The Failure of Confronting Iran Paves the Way for New Islamic Front


The elephant has gone into labor and brought forth a mouse. That's the most apt remark about the end-game in the international effort to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.

After three years of intensive diplomacy involving the highest-ranking policy-makers and "best minds" of the Western countries, the Iranian government has literally run rings around its adversaries. Tehran has repeatedly lied and misled its interlocutors, rejected good offers and broken its own promises.

And, at the end, the U.N. Security Council proposes to pass a resolution not only without teeth, but with scarcely any gums, either.

Oh, sure, there will be lots of articles, analyses, speeches and self-congratulatory explanations. But it can all be boiled down to a single sentence: The international effort has been pitiful, provoking laughter if the issue were not so serious.

It's not a satisfactory response to say that the proposed sanctions were watered down to win Russian support. Although diplomats don't think this way, perhaps a strong resolution should have been offered and Moscow told: Veto this, if you dare. Moreover, it is no secret that most of the Western states don't want to take strong action, and are relieved to use Russia as an excuse.

Even with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at his most extreme lately, the West won't really stand up to him. The U.N. resolution freezes the assets abroad of 10 companies, and calls on members to "exercise vigilance" in letting in 12 people who work on Iran's nuclear program.

Not surprisingly, Iran was not intimidated, and officials announced publicly that it would carry forward its nuclear project at full speed.

Have no illusions: This is a massive failure, and it would be better if people admitted it, expressed outrage, and figured out some way to do better in the time that remains before Iran gets nuclear weapons.

If I were to characterize the three most important events for the region in 2006, two of them would be obvious: the above-cited failure on Iran's nuclear program and the Israel-Hezbollah war. The third is one you haven't heard about yet. It was the Sixth Islamist-Arab nationalist conference held in Qatar from Dec. 22-24.

The main organizer was Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric who lives in Qatar, and is probably the No. 1 spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood today.

Qaradawi is far more important than Osama bin Laden, and certainly a better strategist. It was Qaradawi who insisted that Islamists participate in elections because he predicted they would win.

Qaradawi, too, is the man who incites and justifies terror attacks against the United States and Israel, while being hailed in many Western circles as a moderate.

Top figures in Hamas and Hezbollah also participated in the conference, whose goal was to unite Islamists and Arab nationalists in a united radical front. Up until now, it seemed that the Arab world's future would be determined by a struggle between Arab nationalist regimes, Islamist opposition movements and liberal reformers, with the third group far behind the other two.

Increasingly, however, there is an attempt to bridge the main gap by creating a National Islamist ideology. This kind of thinking is the basis of the HISH bloc (Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Hamas), and it is finding increasing favor among Arab intellectuals, and even the Arab left.

At the moment, Palestinian nationalists and Islamists are shooting at each other. But with a few moderate exceptions among the former group, they are close in their basic worldview and the rejection of a compromise peace with Israel.

The problems between them stem more from a desire for power and loot, rather than any distinction in goals or ideas. After all, the two groups keep talking about a national unity government as a solution.

The emergence of National Islamism also finesses the problem of how Iran can be a leading factor in the Arab world and create a united radical front. The year may well be seen by history as the moment when this new force emerged on the scene — and changed the direction of the region for the worse. 

Barry Rubin is director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center in Herzliya, Israel.


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