MIDEAST MIRROR 14.07.15, SECTION B (THE ARAB WORLD)
Expectations of peace and war
The region may…enter a new arms race from which the budgets of the weapons-exporting countries will benefit. Certain Arab states will be allowed to purchase ready-made nuclear reactors to produce energy thus becoming 'nuclear' themselves – but with a difference of course. For Washington, with Israel behind it, will not allow a new Iran that has both the knowledge and the ability to enrich uranium to emerge. And as military solutions become more difficult if not downright impossible in files such as Syria and Yemen, and as other complexities take deep root in other countries, the following question poses itself: Is it time for launching an Arab/Iranian strategic dialogue that accepts the reality of the new power in the region instead of remaining trapped in this dark tunnel?--pan-Arab al-Quds al-Arabi
Both geography and history impose Iran as a major permanent neighbor of the Arab nation. It would thus be better to manage any conflict or disagreement with it via dialogue and diplomatic means on the basis of good neighborly relations that emphasize common interests, and by building broader systems of regional security and cooperation with it. The nuclear agreement – especially after progress is made in lifting the sanctions on Iran – will launch a new dynamic in Iranian society. The country will be liberated from the 'obsession' of a foreign enemy lying in wait for it for the first time since the Islamic Revolution’s victory in 1979. Iran will face the issues of reform, democratic transformation, and the question of individual and collective human rights--'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Jordanian ad-Dustour
The marathon negotiations have placed the Iranian nuclear and military programs on the autopsy table, holding every detail under microscopic scrutiny. But the negotiations have ignored the main engine of Iran's influence; that scares its neighbors more than the nuclear program. For the terrifying Iranian 'flame thrower' is not its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles, but its constitution that no one has recalled – neither in Geneva nor in Vienna nor in any of the secret or public negotiations. Its third clause calls for 'absolute support for the weak in the earth.' This is not a 'theoretical' text, but a practical one above all. And Tehran has been implementing it adeptly across the entire Levantine map--Amin Qammouriyyeh in Lebanese an-Nahar
If Obama manages to get the agreement through Congress, that would represent a blow to Netanyahu and an important part of the process of reviewing Israel's role in determining U.S. policy. The other Israeli 'loss' stems from the prospect that the Americans will now be free to devote their attention to other dossiers after Iran, including the Palestinian/Israeli problem. This is especially likely given that historical precedents demonstrate that whenever a major Middle Eastern file is conclusively addressed, attention then turns to the Palestinian file, even if the final outcome has been disappointing. The Israelis should now expect international and American demands to resolve the Palestinian problem--Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Jordanian al-Ghad
The two sides want to consolidate the agreement. And because the definition of 'extremism' when the issue of 'fighting extremism' in the region becomes a 'catalyst', basically and exclusively pertains to 'the Sunni other,' this entails more misguided wars that will only produce further sectarianism, extremism, and terrorism, especially when Tehran and Washington are part of the same project. And if the agreement holds its ground for a few years, the next phase will be one in which the region will witness larger scale wars because the competition between its states and with time will be at its most intense. The irony is that at the time when the Obama administration argues with its opponents and justifies its behavior by claiming that there is no alternative because the only other option is war, the nuclear agreement will lead to the very war it claims to be seeking to avoid in one way or another--Ali Hassan Bakeer in Qatari al-Arab
Today’s (Tuesday’s) nuclear agreement between Iran and the six major powers will change the face of the Middle East forever, predicts the editorial in a Qatari-owned pan-Arab daily. It will consolidate Iran's position as a regional superpower and as the international community's main partner in dealing with the region's issues. This raises the question as to whether it is time to initiate an Arab/Iranian strategic dialogue, rather than remain trapped in the current dark regional tunnel. While it may be rash to make too many predictions regarding the consequences of the nuclear agreement, it seems plausible to expect Tehran's foreign policy to become more moderate as the reformist current gains the upper hand inside the country, suggests a leading Jordanian commentator. But much blood might be spilt in the region before we reach that point. The nuclear deal has already entered into effect in practical terms even though it has not been officially signed, maintains a Lebanese commentator. While it may contain the Iranian nuclear threat, it does not address the issue of Tehran's support for those it deems to be 'weak' and in need of help in the region; on the contrary, it bolsters and extends Iran’s reach. Although the agreement has been portrayed as a serious loss for Israel, Tel Aviv may secure potential gains as well, maintains a Palestinian commentator. Israel will use the agreement to promote an alliance with the Arab states that feel threatened by Iran. Given the justified lack of trust between Iran and the U.S., and given the Iranian regime's tendency to cheat and deceive, it is not true that the Iranian nuclear agreement is the only alternative to war, maintains an Arab commentator in a Qatari daily. On the contrary, the most likely outcome of the nuclear agreement will be wider and more intense wars in the region.
