US campaign to isolate Iran backfires

December 21, 2007

Aijaz Ahmad: US may become further isolated in the Arab region

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Aijaz Ahmad: US may become further isolated in the Arab region



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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Washington’s campaign to isolate Iran remains on shaky ground. After attempts to court Arab Sunni governments at the Annapolis conference, the conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 has undercut Washington’s efforts to apply pressure for further sanctions. The argument that Iran poses an imminent nuclear danger to the US has been dealt a serious blow. To discuss how the NIE report played out on the world stage, I’m joined by The Real News’ Senior News Analyst, Aijaz Ahmad, joining us from New Delhi. Aijaz, to start with, Israel has not been very happy with either international reaction or the NIE report itself. Apparently, they’ve accepted most of its conclusions about the weapons program being ended in 2003. What they don’t accept is that there’s not a weapons program now, and they’ve been trying to drive the international momentum towards the new sanctions. What do you make of Israel’s reaction? And will it really have any effect?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: There seems to be within Israel something playing which is very similar to what’s happening in the United States. There is the intelligence community which is saying one thing, that yes, since 2003 they have not had a weapons program, but a political establishment telling the intelligence agencies to come up with a contrary evidence.

JAY: Israel has the most publicly secret nuclear weapons program on the planet. They’re not just enriching uranium. Everyone seems to know Israel actually has nuclear weapons.

AHMAD: Saudis and other Arab states had in the past not been so openly denouncing the Israeli weapons. Now they’re saying you cannot really talk about Iranian nuclear program so long as Israel has these. And there is of course on the table a proposal from all the Arab states jointly for a nuclear-free west-Asia zone, which is actually directed at Israel, which requires that Israel dismantle its nuclear weapons.

JAY: All the intelligence that’s being offered up by the US and that Israel seemingly accepts is that there’s no imminent threat. So why keep up the rhetoric of imminent threat? I mean, is it primarily for domestic politics that one keeps this up?

AHMAD: Certainly domestic politics, but Israel has had a settled policy for a very long time that it will not allow a substantial power to arise in the region. Everyone knew that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons, but that whole fiction was created in order to destroy whatever power Iraq had. And now Iran is the one remaining state in the region, which poses some sort of threat, not nuclear threat, but a rivalry for Israel in the region. So it’s much more connected with that. And the nuclear weapons are sort of a fig leaf for the Israeli policies as they are for the US policies.

JAY: Far from isolating Iran, in recent weeks at least it seems Iran’s winning the diplomatic front as well. So, far from being isolated, Iran seems in a stronger position than it was before.

AHMAD: All evidence seems to suggest that Arab states, including Saudi Arabia most particularly, have been completely offended by what happened at Annapolis. They had expected that there would be a declaration which would clearly call for Israel to vacate the territories that it has been occupying and if it needed to keep some of the territories which has Israeli settlers there. Nothing of the kind happened in Annapolis. They have retaliated now by doing two things. One, they are normalizing their relations with Iran. The other thing that they have done is that they have immediately invited Khaled Mashaal, the politburo chief of Hamas, to Saudi Arabia for Saudi Arabia to start working for a unity government between Hamas and the Palestine authority of Abbas. Annapolis was meant to lay the ground for the destruction of Hamas in Palestine; instead, Saudi Arabia has invited Khaled Mashaal there. And now Egypt has asked Hamas to send a delegation to Cairo with the same purpose. Ahmadinejad called for collective security arrangements for the Gulf region as a whole. And Saudi Arabia has invited Ahmadinejad to lead the Irani pilgrims coming to Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage, the Hajj. Saudi invitation is extremely significant. The foreign minister of Qatar retorted against Gates, when Gates said that Iran continues to be a threat in the region, saying that Iran is an authentic member of the committee of nations in this region; the threat comes from Israel. So, in fact, there’s a bit of a rebellion among the clients, and Iran’s isolation, which was sought at Annapolis, quite the opposite: Iran is now not only supported by Russia and China, but by the supposed enemies, the so-called Sunni states.

JAY: How can the US and Israel accept this situation in the coming months? Something has to happen on the American side, doesn’t it?

AHMAD: What Saudis are saying is that our situation is completely untenable. All our masses are up in arms against us because of the aggression against Gaza, no movement in Palestine, and so on, and we cannot go on supporting all your policies without showing some results on the front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What they are also saying is that in Iraq itself, you are claiming that Iraq has become stable. Iraq cannot become stable without the cooperation of Iran. Iran has a very major role to play in southern Iraq, and you’d better start negotiations with Iran on the question of Iraq, and all of us have to work together. They are encouraging negotiations between the United States and Iran. The United States has to take that initiative. Otherwise, it will find itself in a situation where Arab states come closer to Iran, and the US is further isolated in the region.

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