption that within a few years Iran was going to change. He added that Obama was gambling with the future of the region:
“President Obama’s recklessness in reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran is manifested in the assumption on which he bases his justification of this agreement, and on the wording of the agreement that will apparently be agreed upon. The Israelis did well to expose the reckless aspect of this assumption, because with the exception of the five parties that are actually negotiating with Iran, it is they who know the most about the details of the American position on this issue. Israel is the Americans’ closest and most important ally, and the one that is the most fearful about the upsetting of the balance of power [in the region] that will result if Iran or any Arab or Islamic country possesses nuclear weapons…
“Why does Obama consider it necessary to reach such an agreement? Because the president’s objective is to tie the Iranians’ hands for 10-15 years, in hopes that by then, Iran will have a new leadership, and will become a different country – perhaps a democratic country with less of a desire for nuclear weapons. Obama seems to be basing his policy on this risky issue on hope, not on political considerations; thus, he is gambling with the future of the region…
“At the same time, the Arab countries must deal with the other aspect of the American position, which is no less idiotic and dangerous. This aspect is reflected in Obama’s response to events in the region – [a response] based on a nearly absolute belief that the danger currently threatening the world is Sunni extremism and the terrorism emanating from it, and that the only option for stabilization is through cooperation with Iran. It is nearly certain that this perception, along with the hope that Iran will change, is what is impelling Obama to reach an agreement with Iran.
“However, this perception is superficial and faulty – because it is based on dreams that are more like delusions, and it also wants to see only the Sunni side of the sectarian equation that is stirring up the region…”
Iranian Journalist: Proponents Of The Deal With Iran Rely On A Fatwa By Khamenei Nobody Has Ever Seen
Amir Taheri, a Paris-based Iranian author and journalist, argued in a similar vein that American proponents of the deal with Iran base their position on groundless assumptions, including on the claim that Khamenei issued a fatwa banning nuclear weapons – a fatwa that nobody has ever seen. The following are excerpts from a translation of his article published in the English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “Campaigning for a deal on the Iranian nuclear issue, the pro-mullah lobby in the West, especially in the United States, often cites three claims in support of President Barack Obama’s appeasement of Tehran. The first is that a deal will help the ‘reformist’ wing of the regime led by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani—which already controls the presidency through Hassan Rouhani—to capture other levers of power and embark on a genuine program of change aimed at returning Iran to normality. Rafsanjani is cast as a moderate, a turbaned version of Deng Xiaoping, capable of closing the chapter of the revolution and forging business-like relations with the US. Much is made of Rafsanjani’s recent statements that he has always favored collective leadership and that once the Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei is shown the door, he would press for a collegial system and the end of ‘one-man rule’ in Iran.
“The first step in that direction was supposed to come last Monday when Rafsanjani sought to get himself elected president of the Assembly of Experts… Capturing [it] was supposed to be the first step in a victorious march that would enable the Rafsanjani faction to win control of the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, the 290-member ersatz parliament. However the Assembly of Experts elected Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi—one of Rafsanjani’s oldest foes and a close associate of Khamenei—as its new president with 47 votes to 24. The Rafsanjani faction’s hopes of winning control of the parliament next year are unlikely to prove any better. Several polls show that even if the faction manages to mobilize all those who voted for Rouhani—33 percent of those eligible to vote—it still would not be enough to secure a majority of the 230 seats on offer.
“The second claim, paradoxically, is built on a fatwa supposedly issued by Khamenei forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. Thus, while Obama hopes that Rafsanjani will eventually evict Khamenei, he is basing his policy on a fatwa issued by the latter. Since no one, and certainly not Obama, has seen the fatwa in question it is hard to assess its political importance. However in real terms the fatwa, supposing it does exist, is nothing more than an opinion and is thus devoid of legal authority.
“The third claim is that the nuclear project is popular with the Iranian people and that by accepting a nuclear Iran the US would gain popularity there. However, ultimately there is no evidence to back that claim. The issue has never been properly discussed in any public forum, not even in the Majlis. In fact, successive governments, including under the Shah, have suppressed a number of reports warning against the dangers of a nuclear project, especially with reference to the threat that earthquakes pose to nuclear installations on almost all parts of the Iranian Plateau…
“Obama’s hope is that by making a deal he will enable Rafsanjani’s ‘moderate’ faction to win the power struggle in Tehran and initiate a change of behavior by the Khomeinist regime. That, many agree, is nothing but an illusion. In his address to the US Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also seemed to share this sentiment. As Aristotle observed 25 centuries ago, character is action. In other words: You are what you do! A regime’s nature dictates its behavior. As Sa’adi Shirazi—the famous poet of Shiraz—noted almost eight centuries ago, a scorpion does not sting because it wants to be a bad boy; it does so in accordance with its nature.”
The 5+1: “We’ll give Iran another month… two months… 13 months… 14 months…” Following the explosion: “The extension has expired” (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, March 17, 2015)
Senior Saudi Journalist: Obama Leading Region To Disaster
Tariq Al-Homayed, the former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and currently a columnist for the daily, likewise wrote that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, which was aimed at reassuring the Saudis about the imminent U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement, not only failed to reassure it but also revealed the deep disagreement between the two countries and the dangers of the agreement. Stressing that the inevitable response to an Iranian nuclear bomb will be an Arab nuclear bomb, he warned that the countries of the region could “fall victim to the naïveté of a few people in Washington” and that President Obama is not aware of the gravity of his actions that could lead the entire region into genuine disaster.
He wrote: “What is now clear is that the American president either is striving to attain personal glory, the outcome of which cannot be assessed, or he does not comprehend the implications of his actions. [The latter] possibility is more likely.
“The truth is that a bad agreement with Iran is a disaster, and constitutes international recognition of Iran’s occupation of the countries of the region and international approval of Iran’s sponsorship of terror. Therefore, the region is facing a real disaster, and we do not know how matters will develop by the end of the presidential term of Obama, who is leading the entire region to real disaster. It is inconceivable that there will be a nuclear Iran in the region while the rest of the countries of the region stand by. The response to the existence of an Iranian bomb will undoubtedly be an Arab nuclear bomb. Otherwise, our countries will appear to have welcomed the Iranian game, and will have fallen victim to the naïveté of some people in Washington. Therefore, Kerry’s Riyadh visit is worrisome and not reassuring, and all the relevant countries in the region must consider every possible option in responding to this absurd American move that can release the [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini genie – which will bring to the region nothing but destruction and civil war.”
Former Jordanian Minister: U.S. Handed Iraq, Syria Over To Iranian Occupation, Leading To Rise Of ISIS
Former Jordanian information minister Saleh Al-Qallab also harshly attacked the U.S.’s regional policy and accused it of handing Syria and Iraq over to the Iranian occupation and of being responsible for the rise of ISIS. In his column in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Al-Qallab claimed that the U.S. was conspiring with Iran, enabling it to take over strategic countries and areas in the region, and kept silent in the face of the harm done to Sunnis, with the unconvincing pretext of wanting the nuclear negotiations to succeed.
Al-Qallab wrote: “…The Americans should know that their reputation in the region… is poor and that those whom they consider their friends [among the Arab countries], and who are indeed [their friends], have grown tired of them, of their policy, and of their behavior, and repeatedly say – if not loudly then with a whisper – ‘Allah save us from our friends; our enemies we can handle ourselves.’ We can assume that the decision-makers in the U.S. know that the reason for increasingly strong ties between Egypt and Russia, especially in the military field, is the consequence of the Obama administration’s betting on the MB organization in Egypt and elsewhere as the [force] capable of combating extremism and terrorism in this region. If this isn’t a foolish policy, then it is certainly… a plot meant to prevent the Arab ummah from standing on its own feet and taking the place that it deserves at this decisive historical moment…
“Barack Obama is acting strangely. Contrary to the U.S.’s interests in this region, which is… a Sunni region from Tetouan in Morocco to Saif Sa’ad in Iraq, Obama shamelessly said that he wants to work with a single decision-maker – the leader of the Iranian revolution, Ali Khamenei, and that he [only] wants to work with one country – the all-powerful Iran – to redraw the future of this region. This means that the U.S. president ‘washed his hands’ of all the U.S.’s friends and allies from the time of the Cold War and the inter-bloc struggle…
“Is the American position regarding the events in Yemen nothing less than a conspiracy and a plot [with Iran] done in broad daylight? Do Obama and his government officials not understand that by remaining silent in the face of Houthi actions they will enable Iran to rule the Straits of Hormuz, Bab El-Mandeb and the Arabian Sea – which could become the Persian Sea – and the Red Sea? …
“The U.S., whether by conspiring [with Iran] or out of political stupidity and narrow-mindedness, is the one who enabled Iran to occupy Iraq during the term of the ill-reputed Paul Bremer. Obama’s hesitancy and unstable position [also] led the U.S. to abandon the Syrian opposition, thus handing Syria to the commander of the Iranian Qods Force, Qassem Soleimani. [The U.S.] is responsible, obviously along with the Assad regime, for the appearance of all those terrorist organizations that did not exist before, at the early stages of the Syrian people’s uprising in March 2011, which started as a peaceful uprising [in demand of] just and reasonable democratic reforms.
