x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Gulf states would benefit from US-Iran detente

Arabian Peninsula countries would gain more than they lose from US-Iran reconciliation, an Arab columnist argues. Other topics today: conspiracy theories, and nuclear accidents.

Reconciliation between Iran and the US is hard to believe in, but would be good for the Gulf

The 15-minute phone conversation between Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani seems to have turned the Middle East upside down, Saudi writer Abdullah Nasser Al Oteibi noted in yesterday’s edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat.

Analysts have been churning out commentaries about the September 27 talk between the US and Iranian presidents, but these read too much into the event, he wrote.

“A simple ‘Have a nice day!’, with a ‘Khodahafez!’ in return, sent political analysts in the Middle East reaching for their tablets and drafting hundreds of articles, offering a whole range of opinions about the implications of that short phone call,” the columnist wrote.

“But, was it really worth all that fuss? Are we witnessing some significant shift in relations between ‘the Great Satan’ and a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’? Or is the whole thing rather part of diplomatic routine, forced by the context of the UN General Assembly meetings?”

Many are rightly asking: Why do the Arabs, and particularly the Arabian Peninsula states, fear a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran? Why do they assume that reconciliation between the two would necessarily have a negative effect on the region’s Sunni countries?

“In my view, if real reconciliation were to happen between the two nations – which is a very far-fetched prospect at this time – the gains for the Arab states of the Gulf would outweigh, by far, the losses,” the columnist wrote.

“Joining the American club would not only soften Iran’s foreign forays and push it to abide by the codes of ‘moderate states’, but it would also banish the idea of ‘the Great Satan’ from the Iranian people’s collective imagination. This would leave the country’s ruling religious elite without the ghoulish enemy it has long utilised to justify its own very presence.”

Such reconciliation, however, is very unlikely to materialise – in the next few years, at least – given the tangle of issues that underlies Iran-US relations, he argued.

“One cannot just casually straighten out that skein of issues that pit the two countries against each other on the Middle East front … based on a sudden expression of good intentions on both sides,” he said.

“Plus, it would be hard for the American nation to accept Iran as a new ally after thousands of media campaigns at home, and hundreds of anti-Iran movies that Hollywood has produced over the past 30 years.”

While it would be reasonably easy for the Iranian people, who are secular in their majority, to change course and steer closer to the American way, it would be extremely difficult for the American people, “who bathe in democracy and secularism, to show acceptance of, or have confidence in, a radical theocracy,” the writer argued.

West is not plotting to splinter Arab world

As the Arab Spring drags on, and the threat of division looms over some of its nations, conspiracy theorists are making a strong comeback in the Arab world, Mauritanian scholar Dr Sayed Ould Bah wrote in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

Many of these theorists are peddling the unfounded claim that the West has conspired all along to create conditions for the region to split into smaller states as these would be much easier to dominate, he wrote.

The Syrian “suit-and-tie opposition” is split over what name the future Syria should carry. One camp wants to keep the “Arab” qualifier – “the Syrian Arab Republic” – while another camp wants that word to disappear from the name, in recognition of the various non-Arab components of the Syrian nation, the writer also noted.

In Libya, the word “Arab” has been dropped from what was strangely known, under Muammar Qaddafi, as “the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”. Now it is just “Libya”, he noted.

Some might argue that the way the Arab Spring is turning out does seem to support the thought processes of conspiracy theorists, the author said.

But one must remember that, if anything, the eruption of the Arab Spring has laid bare the “strategic anticipation limitations” of the United States and Europe, he noted.

Reactors safety always a cause for concern

Now that we know Britain escaped a nuclear disaster last year, we must ask just how many such calamities are miraculously dodged every year and never reported, while millions of potential victims go about their lives unawares, columnist Mazen Hammad wrote in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan, under the headline On a knife’s edge.

On Sunday the British newspaper The Independent reported that a major nuclear incident was narrowly averted at a Royal Navy dockyard in July of last year, he noted. Primary and backup power sources for coolant supply for reactors failed due to “unidentified defects”. Engineers had previously warned that something like this could happen.

“Experts were quick to liken that potential disaster in Britain to Fukushima’s nuclear meltdown in 2011 in Japan … which in itself calls to mind the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1986, when contamination was carried by the wind to much of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe,” Hammad wrote.

More importantly now, one wonders how many more nuclear disasters are still waiting to happen, given that the planet’s oceans are filled with submarines carrying nuclear warheads, not to speak about the hundreds of reactors that pepper the surface of the Earth.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi