Iran And The Rest Of The World
HE conduct of government business, domestic or external by authorities in Teheran in recent years, has been one that has made it very difficult for watchers of the international scene to distinguish between Iran’s official intentions and exertions from the general perception of a trepid world. If anything, this perception stems from the prejudice against former Persia that holds sway over its politics in the international arena.
Once again with Iran, the world is staring down the barrel of another crisis in the frequently changing diplomatic circus. The international politics featuring Iran as its subject eliciting global reactions, is now fueling fears that are reinforced by intelligence reports, state actions and perceived or anticipated steps of the Islamic country.
And just when the world thought it had finally put behind it all the dark clouds that built up in the days, months and years preceding the nuclear armament deal, the same good old monkey at the back has popped up, though wearing a different colour this time. It is the kind occurrence that keeps remaining major global players and western powers to keep their retractable claws nearby, regardless that diplomacy seems to be winning any war with Iran.
The growing tension over the recent execution of Shiite cleric, Nimr Baqeer Ameen Al Nimr by Saudi Arabia is a case in point. Another is nearer home-the clash in the town of Zaria, Kaduna State between the Nigerian Army and the members of the Shiites movement, which claimed several lives ami9d the detention of Shiite cleric, Ibrahim El Zakzaky.
Latching onto both incidents, Iran now seems to be rocking the diplomatic boat in which it had been sailing precariously with Saudi Arabia. It has also now resorted to making subtle threats to Nigeria over the Zaria incident. Both Al Nimr (Saudi Arabian) and El Zakzaky (Nigerian) are not Iranians. The Iranian ‘spat’ over the issue can, therefore, be correctly interpreted as something that is against the diplomatic norm. But who cares? Does the west, which has taught pupils from Africa these norms, care when their national interest is at stake?
The conventions laying bare the conduct of nations in precept is something that does not nicely contain the kind of language and extreme reaction Iran is deploying on the issues, even if it feels that the Nigerian and the Saudi authorities have used extreme force.
Again, there is tension in the Gulf. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia exert political and religious influences on many states across the Arab and Africa. The United States, Saudi Arabia’s biggest backer in the West, has since responded to the brewing crisis by encouraging diplomatic engagement and calling for leaders in the region to take “affirmative steps” to reduce tensions.
Before the escalating row led to the severance of diplomatic ties with Iran by Saudi Arabia last Sunday, Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran earlier, while Shi’ite Iran’s big leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted “divine vengeance” for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, said to be an outspoken opponent of the ruling Al Saudi family.
But why should the execution of persons accused by a constituted authority of terrorist activities and the detention of another for breach of collective peace become the cup of tea of another country in faraway Persian Gulf?
Among other things, Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told news conference in Riyadh the other day that the kingdom was disgusted by alleged Iranian policies of destabilizing the region through creating “terrorist cells” in Saudi Arabia.
Africa has already caught the bug emanating from the severance wagon. Djibouti has now announced through its Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, that it has cut diplomatic ties with Iran, joining several Arab nations that have taken the same step largely in solidarity with Saudi Arabia.
Listening To Iran’s Many Voices
There are many voices of Iran bellowing through the myriad of controversies blooming in the country’s diplomatic garden. But the one voice that is called forth here is that which is meant for Nigeria.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Hoseyn Jaberi-Ansari, has been quoted by newswire services as saying: “We have used all those channels (diplomatic pressure) to warn them (Nigeria) regarding this issue (El Zakzaky). So, hopefully the government…would adopt wise action given the sensitive situation.”
According to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Jaberi-Ansari further said last Sunday that “Nigeria is now dealing with problems arising from extremism and Takfiri terrorism and we hope that in these conditions, preservation of calm and national unity in battling terrorism is prioritized, while rash and unconstructive measures are avoided.”
Listening to Iran’s voice now does not suggest much from utterances in Teheran in November last year, when President Muhammadu Buhari visited the country to participate in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, (GECF) Summit. The soundbites were also better, when he met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran And Nigeria, Water Under The Bridge
It is important to examine here the most recent face-offs between Nigeria and Iran and establish it as a pathway to the currently veiled ruffled diplomatic feathers. First, the perception (whether false or otherwise) has gained ground that Iran always has something to hide.
Iran would turn down requests on the bilateral level, if it feels strongly about any matter. In 2010 for instance, the conundrum surrounding the seizure of some arms in the Apapa Port of Lagos threw more questions than answers one full month after the Nigeria’s security apparatus, the diplomatic machinery, as well as researchers and theory constructors got busy on it.
Nigerian security agencies had said then that they discovered weapons, including rocket launchers and grenades in containers labeled as building materials in the Port, which was handled by a French-based shipping company CMA CGM. The company was then saying that one of its ships that picked up the containers from Bandar Abbas-a port in southern Iran was a victim of false cargo declaration!
A diplomatic row soon developed as the Department of Security Services (DSS), Nigerian secret service sought the interrogation of the Iranian national, who applied for a Nigerian visa in Teheran earlier that year, one Mr. Tah Masebi, who also happened to be a diplomat and has a dim chance of being arrested, considering the Vienna convention governing diplomatic practice. He, by happenstance, was linked with the Nigerian consignee of the arms. But the prime suspect, importer businessman, Mr. Alhjani Azini then took refuge at the Iranian Embassy in Abuja, just as the Nigerian consignee originally identified as Abbass Usman (also went by other names-Tukur Umar or Aliyu Jega) was held.
But without reference to a possible ruffling of diplomatic feathers at home, the Nigerian Permanent mission in New York promptly made an interim report on the seizure and inspection of the arms shipment from Iran, to the United Nations (UN) in compliance with nations’ obligations under (UN) Resolution 1929.
A twist to the saga, however, developed when the Iranian information machinery relaying from its Abuja embassy subsequently offered that the Iranian seized cargo belonged to a private company with legitimate sales permit and was destined for the Gambia…and with the Iranian Ambassador, Hussein Abdullahi then pouring cold water on the matter, averring that the “unfortunate” arms shipment saga was an issue between two friendly countries over which a mutual understanding precluded further comments. This matter led to the Gambia’s severance of diplomatic ties with Iran. But Teheran never budged on any of the counts raised by Nigeria.
The question then was: If the Iranian nationals (both the diplomat and businessman) are confirmed to be members of the al-Quds, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards that specializes in foreign operations on behalf of Iran, what steps should Nigeria take beyond reporting to the UN Security Council? This question, among the clues that dried up, was never answered.
When the former Iranian president, Mahmould Ahmadinejad visited Nigeria, one of the things he said was a reference to the UN Resolutions as “mere pieces of paper,” maintaining that Nigeria would save over $400 million, if it takes the bold step of using nuclear energy for power generation.
Who prefers a scattergun approach, when an essential honesty might be the first step to resolving many an issue? And wait: What is Shiite? Whence is its origin? Why is it in apparent relentless confrontation with the more moderate Sunnis? Why has it assumed the role of the global custodian of the fatwa? These would still need to be interrogated. Perhaps the insight gained would be more useful in the search for grater racial, interfaith and trans-national understanding.