July 9, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7560

Responding To Article By Iranian FM Calling For Regional Cooperation, Oppositionist Syrian Writers Reply: Iran Cannot Be Trusted, It Is The Root Of The Crises In The Region

July 9, 2018
Iran, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 7560

On March 20, 2018, in an unusual step, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid published an article in Arabic by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in which he conveyed a conciliatory message to the countries of the region. Zarif wrote that the ongoing arms race between the Middle East countries, and the distrust among them, could lead to destructive conflicts and increase their military expenditure. He therefore called for dialogue among these countries, accompanied by confidence-building measures such as enhancing communication between the peoples, encouraging tourism, and cooperation in various areas, especially economic and trade cooperation.

Following the publication of Zarif's article, Al-Arabi Al-Jadid published several response articles, mostly by oppositionist Syrian writers, who are often given a platform by the daily. The majority of these writers, chief among them the daily's editor, Syrian journalist Bashir Al-Bakr, rejected Zarif's statements as self-serving and hypocritical. Zarif, they claimed, presents Iran as peaceful when the fact is that it poses a major threat to the region, even greater than the threat posed by Israel, and is responsible for wars and crises, including the death and displacement of masses of Syrians. One writer took a more moderate view, suggesting that Zarif's article may indicate a sincere Iranian inclination to change its ways.

The following are excerpts from Zarif's article and from some of the response articles by Syrian journalists.

Al-Arabi Al-Jadid cartoon titled "Iran and the Arabs": Iran, with its terrorist proxies, extends a hand to the Arabs, still bleeding from previous terror attacks (Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, London, March 24, 2018) 

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif's Article

Dialogue And Cooperation Among The Region's Countries Will Prevent Destructive Conflicts

As stated, in an Arabic article he published in Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Zarif stated that despite the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, the Middle East is still afflicted with terrorism and extremism, and is far from achieving the hoped-for stability and security. He wrote: "The humiliating defeat suffered by ISIS in the last year has ended the Islamic State project in Iraq and Syria and has effectively eliminated this extremist and violent stream that swept our entire region into one of the darkest and most destructive periods in its history. But despite this, terrorist and extremist activity still exists, and continues to threaten the region and the world, its net cast wide over all the world's countries. Therefore, curbing the spread of extremism is the number one priority.

"While we have overcome the challenge of the false Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, we are still far from [achieving] the stability and security to which we aspire. In this period of history, we and the other regional players are facing three main challenges: to accurately understand the current situation, formulate a joint position on the situation [we] would like to see in the region, and establish operation methods to achieve this [goal]...

"Hence, we must stop employing destructive policies and realize that we Muslims can attain stability, security, peace and economic growth in our region, and that we must strive for this. Given that our region is facing problems such as terrorism, environmental crises, increasing immigration levels, etc., the destructive arms race and the creation of tension between neighboring countries [only] saddle the peoples of the region with greater burdens and expenses. In fact, the military expenditure of our neighbors in the Gulf has reached the highest levels in the world, compared to their GDP. This policy only perpetuates the tension and the distrust [in the region], leads to waste of vital regional resources and fills the coffers of the rapacious arms manufacturers. This [in turn] will surely lead to more disastrous escapades and destructive struggles. Thus, we have no choice but to start adopting a policy of restoring trust on the regional level.

"In light of the reality in our world and the circumstances in our region and especially in the Gulf, previous methods of forming alliances are obsolete and have lost their effectiveness. At the same time, the demographic diversity, and the [regional countries'] unequal economic and military abilities, have cause the smaller countries to feel permanently insecure, prompting them to rely on outside forces and to delude themselves that they can buy security or import it from outside the region.

The Regional Countries Must Form A Safety Net And Establish Joint Operation Procedures To Build Mutual Trust And Cooperation, Enhance Regional Security

"The way out of this vicious circle is to form a safety net involving all the countries in the region, as part of a joint operation procedure that commits all parties to joint principles and guidelines, such as: equality between countries, eschewing threats and force, peaceful conflict resolution, respect for territorial integrity, non- interference in other countries' domestic affairs, and respect for each country's right to self-determination. This attempt has succeeded in other parts of the world that had experienced years of mutual war and bloodshed, despite the fact that their shared political and economic interests were far less extensive than in our region. Therefore, we must not lose hope for the successful realization of this experiment in our area...

"Most countries in this region are striving to turn the safety net into a basis for cooperation, in order to establish permanent procedures for increasing regional security. Based on this outlook, it will not be possible to define or guarantee the security of one country or group of countries without [defining and guaranteeing the security of] the others. We must therefore discard the previous ineffective proposals and adopt mechanisms that will identify and even create areas of joint interest, and form opportunities for cooperation among countries with joint interests, while promoting dialogue on possible disputes regarding these interests.

