By Jawed Naqvi
18 Aug 2020
IS the UAE-Israel-US ‘historic deal’ truly the sensational event that President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu say it is? On the face of it, there’s a story of course. China has arrived in Iran and Israel has moved close to the event, leaving the US to press on with its Pivot to Asia containment of China in the Pacific. If that’s an explanation, why didn’t Netanyahu arrive in the UAE without the fuss, and without sacrificing his proposed annexation of the West Bank?
Israeli and UAE flags lined this road in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya
There’s a compelling view he has used the deal to get out of a bad situation at home. There were no takers for any annexation other than some Jewish settlers. For Trump, it’s a means to win back the support of disgruntled Jewish voters for the November elections.
I remember meeting an Emirati soldier in 1990 who was ready to fight against fellow Arab Saddam Hussein. He said Saddam was an enemy of the Gulf countries. It was all right to befriend Israel to defeat Iraq. That was during America’s Desert Shield operation from bases in Saudi Arabia. Let’s complicate this simplistic picture, and consider the charges usually brought against Iran, the apparent target of the UAE-Israel deal.
When Akbar Khalili filed his situational report from Tehran to his colleague watching the Iran-Iraq war at the foreign ministry in Delhi, he could not mask his fabled humour. “Iran has indeed got the missile it claims to have, which covers half the distance on its own steam and travels the rest by the grace of Allah.”
Where do the Shia-Sunni theorists disappear when Shia Iran supports a predominantly Sunni Palestine envisaging Jerusalem as its capital?
With his unusual access to Tehran’s ruling fraternity of mullahs, which included a special rapport with the pivotal Ayatollah Beheshti, Khalili wouldn’t spoil it all by naming Israel as Iran’s arms supplier in its bloodbath with Iraq. Tehran claimed it could target Baghdad with missiles it didn’t have in its quiver. The surmise Khalili was hinting at was that the Iran-Contra deal had done the trick. Ronald Reagan arranged it as a quid pro quo for Iran’s help in defeating Jimmy Carter in 1980.
There were other spin-offs. One involved Israel as conduit for US arms to Iran. And Israel used Iraq’s degraded defences to bomb the Osiraq nuclear research facility in 1981.
A false narrative successfully used to hide the Middle East’s evolving reality is the so-called Shia-Sunni rift in its 20th-century avatar. It conjures images of the Saudis and Iranians locked in a perpetual battle — (after the Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate) — to underscore the supremacy of their respective Islamic orders.
The falseness of the binary shows in the failed Arab League summit in 1981, on the heels of the Iranian Revolution. The then Saudi crown prince had presented the Fahd Plan that spelt out an Arab-Israel accord over Palestine by formally recognising Israel and promising it collective security. Before this, Sunni Egypt had befriended Jewish Israel. The three countries that opposed the Fahd Plan on secular grounds were to be decimated one by one.
Libya and Iraq were staunchly critical of Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia equally. Both were destroyed and their leaders murdered under Western and Arab supervision. Syria too opposed the Fez initiative, and see what’s become of it. Iran thus is the last main challenger standing to speak up for Palestine. Where do the Shia-Sunni theorists disappear when Shia Iran supports a predominantly Sunni Palestine envisaging Jerusalem as its capital?
The Iran narrative is not only stacked with inaccuracies, it pushes deliberate distractions too. It purposely undermines the reality that Iran sees itself more as a revolutionary entity, less as a Shia state. It didn’t stage a Shia revolution but a means to forge an inclusive upheaval against the West. One can differ with it, but that’s no ground for creating false religious disputes.
Some of Iran’s closest allies at the height of the revolution were secular leaders of the PLO. Subsequently, mainly Sunni Hamas and a vehemently Sunni Muslim Brotherhood were embraced by Tehran. It has Sunni supporters in Southeast Asia and notionally Sunni Central Asian friends too. It played host to arch puritan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from among the Afghan mujahideen. Above all, Iran remains a steadfast ally of Venezuela and remembers Hugo Chavez as its hero.
The exaggerated (though not always concocted) Shia-Sunni prism has successfully damaged social equilibriums around the world, not excluding Pakistan, a former ally in the RCD club with Iran and Turkey.
Pakistan’s leap to embrace Saudi Arabia and other Gulf sultanates was, however, spurred more by the exit of the Shah than the arrival of Khomeini. The Shah anchored Western interests in the Gulf in tandem with Pakistan before Khomeini overturned the furniture. For secular India, on the other hand, the Islamic Revolution didn’t deter its bonding with Tehran even though New Delhi was strategically closer to Iraq during the Cold War.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not admit it, but it was a Congress government that established groundbreaking diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. Likewise, Manmohan Singh hosted the Saudi king for the first time in 50 years as India’s state guest. The Cold War was over.
In the heyday of the Islamic Revolution, when Hashemi Rafsanjani addressed the weekly Friday congregation at Tehran University, Kalashnikov in hand, four slogans from the milling crowd would rent the sky. Death to Saddam. Death to the USSR. Death to America. Death to Israel. The first two wishes have been fulfilled albeit for reasons that had little to do with the crowd’s Orwellian chants. The other two haunt Tehran.
The West hanged Saddam after the Soviet Union collapsed. The cheering victors included the UAE, Israel and the US. But why is Saudi Arabia, which bankrolled the anti-Saddam operation, keeping a low profile? Perhaps it knows, wisely, that the tide could turn in November and equations reset when a Democrat enters the White House.
Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Original Headline: Not Shia, not Sunni, not Jewish
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan