Creating new perspectives since 2009

What implications does the Iran nuclear deal have for the Middle East?

July 15, 2015 at 12:01 pm

The main question that arises at the moment is what implications the nuclear agreement will have for the Middle East in light of the chaos that has spread across the region and ignited a fire the likes of which has not been seen for decades. The implications must also be viewed in light of the ongoing conflict between Iran’s expansion project and some Arab states which have decided to confront the government in Tehran in one way or another. The overall scenario of the conflict with Israel along with all the other general problems, alliances and contradictions in the region must also be taken into account.

We do not need to talk about nuclear weapons because although everyone knows that the purpose of the nuclear project was probably to create nuclear weapons, not peaceful energy, Iran will only be able to continue to that stage if it wants to challenge everyone again and bear the consequences; I do not think it will be doing that soon. As such, others in the region will now also be driven to possess “peaceful energy”.

The dimension that must not be ignored before talking about the implications of the deal is the fact that Iran has been fighting a bloody struggle with the Arab and Muslim public, or to be more precise, with the majority of the Muslim Ummah, for four years. This fight is manifested in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, with clear examples in Lebanon too.

There is no doubt that the conflict is at the cost of large-scale regional destruction. It also dealt a blow to the Arab Spring (along with other counter-revolutionary forces). However, it was most costly to Iran itself because we are talking about a country, albeit one with many resources, which has been suffering from harsh international sanctions for many years. Its funds frozen in the US are not linked to the nuclear deal, but refer to other accusations, including support for “terrorism”, based on the Western definition.

In Syria alone, Iran has spent over $40 billion so far to back the Assad regime, according to the lowest estimate, and the money continues to bleed out of the treasury. The cost of Iran’s involvement in Iraq is no longer shared by Baghdad, and the situation in Yemen has only increased and deepened the bleeding of funds and misery.

The other side of the coin is related to Iran’s domestic conditions, which are exhausted by the sanctions. The public voted for Rouhani in the hope of improving the economic situation and so people are hopeful that he will reap the benefits of the nuclear agreement to improve their plight. What is no less important is the fact that a real conflict is taking place in Iran between the reformists and conservatives, although it is not very obvious. This is related to foreign policy, which is controlled more by the Supreme Guide than the government due to Rouhani’s keenness not to clash with the senior officials in this regard.

So the scenario seems to be this: the Iranian public is waiting for the benefits of the nuclear agreement; and the conservatives want to reap the fruit of the agreement in order to continue the foreign expansion project, especially since they are aware that their project has failed while the situation of the reformists has improved. This means that they will be weakened gradually until they are isolated. This in turn may lead to a popular uprising in the event that the conservatives seek to thwart the reformists or prevent them from improving living conditions in order to earn their trust.

It is worth noting that despite the signs of failure in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the conservatives seem in the mood to retaliate, rather than withdraw and head towards making a deal with its Arab and Muslim neighbours, or to be more specific, with Turkey and the Arabs, starting with Saudi Arabia due to the practical absence of Egypt from the scene because of the repercussions of the coup.

It is possible that Iran may gain the support of Al-Sisi’s government by means of economic temptations. This will tip the balance of power between Iran and the Arabs in favour of the former. However, the depletion and exhaustion will continue and will not be resolved in Iran’s favour. I must note here that the position of the Egyptian government on the Syrian, Yemeni and Iraqi issues is absolutely not in line with the Saudi position, although it does not openly and blatantly contradict it.

It seems that the conservative trend in Iran will not be retreating on the international front, as it did not retreat against the reformists domestically. It will insist on using the benefits and gains of the agreement in the context of continuing its foreign project. It will do so despite the fact that it knows that the Iranian public does not want it, regardless of the efforts made to promote it doctrinally. This means that they will clash with the people to some extent and will clash even more strongly with their Arab and Muslim neighbours, thus wreaking greater havoc in the region. This will not lead to the success of the project due to the great resistance against it by the public and officials.

In terms of the relationship with the US (the former “Great Satan”), there is no doubt that this will enter a new phase. However, the price that must be paid, given the fact that Middle Eastern affairs are controlled by the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, is a change in Iran’s discourse and behaviour towards Israel. We cannot say that Obama turned his back on Israel when he moved forward with the agreement because it is not true. Netanyahu’s squeals are just part of the game in order to press for a better agreement (from Israel’s perspective) that prohibits even thinking about nuclear weapons on one hand while changing the discourse about Israel on the other.

The bottom line is that idea of supporting the Palestinian resistance groups will fade away, even though relations with Hamas came to a halt four years ago due to the movement’s position on Syria. Hence, the revolutionary tales and stories of resistance will fall and Tehran will show its conservative face and continue with its doctrinal project of turning Iran into a sectarian state that considers itself to be a sponsor of its followers wherever they are. This will enhance the conflict between Iran and its Arab and Muslim neighbours, leading to its exhaustion and pushing it towards a deal that pleases everyone.

This is the expected ending, but how long will the conflict go on until we reach this point? We do not know.

Translated from Arabi21, 14 July, 2015

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.