“Truthfully, is the U.S. not responsible for the creation of ISIS and for the fact that it has managed to get so far after [the U.S.] cleared the way for it? After all, [the U.S.] is the country that invaded Iraq, cut off its limbs, and dismantled its institutions and army… in order to take vengeance on Sunni Arabs, humiliate them, and damage their honor, which forced them to become a demographic hotbed for ISIS and all these terrorist organizations, which bred like locusts.
“The U.S., which has been forced to return shame-faced to Iraq, is suspiciously silent in the face of the harm done to Sunni Arabs, and consents to the Iranian occupation of Iraq, all under the unconvincing pretext of wanting the Iranian nuclear negotiations to succeed. This, while ISIS hasn’t lost even one percent of the Iraqi and Syrian territory it conquered while the Americans watched from the sidelines…”
“Iranian expansion” (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 6, 2015)
Bahraini Journalist: U.S. Wrong To Separate Iranian Nukes From Regional Terrorism
Bahraini journalist and writer Sawsan Al-Sha’er also criticized the fact that nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran take place while the U.S. ignores Iran’s expansionist policy, which has caused its Sunni allies to exclude themselves from the struggle against terrorism. She wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: “The U.S.’s efforts to wrap up the Iranian nuclear dossier in any way and by any means have caused it to ignore Iran’s regional expansionist policy…The American administration’s policy of separating the struggle against terrorism from the Iranian issue and Iran’s ambitions is what sabotaged the role of its Sunni allies… in the struggle against terrorism. [This policy] is what prevented the popular participation of [most of the region’s Sunnis] in the efforts to combat terrorism, and contributed to sparking sectarian sensitivity, which made the task of combating terrorism more difficult…
“The statements by the Democratic [U.S.] administration that it does not see the role Iran plays in Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen are very much an insult to logic and intelligence and an attempt to block out the sun with a sieve, and indicate a disconnect from reality. [This,] since Iran’s support for Shi’ite militias in these countries is not confined to considerable political support, but also includes training and financing them, as well as dispatching IRGC commanders to run the battlefronts.”
“The War on Terror!” (Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2015)
Lebanese Journalist: We Need Unified Arab Front Along With Turkey To Thwart Obama’s Regional Policy, Oppose Iran Deal
‘Ali Hamada, a journalist for the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, warned of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the superpowers and called on Arab countries, along with Turkey, to directly confront the Obama administration and work to thwart its regional policy. He wrote: “The Arab front, [which includes] the Arab Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt, and which is in conflict with Iran, must give some serious thought to the day after [Iran signs] an agreement [with the superpowers] on March 24, 2015. Turkey, whose vital political and economic interests intersect those of the Arab front… should seriously address this issue [as well], and form strategic ties with the Arab front states in order to create a balance, in light of the grand strategic turn that will happen in the region once Iran possesses an agreement regarding its nuclear [program].
“The Barak Obama administration has already proven that it is determined to continue building a strong alliance with Iran at the expense of the Arab region and Turkey. Therefore, we must confront the Americans directly and without hesitation. Honestly, we cannot [just] stand by and watch the current American strategic shift. The Arab front, which is facing the explicit Iranian occupation of the Arab east, must be firm and confront the Obama administration with resolve and explicit positions. In an understanding with Turkey, it must come out strongly against any nuclear agreement with Iran that does not completely prevent Tehran from possessing nuclear weapons and that will cause it to further attack the entire Arab east.
