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Islam and Politics ( 27 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Is Netanyahu the new Ahmadinejad?



By Murtaza Haider

November 27, 2013

How quickly do fortunes really turn? Only a few months ago he was seen leading the charge against the allegedly nuke-crazy, violence-backing Iranians. Today, he is being slandered as a bully. Benjamin Netanyahu’s fall from grace shows how quickly the pendulum may swing in the other direction.

The historic deal to bring Iran into compliance on nuclear enrichment, which was recently brokered between Iran and the six world powers, has catapulted Iran out of global isolation. In exchange for international inspections of its nuclear facilities and a commitment to not develop the nuclear weapons, Iran has been welcomed back in the global polity with the promise to restore its trading privileges, once evidence on compliance is available. Iran's new President, Dr. Hassan Rouhani, is in vogue and already on the soon to invite or call list of the world leaders. And while Iran resumes walking in step with the rest of the world, Israel and Saudi Arabia have decided to break away from the crowd and continue with their policy to malign Iran.

Recent developments in the Middle East show that the Israeli-Saudi nexus has surprisingly met failure in mobilising the world against Iran. In fact, if influential observers, such as Roger Cohen of The New York Times, were to be believed, it's Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and the aging Saudi monarchs who now risk isolation.

Iran has had a few bad years of global isolation. Its reputation was tarnished by the loose talking and inconsiderate former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose senseless vitriol attracted global condemnation. His radical views, which he so willingly aired during visits to the United Nations, made even the arch-conservative Saudis look like liberals. Ahmadinejad’s regime refused to comply fully on nuclear no-proliferation that subjected Iran to economic sanctions, which as of late had a crippling effect on Iran’s economy. As sanctions expanded and Iran exhausted creative ways to circumvent them, their real impact began to be felt by Iranians. A change in Iranian policy thus was imminent.

Oil prices on Monday fell by 2 per cent at the news of a deal with Iran. The deal will not result in an immediate flow of Iranian oil to global markets. It will take significant progress in the follow-up negotiations to get the Iranian production of oil up to pre-sanctions level of 2.5 million barrels per day. Still, international markets are adjusting to the fact that Iranian oil and gas will soon be hitting the markets, thus putting a downward pressure on the price of these commodities. This spells gas (and oil) pains for countries whose revenue from these commodities will decline as a result. No wonder some of those countries, e.g. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and even Canada, are opposing the deal.

The Arab opposition to the deal with Iran is not merely motivated by economic self-interests. Granted that both Saudi Arabia, which exports oil, and Qatar, which exports gas, are concerned about a decline in the price of commodities that sustain their economies. However, the centuries old Arab-Iranian rivalry is also at play. The Saudis see their country as the bastion of Islam and view Shia Iranians as heretics. Qataris identify with Saudis in their religio-political outlook. The Arab-Iran rivalry or the Sunni-Shia schism is manifesting itself in several formal and informal theatres of war that include Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, and even Pakistan.

A European Parliament report accuses Saudis and Qataris of funding hard-line extremist Salafists in the region that has resulted in deadly consequences. The rest of the Arab world is in fact no different in their dislike of Shia Iranians. An overwhelming majority of Egyptians and Jordanians, to name a few, hold an unfavourable view of Iran.

Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has different motivations to oppose Iran. Successive Iranian regimes since the revolution have campaigned against Israel to show support for the Palestinians. Naturally, the Israelis did not welcome the sustained Iranian tirade, especially when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is strictly an Arab-Israeli conflict in which the Shia Iran essentially lacks locus standi.

But Iran serves as an important purpose for the Israeli foreign policy that uses Iran to deflect attention from the elephant in the room: the pending question of the Palestinian self-determination. As long as the spotlight is fixed on the perceived or real threats from the Iranian nuclear program, Israel does not have to field questions about the status and the future of Palestinians. No wonder then that Benjamin Netanyahu is the most vocal opponent of any settlement with Iran.

Up until recently, Netanyahu had been successful in cornering Iran. This, however, changed with the recent Presidential elections in Iran that replaced the bigoted policies of the former President Ahmadinejad with the introspective outlook of President Rouhani whose doctoral dissertation at Glasgow Caledonian University concluded that “no laws in Islam are immutable.”

This has resulted in Israel’s Iran dilemma. It appears that the United States is no longer willing to fashion its foreign policy to please Israel. The United States and the rest of the world are engaging again with Iran to test its commitment to international charters and treaties. Netanyahu, on the other hand, “has never been willing to test the Palestinians in a serious way — test their good faith, test ending the humiliations of the occupation, test from strength the power of justice and peace. He has preferred domination, preferred the Palestinians down and under pressure,” argued Roger Cohen and added that “nothing, to judge by the hyperventilating Israeli rhetoric could be more disconcerting.”

Just like the Iranians, who deserved better leadership than what they received under Mr. Ahmadinejad, Israelis also deserve better leadership than what they have received under Mr. Netanyahu. Israelis should learn from the Iranian experience. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s insularity condemned Iran to global isolation. Mr. Netanyahu’s unwillingness to deal with the pressing issues at home and attempts to deflect may meet a similar fate.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto.