Page 1 of 2 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
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"
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
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
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