New York – The 68th UN General Assembly opened in New York on Tuesday September 24 against the background of a tense international context. The major crisis concerns Syria but attention also focuses on the Iranian nuclear issue and the peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Bishop William Shomali, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem presents an analysis.
1. Iran’s president stressed that his country was “not a threat,” to the world or the Middle East. These conciliation attempts raise a cautious hope among Western diplomats, but have not swayed the Israeli authorities. “This action reflects exactly the Iranian strategy to talk and buy time to advance its capability to develop nuclear weapons ,” said Netanyahu. Do you think that diplomacy will ever be given a chance?
Hassan Rohani is a skillful politician and wants to gain time to continue Iran’s nuclear program. Certainly, Westerners have reason to doubt. We should not get ourselves caught and confined in this vicious circle of lies.
It is necessary to solve the Iranian problem in a radical way. We should first rid the Middle East of all nuclear programs. A bomb, whether Indian, Pakistani, Iranian or Israeli is a destructive atomic bomb.
Efforts should be made to prevent nuclear programs and the manufacture of chemical weapons. We must resolve all other political issues that lead to the use of such weapons.
2. Would the return of Iran within the assembly of nations help to stop or end the Syrian tragedy?
The term “stop” is pretentious. Iran is certainly a key element of the conflict, but it is only one element in the same way as Russia or Hezbollah provide assistance to Syria.
The right solution should primarily come from within Syria, from Syrians themselves, backed by international pressure. For this, a course of action in several phases should be followed:
– Establish an immediate cease-fire
– Prevent any entry of weapons into Syria
– Prepare the way for free, fair and transparent elections
– Accept the result of the elections
In this view, Iran has a role to play and as a friend of Syria, could wield a positive influence in imposing a cease-fire .
3. What is your view in the delay of the Western military intervention in Syria?
I understand that there may have been some hesitation on the part of the United States and Europe for several reasons.
First, for ethical reasons: the perpetrators of the chemical attacks have not been identified. So an attack cannot be launched without any proof of guilt. And if they were rebels, would the West still decide to attack?
Then there is a reason for fear: the escalation of violence and a regional conflagration.
Finally, the third reason concerns the Russian and Chinese veto votes and restraint of the British Parliament, which held back Obama.
Speaking on a more spiritual level, the participation of millions of faithful from all over the world in the day of prayer and fasting called by Pope Francis on Saturday, September 7, had an impact on politicians. God works in a hidden and unexpected way.
4. Obama and Hollande want to obtain a resolution from the Russians, implying a clear threat that validates the use of force in Syria if Assad does not fulfill his promises to eliminate chemical weapons. Do you think they are right?
If we look at the facts from the point of view of Hollande and Obama, we arrive at the conclusion that force must be used against Assad. But this view assumes that Assad is a dictator or the cause of all evils in Syria and should therefore be removed at all costs.
The history of chemical weapons is actually a good excuse to launch an attack on Syria to remove Assad. At the same time, would this be the means to weaken Iran and Hezbollah, the bitter enemies of the United States?
On the other hand, Holland and Obama would not acknowledge that their approach to the Syrian issue is not objective. It is true that Assad is a dictator but he remains moderate compared to other dictators in the Middle East.
We often hear of the need for democracy in the Middle East, but it is a mistake to believe that it can happen in a few months. Democracy in Syria needs a long introduction and initiation. It will not be a result of a civil war or an external military intervention or even the victory of the Syrian rebels, many of whom are Salafists or Jihadists affiliated to Al Qaedah.
The Iraqi experience is proof. The Western powers thought that change and transformation can take effect within five weeks of a military operation. Years later, this poor country suffer from an alarming instability every day, at the cost of the lives of many innocent people. I want to use the Iraqi lesson as a guideline for all politicians.
5. Barack Obama said he did not speak of “ illusions ” about the difficulty of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What do you actually expect from the ongoing talks?
The only path to a solution is a political dialogue. A dialogue, that is honest, transparent, creative and based on internationally accepted platform. So far, bilateral negotiations have failed .
Starting from the premise that the same causes produce the same effects, it can be concluded that if there is a lack of flexibility, negotiations will fail, and there will be escalation of violence.
I would like to quote an American diplomat who, in private session said: “ When two enemies are fighting for over 80 years and they are unable to overcome their problems, the only thing is to impose a solution. ”
6 . The U.S. president estimated that the international community had not been up against the Syrian tragedy … Is the West today a powerless spectator to the Middle East in general?
Yes, he’ is right. The world has been a spectator and I dare say even guilty. If a country has the power to act in favor of peace and does not, it commits the sin of omission.
There has also been accomplices (see the example of weapons in Syria) that have made the conflict longer, and without victory to one side or the other. The only solution is to declare, as I said, a cease-fire followed by negotiations between the two parties under international supervision. Not taking this path would mean knowingly prolonging the conflict and with full responsibility.
7. There have been attempts by extremists seeking to provoke a sectarian conflict in the Middle East (attacks in Iraq, Egypt, Syria …). What is your analysis? Do you feel that the situation could worsen and religious radicalization will intensify at the expense of Christians?
It is true that there is a radicalization in the Middle East because of religious ideologies based on intolerance, and Christians suffer.
Christians should not appear to be victims of persecution and expect from heaven a ready-made solution. They should not remain neutral and shut themselves in a ghetto. They should instead, engage in the political life of their countries, suffer and struggle with other citizens, and make smart alliances with moderate Muslims … The Copts in Egypt understood this need to engage in public life, particularly during the last coup. They are also active in the drafting of the new constitution.
Interview by Christophe Lafontaine