"In order to attain the necessary security stability, today more than ever we must promote dialogue and take measures to build and strengthen mutual trust... Today more than ever our governments must find ways to negotiate calmly, so as to achieve mutual understanding and mutual rapprochement. Through such dialogue we may discover that our concerns, fears, aspirations and hopes are largely similar, and that we are able – thanks to our geographic [proximity] and joint history, culture and faith – to use this dialogue to actively further the interests of our peoples. This dialogue may... put an end to the mutual verbal recriminations and unhelpful propaganda which [currently] characterize our media discourse...

"Dialogue is among the most important ways to dispel the climate of distrust, but sometimes there is need for additional measures, besides direct dialogue, in order to dispel prevailing apprehensions. Dialogue must be accompanied by crucial trust-building measures, first and foremost sharing information in various areas and avoiding misunderstanding and measures that create tension... There are other elements that prepare the ground for tension-reducing measures, such as promoting dialogue between the peoples, encouraging tourism and mutual cooperation in areas of joint [interest], in particular economic and trade cooperation. [In addition,] the agenda of any dialogue may give priority to issues such as the formation of joint work teams in various domains – from nuclear security to managing pollution and natural disasters – mutual visits by military [officials], advance notice of military maneuvers, transparency in armament, reducing military expenditure, and signing a non-aggression pact."[1]

Syrian Writers Respond: Zarif's Statements Disregard Iran's Dangerous Actions In The Region

Reactions to Zarif's article were not long in coming, especially from oppositionist Syrian writers, who are often given a platform on Al-Arabi Al-Jadid. Most of the reactions castigated Iran and claimed that Zarif's article had ignored his country's negative role in the region.

Al-Arabi Al-Jadid Editor: Zarif's Flowery Article Ignores Iran's Role As The Major Cause Of Crises In The Region

The editor-in-chief of Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, Syrian journalist Bashir Al-Bakr, wrote: "Zarif is entitled to view the region's problems from his own perspective, but summing them up as 'terror, environmental crises, rising immigration levels and an accelerating arms race' is puzzling when it comes from the foreign minister of the country that bears the chief responsibility for the wars, crises and catastrophes that have afflicted the region one after the other. [This] began when [Iran] began exporting its Islamic Revolution and intervening in our Arab countries – namely Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen – and it did not stop there. Iran's thirst for hegemony is steadily growing, and despite the disastrous results, it continues to pursue its sectarian plan in several Arab countries.

"Zarif's article makes no mention of the four countries where Iranian interference has been a major factor in [causing] crises. It would not be a false accusation to say that Iran is chiefly responsible for the situation in Syria, for it came out against the popular revolution there and supported President Bashar Al-Assad with all the military, manpower and economic abilities at its disposal... It is no secret that one of Iran's goals in Syria is sectarian cleansing...  The most important factor in this equation is that the majority of Syrians regard Iran as an occupying power.

"In his article [Zarif] mentioned 'the humiliating defeat suffered by ISIS in the last year,' but he stayed away from the truth... sufficing with [that] flowery sentence at the beginning of his article, and did not discuss who is responsible for creating ISIS and for the war, which are the result of the sectarianism and tyranny that permeate the regimes supported by Iran. The truth is that Iran is willing to support terrorism when this serves its interests, and is [equally] willing to join the 'war on terror' club when this serves its interests...

"Zarif speaks of [countries that] 'delude themselves that they can buy security or import it from outside the region,' trying to portray his country as the dove of peace. He exonerates [Iran] of posing a tangible threat to the region's security by maintaining a vast arsenal of weapons, some of which are not locally manufactured but rather made in Russia or Korea. This is in addition to its weapons in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which have changed the power-balance in these countries and facilitated sectarian wars that continue to benefit nobody but Iran [itself]. Zarif's article was well-crafted. Even when he calls for dialogue among the countries of the region, he limits this to exchange of information, when the region expects Iran to [enter the] dialogue on the basis of respect for the sovereignty of the neighboring people and countries."[2] 

Syrian Journalist: How Can We Trust A Country That Has Orchestrated Massacres And Expelled Millions From Their Homes?

Syrian journalist 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Hajj, likewise a columnist for Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, wrote that Zarif's statements constitute "a complete denial of Iran's actions on the ground," and "reflect the policy that Iran attributes to itself but which is at odds with all the facts on the ground." He added: "How can Iran's strategy bring tens of thousands of mercenaries to fight in Syria alongside Bashar Al-Assad and suppress a popular revolution against his dictatorial regime, yet at the same time bring collective security to the region? How can [Foreign] Minister Zarif explain, in light of [Iran's allegedly peaceful] strategy, that indigenous Syrian have been expelled from their homes and replaced with mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan just because this serves his country's interests? Given the Iranian strategy [he describes in his article], how can Mr. Zarif explain the bombardment of civilians, the pulverizing of cities over the heads of their residents, and the targeting of civilians with poison gas and barrel bombs? How can this strategy – which, according to him, pertains to all Muslims – possibly be accepted by the Muslims? And in light of this strategy, how can he explain that the Islamic Iran has killed many more Arabs and Muslims in its neighboring countries than Israel has?...

