Wednesday, September 02, 2009
An article by the Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salam bin-Hamad al Khalifa, in the Washington Post in July has sparked a low-key row between Iran and its nearest Gulf neighbour.
In his article of the 26th of July, the Crown Prince adopted a conciliatory tone towards Israel, advocating “reaching out to the Israeli people” as a means of bypassing the current deadlock over Palestine.
It is unclear what the Crown Prince himself meant by “reaching out”, but according to a Guardian article of August 26th it appears that the USA, and possibly some Western European states, have done so by linking the two contentious issues of Iran’s nuclear disarmament and Israel’s steady encroachment into the West Bank. Over the last two weeks, Netanyahu has courted Western Europe with personal visits to the UK and Germany, and has implemented a form of de facto settlement freeze by refusing to approve new building permit applications in settlement areas. There is even talk of progress within the consistently fractious Israeli political establishment of a more formal year-long moratorium on settlements, in preparation for resuming direct talks with Palestinians.
The concessions given to Israel in return for such co-operation, however, may be harsh for Iran. A Telegraph article of August 25th, for example, suggests the possibility of a petroleum embargo, which would be devastating to a country which relies on up to 40% imported petroleum to keep its economy even in its current state.
It is no wonder that Iran is purportedly nervous. Israel has never been known to give away something for nothing, and the Iranian government must be wondering just what has been promised by western leaders to Netanyahu to extract even the current limited concessions. It is possible, though conjectural, that the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s offering in the Washington Post may have been seen by some Western foreign policy decision-makers as an Arab mandate to use the Iranian nuclear issue as a means of bargaining in the Middle East peace process.