By Arab News
THE GCC shares with the rest of the civilized world the profound horror at the butchery that the Syrian government is meting out to its people. That was why the Council’s leaders assembled this week in Qatar.
No decent country can turn its face away from what the regime of Bashar Assad is doing, in a desperate attempt to cling on to power, when it has lost all legitimacy and the support of the majority of its people.
So what does Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad do? He chooses the precise moment of the Qatar GCC meeting to visit the UAE island of Abu Musa, which Iran has occupied since it seized it in the time of the Shah, in 1971.
Abu Musa along with The Greater and Less Tunb islands are occupied by the Iranians in defiance of international law. Their seizure remains an outrage that stands in the way of regional amity and stability.
In defense of his indefensible ally in Damascus, Ahmadinejad sought to divert the GCC’s attention from Syria, with this provocative visit to UAE territory. And quite frankly in one respect at least, his ploy has succeeded, prompting the GCC to deliver an angry protest to the UN. What concerned the Arab leaders as much as anything, was that this was the first visit to the island by any top-level Iranian official. For that official to be the president of the country, compounded the effrontery.
It must however be wondered what Ahmadinejad thought he was really achieving with this stunt, beyond diverting the GCC’s attention momentarily from the Syrian crisis. Indeed some analysts are already arguing that he has actually done his country a disservice.
The United States and its allies have focused their principal concerns on Iran’s nuclear program and its missile developments. Tehran’s aggressive expansionist policies toward its Arab neighbors have taken a back seat to these seemingly more pressing concerns. Now, however, thanks to Ahmadinejad’s short-sighted posturing, Washington and its allies are reminded that there is more to Iran’s brinkmanship than playing nuclear cat and mouse and giving slavish support to the bloody Assad regime.
The reality for Iran is that once the Assad regime falls, as assuredly it will, it will find itself looking at a dearth of positive relations with any country within the Arab world. Rather than his facile antics on Abu Musa, Ahmadinejad could have been better spending his time considering the future of Iran’s relations within the region. It is one thing to go head to head with the United States, almost as a matter of principle, because the Iranians deplored Washington’s support for the Shah. It is entirely another matter to continue to alienate your neighbors. Iran must know that, once Assad is gone, it cannot hope to live in isolation for ever.
In its own interests, it needs already to be reconfiguring its regional policy to, at the very least,enter into some sort of diplomatic dialogue over the seized UAE territory and the enduring disputes with Iraq over the Shatt-Al-Arab region.
That it would seem that at present nothing seems further from the mind of Iranian President Ahmadinejad, should be of concern to us all. Tehran says it has a reasoned response to US accusations that its nuclear program is not peaceful. The world, not least those of us here in the Gulf countries, is anxious to hear it.
Likewise, it may be that Iran will have to explain its grab of UAE territory in the International Court of Justice. What Teheran needs to appreciate is that the issue of Abu Musa and the Tunbs will be resolved by reasoned negotiation, not bullying, nor bluster and certainly not by military action.
In this respect the wronged party — the UAE — has behaved with considerable neighborliness. It has been Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge this thoughtful and reasoned approach that has been so disturbing. The GCC has not sought to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs, as was made clear in the Council’s communique from Doha this week. The same proper behavior ought to be forthcoming from the Iranians.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan was quite to warn that if the question of the UAE’s three occupied islands is not resolved, it could jeopardize international security and peace. By his ill-conceived piece of grandstanding on Abu Musa week, Ahmadinejad has very usefully reminded the world of the dangers involved in this occupation.