By Javad Heirannia

Identity plays central role in Persian Gulf states’ foreign policy: expert

July 25, 2020 - 13:44

TEHRAN - Polina Aniftou, a Ph.D. candidate of Iranian foreign policy, says the identity is the label affixed to this territory and has played a central role both in attempting to understand Persian Gulf states’ foreign policy and in the useful planning for national and international policies.

She adds “The problem of the identities does not give us any hope for peace because there is cultural-historical and ideological antagonism between the successful multi-ethnic entity of Iran, with solid entities that do not produce any culture and have no real vision for its people as the Arab states.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Iran believes that the security order in the Persian Gulf must be achieved by the coastal states themselves. Based on this, Iran has proposed plans such as the “Regional Dialogue Forum” and the “Hormuz Peace Initiative”. To what extent do you think these plans will be accepted by other countries in the region?

A: Iran through its history had always a pure and unique view about the region, its territory, its settlements, and the historical and regimental changes in the neighborhood. This is a result of Iran as a “product” state of the Persian Empire that left to Iran its heritage to know the map of Eurasia, Mesopotamia, and the Middle East (West Asia). Iran and its poets and historians described the populations of the region, their origins, and their traditions. For example, in our days Tajikistan and Turkmenistan receive historical details of their land and population by Shahnameh and Rumi’s poems. This situation cannot be anticipated by the Arab neighbors, that even from the religious perspective they have to study Iran as a culture, politics, neuropsychology, and references to Quran. Arabs after their decision not to follow Imam Ali, under the today challenge of Iran about the purity and authenticity of their religious existence, do feel competition with Iran from a security perspective. When I say security, I both mean realistically as states and ideologically as a massive population depended on its existence on Islam and Islamic laws as been interpreted not theologically but politically to serve interests as in the case of the House of Saud.

We need to understand that Arab states are not free to choose their foreign policy and protect their interests without first following the demands of the USA. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will continue to have their disagreements but cannot influence the Persian Gulf policies. Thus, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf receive the notions of the Iranian foreign policy first and transmit them to the Arab League and to the Arab world. The problem is that even those states do not have a unified and direct policy towards Iran, and they do not know how to deal with any proposals coming from Iran. Bahrain used to be a province of Iran, until March 1970 that the two countries signed a demarcation agreement when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi abandoned the claim as a result of secret Anglo-Iranian negotiations. Iran managed to stop the attack of Saddam in the 8-years war, and Iran had a clear strategy to face 1987, Saddam's decision to invade Kuwait in 1991, George H.W. Bush's decision to retaliate with Desert Storm and later not to assist the Iraqi intifada, and George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. All these indicate to Arab states that Iran has a vision in the region that cannot be accepted by the monarchies, as monarchies cannot allow a Shia and anti-monarchic, anti-system Iran to become a friend or a leading state that its ideology will influence their internal stability and religious limits.

From the other side Arabs still feel frightened about the declaration of Imam Khomeini for an Islamic Gulf, and the rationality of Islamic Revolution’s governance, though I strongly believe that the Arab monarchies cannot trust Iran in any way. You see, in the late 70s all Arabs and USA were expecting a Red communist Revolution, and suddenly Islam changed not only the governance but also the regime and the map of all the region. Arabs are aware that they cannot predict but also they cannot follow the developments inside Iran and its borders, and that creates a large unsafety.

Iran through Dr. Zarif had recalled Saudi Arabia to participating in a common peace plan. Furthermore, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on 25/9/2019, elaborated on a regional peace plan called the "Hormuz Peace" initiative or "Coalition of Hope", while explaining Iran's regional and international positions, promoting solidarity, mutual understanding and peaceful relations, cooperation between countries in the region, respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, combating terrorism and extremism and ensuring energy security, freedom of navigation and free flow of oil are among the goals of the Hormuz Peace initiative.

Iranian vision and plans for the region even through universities and academy have not been successful and this has to do both due to the relations with the USA, and to ideology. By the time that Iran decided to follow the anti-West path and not to be controlled by global lobbies and institutions on which the Arab monarchies are based, Iran’s suggestions will never be promoted. Of course, short time relations may occur but cannot change the whole geopolitical map that it is supported by the monarchies.

Q: According to Cantori and Spiegel's theory, in the Persian Gulf we see two classifications in the region, “core” and “periphery”. According to this theory, in the “core” of the Persian Gulf sub-system are the member countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, which are Arabic-speaking and Sunni, and “periphery” Iran, which is Shiite-majority and Persian-speaking. Based on this theory, which focuses on identity, the conflicts in the region do not seem to have an end (because the identity is constant). How do you think peace between these countries can be achieved despite the constant identities in the region? Are there any priorities that marginalize identity issues and achieve peace?

A: Persian Gulf is a pool for all the countries of its coasts and the global market, there is a regionalism and globalism in whatever has to do with the Persian Gulf. Each country of the coasts has its own national plans from the time that there is no pan-Arabism or pan-Gulf strategy from their part. It was last month in May- June 2020 when USA challenging Iran started calling the Persian Gulf as Arab Gulf, without the Arab states to follow it. Besides, the Persian Gulf is mentioned in the books of ancient Greek historians that they met Persians (Iranians) in this part of the world, giving the name of the Persian Gulf in order to guide their ships and maritime forces.

“Iran has a vision in the region that cannot be accepted by the monarchies.”Thus Cantori and Spiegel's theory does not really apply the fact that politics has to be territorially bounded and a sociocultural regional knowledge and regional geography are especially important in understanding today’s asymmetric conflicts and local clashes in the Persian Gulf. The history and the past political choices of the third parties and especially of the U.S. in the area have indicated to us that the status geographies, cultural features, and social networks are foundational to every effort for peace and the local and cultural norms and perspectives of every situation need to be examined before any action is taken. A good example of that is the war in Iraq in 2003 where the U.S. forces were engaged into actions next to the local psychology and they have underestimated the needs of the Iraqis and the power of united large groups that after the assassination of Hajj Soleimani in January 2020 demanded by a Parliament resolution the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and today call to have a close relation with Iran. The third countries and many Western scholars are involved and they try to understand Persian Gulf issues and they do see the Middle East without understanding its specific concepts that have to do with the population, culture and the historical past.

The history of Eurasia and especially the Greco-Persian conflicts and wars were the beginning of all philosophies that today are taught at the military academies, in seminars in the best universities in the USA; how is possible this region that gave birth to civilizations to act without taking into account the identity of its nations? The identity is the label affixed to this territory and has played a central role both in attempting to understand Persian Gulf states’ foreign policy and in the useful planning for national and international policies, and in our case the problem of the identities does not give us any hope for peace because there is cultural-historical and ideological antagonism between the successful multi-ethnic entity of Iran, with solid entities that do not produce any culture and have no real vision for its people as the Arab states. Thus Arabs are under pressure not by Iran, but by the globalism that this corner of the world has great resources, the global market is dependent on oil, the stock markets, the capital control. Arabs need to comply with the needs of the markets than with the needs of the people that demand not to rely on materialism and export a peace plan for Persian Gulf.

Q: In your opinion, what path should be taken to achieve a regional security order in the Persian Gulf in which all countries feel safe?

A: The regional security will be achieved only through three ways; i) building marketable relations jointly or unilateral, such as promoting transport between the population of the countries, exchange of professionals and students, joint projects; ii) non- abolishment of the identity of each country; and iii) Clear borders and resources ownership definition in land and in water. Thus as Persians and Greeks have named most of the places in the region, and every place has its own strategic interest for historic purposes the semantics and naming of places and the extent to which they are used as part of a wider process of cartographic propaganda and territorial socialization has never been a strategy of Iran. On the contrary, Iran has never doubted about its borders but had a great understanding how the complex system of states undergoes constant positioning and re-positioning in the re-ordering of the regional political map.

Q: Energy and energy transit route are the most important reasons for the importance of the Persian Gulf. Given the discovery of vast energy reserves in Eastern Mediterranean, do you think this will diminish the importance of energy in the Persian Gulf?

A: The energy reserves of Mediterranean are not easy to be used; the gas founded for example in Cyprus in order to be taken and transported to European markets will be very expensive, and environmentally not feasible. Also, the political issues between Greece and Turkey, Cyprus and Turkey, Israel with Syria and Lebanon, the mistrust of Egypt to EastMed and other energy projects do not add any hope that these projects will be achieved. In Cyprus and Greece, we had long analysis about EastMed, officials and academics believed that this project will provide the Greek world with self- sufficiency and will empower the Greek geostrategic positioning. Also, Israel that needs air and sea to run and train its forces used the project of EastMed that will carry the resources from Levant to the world, in order to approach Cyprus and Greece for commercial and defense alliances. In my opinion, the resources of Mediterranean Sea, it is difficult to be used in the near future. Also, the geopolitical map is changing day by day. Iran with its collaboration with Syria and Lebanon is also active in the Mediterranean Sea, Russia is also in the Mediterranean Sea, the European Union is weak and the USA does not really know the historical and strategic environment of eastern Mediterranean.

Q: The Eastern Mediterranean, on the other hand, has created blocs that we are witnessing in Libya. Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia support the Khalifa Haftar but Turkey backs the Libyan Government of National Accord. Will these blocs affect the relations of the countries bordering the Persian Gulf?

