Dialogue with the sponsors of terror
Dialogue is the first step towards peace and stability in any situation of conflict throughout history. Our region has been plagued by high levels of instability and insecurity with the rise of extremist groups that are waging a war against modernisation, progress and all forms of freedom. The two biggest powers in the Arabian Gulf region Saudi Arabia and Iran have had had a tense relationship throughout the past few decades following the Islamic revolution in Iran that openly aims at exporting the Welayat Al Faqih ideology to other countries.
For much of Muslim history, Sunnis and Shia have peacefully coexisted without there always being sharp awareness of the minor theological differences between them. Sunni-Shia tensions have throughout history been the result of competing Islamic empires such as the Ottomans and Safavids who exploited sectarian affiliations for political gain. The conflict is today represented between Sunni Saudi Arabia and GCC states and Shia Iran which wants to take the lead in the Muslim world, particularly through trying to dominate a number of Arab states which have been weakened by conflict.
The power struggle in recent years has led to many casualties and armed confrontation in Yemen where Iran supports the Houthis against the legitimate elected government supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia and other GCC states took a firm stance against Iranian meddling in Bahrain during 2011 where GCC troops were deployed to Bahrain to protect national interests against foreign intervention as per security agreements among GCC states. There have been tens of incidents before, during and after 2011 when Iran was found guilty of sponsoring terrorist groups in Bahrain and supporting Shia groups in coup attempts in Bahrain in 1981, the 1990s and 2011.
Today Iran is formally named by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism, as recently stated by US Defence Secretary James Mattis. Iran takes the lead in funding armed groups such as Hezbollah, and the coalition of armed Shia militias in Iraq named Al-Hashd al-Shaabi which is involved in sectarian cleansing; while interfering in the affairs of a sovereign Arab state, Iraq.
Despite the very troublesome foreign policy of Iran and the way it is depicted to the world, we may find that the majority of Iranians, both in exile and inside Iran, stand against the Islamic regime and its meddling in the affairs of other countries. Several recent polls have shown a sharp fall in the number of Iranians who support meddling in Syria.
The Islamic Republic is well aware of its growing domestic problems and the hatred its own people feel for the government and the Supreme leader in addition to their remorse for the revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979. However, the regime in Iran looks away from the issues it faces internally without paying any attention to human rights concerns, freedoms, social and economic stability while its spends billions in supporting Shia armed groups and pumping money into the revolutionary guard and the military.
The strategy of the Ayatollahs is clear; they will crush any attempts for change as they did in 2009 with the green movement and if Iran implodes from the inside then their revolution has been exported to countries like Lebanon where they created Hezbollah, Syria where they have full control of Bashar Al Assad’s falling dictatorship, Iraq where they control the government and military through Al Hashd Al Shaabi, Yemen where they attempt to take full control through the Houthi rebels, in addition to a few other failed attempts to destabilise and control Bahrain which is considered the gateway to the Gulf and Saudi specifically.
There are currently attempts by Oman and Kuwait to facilitate a dialogue between Iran and the GCC states following President Rouhani’s visit to the two countries. However Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir rejected talks with Iran in a statement reaffirming Iran as “the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,”. This leaves the region in a very unstable situation that could continue for decades to come. When President Rouhani was elected in 2013, neighbouring Arab countries found hope in a reformist face that would come and mend relations following years of the chaotic Presidency of Ahmadinejad who was formerly involved in taking US diplomats as hostages following the Islamic revolution.
The evil that lies in the Islamic republic of Iran and the hatred it has towards its Arab neighbours makes it very difficult to accept Iran as a constructive player in regional affairs. Promoting a culture of hatred towards neighbours is of great danger to the whole region, the GCC states have repeatedly attempted to turn a blind eye on Iran’s meddling and have maintained strong diplomatic ties in the past decades due to their belief in a strong partnership among Muslim nations and neighbours.
Although there is a growing despise towards the Islamic regime in Iran, many of us in the Arab Gulf countries respect the people of Iran who have been living in dire conditions under the Islamic republic and understand their concerns towards their regime that has turned one of the world’s oldest civilisations into a state sponsor of terrorism which promotes an ideology of hatred and sectarianism.
We hope that the Islamic regime in Iran understands the need to mend relations with Gulf countries by bringing an end to its meddling in our affairs and we certainly hope that one day we will be able to live in a region of peace where the Sunni-Shia struggle comes to an end and we unite as Muslim nations. Iranian officials stated that there should be a security cooperation with the GCC states to fight terrorism, extremism and violence. As strongly as we believe in the power of dialogue and the road to peace and stability, how can we trust and have a dialogue with a country that evidently sponsors terrorism in our countries?!