“We will not dwell on the stream of official and unofficial Iranian statements by high-ranking officials regarding the so-called ‘Iranian Empire.’ More important than expressing positions and making statements is to work towards a direct confrontation, starting with breaking the Obama administration’s regional strategy and circumventing it with regards to the Syrian campaign by massively arming the rebels… There is no escaping [the need to] thwart the Obama administration’s regional policy.”
Saudi Journalist: Gulf States Will Consider Replacing U.S. Alliance With Russian Alliance
Saudi journalist ‘Abdallah Nasser Al-‘Otaibi criticized the U.S. in the London daily Al-Hayat, and wondered whether its regional allies should seek alternatives to it: “The big problem of the moderate countries in the region is that Russia’s local allies are currently the victors. Iran is spreading in all directions with Russia’s backing in the UN Security Council; Bashar Al-Assad is still harvesting the souls of Syria’s sons with open and direct support from the Kremlin; the Houthis act like they own Yemen under the auspices of a Russian veto [in the Security Council]; and meanwhile, the countries considered the U.S.’s regional allies are suffering defeat after defeat…
“The U.S. should know that constantly taking a neutral position and occasionally negotiating with regional powers [i.e. Iran] behind the backs of its allies will damage the historic alliance that has existed since the 1940s, and will cause its regional allies to consider shaking hands with the other global power [i.e. Russia]. At the same time, the regional allies should openly tell the Americans that the demands and conditions for renewing their alliance are to address their problems and help them solve them in an acceptable fashion. There is no alternative but to strongly push in this direction by formulating a strategy for dialogue with the U.S. on the conditions for the alliance [between it and its regional partners] and the commitments on both sides. It is not enough that from time to time, the Gulf states express their displeasure with the American partner in light of the grand achievements made by Russia’s regional allies. They must switch… to a response that penetrates all the American elites…”
Saudi Government Daily: U.S. Must Stop The Deception, Be Clear On Iran Policy
“The Saudi government daily Al-Watan stated in an editorial: The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, [Ali Shamkhani,] boasted two days ago that Iran is now on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Bab Al-Mandab Straits and that it prevented the fall of Baghdad, Damascus and Erbil to the Islamic State [ISIS] organization. This proves that Iran no longer conceals its imperialist policy, and that it has found an opportunity to penetrate Arab states thanks to the chaos created by the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria and by the Houthis in Yemen, [and as happened] and is still happening in Iraq [after] the U.S. destroyed its infrastructures and allowed Iran to do as it pleased [there]…
“The extent of U.S. collusion with Tehran is apparent from the suspicious [U.S.] silence towards the unusually [extensive] deployment of Iranian forces in Iraq under the pretext of fighting the ISIS organization. If we add to this the IRGC deployment on Syrian territory to support the Assad regime, then all these things become totally clear and add up to one conclusion: that Tehran is playing its own game while exploiting the weakness of various countries in its attempt to gain time for realizing as much as possible of its Persian [Empire] dream.
“This declaration [by Ali Shamkhani] is not the first and definitely will not be the last. Four days ago, [Ali Younesi], the advisor to Iranian President [Hassan Rohani], said that Iran has now become an empire [again], as it was throughout the course of history, and that its capital is Baghdad, which is the center of our civilization, culture and identity, as it was in the past. [His statement] reveals the truth about the Iranian aspirations to restore the glory of the [Persian] Empire and take revenge on the Arabs…
“All the aforesaid shows the importance of opposing Iran’s policy and its schemes in the Arab region. To this end, there is no choice but for the GCC countries and the Arab League to begin cooperating immediately in order to pressure the international community in every possible way to limit Iranian expansion. The U.S. must choose between two options: to continue with its undeclared game with Iran, or to alter its policy and decide in favor of its interests with the Arabs. It must stop the deception and be clear about everything pertaining to Iran, for the current situation can no longer be taken lightly.”
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Al-Hayat (London), February 15, 2015.
Al-Hayat (London), February 22, 2015.
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Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 12, 2015.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 3, 2015.
Al-Nahar (Lebanon), March 10, 2015.
Al-Hayat (London), February 23, 2015.
Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 13, 2015.