Supplement to Secret Colloquy Blog!

A Supplement to Secret Colloquy Blog

Is the world about to breathe a sigh of Relief?

Will that sigh be the beginning of Peace & Safety?

“News reports about secret “back channel” talks between the US and Iran conducted for the past five years could mean that the world and the Middle East in particular, will eventually be able to breathe a sigh of enormous relief.

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May 5, 2008

I may be grasping at straws, but these reports of secret colloquy talks between America and Iran, have intrigued me since I first got wind of them. Why? Because they could suddenly come to light in a series of events that would produce “a sigh of enormous relief” in the Middle East that would ripple across the earth, and comprehensively fulfill the full linguistic intent of the false peace in I Thessalonians 5:3-6, described as a time when Israel believes it has “peace and safety.” It would also allow many of the world’s citizens to roll over and go back to sleep in a spiritual stupor, thinking the coming of the Lord is a far distant event.

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I Thessalonians 5:3-6 – For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.

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[4] But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. [5] Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. [6] Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.

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Begin UK Guardian Article

A spectre haunts the Middle East

By Petra Marquardt-Bigman

April 14, 2008

Let us hope that reports of secret talks between the US and Iran are true – a modicum of good news for a region living in deadly nuclear peril

News reports about secret “back channel” talks between the US and Iran conducted for the past five years could mean that the world and the Middle East in particular, will eventually be able to breathe a sigh of enormous relief. It is perhaps a good illustration of how desperately needed just any ray of hope is that Ha’aretz decided that a report on the grim threat assessment presented by Israel’s intelligence agencies a month ago should also include the comparatively optimistic outlook offered by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis in his meetings with Israeli politicians.

While the intelligence agencies painted a bleak picture for 2008, with Israel threatened by Iranian-sponsored attacks on all fronts, Lewis discovered a silver lining in the regional destabilisation: he argued that it was not only Israel that felt threatened by Iran, but also several Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states.

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Evidence that would seem to support the view proposed by Lewis is not hard

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to come by.

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According to a recent report, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told a senior European diplomat that developments in the Gaza Strip have “led to Egypt in practice having a border with Iran”; Mubarak also noted that the situation in Lebanon was comparable to that in Gaza, because “in both places, the problems and the crises stem from the growing influence of Iran.” The Egyptian president is clearly not the only Arab leader who objects to Syria’s meddling in Lebanon and its increasingly close ties with Iran: earlier reports about an initiative to pressure Syria to mend its ways were confirmed when it became clear that many of the Arab League leaders decided not to attend the summit in Damascus at the end of March.

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Caustic commentary about Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region is a further indication that it is not only Israel that is worried. Tariq Alhomayed, the editor-in-chief of the London-based pan-Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, didn’t mince his words in several pieces on this subject, even going so far as to state: “Today I say that Tehran is exporting Khomeini’s Islamic revolution to the Arab world with force – and the gateway for export is Arab Syria.”

The growing sense of threat caused by Iran’s hegemonic ambitions was also greatly intensified by recent events: in mid February, the assassination of Hezbollah’s terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus aroused fears of yet another war between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel, which, despite its protestations of innocence, was held responsible for Mughniyeh’s death by the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah. His calls for the “elimination” of Israel were eagerly echoed by several Iranian officials, and it is no secret that, with the help of Iran, Hezbollah has prepared itself very well for another round of fighting.

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Another alarming development occurred in early March, when the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, home to some 120,000 residents, came under attack by Iranian-made Grad missiles fired from Hamas-ruled Gaza.

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Ever since Hezbollah’s perceived “victory” in the war with Israel in summer 2006, Hamas has regarded the Lebanese militia as a role model, and, according to a recently released Israeli study, Hamas has indeed managed to build up an impressive military force of some 20,000 armed fighters with weapons, technical know-how and training supplied by Iran and Syria.

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These developments obviously only add to the already grave concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and it is a reflection of the seriousness of the situation that the Israeli intelligence assessment mentioned earlier describes 2008 as the “Year of Iran”. Commenting on this assessment, one Israeli analyst even argued that it was time to realise that Iran and Israel were already engaged in a war fought by Iran’s Lebanese and Palestinian allies and that, consequently, a “real solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict can only be reached by dealing with its primary instigator: Iran.”

The notion that Iran is resolved to prevent a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is arguably reinforced by Tehran’s apparent willingness to devote considerable resources to convince its allies in the region that their loyalty pays off: in addition to generously supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, reports indicate that “Iran has provided Syria with more than $1bn for arms purchases […] to buy surface-to-surface missiles, rockets, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft systems.” The quid pro quo was, supposedly, that Syria “undertook not to proceed with the peace process with Israel”.

The idea of anything resembling a “peace process” between Syria and Israel may seem far-fetched, but rumours about secret negotiations are actually a rather regular feature of Israeli news. Thus, it was reported only recently that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted … at the prospect of secret talks with Syria”, and according to a former official of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, it was “an open secret that Turkey was conveying messages between Damascus and Jerusalem.” The same retired official, Alon Liel, has long been advocating talks with Syria and was credited in a report published by Ha’aretz in January 2007 with a central role in a series of secret meetings held in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006 which led to the formulation of “understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria”.

While both Israeli and Arab politicians and analysts seem to be very skeptical about the chances for any such agreement any time soon, not even trying could hardly be regarded as a reasonable choice in a region as volatile as the Middle East.

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Indeed, the question as to whether Bernard Lewis was right to see a silver lining in the fact that Iran’s ambitions do not only threaten Israel’s security is almost irrelevant – given the enormous risks involved in developments that have been aptly described as the region’s “race to match Iran’s capabilities”.

Even if the Arab states are now only shopping for peaceful nuclear technology meant to be used for energy production, the concern that this may well turn out to be a recipe for nuclear war cannot be dismissed as alarmist given the many territorial, ethnic, and political disputes that continue to destabilise the Middle East. If secret talks between the US and Iran have indeed taken place over the past five years, one can only hope that they will soon yield results that are substantive enough to banish the spectre of a nuclear cloud over the Middle East.

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