By Zaher Mahruqi
Oman has stood her ground in pursuing a non-interference policy for quite some time. Since the invasion of Iraq until the Arab uprisings started leading to the bloody civil war of Syria the Sultanate has officially remained neutral but Iran’s behaviour is increasingly pressuring Oman to assume a clear stance and that eventually means choosing sides.
All the way until the Syrian uprising and the start of the civil war, Iran was regarded as the only Muslim power standing up to Israel. Its support for Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas were considered as praiseworthy and brave undertaking. The Syrian and Iraq wars among others however have entirely transformed that view. Iran’s support for the Syrian government and Shia militias in Iraq has exposed its darker side. Even its support for the struggle against Israel is in hind sight being viewed as one that was of sectarian in nature and of self-interest in essense.
The unrelenting support of Asad’s killing machine has exposed Iran’s true stance towards non-Shia Muslims. Just as much as Bashar al-Asad’s brutality clarified Iran’s violent nature, Iran has made the once Muslim’s Hero, Hezbollah, turn into a villain. Hezbollah is now widely seen as Hezbo-al-Shaitan and Hassan Nasrallah is dubbed Hassan Nasru-Al-Shaitan. Asad’s and Hezbollah’s crimes against non-Shias are now inseparable to those of Iran. Incidents such as the recent bombing that killed two police officers in Bahrain which many believe is the work of Iran’s intelligence doesn’t help either.
Iran is a strong nation that is in a self-destruction mode and as such it is laying on very fragile foundation for the following reasons. Apart from an image that came all the way from hero to criminal, Iran risks losing the only remaining genuinely friendly GCC country because it is an ideological orphan that chose to defy too many countries with shared ideology that now perceive Iran as an existential threat.
Iran is not only facing the GCC but all those nations that support the coalition against Yemeni’s Hoothis because their entry into the coalition underlies their stance on Iran. That union is not limited to Arab countries but almost all Muslim nations which would choose Saudi Arabia’s side whenever called upon. The past five years that have turned Iran into a villain have done the opposite for Saudi Arabia. Once perceived as letting Muslims down, the Kingdom is now seen as the defender of Arabs and Muslims against Iran’s expansionary ambitions.
Due to its proximity with Iran, there is much at stake for Oman if its relationships with the Persian nation go sour but if Iran insists on its present course it would eventually force Oman to choose and the side of Iran won’t be likely. There are good reasons why Oman is in the GCC. Not least is the ideological closeness to the GCC in addition to language, values and culture. Contrary to what is being dealt in the media especially the internet that Oman is closer ideologically to Iran – Ibadhis are more similar to Shias than Sunnis – than it is to Sunni-dominated countries, Ibadhi’s are far closer to Sunnis and the differences are skin-deep at worst. There is a small group of Sunnis who disseminate such discourse and Iran does an excellent job of amplifying it.
What Oman is to Iran is essentially a rescue boat that Iran has to jump into and use it to pursue a more conciliatory path with the GCC, Arabs and Muslims in general.
The relationships between Iran on one hand and the US and EU on the other are seemingly warming-up but for it to become a reality Iran would have to abandon its revolutionary mentality and that effectively means getting rid of the Ayatollah’s. In fact, that maybe the path the West is baiting Iran towards for the sake of Israel. Religious leaders of Iran who are its navigation would fight such a scenario to the death and Rouhani is perhaps as liberal as they are willing to permit.
In this case, never mind the nuclear deal which is born dead and the accompanied photo opportunities, Iran is not only in a faceoff with all the Arabs and essentially all the Muslims but the West and another suicidal state which is Israel as well; not to mention ISIS which wishes to wipe out Iran from earth with the same zeal Iran wants to wipe out Israel. Present allies’ much less neutral countries would risk their own relationships with the world, their national interests and peace for the sake of Iran as it has been imprudently doing for the sake of Bashar al-Asad.
No one wants to embark upon a sinking boat. Believe it or not; Saddam had friends, Bashar also had friends and Gaddafi had even more friends but the links became far more invisible when their doom was near. Iran has weapons and is technologically arguably ahead of many in the Muslim world but sheer mass of opponents makes it a losing war for it and as such one would expect that it would use the few remaining friends to secure an eventual peaceful conclusion.
Iran’s policy of progressive antagonize of its neighbours whilst maintaining affability whose main aim is to distance Oman from the GCC, Iran ought to use the Sultanate’s unique position to attempt to mend its image and avoid having to repair real wounds of the future whence neutrality alter.