Leaving Geneva ... or What is in a Kiss?
Iranian Involvement in the So-Called Arab Spring
A month ago, the mythology surrounding the past 18 months of Arab upheaval, commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, was finally shattered by an orgy of unadulterated acts of violence across much of the region, directed at the West (particularly the US), and spurred on by an amateurish film completely disassociated with the US establishment. Such violence underscored the lack of Western values the Arab Spring reflected and, when coupled with the political earthquake produced in the Geneva session of the UN on human rights, indicates that such shallow treatments of the Middle East are dangerous and erroneous. The outburst of violence has been well documented; its deadly consequences are well known. However, it eclipsed the significance of the revelations produced in Geneva which signal a different set of issues facing the region and, in this year of US elections, reveals substantial problems with Obama’s foreign policy.
Indeed, during this latest round of UN summitry opposition delegates from Syria, Iraq and Iran launched a full-scale assault against Bahrain’s opposition representatives, reflecting the twin-peaks’ notion that, first, the idea of an all-encompassing Arab Spring meant to cure all the regions’ ailments is a fallacy and second that under the rhetoric of democratic movements, many of the revolutions or counter-revolutions were sponsored by Iran. The idea that Iran was behind much of the violence experienced throughout the region these past months was widely known, despite the scant attention given to this theme in most media outlets and among the clear majority of Western decision-makers, particularly Obama. There is now no way to avoid dealing with Iran and the failure to do so is likely to result in US foreign policy suicide since the Islamic Republic is not backing down in the region, it is not being humbled and it is undeterred; it is retrenching and proliferating its ideology for the sole purpose of extending its political hegemony over the Western shores of Arabia. The failure to adequately address Iran’s nuclear programme and its interference in the Gulf is undermining regional stability while eroding US capabilities and alliances.
The origins of the political scuffle in Geneva came as a series of indicting pictures were literally thrown at GCC Opposition organiser, Qassim al Hashimi which clearly shows him, a key figure in Bahrain’s opposition movement, in an embrace – kissing the forehead, as it were – of Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, with radical Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr at his side.
What a slap in the face such a revelation must have been to the Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi opposition delegates whose day-to-day struggle against these very men has cost hundreds of thousands in human blood, displacements, wounded and the grieving their relatives endure. Consider the public pronouncement by Iran that it has deployed fighters to both Lebanon and Syria in a bid to flank south and capture Jerusalem. While it is certain that Israel would have something to say – and the capability to check such movements – it is equally clear that Israel is not the target of such deployments; rather the later serves as a weak pretext for involvement in the unfolding Syrian and sporadic Lebanese conflicts. Iran, it appears, has no qualms about al Assad’s brutal crackdown on Syrian civilians just as it had no qualms about decapitating Lebanon’s political leadership. At the same time, al Sadr has flexed his political muscle to carve out a niche in Iraq; facilitating Iranian encroachments.
Nothing however is worse than the seething sense of betrayal that must be felt by Iran’s opposition movements, since it is they who have had to bear the unrestrained use of force to crush even the embers of change which began in the summer of 2009. Remember Neda, the young woman murdered in cold blood by Iran’s security forces; she must be turning over in her grave at the sight of an opposition movement [in Bahrain] that kisses the very person responsible for her death, who must be held accountable for ruining the lives of countless Iranians and attempting to do the same throughout Arabia.
This saga does not end here. For the past 18 months Bahrainis have lived under the constant harassment of street violence perpetrated by small pockets of self-declared revolutionaries, the Sacred Defence (a. k. a. The Youth of 14 February) and have accused Iran of sponsorship. Most of the world, including Bahrain’s closest ally, the US, did not want to hear it and routinely denied the suggestion of a linkage between Iran and the violence experienced in Bahrain. That it took the largely disorganised opposition groups in Geneva to make such a clear and unambiguous case to the contrary indicates that the US, under Obama, is not assuming the very international leadership that supposedly defined his first administration. Instead, Obama has failed to achieve what his administration set out to do back in 2009, curtail the growing power of Iran.
Obama has grown comfortable in his role of soothsayer; the OK President under whose watch however, the international community has seen the rise of Iranian radicalism throughout the Middle East, the marriage-of-convenience between the Taliban and Iran’s al Quds brigades and a general lethargy to achieve even modest political gains for the US and its allies. What we are left with is a leadership struggle, not only in the US, but around the world as more and more states lose faith in the US and begin to search out new allies. This trend is not yet irreversible, but it is gathering pace. The US needs to assert itself in a measured but constructive manner; as a leader and defender of its regional allies and not as a reactive state which depends on the good nature of its adversaries. Under Obama this is precisely what is occurring; the US is taking the backseat in regional diplomacy. Even Canada, one of the most tolerant states in the world, has recognised the growing dangers of Iran and has taken encouraging steps to further the Islamic Republic’s isolation through the complete withdraw of its diplomatic staff and the expulsion of Iran’s from Ottawa. All the while, the OK President has done little to publicly recognise, let alone challenge, Iran. In short, the states that look up to the US have – because of a lack of leadership under Obama – had to take measures on their own.
The Geneva debacle has many opposition figures, in Bahrain and beyond, licking their wounds and seeking ways to rally their strength to counter what may very well be the first public revelation over the extent to which Iranian influence determines the actions and policies of the Arab Spring. Most probably such rallying will produce renewed violence; it tends to be the only language available to hide political failures. However, it is time to clear away the cobwebs of the US’s political toolbox and Obama – while he is still in office – must finally address the source of regional instability; Iran.
In this chapter of political history, it is clear that the true victims of both Iran and US political fatigue are civilians; those people who have believed the rhetoric of their political leaders. In the case of Bahrain following the Geneva meeting, a sense of alienation must certainly bridge the social gap as the extent to which Iran is responsible for directing al Hashimi must have shattered the Island’s Shia perspective – fed line-by-line by the al Wefaq bloc – that the opposition movement was both ‘democratic’ and nationalist. It is neither.
At the same time, given that other Bahraini blocs have been explaining the Iranian connection for over a year and that such claims have fallen on Obama’s deaf ears have undermined a good-deal of good will in the country, highlighted by the near constant harassment they have endured at the hands of Iranian sponsored groups.
While Bahrain is certainly not another chapter in the Arab Spring, it reveals a chapter in continued Iranian attempts at destabilising Bahrain as a door into Eastern Arabia. For those that continue to blindly deny that Iran bears responsibility for violence in Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan and, most importantly, in Iran itself, needs to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves what is really in a kiss?