There were a number of important messages coming out of
Makkah last week after Saudi Arabia successfully hosted three important
summits: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Arab League, and Organization of
Islamic Cooperation. The first message was the almost unanimous condemnation of
Iran’s continuous meddling in regional affairs and its growing threat to the
stability of the region as a whole. Only Iraq objected to the Arab League’s
final communique, while Qatar expressed reservations over the Arab League and
GCC statements two days after the meetings had concluded.
The summits were held weeks after attacks took place on four oil tankers near the UAE port of Fujairah and oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. Iran-backed Houthi militia claimed responsibility for the latter, while the US pointed the finger at Tehran for the Fujairah incident. The two unprecedented attacks took place at the height of US-Iran tensions. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps top brass have repeatedly threatened to disrupt oil shipments passing through the Strait of Hormuz and to destabilize the Gulf region if war with the US breaks out.
Iran’s record of meddling in regional affairs is long and
grave. Evidence of its interference in the internal affairs of Bahrain, Iraq,
Syria, Lebanon and Yemen is piling up. While the Obama administration and the
international community negotiated a deal that would curtail Tehran’s nuclear
activities, they failed to put restraints on Iran’s growing role in regional
destabilization. Even those who would defend Tehran’s activities, and they are
in the minority, do so under pressure and for domestic objectives. While no one
wants to see a war breaking out in the critically important Gulf region, the
time has come to check Iran’s regional agenda. Calls for it to respect its
neighbors and behave like a normal country have fallen on deaf ears.
While the message from Makkah was loud and clear, Iran
continues to be defiant. There is no doubt that its isolation on the
international stage is growing. The outcome of its faceoff with the US is
unpredictable and the few backers it has are unable to reverse its belligerent
There is still time for the Iranian leaders to steer away from their cliffhanger politics. They can start by assuring their neighbors that they will end their interference in their domestic affairs. They can push their Houthi allies in Yemen to honor their commitments under the Stockholm agreement and previous declarations and resolutions. There is no alternative to a political settlement that would restore law and order to the war-torn country. They can send a message of reconciliation by ending their proxy’s launching of drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia.
Similar gestures can take place in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. But, for that to happen, the regime must change its behavior dramatically.
Meanwhile, regional countries must not lose sight of their
own independent approach toward Tehran. They should not bank on what appears to
be a dodgy US policy toward Iran. In the past few days, the US appeared to be
walking back on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s 12 demands that were declared
a year ago. They included, among others, ending support for the Houthis, ending
the development of ballistic missiles, respecting the sovereignty of the Iraqi
government, halting support for terror groups including Hezbollah and the Taliban,
and ending threats to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
But, on Sunday, Pompeo said the US, while calling on Iran to
behave like a “normal nation,” was willing to talk to its leaders without
preconditions. His about-face came a few days after President Donald Trump
toned down the rhetoric, saying he was not seeking regime change in Iran.
Pompeo seemed to respond to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who on Saturday
suggested Tehran may be willing to hold talks if the US showed it respect.
Also, while Arab and Muslim leaders meeting in Makkah were
unified in their defense of Palestinian rights and unwavering in their support
for an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem
as its capital, they should be careful in choosing their next step, especially
with regard to the US-sponsored Bahrain economic workshop. Again the message
from Washington is ambiguous about the prospects of the so-called “deal of the
century” aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On Monday, Pompeo was quoted by The Washington Post as
telling Jewish leaders in a behind-closed-doors meeting last week that “one
might argue” that the plan is “unexecutable” and it might not “gain traction.”
He further added: “It may be rejected, could be in the end. I get why people
think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love. I
understand the perception of that.”
Against such a backdrop, it is vital that the Arab and Muslim stand on the Palestinian issue remains ironclad and that the message from Makkah be the only one, both public and private, that US interlocutors ever hear.