HISTORIC PROPORTIONS: "Regardless of how it may be assessed, and whether one is a friend or enemy to its parties, the agreement now within reach between Tehran and the Western powers with the U.S. at their head is of historic proportions, after difficult labor pains that have lasted for 13 years," writes the editorial in Tuesday's Qatari-owned, London-based, pan-Arab daily al-Quds al-Arabi.
This is an agreement that will change the Middle East forever. It will restructure certain international alliances and traditional hostilities and priorities. It will also change Iran's image before the world and revise its status in this vital and explosive region as a great power and member of the superpower club after it has secured legitimacy for its nuclear program in an environment that is fragmented along ethnic and sectarian lines.
It is not odd for Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to speak of 'a major victory.' Reports meanwhile speak of Iranian preparations for large-scale celebrations as soon as an agreement is announced. From the very beginning, the Tehran regime succeeded in linking the nuclear program to the country’s nationalist spirit, imperial history, and national honor. And there is no doubt that the agreement is also a personal victory for Rowhani and his reformist current, which of course does not mean that the conservatives did not want it as well.
In short, the agreement is a victory for diplomacy, which can spare the world the catastrophe of war if given a chance and if intentions prove to be good. The gradual lifting of the economic sanctions, with a consequent end to the freeze on Iranian assets and pumping these assets back into Tehran's exhausted economy, will amount to an important boost for the regime, both domestically and in regional terms.
It is Iran's right to celebrate the fruits of its patience and steadfastness for the years of difficult negotiations. And this should be a lesson to others [i.e. the Palestinians] who rushed to offer concessions and lost their cards very early on, so much so that their enemy now only wants negotiations for negotiations' sake.
While the world held its breath during the last hours in anticipation of the manner in which certain outstanding issue would be formulated, reviewed by legal experts, translated, and then sent to the concerned capitals to be ratified by their respective political leaderships, it was not strange to hear the U.S. speak of 'continuing disagreements despite major progress.' For the Obama administration is preparing to face a ferocious war led by the war criminal Netanyahu and a Congress dominated by a Republican majority. It may be that the administration did not want to come across as being too lenient, and that it made sure to secure Iranian concessions up till the very last moment.
The clear difference between Washington's position and that of the European capitals taking part in the negotiations may stem from the fact that the U.S. has a hidden Israeli agenda. Israel is not worried about a nuclear bomb that Tehran does not need to maintain strategic deterrence [in relation to Israel]. Instead, it opposes the very existence of a strong country that cannot be neutralized and that refuses to bestow any legitimacy upon its own existence, let alone [formally] recognize it.
Regionally, the agreement goes much further than the nuclear program and lifting the sanctions. It amounts to an implicit declaration of cooperation that borders on a strategic partnership between Iran and the West on a number of issues, with the fight against terrorism as one. After its prediction that the international coalition to fight ISIS would fail has proven to be correct, Tehran deems itself fit to lead the international and regional effort against terrorism and to prevent it from redrawing the Middle East's map. In return, it expects to have a free hand in the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon.
But the inevitable outcome of the agreement is a coincidence between Israel's interests and that of some Arab states who will see a 'nuclear Iran' as one of the greatest threat to their influence, and perhaps to their very existence. As a result, a de facto alliance will emerge between the two sides. And while other Arab states will focus on fighting the terrorist organizations that threaten them with collapse – as the Tunisian president recently put it– the observer can only expect a further retreat for the Palestinian cause, as Israel evacuates the 'enemy' seat in favor of the Islamic Republic in Iran.
