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As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at

Can Iran become a gendarme from a bandit?

Published Monday, May 26, 2008

Madrid (El Pais) Of many heroic histories that fills the soul of a people as old as the Iranians, one, that of imam Hussein, is today relatively well-known in the West. Grandson of Mohammad the Prophet, imam Hussein died fighting in Kerbala, towards the year 680 of the Christian era. From the victors of that battle emerged the majority Sunni Islam and from the defeated, the followers of imam Hussein, the Shía Islam, which is the minority except in Iran and some Arab countries.

Now the question is how to turn to Iran into a stability factor into Near East The next president of the USA would have to return to “realpolitik” and to agree with Tehran

Less well-known in the West and much older among stories that are listened in Iranian homes is the one of Arash the Archer. In mythological times, previous to the writing and the monotheism, the people of Iran and Turan decided to finish a war for their respective border by means of a singular test. Arash, an Iranian warrior, would send an arrow in the direction of Turan, and where this arrow would fell would be the border between the two countries. Arash went up to the highest mountain of Iran, the Damavand, tightened his arc and sent his arrow. This one flew during hours and hours, travelling more than to 2,000 kilometers, granting to the Iranian people, the Persians, an immense territory. Consumed by his tremendous physical effort, Arash passed away immediately after the arrow touched soil.

In the summer of 2006, Israel invaded Lebanon for another time and failed against the resistance of Hezbollah. Commenting on the BBC, the veteran commentator John Simpson made a very intelligent observation about the Israeli fiasco, saying it reinforced the regional influence of Iran: "During the last 30 years, the West has been obsessed by the religious fundamentalism of the Islamic Republic of Iran, but it has forgotten that the revolution of Khomeini was also a declaration of independence from the British and American control”. Indeed, the Iranian nationalism - including the secular one, as incarnated by Mossadegh in the middle of last century, was present with Khomeini in 1979. Since then, two vectors, Islamism in Shi’a version and the Persian nationalism - imam Hussein and Arash the Archer- guides the international action of the regime of the Ayatollahs.

Less well-known in the West and much older among stories that are listened in Iranian homes is the one of Arash the Archer.

Has Iran Won?, the cover of The Economist of 2 of February was asking. The question came from the report of December 2007 of the North American secret services that assured the Iranian nuclear program is not a so imminent or so serious threat for the security of the world, as preaches the White House. Despite some differences from the conclusions of the American spies, the editorial of the British weekly magazine proclaimed that the wisest thing Washington can do is to agree with Tehran, without putting preconditions about te abandonment of the Iranian nuclear program.

It is a fact that clumsy, warmongering and highly ideologized policy of George W. Bush that has contributed to make Iran a strong power in the Middle East and Central Asia; the question now is how to turn Iran into a factor of stability in the most inflammable zone of the planet. And except for last cheerleaders of Bush, the specialists think that time is arriving for the United States to do with the Khomeinist Iran what Kissinger and Nixon did at the time with respect to Maoíst China: realpolitik; that is to say, to accept its existence and to negotiate a peaceful coexistence. This is what the former Israeli Foreign Affairs minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Martin van Creveld, a specialist in military affair, and also Israeli, have told El Pais. And this is also what says in plain language Marc Gasiorowski, the Director of International Studies of the University of the State of Louisiana and a good connoisseur of Iran.

In fact, Gasiorowski observes, this is what, by the end of 2006, came from the proposals of the Study Group of Iraq, directed by James Baker. The SIG stated that, without the aid of Iran and Syria, the USA will never be able to reach a solution in Iraq that can be presented as a triumph, and suggested that Washington initiated with Tehran a dialogue on all the litigious questions - Iraq, Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the nuclear program, the security in the (Persian) Gulf… -, offering to it a statute of respectable interlocutor. "The dialogue with the USA", said Baker, "is not a reward for good behavior, but a method to try to contain it".

