If we want to determine whether the deal made between the P5+1 world powers and Iran concerning Tehran's nuclear ambitions is good or bad, we must examine the initial reaction of Tel Aviv and Riyadh.
Saudi officials do not usually give an immediate reaction to political events; they prefer to see which way the wind blows. However, they are unlikely to be happy about this agreement, which will have come as a shock to them because they have been preparing over the past four years for a war with Iran, which is at the top of their list of enemies. Using doctrinal differences, they have incited people against Iran and its allies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was clearer with his reaction as he bemoaned the agreement in the heart of occupied Jerusalem. He declared it to be a "historic mistake" from the moment it was announced, while his Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said it was "a danger" to Israel and talked about Iran's potential to pass "dirty bombs" to "terrorists".
In terms of winners and losers, we can say confidently that Iran came out on top because it established its right to enrich uranium on its own territory and held on to this right to the last moment. The Iranian negotiators played with the emotions of their Western counterparts, especially the Americans, in order to rush them to reach an agreement.
We must remember that the crisis between Iran and the West began ten years ago when there were threats of military deployment and declarations of war against Iran due to its enrichment of uranium at less than 5 per cent. There were suspicions regarding Iran's intentions behind this enrichment, so the reason behind the crisis was not over the percentage involved but the idea of enrichment itself; with the current agreement this is "legitimised" by the world powers.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that this agreement is temporary and that it does not give Iran the right to enrich uranium, and this is true; but the agreement didn't say Iran was prohibited from enrichment. Moreover, all temporary agreements tend to become permanent, and history has taught us that when negotiations start, they don't stop; if they do, they do so temporarily.
There are many points to consider when making a quick assessment of the agreement and the positions of the various countries towards it:
- The hostility that lasted 33 years between Iran and the West is almost over, and Western countries are on the verge of acknowledging Iran as a regional superpower that they must share power with in the Middle East.
- Israel failed miserably in its attempts to prevent Iran from enriching uranium, just like it failed to prevent any agreement between Iran and the world powers at all, which means that Israel is no longer at the top of the West's list; Iran is.
- Iran was successful in establishing a new "school of thought" in the science of negotiation when it stuck to its guns and did not back down on any of its red lines. The only concession Iran made was related to the enrichment margins and percentages.
- Iran was able to preserve all of its nuclear plants, including the enrichment centrifuges, and is now joining the two most important means of enriching uranium to obtain the plutonium necessary to creating a nuclear bomb. The first is using heavy-water, which it is doing in Arak, and the second is enriching uranium by using centrifuges, as in the Natanz and Qom reactors. India has employed the first method, while Pakistan uses the second. More importantly, Iranian intellectuals and scientists are ready and willing to continue their work at any moment; that is, of course, if they haven't already done so.
- The agreement and its stipulations regarding lifting some sanctions will lead to a gradual recovery of the Iranian economy and will give the Iranian people a boost; the value of the Iranian Rial has fallen by 60 per cent and unemployment has reached 50 per cent, as has the inflation rate. When the deal was announced the value of the Rial increased against the dollar, which gave the people a sense of relief. The Iranian GNP is also expected to increase from $480 billion to $900 billion over the next few years, matching Turkey's.
The Arabs, particularly the governments of the Gulf States, not the people, are the biggest losers in this deal, as America and the West abandoned them after they more or less stole their money in arms deals worth over $130 billion. The US exaggerated the Iranian threat to escalate Gulf fears and pushed them to take a hostile position towards Iran and the Shia.
The question now is what can these countries do in order to face this strategic shift in the balance of power in the region and in their alliances?
It is my view, and I am sorry to say it, that there is no strategy or anything else that they can adopt; the three countries which achieved strategic balance in the region, Iraq, Syria and Egypt, have all been destroyed by the Arabs, especially those leaders of the Gulf countries who allowed themselves to be pawns of US foreign policy and American interests in the region. At the moment, Iraq is in a state of civil war after its regime, which fought Iran for 8 years, was overthrown and replaced by a regime loyal to Iran; Syria is experiencing a proxy war on its grounds between the Sunni Muslims, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia, led by Iran. As for Egypt, it is experiencing a division between the military regime supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which claims that it is the legitimate leadership of the republic and is supported by Qatar.
The Arabs are fighting on their own land, tearing up their strategic pillars and drowning the region in sectarian civil wars; can they devise strategies to fight Iran or even compete against it after their American ally has dumped them? I don't think so.
The main turning point that led to signing this agreement and the turning of the established equations in the region upside down is that the US is disgusted by both the Arabs and the Israelis, and decided to change its foreign policy and stop fighting their wars for them. The first decision in this regard is political normalisation with Iran after 30 years of hostility. Washington has woken up to the fact that all of its wars in the Middle East, into which they were dragged by the Arabs and Israelis, ended catastrophically and did not fix the problem they were supposed to fix; instead they created bigger security and economic problems. Look at what has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and what is happening in Saudi Arabia at the moment.
The Arabs need a radical reconsideration of all their mistakes; once again, I am referring to the leaders in the Gulf, who are now using their money to control Arab decisions. This reconsideration must acknowledge the new reality and its variables, and must start by making a long-term plan to put the Arabs back on the regional and international maps, not as buyers of weapons they don't and can't use, but as producers. They must also establish political military power projects, abandon the policy of internecine quarrelling, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and collect billions of dollars for this purpose.
The Arabs have been affected by the George W Bush administration and are now experts at destruction, the destruction of their own countries, and have become incapable of construction, the construction of their strengths. Moreover, they have become exceptionally good at creating enemies without having the means to confront them.
In order for this strategic reconsideration to occur, the Arabs must recognise Iran as a regional superpower and deal with it accordingly. They must also negotiate with Iran like America and the West have done.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.