The region may also enter a new arms race from which the budgets of the weapons-exporting countries will benefit. Certain Arab states will be allowed to purchase ready-made nuclear reactors to produce energy thus becoming 'nuclear' themselves – but with a difference of course. For Washington, with Israel behind it, will not allow a new Iran that has both the knowledge and the ability to enrich uranium to emerge.
"And as military solutions become more difficult if not downright impossible in files such as Syria and Yemen, and as other complexities take deep root in other countries, the following question poses itself: Is it time for launching an Arab/Iranian strategic dialogue that accepts the reality of the new power in the region instead of remaining trapped in this dark tunnel?" asks the daily in conclusion.
PREPARING TO CELEBRATE: "Preparations for celebrating the signing of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the international community are almost complete, especially in Washington and Tehran," writes 'Urayb ar-Rintawi in Tuesday's Jordanian daily ad Dustour.
The U.S. secretary of state tried to ensure that the agreement would be announced yesterday (Monday) evening to allow his president and the American people to follow an event that has been eagerly anticipated by the U.S. administration. In Tehran, the security forces have completed the measures that will organize and accompany the celebrations of an event that is eagerly awaited in the Iranian capital as well.
As for the scene in the other capitals, it seems to vary depending on their view of this 'turning point.' There is no doubt that Tel Aviv and Riyadh are unhappy with the news coming in from 'the nights of friendly intimacy' in Vienna that went on much longer than they should have. And now that the agreement has been more or less agreed – and these words have been written before any official announcement has been made – all eyes are focused on what may follow.
There is a flood of questions and queries regarding the post-agreement phase, but two main issues come to the fore because of their importance and urgency: First, how will the agreement affect Iran's behavior and foreign policy? And, second, (which is connected to the first and dependent on it), how will the agreement affect the region’s open-ended crises from Lebanon to Yemen, via Syria, Iraq and the war on terrorism?
As for the first question, we believe it likely that Tehran will try to secure a role for itself as a partner in the political solutions for the region's crises, not as a party to these crises, a 'troublemaker', or a party and cause of its problems.
The Vienna agreement will keep Iran in the limelight and under close observation. And Iran is concerned about making use of the agreement so as to increase its gains. In return for every concession it made to make an agreement possible, Tehran will try to secure many gains and benefits, whether in terms of its domestic economic and social conditions in particular, or in terms of its role in the region.
If an agreement is reached and ratified by the Iranian Shura Council in the coming few weeks, Iran’s moderate reformist current would have scored a point of historic dimensions in its favor against the hard-line current that calls for exporting the revolution. The leaders of the moderate current would win a broad spectrum of support. And this means that Iran may be ruled by the moderates and reformists until further notice.
This current has a more balanced view of the region's files and Iran’s role in each of them. The fact that it may have the upper hand on the domestic Iranian arena requires the Arab countries, especially those 'caught up' in a conflict with Iran, to pause and reconsider their strategy for dealing with Iran in an effort to turn the page and move on to another.
After all, both geography and history impose Iran as a major permanent neighbor of the Arab nation. It would thus be better to manage any conflict or disagreement with it via dialogue and diplomatic means on the basis of good neighborly relations that emphasize common interests, and by building broader systems of regional security and cooperation with it.
The nuclear agreement – especially after progress is made in lifting the sanctions on Iran – will launch a new dynamic in Iranian society. The country will be liberated from the 'obsession' of a foreign enemy lying in wait for it for the first time since the Islamic Revolution’s victory in 1979. Iran will face the issues of reform, democratic transformation, and the question of individual and collective human rights. And it is not possible to predict how this dynamic may develop, or how the regime will deal with it, or what impact it may have on the velayat-e-faqih regime.
As for the answer to the second question, it depends on the direction that Iran will take after the agreement; one that we predict will be characterized by its tendency towards seeking political settlements, moderation and compromise solutions. This is expected to have a positive impact on most of the region’s crises, either immediately or in the medium-term.
Thus, Lebanon may elect a president before the end of the year. Yemen may move from a 'betrayed' tahdi'a [lull or calming down] to the launch of a political process that ends that dirty war and places all parties on track towards compromise and reconciliation. It is also certain that U.S./Iranian cooperation would be within reach regarding Iraq. And as for Syria, the bazaar of initiatives, proposals, and envoys will be open in an unprecedented way.
