Will Iran’s voices of reason be heard?
Several months have passed since the China-brokered resumption of diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran and the developments that followed, including the reopening of diplomatic missions, exchange of visits and meetings between the two countries’ officials. The last such visit was by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who took part in this month’s joint Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
At the diplomatic level, a positive atmosphere initially prevailed. However, though Saudi Arabia has fulfilled its pledges under the deal, it is clear that Iran continues to lag behind in terms of fulfilling its pledges, with the delusive media campaigns continuing unabated. The rational and moderate voices inside Iran remain faint and almost inaudible.
Seyed Hadi Borhani, a professor specializing in Palestinian studies at the University of Tehran, stands out as one of the scarce rational and level-headed voices within Iran. Despite the potential opposition to his views from certain quarters, his profound understanding of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the broader regional context allows him to present perspectives seldom encountered in the Iranian political sphere.
In his latest articles, Borhani has said that the steps taken by his country’s government, including the improvement in relations with the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, are good but insufficient. He has stated that the improvement in relations has requirements, warning that overlooking them could hinder the desired progress, or they could even collapse again. Among these requirements is a need to focus on the root causes of the problems between Iran and the Arab countries.
Borhani called on Saudi Arabia and Iran to enter into a genuine, serious, transparent and responsible dialogue
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Borhani also argued that the way the Palestinian issue is addressed is one of the sources of contention between the two sides, acknowledging that the picture painted of the dealings between Arabs and Israel is distorted. The Arab governments in general are described as puppets to foreign powers, traitorous, Zionist or of Jewish origins; or, at best, inefficient and lacking the required fervor for defending the community. He believes that this picture was painted in Iran due to several factors, foremost of which is the enmity to Arabs, ultranationalism and Israeli propaganda.
I admit that this pessimistic outlook on the Arab nations pays no heed to the Arab-Israeli dispute and the associated historical facts — or at least a twist of the established narratives. The fact is, however, that the parties that have stood up to Israel and paid the price from the outset, and continue to pay it, are the Arab nations.
In one article, Borhani pointed to the role nationalist ideologies play in preventing the improvement of relations. He said that there is some sort of ultranationalism in Iran, which harbors deep animosity toward Arabs and antagonizes Saudi Arabia in particular. According to this nationalist vision, the Arab and Iranian ethnicities are diametrically, substantially different. From this point of view, the history of the two nations represents a face-off between good and evil. Therefore, the Iranians are correct in all the disputes and differences that arise between the two sides.
Given his specialization in Palestinian studies, Borhani wrote a lengthy article enumerating the commendable positions taken by the late King Faisal toward the Palestinian cause. He said: “Based on the documents that I have seen and read; I rule out that there’s another official throughout history that had focused in his talks with the foreign partners on the Palestinian cause like King Faisal.” He spoke of the late king’s popularity and the love afforded to him by most of the Muslim nations — but he excluded Iran. He also acknowledged that King Faisal’s role and standing are being deliberately ignored, with the facts about the king’s role, positions and contributions being kept from the Iranians.
The Iranian professor also believes that Iran’s biggest impediment to recognizing the true extent of King Faisal’s standing in the struggle against Israel are the preconceived perceptions and stereotypes related to Saudi Arabia and its royal family. According to the viewpoint instilled in the minds of many Iranians, a Saudi king, who belongs to the House of Saud, is a friend of America and cannot obtain the mantle of a defender of the Palestinian cause.
The latest Israeli aggression against Gaza has revealed what the Iranian media has been concealing
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Borhani is one of the figures that called, even before the Beijing-brokered deal, on Iran and Saudi Arabia to respect each other’s interests in the region. He called on the two nations to seek a win-win situation. Borhani reiterated that Saudi Arabia cannot expel Iran from the region. In the same way, Tehran cannot impose its dictates on Riyadh. So, he called on the two nations to enter into a genuine, serious, transparent and responsible dialogue to resolve the region’s crises, including the war in Yemen.
Regarding the recent discussions about the potential normalization of relations between the Kingdom and Israel, he believes that Saudi Arabia’s commitment to this option is due to Riyadh’s uncertainty that the agreements with Tehran will be honored. Borhani stated that Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with Iran will increase its certainty that the agreements will be observed and enhance its confidence in the future of Saudi-Iran relations, thus encouraging it to move away from Israel. He asserted that Iran needs to create the groundwork for achieving this through constructive dialogue with Saudi officials. The academic also noted that Tehran should consider the factors causing problems in the relations between the two sides and change its approach to Saudi Arabia.
When close watchers of the Iranian media see these fair and rational positions, which are rarely seen in the domestic political landscape, they become hopeful there will be a better future for the relations between Riyadh and Tehran if such a view is widely adopted in Iran. However, what is noticed on the ground is a far cry from this view.
The latest Israeli aggression against Gaza has revealed what the Iranian media has been concealing over the past few months. These events have served as a pretext for the media outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, such as Vatan-e Emrooz, to resume their attacks on Arab and Islamic countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, heaping accusations on it.
Moreover, there have been attacks on Saudi Arabia by officials. Mahmoud Abbaszadeh Meshkini, a member of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee and a Foreign Ministry political affairs director under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, submitted a request to the parliament’s presidential body to interrogate the foreign minister. The pretext was that the ministry had displayed complacency when dealing with Saudi Arabia and meeting its demands. Though it is unlikely that the request will be approved for the time being for several reasons, it indicates that the voices of reason inside Iran have a long road ahead.
To ensure the success of the Saudi-Iran agreement, despite all the doubts surrounding it, there is a need to adhere to it, especially at the media level, and to cease the revolutionary rhetoric that targets the Kingdom, as was the situation during the first three months after the signing of the agreement.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is the founder and president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). X: @mohalsulami