Iran's foreign policy ploys
IT is not just the State of Israel, the staunchest US ally in the Mid-East that is up in arms over the American engagement of Iran on the nuclear issue. Indeed, judging from the furore it has created among the Saudi-led GCC, one would think that perhaps there is some meat in their disenchantment with the world's only superpower and how it is conducting its foreign policy in one of the most volatile and important regions in the world. That the US has decided to go all-out to clinch a nuclear deal with Iran bypassing concerns of Sunni-majority governments in the region is clearly causing a major rift between the Americans and Saudi Arabia. While Iran has effectively launched proxy wars from Lebanon to Yemen and helping unpalatable regimes like the Assads in Syria and the US turning a blind eye to repeated insistence by the Saudis to help unseat the Alawite regime in Damascus could cost the Americans friends in a troubled region.
While the US stumbles around trying vainly to ratchet up support for a peace deal with the Iranians which ironically has driven Israel and Saudi Arabia into the same camp, Iran has played the extremist card to the hilt and managed to run rings around the US that continues to suffer from a joint ISIS-Al Qaeda phobia. The Persians for instance have had great success in selling the prospect of an impending ISIS takeover of all of Syria should the Assads fall from power. Indeed, it has allowed for Iran to play an active role on the ground in Iraq to prop up the Baghdad-regime which set new records as the fastest national army in the Middle East to capitulate in the face of an ISIS offensive last year. Iran has made gains in the region as a major power broker at the behest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni-Shiite divide that had held true for decades is in tatters. An Iran in ascendance is something that will not be taken lying down, as has been witnessed by a Saudi-led coalition that has been waging a war of intervention against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Iran, according to veteran statesmen like Georg P. Shultz, who has served as the U.S. Secretary of State from 1982 to 1989, has effectively turned the negotiation "on its head". He and Henry Kissinger who was the 56th Secretary of State from 1973 to 1977 recently stated in an article published in April in the Wall Street Journal: "The threat of war now constrains the West more than Iran. While Iran treated the mere fact of its willingness to negotiate as a concession, the West has felt compelled to break every deadlock with a new proposal. In the process, the Iranian program has reached a point officially described as being within to three months of building a nuclear weapon. Under the proposed agreement, for 10 years Iran will never be further than one year from a nuclear weapon and, after a decade, will be significantly closer."
The beauty of the negotiations is that while the US administration pitches its deal with the Iranians, it effectively loses the faith of its allies, while Iran emerges as the victor, free of the burden of U.N. embargoes – the billions of dollars in frozen accounts abroad that can now be used to revamp the economy and its conventional forces. Multinational oil and gas exploration companies are waiting in the wings to strike major deals with the Islamic republic and there is talk about transnational pipelines to take Iranian gas beyond its borders. A nuclear deal, for Iran, which if we are to go by what has been stated by the two former Secretary of States, will allow that country to be able to go nuclear in the span of a few short years should the deal fall through sometime in the future.
There is no denying that Iran has always envisaged a greater role for itself in the region. That it has managed to help fellow Shiite allies to put up more than a fight in the Arab peninsula despite being bogged down by crippling sanctions speaks volumes of its ingenuity. Despite all the hoopla around how bad things are going to be with the Iranians off the leash, consider what is the alternative? To allow the current situation to continue and force the Iranians into a hole whereby they have no option but to build a bomb? Nobody wants to go there for it will mean all-out war in the Mid-East and that's just terrible for business and stability.
In the words of Aaron David Miller "while the U.S. entangle itself in the nuclear negotiations, Iran is gaining a freer hand to assert its regional influence." Mr. Miller, a Middle East analyst and negotiator and a man who has served six secretaries of state as an advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations also concedes in his latest article 'How Iran Outfoxes U.S.' published in CNN that "we've made our bed, apparently, and now are going to have a way to find a way to sleep. A nuclear deal will avert a crisis over the nuclear issue for now. But unless it really does change Iran's behaviour, we've only bought ourselves a bigger one down the road."
The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.