Nor is it unlikely that Tehran's relations with some Arab states will witness a noticeable development after the international community's reservations and fears are removed, and after the sword of the 'veto' raised in the face of any state that wishes to establish normal relations with Tehran has been lifted. In this regard, Iran's relations with Jordan, the PA, Egypt, and other states may enter a new phase.
What was impossible before the agreement may not remain so after it. But the region's complexities and the intensity of its conflicts do not allow the observer to express much optimism. On the contrary, they require one to be more cautious and wary about offering optimistic speculation. Some time –long or short – will pass before certain parties complete their turnabout and before the maps of alliances assume their new shape.
"During that period, much blood will be spilt on the arenas of confrontation, and the ruins and wreckage left behind by the wars between the brothers/enemies will accumulate," concludes Rintawi.
ALREADY IN EFFECT: “The nuclear agreement between Iran and the West has effectively already begun to be implemented even before it has been officially signed," writes Amin Qammouriyyeh in Tuesday's Lebanese daily an-Nahar.
Tehran has already broken the sanctions by regaining funds and gold that had long been frozen in foreign banks. It has also secured a certificate of good conduct from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding its commitment to the [Lausanne] declaration of principles. The only thing left in the negotiations bazaar is the last moments of buying and selling. The Iranians are good tradesmen, and the five great powers-plus-Germany require no one's testimony as to their adeptness at haggling and the art of securing gain.
Everyone will emerge happy after the final results have been announced and the agreement is signed. The West will get what it wanted, namely, extracting Iran's nuclear fangs from now and until further notice by forcing Tehran to commit to transparency regarding its nuclear program. And Tehran will compensate for this by regaining its frozen monies, reviving its ailing economy and providing money that allows it to buy, not only influence, tons of bombs and usable military capabilities – unlike, the nuclear weapons that would be rusting away in storage facilities.
In the last moments of the negotiations, the West is trying to be ‘too clever by half’ by maintaining restrictions on Iran's armament. It is as if it were trying to reassure those fearful of the agreement, especially the Arab Gulf rulers, that it will not allow their ambitious neighbor to replace its nuclear program (a bird 'on the tree') with a terrifying missile capability (a bird 'in hand'). In fact, however, it may be to Tehran's advantage to steer clear of the arms market out of concern for its economy. For those countries that have grown and developed have spent their monies on infrastructure, factories and universities, and not on tanks and soldiers.
The marathon negotiations have placed the Iranian nuclear and military programs on the autopsy table, holding every detail under microscopic scrutiny. But the negotiations have ignored the main engine of Iran's influence; that scares its neighbors more than the nuclear program. For the terrifying Iranian 'flame thrower' is not its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles, but its constitution that no one has recalled – neither in Geneva nor in Vienna nor in any of the secret or public negotiations. Its third clause calls for 'absolute support for the weak in the earth.'
This is not a 'theoretical' text, but a practical one above all. And Tehran has been implementing it adeptly across the entire Levantine map. Moreover, this support is not provided to any 'weak' party whatsoever, but to those classified as such by the mullahs' regime. In this manner, and in Iran's eyes, the 'weak' may include any mistreated group; but they can also include a mistreated regime if need be. The nuclear agreement does not cancel out any constitutional clause. On the contrary, the wealth it will generate will consolidate this support and extend its ambit to areas that ballistic missiles cannot reach.
"If ending the Iranian nuclear agreement took so many years of negotiating effort, pressures, tensions, and regional turnabouts, by the time an amendment of the constitution is considered, Iran’s 'flame thrower' would have achieved its aims," concludes Qammouriyyeh.
ISRAELI ACCOMODATION: "There are indications that the Israeli government, led by Binyamin Netanyahu, has begun to accommodate itself to the idea of an international nuclear agreement with Iran, even if it persists with its campaign against it," writes Ahmad Jamil 'Azm in Tuesday's Jordanian daily al-Ghad.
In this regard, we should not ignore the fact that an agreement of this kind also includes opportunities for the Israeli side, alongside its losses
In any world crisis, politicians seek to secure whatever gains are possible and reduce or avoid losses. While an Iranian/international agreement over Tehran's nuclear program looms on the horizon, part of the Israeli domestic debate has turned to the extent to which the country’s policies towards Iran have succeeded, and what can be done in the coming phase.