A: It is not clear which country is supporting Haftar; what is sure and should make us feel less unsecure is that Algeria does not react militarily. Algeria is the “motherland” for Arabs; it is the country that mainly helps Palestinians and today believes that whoever will be in charge of Libya the regimental structures of Gaddafi will continue. Gaddafi governed the country according to tribal territories and infrastructure expansions, and this will certainly continue. The Saudi- Iranian relations, the war in Syria, the Palestinians, Israel’s conflicts with Lebanon, the Arab Spring, the Saudi invasion of Yemen, the war in Iraq, the Iranian-USA nuclear arguments, the collapse of Gaddafi and the denial of al-Sisi to replace Gaddafi as the father of Arabs in Northern Africa put the region in flames that at the moment are controllable, leading to diversification of the crisis and the battlefields. The only country that can face Turkey in the MENA region is Egypt, and as long as al Sisi does not take the leadership in the Arab world in North Africa, Egypt will face internal issues as well.
The Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can influence in the terms of wealth in some lobbies, or to delay events. We need to understand that Arab states are not free to choose their foreign policy and protect their interests without first following the demands of the USA. Thus, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will continue to have their disagreements but cannot influence the Persian Gulf policies.

Q: Greece has also recently taken a serious interest in developments in Libya, and it seems that it will move to support Khalifa Haftar militarily. What are the reasons for Greece's serious involvement in the Libyan developments?

A: Recently Turkey and Sarraj in the Libyan capital of Tripoli made a memorandum and a new maritime map to split Greek maritime space and isolate Greek space, totally against the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, abusing international law.  According to this memorandum, many Greek islands will be within the so-called “Turkish maritime space”, or will be isolated from the Greek maritime space. The Greek Foreign Minister Mr. Dendias in the meeting with Mr. Haftar in Athens on the 27th of January 2020 was referring to this deal signed between Libya and Turkey to delineate a boundary between the two countries in the Mediterranean, giving Turkey and Libya access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean despite the objections of Greece, Egypt, and Cyprus.

Thus, Greece was involved by supporting Haftar for the following reasons: i) Turkish expansionism is threatening Greece and Cyprus to the fact that Turkey abuses international laws and status quo, in opposition to agreements signed already in early 1920s for the border disputes between Greece and Turkey, ii) Greece has been the main spot for immigrants and refugees to the European Union states and cannot accept any more immigrants by a war in Libya, that Turkey will lead the refugees to Crete and other Greek islands, iii) the oil and gas resources south of Crete, between Greece and Libya have tremendous value and of course Greece does not accept Turkey to use Libya and raise doubts about these resources, iv) Turkey is circling Greece from Aegean Sea, Balkans and now from Libya using the Islamophobia of Europe, that cannot differentiate Islam from Turkish geopolitical ambitions in the region, and v) Greece has many concerns about the Turkish forces that occupy illegally Cyprus since 1974, and needs to face a future demographic expansion that will alter the power of Greece and Cyprus.

In reality Greece cannot challenge Turkey that much in Libya mostly due to the lack of a clear strategic vision, and cannot be involved seriously into a military confrontation.

Q: What is your opinion about the position of Iran toward the issue Hagia Sophia, and how can this influence the relations with Orthodox Christians and Greece?

A: Hagia Sophia is the Saint Irene in Greek language, built-in Constantinople (the Greek name of today Istanbul) between 532 and 537 on the orders of Justinian I and it is the biggest Orthodox church in the world and a religious symbol of return to all Greeks and Orthodox Christians that have been forced to leave Asia Minor since 1453, later in 1922 and in the 1950s. There is a “non-stop” effort by Turkey to eliminate the ethnic and religious identity of Minor Asia and Black Sea from the Greeks, Kurds, and other populations. Of course, in Iran, there are churches, synagogues, mosques that co-exist peacefully and there is no effort to demolish religious temples and symbols. This is what Turkey has done in Minor Asia and in Cyprus all the years after wars. Cyprus’ northern part is occupied illegally since 1974, churches and cemeteries have been turned into stables for animals, parking places, icons destroyed and graves of our families have disappeared. Turkey due to the lack of genuine national identity and state identity is following a policy of de-territorialization and re-territorialization from ethnic cleansing to destroying monuments.

Iran needs to understand that Hagia Sophia is not an internal case for Turkey, as Karbala is not an internal case of Iraq and Mecca of Saudi Arabia. Hagia Sophia is a symbol of Orthodox Greeks, Russians, Arabs, Balkan people, Germans, and Africans that do consider Hagia Sophia as a resistance church against the oppression of the West and Ottomans. Iran should not praise Turkey for turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque seeing this case as an anti-West reaction. Orthodox Christians suffered from the West in the same way Shia did. Besides the temples, architecture, and the colors of Byzantine times and Shia mosques are relevant, the beliefs and the ideology very close, and even Narjes (Narkisia) the mother of Imam Mahdi was Christian from the Byzantine times, thus presumably Greek. Iran needs to be extremely careful as a disputed reaction and support of Turkey will be opposed by the Syrian Muslims and Christians that face Turkey in Idleb, by the Orthodox nations of Mediterranean and even by the biggest orthodox power, Russia. Mr. Erdogan will continue to challenge the status quo in Caucasus, Mediterranean, and in MENA that should not influence Iran’s principles and ideas.

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