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Saturday, October 31, 2020

GCC must act decisively to halt Iran’s ambitions

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

© Al Habtoor Group

“If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor,” said Albert Einstein. So get ready for some straight talking on what I believe is the greatest threat our region currently faces. I’m not a man who pulls any punches and, certainly, during a time of grave danger, I’m not prepared to skirt around the issues with diplomatic-speak. The indisputable fact is that our neighbour, the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has territorial ambitions towards Gulf States, is set on dominating the Arab world via its Shi’ite proxies and is actively proselytizing its extremist ideology throughout the area. In short, Iran is no friend.

Until now, we have tolerated Iranian threats to set Gulf oilfields alight, closed the Straits of Hormuz to shipping and barred airlines using the term “Arabian Gulf ” from its air space. And we have failed to react in any meaningful way when the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trampled on Emirati sensitivities by paying a controversial visit to Abu Musa – one of three UAE islands forcibly occupied by the Shah in 1971 – following a 2012 statement from his country’s Foreign Minister to the effect Iran’s ‘ownership’ of those territories was “definitive, permanent and non-negotiable”. We have virtually turned a blind eye to Iran’s rabble-rousing of Bahraini Shi’ites to rise up against the government but at least Saudi Arabia had the wisdom to step-in at Bahrain’s invitation to thwart Iran’s plot to exert control over a GCC member state on which it has had the audacity to make territorial claims in the past. We have been ineffective in saving Lebanon from the ayatollahs’ de facto rule. But we cannot and should not forgive or ever forget Tehran’s role in supporting a vicious Syrian war criminal’s grip on power amid rivers of innocent blood. On this, Iran has crossed an indelible red line and must be halted in its tracks.

Forget diplomacy! Forget halfhearted compromises! Can talk be effective with a nation defying the international community by seeking nuclear weapons with which to blackmail the region and supply fighters and missiles to enable a barbaric despot to murder its own people? We’re only deluding ourselves if we believe a string of back to back conferences will deter Iran from pursuing its ‘will to power’ agenda. It’s time that we take charge of our own destiny while we still can. If, God forbid, Syrian President Bashar Al- Assad rides to victory on the guns of revolutionary guards and Hezbollah’s military wing, his political longevity will be owed to Tehran and he, along with every other Syrian, will remain under the Iranian/Russian thumb Every Syrian town and city will be flying Shi’ite flags and hoisting posters of Ayatollah Khomeini. Hezbollah will be empowered and non-Shi’ites in Syria and Lebanon will be treated as second-class citizens; that’s if they manage to escape bloody sectarian reprisals.

It’s useless to rely on intervention by the US, Britain or France; they’ve talked the talk but have stood by watching the killing of 90,000 Syrian men, women and children, the displacement of oneand- a-half million from their homes while hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere. I strongly suspect that the US and Israel have decided ‘better the devil they know’. Assad has been unwilling to take on Israel even in response to its bombing of Syrian military sites. So much for their stated commitment to humanitarianism and democratisation; principles that seemingly apply only when they suit their interests!

Should Syria fall to the regime and its masters, Iran and its proxies will be emboldened with oil-rich Gulf States; its ultimate prize. Iran’s spies and sleeper cells are already entrenched in our countries waiting for an opportunity to strike. Until now, many have held to the belief that the US and its allies would step-in to prevent such an eventuality. The thought may help us sleep better but how can we count on Washington for protection when the Obama administration has obliquely criticised Saudi Arabia for intervening in Bahrain and is still pondering whether or not to arm the Syrian opposition? Likewise, the Europeans have lifted the EU’s arms embargo but still haven’t come up with the goods. In truth, despite its harsh anti-Iranian rhetoric, the West has given Iran free rein to spread its tentacles around Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen. History tells us that fuelling destabilising Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian conflicts is at the core of America’s divide and rule strategy, a tactic inherited from the British Empire.

To counter the Iranian menace, I would urge GCC leaders to consider the immediate implementation of the following steps:

  1. Gulf States should acknowledge that we’re on our own and take responsibility for the fate of our citizens.
  2. Diplomatic relations with Iran should be cut and its ambassadors and diplomats sent packing.
  3. All trade and commerce between GCC countries and Iran should cease forthwith.
  4. The GCC should lend material support to the Syrian opposition in terms of manpower, weapons and intelligence.

The balance is tipping in favour of Al Assad and his gangs. With Hezbollah’s assistance, his forces have been making strategic gains, most recently the town Qusayr on the Lebanese border that served as a supply route for opposition forces. The Syrian President is boasting about gaining the upper hand as he sends his army to take back Aleppo. I, therefore, appeal to Gulf rulers to take action now, within days, because, we no longer have the luxury of time for endless, inconclusive debates and discussion. Closing our eyes and hoping for the best or fooling ourselves into believing Syria isn’t our business, simply isn’t an option. There’s an old adage that says, “Don’t fear the enemy who attacks you… Fear the fake friend who hugs you.” When dealing with Iran, it’s one that all Gulf States and predominately Sunni Arab States should heed.

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