Iran deal good for the region


The fact that the Iran nuclear deal with Western powers was concluded despite mounting obstacles, Middle Eastern allies’ objections and technical difficulties proves that both sides were determined not to allow the effort to fail. US President Barack Obama was clear in supporting the negotiations and so was the US administration. This also tells that the cries, from Israel in particular, about the existential threat posed by Daesh to Israel was synthetically magnified and hardly taken seriously in Washington. It is yet to be seen if the US Congress, which has 60 days to debate the agreement, will accept or reject it. There is good reason to believe it will not turn it down altogether.

Israel will continue to voice strong objections, perhaps to extort benefits, but also continue to play victim by deflecting attention from the real issues of occupation and negation of Palestinian rights, pretending to place security as the primary concern.
Other Arab states must be disappointed too. For some time the clear inclination in Washington that negotiations with Tehran were intended to succeed, was seen by Arab allies as a major shift in American strategy in the region in Iran’s direction at the expense of traditional allies. Though understandable, bearing in mind the mounting challenges America’s Arab allies are currently facing, challenges in which Iran is directly involved, the deal should not necessarily be interpreted within such a narrow context.

Critics mainly blame Iran for supporting Hizbollah in Lebanon, the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, Ansarullah (the Houthis) in Yemen, Hamas in Gaza and the government of Iraq. In most of these cases the Iranian agenda, assumed hostile and expansionist, is also believed to be driven by both political and sectarian motives. The Arab-Iranian political divide, now assuming a military dimension, has been growing wider with time. Generally, Iran is arming and supporting factions in Yemen and Iraq, and the Syrian government against an opposing Arab alliance led by Saudi Arabia. Obviously, and if Iran was able to gain so much ground in the Arab world while suffering from crippling international sanctions, its ability to further advance its gains at the expense of Arab neighbours would be considerably enhanced once free of these sanctions and regaining normalcy and respectability under the deal.

This precise argument, however, could also serve the exact opposite purpose; it could, in fact it should, ease some Arab concerns and fears.

One major achievement of the deal is that it curtailed any chances of Iran producing nuclear weapons for years to come. Although neither Israel nor the other Arab opponents of the Iranian programme were genuinely threatened by this hypothetical danger, it still must be reassuring to remove this item from the list of complaints against Iran.

Before taking the other Arab-Iranian issues of contention separately I must express my hope, if not my belief, that it will be much easier to discuss all pending regional problems, perhaps excluding the Arab Israeli conflict, with a politically rehabilitated Iran than with a pariah state, one side of the “triangle of evil”.

Iran and its great people have for decades been suffering from sanctions, antagonism and exclusion. In the absence of mutual confidence and diplomatic cordiality it was impossible for any Iranian government to engage in any constructive debate regarding the troubling issues in the region impartially and soberly.

The entire political atmosphere is likely to radically change after the agreement in a manner conducive to better handling of most pending issues. It is the right time for Iran, which never admitted any hostile intent towards its Arab neighbours, to prove such claim.

It is also an opportunity for the Arab states to reconsider presumed positions and to engage Iran on a new basis. Evidently the Vienna agreement did not cover any of the regional conflicts in which Iran is deeply involved. But that does not preclude the possibility of confluence of interests and goals against dangers that target all Middle East states, including Iran.
The growing rift between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam involves grave political consequences for both sides. It is definitely a common interest of all parties to contain this danger.

It is also in the interest of regional stability and economic prosperity to engage Iran in serious discussions to end the wars in Syria and Yemen and fight the terrorists and extremists.

Without trying to justify any of the Iranian actions seen by Arab states as hostile, intrusive, aggressive and potentially threatening, we should be able to objectively understand that the conditions which led to the deep Iranian penetration in the heart of Arab affairs were basically related to repeated Arab failures.

The Iranian expansion in Iraq is the result of the totally unjustified US-led war in 2003 which was supported by some Arab states, the replacement of dictatorship there with a sectarian regime and the continued failure of the state to protect its territory against the advance of Daesh.

Iran-backed Hizbollah appeared after, and as a direct result of, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, as a Shiite resistance movement. It managed to end Israel’s occupation of South Lebanon and protect the land from further Israeli advances. Hizbollah still insists that its mission is to liberate what is left of Lebanese land under Israeli control; hence, it is a political rather than a sectarian one. Obviously the existence of such a militarily powerful group within the Lebanese state is abnormal, and can be rightly seen as an aberrant Iranian hand, but it is even more abnormal that the official army was not sufficient to protect the land on its own: once more a case of state incompetence.

The same can be said about the situations in Syria and Yemen. The chaos prevailing in both countries, the state disintegration, the unprecedented violence, the spread of extremist organisations and the threats implied to the entire region, do draw in all kinds of external intervention, not just the Iranians.

Before blaming Iran, or any other party that may be tempted to fish in troubled Arab waters, it is up to the Arab states and their Arab League to put their house in order. If there is any chance to end concerns about Iranian schemes for expansion, political or religious, it is in restoring normal neighbourly relations based on cooperation, constructive dialogue, mutual respect, confluence of interests, confidence and openness. The Vienna agreement is the right umbrella for a drastic restructuring of regional relations.


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