Global Leaders Must Show Solidarity and Firm Action Against the Iranian Threat
Speech of Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Founding Chairman, Al Habtoor Group
At the 27th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference
What Paths Forward For America In And With The Arab Region?
Wednesday, 31 October 2018
Organised by the National Council on US-Arab Relations
At the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
The National Council on US-Arab Relations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
My condolences to the American people on the loss of the victims in the attacks on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. May God bless their souls!
It is a pleasure to be in Washington DC again among you. I appreciate the opportunity to exchange views and gain fresh perspectives in this great city.
This is the place where decisions are made impacting not only the United States of America but also the entire world.
We live in a time of great political and economic uncertainty. The future can no longer be predicted. Fundamental principles and values that have existed since the end of the Second World War are being overturned. Old alliances are being weakened. We are in unchartered waters. Frankly, I am worried!
‘America First’ is a slogan that inspires patriotism. Every nation has to put the interests of its people first. That is normal. However, actions taken by this administration under that slogan are alienating America’s friends.
No country is an island by itself. We share one planet. We are all responsible for finding solutions to common threats. We need to be partners in the decision-making.
We must mend broken countries in the Middle East and Africa so that refugees and economic migrants can go home to find safety and opportunity. Doing so will end the fears of people in host countries, among them Americans, who feel swamped by foreign immigrants.
Working together we can create a better world for all, trying to address important issues! Sadly, that is not happening! It is every country for itself.
I travelled from my country, the United Arab Emirates, on my way to Washington DC almost 15 days ago when the news was completely consumed by the disappearance of Saudi national Jamal Khashoggi.
I was shocked that even while the Saudi citizen’s disappearance was still under investigation, the international media, analysts and Washington lawmakers acted as prosecutor, judge and jury. Fingers were being pointed at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The CEOs of major international companies pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Investment Conference based purely on unproven allegations. It was a big mistake. They were the losers. ‘Davos in the Desert’ was well attended. Those who turned their backs to Saudi gifted their opportunities to Russia, China and Europe.
The truth about Khashoggi’s murder is out. The criminals will be tried and will receive fitting punishment. I am astonished that American lawmakers and media still call upon the United States to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia willing to damage a trusted seven-decades-long relationship. This is madness!
Let me remind you that Saudi Arabia is a leader in Interreligious Dialogue for Peace.
In partnership with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom has been leading states in the use of soft power and security. We have been setting up institutions that raise awareness about extremist ideologies, and initiating dialogues between different societies.
While governments around the world search for a global strategy to uproot the ideology of violent extremism, in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, we have been doing just that for many years. Sadly, certain countries provide those creatures with sanctuary.
I urge US leaders to respect the Kingdom’s sovereignty. The law must take its course. America needs Saudi Arabia in the fight against terrorism. America needs Saudi Arabia to help contain Iran. America needs Saudi investments and purchases that create jobs. Let us focus on what is important!
Last week, on the 35th anniversary of the attack on US Marines in Beirut, President Donald Trump signed new sanctions targeting Iran’s proxy Hezbollah.
President Trump referred to them as “the highest sanctions ever imposed on Hezbollah.” Too little, too late!
I have to wonder why economic sanctions are the ‘go-to mechanism’ to punish countries that do not fall in line. They rarely work!
Yes, they have been cited as bringing North Korea to the table. However, sanctioning Iran has not changed its aggressive behaviour towards its neighbours. Just the opposite! Tehran is more vocal than ever in its support of terrorism and hostility of the West.
The US Foreign Ministry tweeted that since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iran has led terrorist attacks and assassinations in more than 20 countries worldwide.
Two years ago, I stood before you and appealed to you to act against the biggest threats facing our world. Then as now, I addressed the lack of action taken by the US in putting a stop to terrorism’s biggest sponsor, Iran.
I asked why nothing has been done to curb the destructive activities of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards, Shiite militias, and Hezbollah that suffocates beautiful Lebanon and is partnering with Syria’s butcher.
In the time of President Saddam Hussein, Iraq stood as a shield for the world against the evils of the ayatollahs. America’s invasion of the Cradle of Civilization based on false intelligence weakened Baghdad, gave Iran a free hand and fuelled the rise of Hezbollah. Today, Iran poses an increasing threat to the whole world, not only the Middle East.
Over the past decade America has had two presidents with polar opposite foreign policies on a range of issues. Yet when it comes to dealing with the threats posed by Iran, nothing changes. President Obama was soft on Iran. President Trump talks a good talk but hesitates to walk in a meaningful fashion.
President Donald Trump criticized Iran’s corrupt dictatorship last month at the United Nations General Assembly. His administration issued new economic sanctions against Iran and Hezbollah earlier this month. But these steps are not sufficient! They will not hurt. Russia, China and Europe are not on board. We need real action!
Please do not imagine I am calling for war; far from it! We have nothing against the Iranian people. Iranians are good people. We have traded and socialized with them. We have welcomed them in our country. They are a poor people, an oppressed people with little freedom; they live in fear. They should be empowered by all means to rewrite their own future.
As for the Iranian regime’s support of terrorism, it can be stopped by eliminating its global terrorist arm Hezbollah and also by empowering the Iranian minorities who are continuously abused and crushed by the Revolutionary Guard, in particular the occupied Ahwazi people living in extreme poverty and stripped of their basic human right to freely practice their religion.
Hezbollah’s criminal activities have spread out from Lebanon to Iraq, Syria, Yemen, South America and elsewhere, even the United States. Its leadership’s hideout is no secret given Western intelligence capabilities. Israel can pinpoint their whereabouts. What are you waiting for?
The patience with which Iran is dealt with surprises me. Why are the United States and its Western allies so patient with Iran? Do they hope that Iran is the Prodigal Son who will one day return to the West’s arms and repent? That is a pipe dream. Iran’s defiance of the United States and the civilized world will never cease.
It is time the world took real action to terminate this threat to the peaceful future of our children, once and for all!