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    Middle East
     Nov 27, 2007
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Iran: The uninvited guest at peace summit
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Tuesday's Arab-Israeli peace summit in Annapolis, Maryland, is supposed to be about resolving long-standing Palestinian issues, the Golan Heights, and other contentious matters. But, increasingly, it is framed in the United States and Israeli media as a dual-purpose conference, the other being the containment of Iran.

Thus, an editorial in the Jerusalem Post writes that "the process that Annapolis seeks to launch will be inherently conditional on Western success against the Iranian challenge ... The idea that holding an Arab-Israeli peace summit would be a setback for Iran is a valid one." The more liberal Ha'aretz went even further by 

stating the goal of the Annapolis conference to be the formation of a "global coalition against Iran".

Similarly, in the US a number of pundits have painted Annapolis as a "means of sorts of cementing a coalition against Iran and its allies", to paraphrase Tamar Cofman Wittes of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. According to Cofman and a host of media pundits paraded on American television news programs, Annapolis is President George W Bush's wakeup call to the world on the "Iran threat".

It comes as little surprise, then, that the US military in Iraq has quickly pinned on "Iran-backed militias" the responsibility for the recent explosion at Baghdad's pet market which killed more than a dozen people - call it pre-Annapolis fuel for "blaming Iran".

Interestingly, a powerful Iraqi politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, has questioned the US's accusations against Iran, asking the US to "offer more proof" of Iran's alleged role in inciting violence in Iraq. That is a fair request, particularly since both the US and Iran are now poised to hold their fourth round of direct, bilateral talks on Iraqi security. And, per the US military's own admission, there has been a substantial reduction of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, suggesting a more cooperative role on Iran's part.

Lest we forget, the Iraq Study Group report closely linked the fate of Iraq with the Arab-Israeli peace process and, in hindsight, a fruitless conference in Annapolis, that is, one that would be exploited by the US and Israel to deflect attention from the core issues by focusing on Iran, will likely have negative ramifications for Iraq's security. That is, it will embolden the anti-US forces that are in the retreat mode as a result of the US's "surge" policy.

In other words, a new surge in anti-US activities can be expected if the Annapolis summit fails to produce any tangible results - as predicted by Iran's leaders as well as the leaders of the so-called "rejectionist camp", including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine, but not so Syria, which has opted for a high-level presence at Annapolis at the last minute.

According to the Jerusalem Post, "The more the US focuses on its unfolding confrontation with Iran, the more it is argued that weaning Syria away from the axis with Iran can be a very effective tool in waging that confrontation." Syria has leveraged its spoiler role for Annapolis' inclusion of the Golan Heights on its agenda. This in turn has prompted some Israeli politicians to consider prioritizing the "Syria track" over the "Palestine track" at the summit.

But, Israel and the US do not call all the shots at the conference and Syria in particular, which has participated in a number of summits and conferences in the past in pursuit of regaining its territories in Israel's hands, can increase the diplomatic pressure on Israel in Annapolis. And so can other states of the Arab League, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that have made clear their unwillingness to go along with the Bush administration's division of the Middle East into "moderate" versus "radical" camps.

The big question, then, is to what extent the Arab participants at Annapolis will be successful in repelling the US-Israeli map of action against "Iran-led extremism", which has a clear nuclear dimension, aimed at taking advantage of the Arab world's fears of an Iranian bomb? Another question is what kind of concessions does Israel have to make on the Arab front to make gains at the Iran front? Will Israel go as far as appeasing Syria, to wrest Damascus away from Tehran at his critical juncture in the Iran nuclear crisis?

Already counting on Syria's participation as a mini-victory against Iran, Israel and the US are simultaneously aware of the possibility for a similar mini-victory for Iran in the event the conference does not yield any tangible results, and thus confirm Iran's loud predictions of its failure. Intent on depriving Iran of that opportunity, the US and Israel will need more than a compliant media to sell the image of a successful conference; substantive progress on the Arab-Israeli plate must be demonstrated, otherwise the net result will be a publicity success for Iran and Hamas.

Iran's calculations and counter-measures
According to a Tehran University political science professor, the reason Tehran is highly skeptical about the results of the Annapolis conference is that "all the principal participants are weak. You have a lame-duck president in the White House who completely forgot the Palestinian issue for seven years, a weak Israeli prime minister [Ehud Olmert] and an even weaker Palestinian leader [President Mahmoud Abbas], who does not lead more than a minority of Palestinians. How is a durable breakthrough possible under these conditions when the principal participants are not powerful enough to make the necessary concessions? Can Olmert stop the illegal settlements or order their removal from the Palestinian lands? The answer is no."

Such sentiments can be found aplenty in Iran, prompting President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to echo the sentiment of Hamas leaders, who are highly critical of those Arab leaders participating at Annapolis, by stating: "Attending the conference shows a lack of political intelligence. The name of those who give concessions to the Zionist occupiers by attending will not be remembered for goodness."

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, on the other hand, has stated, "The end result of all these conferences leads to a further erosion of Palestinian rights." Mottaki has been touring the Gulf Cooperation Council states and has been delighted that Sultan Qabus of Oman in particular has praised the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear program as "successful" and has supported Iran's nuclear rights.

As with Ahmadinejad's participation in last week's Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries summit in Saudi Arabia, the purpose of Mottaki's diplomatic tour of the region is to provide a counter-reference to the efforts of the US and its European allies to depict Iran negatively, that is, as a nuclear weapons proliferator 

Continued 1 2

A warning shot for Iran, via Syria
Nov 21

US tripped up over Iranian captives
Nov 20



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