Let’s focus on what brings us together, not what pulls us apart
It’s time for the Middle Eastern countries to move beyond their differences, writes Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Prior to the Iranian Revolution’s success in 1979, Iran was one of the few Muslim states that had good relations with Israel. In fact, the monarchy led by the deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi unfortunately contributed to paving the way for the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel. This was not easy for most Iranians, who saw the Palestinian cause as their cause.
So when the revolution toppled the old regime, among the first orders of business was to raise the Palestinian flag over the first Palestinian embassy. The revolution and its leaders always considered the Palestinian cause as their own. Therefore, and from the beginning, they did not bargain with this principle, even if it meant enduring pressure, sieges and wars. For the Islamic Republic of Iran, the pain, security and freedom of the Palestinian people and Arab countries is the pain, security and freedom of Iran.
Some have tried to turn the Arab world into a battlefield for settling scores and expanding interests. But the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the security and stability of the Middle East is a crucial part of Iran’s security and stability – especially the security and prosperity of its neighbouring Arab countries, which is a priority for all.
Iran has always advocated for laying the foundations of joint security agreements based on dialogue, shared values and confidence-building measures as a first step out of the dark tunnel that is wearing everyone down. Iran has repeatedly extended its hand to everyone in order to preserve neighbourly ties and shared security concerns and interests. This is our responsibility to our people and future generations. The minimal base that we have now could evaporate, and we should build on it to reach an end to this current situation, which has lasted for too long.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is recommending a re-engineering of the region in a way that aims to achieve the common interests of all of the countries in the region, regardless of differences and disputes.
The external forces that have impact in this region have always favoured war. They repeat cycles of war, and never give peace a chance. They backed Saddam Hussein’s regime in its invasion of Iran and Kuwait, and later launched a war to overthrow him. They supported al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and later launched campaigns to push them out. Then they supported various versions of the same groups in Syria, destroying the country and preparing to occupy it under the guise of fighting extremist groups. Israel waged wars on Lebanon, illegally occupies Palestine and repeatedly violates Syrian airspace. There is also the three-year-old war in Yemen, and massacres using Western weapons. With all the aforementioned and what’s to come, how has our region benefited, and how did all of this reflect on the world?
It can be said that the policies of the last half-century have brought the world to what can be described as a crisis. The world today seems like it’s facing a dead end. International relations have become impervious to their historical and scientific foundations. And this region is gradually becoming a place that lacks minimal security and is plagued by all kinds of ethnic, national, sectarian, religious and tribal conflicts.
Security has become a scarce commodity between peoples that share a lot and differ on very little in this vast, single home. Arabs, Turks, Kurds, Persians and other peoples of the region have a shared history and culture, similar vocabulary and nearly identical customs and traditions.
So why do we ignore our commonalities and instead allow the logic of confrontation to lead? It can only lead to more widows of war, more hatred and a renewal of the wars of pre-Islamic times. We don’t need a modern-day Dahis and Ghabra War (a pre-Islamic tribal war that lasted for decades, sparked by a horse race), nor a Basus War (another pre-Islamic tribal war that lasted for decades, sparked by the killing of a camel). If we don’t want to repeat our history, we must see eye to eye and agree to resolve our differences on the table, not on the battlefield.
We are not suggesting we ignore our differences and disputes, but that we don’t let them ruin our relations. The Islamic Republic of Iran is recommending a re-engineering of the region in a way that aims to achieve the common interests of all of the countries in the region, regardless of differences and disputes. In fact, those differences and disputes must be respected.
This re-engineering is based on containment, and it can prevent bigger parties from bullying the less-effective parties, allowing smaller states in the region to participate and have their interests safeguarded.
As for our Arab neighbours, with whom we share land or sea borders, our mutual security is based on common standards enshrined in United Nations charters, such as sovereignty, refraining from the threat or use of force, peaceful conflict resolution, respect for borders and territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs of other states, as well as the right to self-determination within each state.
Mutual security also requires serious measures to build confidence, such as notifications before starting military exercises, transparency in military procedures, reduction in military spending and reciprocal military visits.
We can begin by taking easier steps, such as encouraging tourism and investments between our countries, and joint projects for nuclear safety, fighting pollution and crisis management.
Once again, Iran extends its hand to its neighbours. This is not a manoeuver; it is a strategic choice. Iran truly believes that what brings us together is much greater than the differences that are based on uncertainty and fleeting interests that may not be a priority in the future. But if we wait, and if we don’t act to make peace with each other, the next generations may not have enough to look each other in the eye and say “enough is enough!”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.