Celebrating the Iran deal is premature

Obama is looking unusually smug; a mainstay of his foreign policy looks like it’s in the bag. John Kerry, whose done the hard work, is all smiles. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Tehran; his charismatic boss, President Hassan Rouhani wallows in unprecedented public approval, even though if all goes to plan, Iran’s nuclear programme will become the most intrusively monitored on the planet.

However, in reality, the fat lady has yet to sing. Instead, a portly gentleman is giving his lungs a workout to voice his disapproval.

Within hours of the framework agreement being announced, Benjamin Netanyahu characterised it as “The gravest danger to the world” threatening Israel’s “very survival” because Iran gets to keep its uranium enrichment infrastructure. He further objects to the lifting of US, EU and UN sanctions on the grounds a boost to the Iranian economy gives Iran “tremendous means to propel its aggression and terrorism throughout the Middle East.” Gulf leaders are more circumspect with their opinions, at least in public. But when the Saudi-led coalition is currently striking Yemen to free that Arab heartland from Iranian-backed Shiite militias and the head of Iran’s elite Qods Force is directing the Iraqi Army battling Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorists, there is no doubt that they view the deal with suspicion and great apprehension.

Firstly, it has the potential of empowering Iran to proceed with its hegemonic ambitions. Secondly, it’s likely to upset the prevailing regional balance of power.

And, thirdly, when sanctions on Iran’s oil industry are eventually lifted, Iranian oil will flood the global market already suffering from over-capacity, pushing prices down to untenable levels; some energy experts predict prices descending as low as $25 (Dh91.8) a barrel. That will impact Gulf economies, as well as adversely affecting countries producing relatively expensive shale oil, such as the US and Canada.

Obama was quick to pick up the phone to allay the Israeli PM’s concerns but that will take a lot more sweet nothings whispered in his ear. For one thing, Netanyahu’s last minute stipulation that the final deal must include Tehran’s recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was rejected by the White House because the agreement doesn’t deal with any other issues and “nor should it.”

Now the fact that it’s entirely focused upon restricting Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons is the nub of the problem. It does not address Iran’s intervention in Syria, its infiltration into Yemen or its continued attempts to destabilise Bahrain. And neither is it contingent upon Iran’s relinquishment of three UAE islands that were illegally occupied by the Shah in 1971. On the contrary, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah have been rewarded with removal from the US terror threat listing.

The US and its partners have failed to take the above issues into account, which will, no doubt, force GCC States and their Arab allies to reassess their self-defence options and alliances. A Joint Arab Force that’s been approved by the Arab League in principle, currently being ironed-out, is the first step in this growing culture of military self-sufficiency. The Arab coalition’s intervention in Yemen makes an important statement directed at Iran that can be interpreted as ‘Don’t push your luck!’

However, there’s many a slip between cup and lip. Netanyahu still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Anyone who imagines he will simply throw up his hands despairingly should think again. He’s announced that Israel will not be bound by the nuclear accord and will do everything to secure his country’s security and future.

Some prominent personalities are calling upon Israel to strike Iran’s facilities; these include Professor Efraim Inbar, a director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies; Senator John McCain and former Bush administration official, John Bolton. That’s an option that’s been mulled by the Israelis for years and while, highly unlikely to be implemented, it could be regurgitated if all else fails.

In the meantime, Netanyahu will continue to lobby his friends in Congress to put road blocks in the way of progress by refusing to waive anti-Iranian sanctions or even imposing additional sanctions. Obama has warned that such measures would be vetoed by executive authority. That would not only set the president on a collision course with lawmakers during his final lap, without congressional approval, the final agreement would risk being over-turned by his successor.

Yet a further boulder in this controversial road is an alert from the UN’s nuclear authority, the IAEA. As yet, Iranian negotiators have blinked when asked to provide the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear history that’s a point of concern.

Just a week ago, the IAEA’s Director-General Yukiya Amano accused Iran of failing to come clean. “We are still not in a position to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is for a peaceful purposes,” he announced. As long as the nuclear watchdog is unaware of Iran’s past, inspectors don’t know what to look for and will be unable to issue a clean bill of health.

Obama has engaged in the gamble of his life, his credibility and presidential legacy at stake. Will he emerge triumphant against the head-butters within and without? On that, the jury’s still out.

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

Comments are closed.