"The essence of Mr. Zarif's proposal is that we accept countries like Iran, that have abandoned the true Islam, as partners in [safeguarding] the security of the region! That is the 'new security perspective' he is preaching. Can such a perspective lead to stability? The threat to [the region's] security results from a political fault that has to do, first and foremost, with the legitimacy [granted to tyrannical] regimes and with preventing the peoples from implementing their will and their aspirations – and Iran is involved in this game more than anyone else. No peace is possible in the present situation, as long as the roots of the threat to security and stability are not clearly and explicitly addressed...

"It is necessary to face the fact that, in a country based on a transnational political-religious ideology, notions like dialogue or collective security cannot have any meaning, but serve merely to benefit that country. Moreover, the history of that country [Iran] does not allow [us] to trust it, which is a crucial component in [attaining] security. How can we trust a country that calls for [regional] security after it led and financed sectarian wars, created sectarian regimes, orchestrated massacres, expelled millions from their land, and supported sectarian regimes that killed hundreds of thousands out of sectarian motivations?... Iran, under its current regime, which in the eyes of many in the region, especially Syrians, has become more dangerous than Israel, is a constant threat to the security of the area. It's hard to imagine that it can be anything else."[3]

Syrian Writer: Zarif's Article May Indicate A Sincere Desire For Change On Iran's Part

Another Syrian who writes for the daily, Ali Al-Abdallah, noted that most of the responses by his colleagues had ignored the background and timing of Zarif's article and had offered no solutions for the conflict with Iran. Wondering whether the article may not indicate a real desire for change on the part of Iran, he wrote: "Zarif's article did not arise in a vacuum and does not [reflect] political prosperity. Rather, it is a political message by means of which Zarif, being in charge of presenting Iran's foreign policy, aimed to prevent the results of the anti-Iran atmosphere that prevails in the region and the world and to preempt [certain] practical measures which, disturbingly, seem to be looming on the horizon – whether it is the formation of a regional alliance comprising the Arabs and Israel aimed at confronting Iran, or an American-Israeli escalation [of the hostility towards Iran]. [This escalation] is manifest in the declaration of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binymin Netanyahu during their recent meeting in the White House about understandings regarding a war on Iran, and by the attacks on the Iranian positions near the occupied Syrian Golan and other parts of Syria around Damascus, Palmyra and Aleppo...

"The Iranian regime is at a sensitive juncture on several fronts, starting with the domestic front, which shows some signs of growing opposition to the existing Islamic regime, [as reflected by the following incidents]: the Cyrus Day [October 29, 2017] demonstrations, in which protestors... in the south [of Iran] shouted nationalist slogans and criticized the regime's foreign policy, shouting 'No to Gaza and No to Lebanon, I Sacrifice Only for Iran'; the December 29-30, 2017 demonstrations in over 100 [Iranian] cities, where citizens  voiced their opposition to the regime's foreign policy by chanting 'Get Out of Syria, Think of Us,' and also voicing opposition to the President of the Republic and to the Supreme Leader by chanting 'death to the dictator'..., and the campaign against the forced wearing of the hijab waged by Iranian women in several cities despite the oppression and arrests...

"The second front is the regional and international one: there is an inclination to no longer tolerate Iran's policy and its interference in the affairs of neighboring countries, especially Arab ones. Political and diplomatic measures reflect this, and the issue has been raised on more than one occasion at the [UN] Security Council and the European Parliament...

"The third front is perhaps the most exciting one: the issue of the Iranian nuclear program... and all this comes on top of the regime's failure to deal with large problems in the domains of economy, livelihood and services...

"Given the pressures and the facts listed above and the dangers they represent, does Zarif's article indicate a serious Iranian intention to end its current policy and adopt a [different] policy, as part of which it will stop interfering in the affairs of neighboring countries and spreading strife between religious streams? [Will it]  promote regional concord and understanding, so as to dispel the fear regarding its [attempts to gain] geopolitical hegemony, [fear] that has dominated [the Middle East] in the last few decades and has thwarted attempts at regional cooperation? Or is [the article just] a maneuver meant to create upheaval and sabotage [Iran's] rivals' plans? And if there is [an Iranian] inclination [to change its ways], will the Arab side be willing to meet it halfway? We hope it will be."[4]


[1] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 20, 2018.

[2] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 21, 2018.

[3] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 22, 2018.

[4] Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), March 28, 2018.

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