It would have still be more evident after what happened in Beirut at the beginning of this month. In less than what one might think, the Hezbollah took control of the west of Beirut, corroborating that, as says the analyst Rami Khouri "not only it is the most powerful military and political faction of the country of the cedars, but a real state within a weak State". Immediately afterwards, Hezbollah made a demonstration of prudence when retreated back, resigned from taking the power and accept what culminated from the recent negotiations: its right to veto in the Lebanese affairs. Both things, the exhibition of boldness in their relative force and prudence at the time of the truth, are the landmarks of that Lebanese Sh’ií movement and their godfather, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The ascent of Iran is the fruit of an astute combination of a change of wind and of good luck. The collapse of the Soviet Union cleared the threat of Communism; the invasion of Afghanistan by the USA eliminated the discomfort of the Taleban in neighbouring Afghanistan, and the same USA overthrew their great rival, Saddam Hussein. The latest event has allowed Iran to tighten what Jordanian king Abdalah II calls "the Sh’ia Arc" (Iran-Iraq-Lebanon). The arrow of Arash flies again very far. For the Khomeinist regime the warm welcome that the Iraqi government gave Iranian President Ahmadinejad when he visited Baghdad in March was a revenge of history. Commenting that visit, Gilles Kepel remembered that Tehran is acting with remarkable caution in Iraq. It does not wish a total decomposition of that country, that could turn it’s Sunni community into a sanctuary of The Qaeda and also to push towards Iran hundreds of thousands of Sh’ia refugees. Also it was significant that Ahmadinejad was guest of the last summit of the (Persian) Gulf Council of Cooperation, an organ created in 1981 to counter the Khomeinist Iran. The message was clear: the Emirates of the Gulf want to be in good terms with Tehran.

Iran, says Olivier Roy, is "a key piece of the Middle East board and the only one that seems to have a coherent strategy, in that the short term considerations articulates into a long term vision"

With an Afghanistan where things are getting complicate and an Iraq where things do not go so well, a North American attack against Iran is not an option, if sometimes it was it. It would only serve to propagate still more the flames of the terror and the war. But between the bellicosity and the impotence, the future president of the USA has a third way: that of the dialogue that Bill Clinton explored when the Iranian president was the reformist Khatami. That said, the successor of Bush would have to forget messianic ideologies, to assume pragmatism and to accept that the freedom and the equality will arrive to Iran through an internal process.

Iran, says Olivier Roy, is "a key piece of the Middle East board and the only one that seems to have a coherent strategy, in that the short term considerations articulates into a long term vision". It is Longtime that Iran has abandoned exporting the Khomeinist revolution and what today it wants is that the world recognizes it the condition of regional power that it has reached de facto. For that end, says Roy, Iran uses tactical instruments like the anti-American, anti-Israeli and pan-islamist rhetoric, which allows it to keep connect with fundamentalist sectors and nationalistic Sunni Arabs (sees Hamás), and a great ability to fight battles the farest possible from its borders (from where its activism in Lebanon and Palestine and his low profile in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Can a country that in the last the three decades has been considered by Washington as the "bandit" to become the "gendarme" of the region? The diplomacy exists, indeed, to secure such miracles. Iran has 70 million inhabitants, great oil wealth, a solid state to the regional average, a capable diplomacy and influences among the Shi’as of Iraq and Lebanon as well as the Palestinian Sunni islamists. That it is able of realpolitik proves its marriage of convenience with secular and pan-arabist Syria of the Assad family.

Nationalism never has been extinguished among Iranians. They are Persian, no Arab; Aryans, no Semitic; they do not speak the language of the Coran, but Farsi, and not even its Islam, the Sh’i, is the same as of the majority of the Arabs. To confuse them with Bin Laden is a big mistake. But the noisy neocons have made forget that Iran cooperated with the USA in the Gulf War of 1991, in Afghanistan in 2002 to overthrow the Talebans and in the invasion of Iraq of 2003. And also that it is a fierce enemy of Bin Laden, of al-Qaeda and the international Sunni jihadism. Placed on the “Axis of Evil” in his uneven speech, Bush has ignored the explorable land. But if in relation to the Middle East his successor would have the surprising value and intelligence that Nixon had for Asia, he could be a pacificator. ENDS ELPAIS 26508

Editor’s note: Mr. Valenzuela is a political commentator and analyst with the leading and influential Spanish daily El Pais.

This analysis was published on 23 May 2008 the newspaper.

The translation from Spanish to English was assured by the Babelfish automatic translation devise and supervised and edited by IPS

Highlights are also by IPS



1 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Paolo Vizzini
Wednesday, May 28, 2008 07:14 [ 1 ]

Very nice article. I noticed that the author used the word 'Farsi" to describe 'Persian' language.

I recently read an article titled "Iranian Identity Under Fire: An Argument Against the Use of the Word ‘Farsi’ for the Persian Language" by an Iranian academic known as Shapour Suren-Pahlav (here is the link: which he argues that usage of Farsi instead of Persian is wrong. I wonder if his argue falls within the 'Iranian nationalism' that was mentioned in the article or he is really correct - what is the author opinion?


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As of January 2009, this site is definitely closed, but you can follow Safa Haeri on his new blog: DAMAVAND at

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