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Egypt's options over US-Iran rapprochement

January 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

I have warned over the years that US-Iran rapprochement will end all the current political considerations based on conflict between Washington and Tehran, and I called for Arab-Iranian talks before the Arabs were forced to do so, after Washington used Arab hostility towards Iran to push for this reconciliation. In 2010, I published a book, “The Challenges of the Arab-Iranian Dialogue”, despite the Arab countries’ differences in opinion. Moreover, before the initial agreement with Iran was signed last month, I pointed out Egypt’s position on the new map of regional policies which is based on one of the most important strategic variables; the shift in Egypt’s importance and political weight in the new American strategy.

Which way should Egypt go in light of the new roadmap for the region, which sees Tel Aviv and Cairo agreeing on the latter’s political direction? It is no longer able to harm or benefit anyone and US military aid has been cut because additional political quid pro quo is no longer needed; Israel is already benefiting from the coup developments.

Egypt now has a number of options if it is to overcome its internal conflict. The first is to cooperate with Saudi Arabia and Israel to hinder the US-Iran agreement, especially since it has been claimed repeatedly that Saudi Arabia possesses nuclear weapons, something neither confirmed nor denied by Riyadh. Egypt is being encouraged to do this by the Saudi government and Tel Aviv despite the great risks is poses to Israel and the huge economic burden it puts on the Egyptian economy.

The second option is an Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement, which benefits both countries, even though this option will lead to a rift in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, which Egypt cannot bear financially and economically at the moment.

A third option is for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to lead a comprehensive Arab movement towards participating in redrawing the map in order for the Arabs to control regional activities, especially since five major portfolios look set to be rearranged: the Lebanese file and Hezbollah’s position therein; the Palestinian file; the Gulf security file; and the file regarding the Shia in Bahrain, Iraq, etc. Although the Sunni-Shia conflict was one of the political and diplomatic pillars in some Arab countries used to counter Iran’s power, the new map will lead to a lowering of the intensity of the sectarian issue based on mutual understandings.

It is worth noting that it seems as if Washington is thinking of undermining Iran’s power by this reconciliation after its confrontational policy failed. This is also what Washington is trying to convince Israel to do because Tel Aviv will benefit from doing so. This indicates America’s keenness on promoting Israeli interests and its dedication to serving Israel despite the different approaches adopted over Iran, the cause of the current political crisis between the two allies.

The US-Iran deal benefits Israel because Iran will be weakened from the inside by the neutralisation of its nuclear capabilities, which were a nightmare for Israel. Syria’s chemical weapons have already gone, of course, while Israel still has full US support for its policies in Palestine and the way it is running its military occupation, protecting, it is believed, US interests.

It is unlikely that Egypt will be allowed to hinder the rapprochement in any meaningful way, if Washington’s protection of its own interests is anything to go by. An alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel on the issue would harm Egypt by making it appear to be fighting Israel’s battle; Egypt, remember, does not have a problem with Iran. Moreover, it would also be fighting Saudi Arabia’s battle; Riyadh feels that the American-Iranian rapprochement limits its own role, even within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and gives the task of securing the Gulf to Iran and Israel.

As such, the only option Egypt has is to figure out how to cooperate with Saudi Arabia and talk with Iran because this will create a good atmosphere for both sides, rather than the peace with Iran that Washington wants to force on the Arabs without them having a say in it or any interests in the outcome. If we find this assumption regarding Gulf security shocking then an even greater shock would be if the Arab world was treated as if it were an outsider looking in to its own region while an Iranian-Turkish-Israel alliance is formed in order to contain the Kurdish crisis that is causing huge problems in relations with Israel on one hand, and between Turkey and Iran on the other.

I had hoped that Egypt would establish an Egypt-Iran-Turkey axis, and I urged the Egyptian government to cooperate with Turkey to contain the side effects of Ankara’s position on the coup crisis. I had also hoped that the Egyptian government, especially the Foreign Ministry, wouldn’t give in to the local media so that an extraordinary crisis does not lead to the abandonment of the strategic gains that the country should pursue.

The author is a former Egyptian ambassador and a professor of international law at the American University in Cairo.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.