July 14, 2015 marked a historic day that witnessed the signing of a landmark deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme. The breakthrough was reached after 20 months of talks between Tehran and the P5+1 states – U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.
The breakthrough has been welcomed widely, but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu termed it a “mistake of historic proportions.” Comparatively, Iran calls it a historic moment for opening a new chapter of cooperation. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, “we are reaching an agreement that is not perfect for anybody but it is what we could accomplish, hence, it is an important achievement.” President Obama stated that he is confident that the deal will meet the national security demands of the United States and its allies, and that he would veto any legislation that might halt the successful implementation of the deal. The Iranian president also reciprocated the hope of opening up a new chapter between Tehran and international community.
Under the agreement, some of the sanctions imposed by the United States, European Union, and the United Nations will be lifted once Iran abides by the commitment to curtail its nuclear activity. Tehran has agreed to allow ‘managed’ inspections of nuclear site by UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Additionally, a UN arms embargo and missile sanctions will remain in place for five and eight years, respectively, but can be lifted as soon as inspectors are confident that Iran is using these technologies for peaceful purposes. However, under the ‘snapback’ clause of the agreement, some sanctions could be reinstated if Iran violates the deal.
In its entirety, the nuclear deal is significant, as it has brought an end to the decade-long stalemate. Thus, it is important to evaluate whether it is a good or a bad deal for Iran and the potential it possesses to transform the political landscape of the Middle East.
While all sides could be considered winners in this gamble, many claim that the deal is too little, too late. Now that the U.S. and Iran have reached a détente after years of animosity, how Iran’s position will shift in the Middle East is something too early to predict, but a rough picture can be sketched.
After the deal, Iran is expected to revive its weakened role in the region. Even amidst the sanctions, Iran’s influence only grew. With a deal signed, regional powers should work together to solve many of the problems in the Middle East and North Africa. Currently, Iran is the main Shia powerbroker in the region. Iran’s primary regional rival is Saudi Arabia, which is at constant critique of any nuclear deal. In the on-going Yemen war, Iran is said to back the rebel Houthis, who have pushed the President into exile. The Yemeni President and his allies are drawing support from the Saudi-led coalition.
Moreover, Iran has also extended its reach in Iraq. It is training and advising thousands of Shia militant fighters in the battle against ISIL. In Syria, Iran is propping up the government with money, weapons, and manpower. Hizbullah, Iran’s ally in Lebanon has also sent fighters to the Syrian frontlines.
As far as a shift in the balance of power in the Middle East is concerned, it is too early to draw conclusions from the very complicated deal that, by nature, is designed to emasculate Iran’s power in the region for a decade or more. This might give other regional countries enough time to take preventive measures against whatever Iran intends to do after a decade or two, as most have been relatively weak in making the technological advances that Iran has made. Thus they will take advantage of these next ten years to prepare for the eventuality of Iranian power. If after 10 or 15 years, Iran restarts its nuclear program, then these countries might also be ready to adopt the same measures. If on other hand, Iranians fulfill their promise of not seeking nuclear weapons, tensions between regional powers will decline, opening up more room for dialogue.
A few things should be mentioned here. Firstly, any possibility of war has been averted, which is a positive development for all regional states. Equally important point is that the lifting of some of the sanctions will allow the Iranian government to look inward and pay attention to its own country, fix its own problems instead of worrying about Houthis in Yemen and Hizbullah in Lebanon and elsewhere. The third point is that the Arab countries that have an existential difference with Iran, led by Saudi Arabia and others, may begin a process of reconciliation with Iran. This can be considered a better option, given the fact that the world powers are looking at Iran as a potential new market for enhanced trade.
As for Syrian Houthis and Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Iran can opt either to continue cooperation or slowly sever ties after the nuclear deal. Iran obviously plays major role in guiding Hizbullah, but Hizbullah is not dominant power in the country. It draws its strength solely from its military wing.. The National Unity government that rules Lebanon is comprised of Sunni, Shia, as well as Christian members, creating a political balance of power, with no one group dominating. Although Hizbullah has tried to gain dominancy with Iranian help, it recently committed a strategic error by deploying militants across the border to assist the Syrian government. Hizbullah is nothing without Iranian aid. If Iranians decide to provide arms and aid to Hizbullah using some of the money it received after the lifting of sanctions, Lebanese politics might see some shifts. This, however, depends on whether Iran decides to continue wasting its money abroad or if it adopts a policy to fix its problems at home. As far as Iran’s role in ending conflict in Syria is concerned, it is vital to entertain the idea of Iran as a dialogue partner by the international community, a concept being put forth by analysts as a possible development.
Summing up the discussion, it can be suggested that after the deal, reaching a regional understanding needs time. Although the deal brokers are from the outside world, the repercussions are regional in nature. The deal would have been much more successful had it been coordinated by Saudi Arabia and Gulf neighbors, and not by the foreign powers. It is now high time for Iran and Saudi Arabia to call for negotiations and move towards establishing better relations and find lasting solutions to this unsustainable situation. In the end, for both players, the primary concern is regional security.
Published by AzerNews on July 24, 2015
Link of the Article: http://www.azernews.az/analysis/85870.html
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are no necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.