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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Iran Nuclear Deal:Into The Shadow Of The Great Satan


The Iran nuclear deal reflects the changing geopolitical realities in the Middle East and is all set to determine how the regional dynamics play out in the future. Despite strong opposition from Israel, the Arab countries of the GCC and section of US Congressmen, the framework hammered out between Iran and the P-5 + 1, is being seen as a major diplomatic victory by the Iranians. True, the deal prevents Iran from developing nuclear programme further but it doesn't seek to completely destroy its technical capabilities to maintain it, including the ability to create nuclear weapons. Further, this deal is applicable for 15 years only and as a leading oil-producing country, lifting of sanctions against it could mean Iran's economic standing turn around really fast. Add to that the fact that it possesses a credible military force and a network of well-armed proxies, the anxiety of its regional rivals can be well-understood. But, the deal coming in the wake sectarian strife in the region, in which Iran is a major player does raise questions and hopefully offers answers too.



Sectarian killings in Iraq ( courtsey: nytimes.com )
Ironically, those opposing the deal exhibit the same alarmist approach that led to the situation where the global community had to engage Iran in negotiations. It started with the Bush administration led military campaign against Iraq based on a lie that Saddam Hussein regime possessed weapons of mass destruction but in reality resulted in dismantling of the only regional bulwark against Iran. Of course, it was not just the bulwark, the destabilization of Iraq led to a vacuum that saw various groups rushing in to take the space,regional proxies as well as terrorist groups.  From a larger perspective, the three ideological groups that are jostling for space and dominance in the fierce sectarian strife - the Sunni Arabs led by Saudis and their Salafist Jihadi proxies including Al Qaida, the relatively moderate Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood and Iran and its Shia militant proxies such as Hezbollah and Shia groups operating in Iraq. While the first two groups led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, struggled to woo allegiance of Sunni Arabs, Iran has emerged stronger from the decade old sectarian violence. Its Arab ally, Assad remains strong in Syria, the Hezbollah and Iraqi Shia militant groups remain strongly entrenched and it finds a new ally in the Houthis of Yemen. And of course, its nuclear programme remains intact. However, ISIS poses an equal threat to US interests as well as Iran which may have been one of the factors bringing the two countries closer to dialogue.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's relentless campaign against the deal may have lot to do with domestic politics but also concerns about limiting its ability to strike at Hamas and Hezbollah at will. The global community may not share the same concern if it leads to Israel moving towards the two state solution. Israel along with US has been trying to destroy Iran's nuclear technology capability by covert and overt operations even creating the first cyber weapon called Stuxnet  which was indeed  successful but only in short term, delaying the programme by months.The alternative that Israel fiercely advocated and which also enjoys support of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, a US-led airstrike on Iranian nuclear installation is also assumed to be insufficient to destroy Iran's nuclear capability. Worse, it threatened a full scale war which would be disastrous for the region and unaffordable by the US and its allies. It is in US's interest that Iran's nuclear ambition be contained through diplomatic channels. Given Obama's assurances, it is likely that the final deal, to be concluded by 30 June would ensure that the militant groups do not get the upper hand.

A girl flees airstrikes in Sanaa ( courtesy: ibtimes.co.uk )
However, the balance of power in the region seems to be shifting with Saudi Arabia along with its Arab allies (GCC) carrying out airstrike in Yemen in what appears to have US support but is not driven by US policy, certainly a departure from the way the Arab foreign policy has been for long. For me, it remains a question if the Saudis are carrying out airstrikes to prevent Yemen from falling completely into Iran's sphere of influence or send the message that as the US limits its involvement in the Middle-East, both in terms of military as well as policy making, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia might step up to police the region or at least take more proactive and belligerent role. It also begs the question as to how much control the US is willing to concede since Saudi action is leading to substantial gains by Al Qaida, the very group US has been launching drone attacks on since nearly a decade.  Iran, so far has refrained from being drawn into Yemen openly, it has also been dealing with Turkey despite rivalry rooted in history and sending its Foreign Minister to Pakistan as Saudi started asking the latter to get more involved in Yemen indicates that for a change Iran is going for diplomacy rather than proxy wars.

As a matter of fact, if the nuclear deal is indeed reached might depend a lot on how Iran reacts to the situation in the region now. It clearly has stakes in all conflicts raging on in the middle-east, starting from threat to Israel, Syrian conflict, the ISIS and Yemen. Whether it can stick to diplomacy and concessions for its economy instead of giving in to ultra-nationalistic sentiments and regional ambitions would determine Iran's standing in the international community to which it has been a pariah for quite some time. Complete US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan on one side of the border and Iraq on the other side might further create a vacuum. Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners may become first line of defence against emerging VNSE but most likely they still wouldn't go against US decision, the onus would be on Iran to see if there is stability or the region is again plunged into years of bloodshed and destruction.  




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