The announcement by the Obama Administration that a deal had been hammered out with the Iranians over their nuclear program caused mixed reactions. Open consternation came from House Republicans, who have demonised the Mullahs in Tehran since their ascension to power in 1979. Also openly critical is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while more muted criticism came from the Sunni Gulf (GCC) States. On the other side of the ledger are Obama’s supporters and the governments of the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), that worked tirelessly to extract what is being widely touted as an Iranian climb-down after years of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, (under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), with the West.
So, is a celebration premature? Or are the doomsayers in Tel Aviv and among the GCC States reflecting a more accurate reality? Only time will tell. And there are so many different variables to consider, not just the nuclear situation in Iran. There is Iran’s support of various militant factions in the Palestinian territories (Hamas) and southern Lebanon (Hezbollah); Iran’s hand in the Syrian civil war (backing the Assad regime); the power play between Saudi Arabia, the seat of the Sunni Islam versus the ‘Shia’ of Iran; Israel’s nuclear weapons; Israel’s reluctance toward the creation of a Palestinian state; Israel’s relations with the Arab world; Israel’s hostility toward Iran. Then there is the fact that this agreement between the West and Iran leaves out the region’s other diplomatic players, the Gulf States and Israel. No long-standing peace can be guaranteed with these actors merely sitting on the sidelines. These are just some of the complicating issues that might well see any deal between the P5+1 dissolve before the 6-month life span given.
On a more optimistic note, if Iranian motives for peace are indeed ‘pure’, then we are in the midst of a power change in the Middle East that may see Iran secure for itself a long-term position as a preferred US security partner (in conjunction with, not against Israel). Given that Iran sits astride the Gulf, is a neighbour to problematic Pakistan, Afghanistan and the politically unstable, energy rich Central Asian Republics, there is some utility for US policy planners to prepare for such a scenario. What needs to be watched carefully over the next few weeks and months ahead, is local Iranian reaction to what will be extremely intrusive IAEA inspections at some very sensitive sites. Not all Iranians, especially those who were heavily invested in the Ahmadinejad years, will be happy to facilitate an IAEA run on Iran’s sovereignty at the behest of the United States. Watch this space, we are in for interesting times.
By Dr. John Bruni, Director SAGE International