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City of Brass

City of Brass

Saudi Arabia’s Iran Obsession

(This is a guest post by my friend and Islamsphere scion Ali Eteraz)

I woke up this morning and found a comprehensive Middle East peace plan being offered by Saudi Arabia in the pages of the Washington Post.

Putting aside whether or not the proposed Arab peace initiative of 2002 is viable or progressive, I couldn’t help but notice the four bullet points that conclude the article. Says the article:

Obama ought to pursue a comprehensive policy that deals with all the hot spots in the Middle East. He should:

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Call for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Shebaa Farms in Lebanon. This would remove the issue of “national liberation” from the arsenal of Hezbollah’s propaganda and mitigate Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon.

Work with the U.N. Security Council for a resolution guaranteeing Iraq’s territorial integrity. This would dampen Iraqi politicians’ ambitions for dismembering Iraq and force them to negotiate for national reconciliation, putting their interests as Iraqis before their interests as Arabs, Kurds, Shiites or Sunnis. It would also stop any ambitions — economic or territorial — that Iraq’s neighbors may be considering.

Encourage Israeli-Syrian negotiations for peace. This would engage Syria and diminish Iranian obstructionism. It would also force Palestinian groups based in Syria to follow the Syrian example.

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Declare America’s intention to work for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, with a security umbrella and other incentives for countries that sign up and a sanctions regime for those that don’t. This would remove the issue of double standards that the Iranian government uses to raise support among its people for its nuclear policy. It would also resolve the security concerns with which Israel’s leaders justify their possession of nuclear weapons.

Notice something?

Each one contains either a direct or indirect reference to Iran. It is only the second bullet where Iran is not named but even there the “ambitions” of “Iraq’s neighbors” can only refer to one country.

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Number three is interesting because Iran is redefined as the country engaged in “obstructionism.” Four, however, is crucial, because it directly criticizes Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

There has been a debate raging among academics whether it makes sense to understand the middle east in terms of this Saudi-Iranian competition. Vali Nasr, from the Naval Academy, who wrote the book on Shia revival and conflicts within Islam, has argued for this kind of evaluation. Hamid Dabashi, from Columbia university, believes that promoting conflicts within Islam is simply made up. I don’t think my views particularly matter in this debate but if I had to pick I would say that neither is correct since given the autocratic and oligarchic nature of Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, there is no way of knowing what is really happening.

Ali Eteraz is a writer and columnist for The Huffington Post and for The Guardian magazine.

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