13 Jan '16    home | more politics

Iran and January 2016

Some in the US see Iran as an enemy state. They describe Iran as aggressive, as a dangerous player in the Mideast and as intent on destroying Israel. Iran's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, has been described as having "direct responsibility" for foreign policy, which "cannot be conducted without his direct involvement and approval." Khamenei says he does not want war, that he does not want confrontation with the West, and today Iran returned the ten US sailors to the US, whose patrol boat in the Persian Gulf yesterday unintentionally drifted into Iranian waters.

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweets today"

Happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode. Let's learn from this latest example.

Khamenei has said he is not interested in Iran becoming a nuclear power. What does he want? We know he wanted the removal of sanctions (which some hawkish Americans, Trump and Rubio among them have described as a great and dangerous gift for Iran.)

Iran sees the Sunni monarchy ruling Saudi Arabia as an adversary. Saudi Arabia has a substantial Shia minority (from 10 to 15 percent of its population), viewed in Iran as oppressed. Last week, Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shia cleric among this minority outraged the Iranians. Three days ago, Foreign Minister Zarif complained about Saudi Arabia's "reckless extremism." Iran's President Rouhani was reported that same day in the New York Times as having declared that "Iran's top foreign policy priority is friendship with our neighbors, peace and stability in the region and global cooperation, especially in the fight against extremism."

Three days ago in his CNN broadcast, Fareed Zakaria addressed the conflict between the Sunnis and "Shites" (Shia). He spoke of the 1979 revolution in Iran as having "brought to power an aggressively religious ruling class, determined to export its ideas and support Shiites in the region." The monarchy in Saudi Arabia, said Zakaria, "was always anti-Shiite, viewing the sect as heretics." He went on:

As Iran expanded its influence in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia responded with greater concern. With the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq came under the rule [more or less] of Shiites. This rattled other Arab regimes, and their anxieties have only grown since.

Zakaria's guest, Vali Nasr, said that "... once the United States started talking to Iran it changed the whole geo-strategy of the region... The United States has decided that it's not as committed to containing Iran has Saudi Arabia would have expected." Nasr reminded Zakaria's audience that the region has "Shites in Iraq, Shiites in Bahrain, Shiites everywhere."

Sunnis make up 85 percent of all Muslims. Iran's Shia establishment, including Supreme Leader Khamenei, must be concerned about the well-being of Shia everywhere.

Saudi Arabia says it will not be going to war against Iran. The Obama administration wants to see the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran cool down.

A Republican responds to the New York Times:

I'm a Republican and I agree that the Iranian saber-rattling needs to end. We have much more serious problems in the Arab world that require our attention and if Iran (and Russia) can work with us there, then we should maintain stable, if not cordial, relations with these regimes.

At the same time, let's keep it in the back of our minds that Iran is an Islamic theocracy and a major abuser of human rights.

Donald Trump last night tried to use the sailor incident as propaganda, describing it as "an indication of where the hell we're going," and he went on to decry the Iran nuclear deal.

Conservative radio host Sean Hannity favors tension and wants the US to posture toughness. He said that the Obama administration should have threatened to "bomb the living crap" out of Iran to secure release of the sailors.

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