For example, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources, Yuval Steinitz said on Monday that a nuclear agreement is imminent. He defended his government's policy, claiming that Israel’s diplomatic efforts were responsible for imposing the sanctions on Iran. He added that Israeli intelligence has succeeded in 'softening' the transitional nuclear agreement with Iran. For his part, the head of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid said that Israel should now focus on the mechanisms for international monitoring of Iran.
In one form or another, Israel’s losses from a nuclear agreement with Tehran may be seen on a number of levels, the most important of which are the following:
- First, the wrangle over the agreement has exposed the limits of the Israeli government's ability to influence U.S. decisions. Despite Netanyahu's attempts to mobilize American public opinion and American politicians against an agreement with Tehran, U.S. President Barack Obama has succeeded in cutting Netanyahu down to size-- so far at least. If Obama manages to get the agreement through Congress, that would represent a blow to Netanyahu and an important part of the process of reviewing Israel's role in determining U.S. policy.
- The other Israeli 'loss' stems from the prospect that the Americans will now be free to devote their attention to other dossiers after Iran, including the Palestinian/Israeli problem. This is especially likely given that historical precedents demonstrate that whenever a major Middle Eastern file is conclusively addressed, attention then turns to the Palestinian file, even if the final outcome has been disappointing. The Israelis should now expect international and American demands to resolve the Palestinian problem. And linked to this likely loss, is Israel’s diminishing ability to divert the world's attention from its policies towards the Palestinians and direct it towards Tehran's nuclear file instead.
- The third issue that Israelis are believed to be preparing for has to do with Iran's growing freedom of action in backing those groups that are linked to it in the region. Tehran and its allies will continue to use Israel as an essential part of their media and political campaigns to gain popularity and claim revolutionary legitimacy; that of resistance and opposition, which will intensify the incitement against Israel.
On the other hand, Israel is not devoid of potential gains:
- The first is the claim that there is a single enemy and a common concern that brings it together with certain Arab regimes that fear Iranian expansion. Although Arab concerns about Iranian policies are genuine and justified, I believe that the leaks and media reports of a convergence between Arab/Israeli positions regarding the Iranian file contain much of Israel’s usual exaggeration. Many false or exaggerated reports are being leaked regarding an alliance against Iran in order to achieve a number of aims including, first, preparing the climate for such an implicit or actual alliance in the future. Second, pressuring Washington by claiming that there is a coincidence of interests between Washington's Arab allies and the Israelis and that they all are angry with the White House. And third, trying and ensure that the Palestinian problem will be sidetracked in pursuit of common denominators with the Arabs.
- A second point linked to the above, is that certain Arab countries will be preoccupied with the repercussions of the agreement. The ongoing proxy wars between Iran's supporters and opponents in some Arab countries may escalate, while the Arab and Islamic world may be further distracted by the Shiite/Sunni sectarian confrontation that has been deliberately revived and fanned in recent years.
- Netanyahu’s third gain may arise from when he addresses Israel’s public opinion claiming that Israel can only rely on itself for security, and that there is nothing wrong with a degree of tension and disagreement with Washington, especially if U.S. economic and security support for Israel continues even in the international forums.
"A major part of Israel’s assessments of opportunities and threats will also depend upon the Arabs’ calculations and whether they will seek to gain from the Iranian/international agreement and reduce their losses without being dragged into the Israeli camp," concludes 'Azm.
TRUST IS NOT AN ELEMENT: "Trust is not an element in Iranian foreign policy," writes Ali Hassan Bakeer in Tuesday's Qatari daily al-Arab.
The Iranian system is not based on any ethical standards, as some may mistakenly believe. A review of the regime's behavior over the last three decades would confirm that the essence of its policy is based on concepts that totally contradict the notion of trust. To cite just one example, it relies on deception, manoeuvring, procrastination, lying, deception, and double-talk.
One does not wish to dig deep into the deep roots and sources of these concepts in the Iranian regime's behavior. What we wish to discuss here is how this relates to the U.S./Iranian nuclear agreement and how that may influence its content and affect the region.
Among the major disasters in this phase is that the agreement that the Obama administration is seeking with the mullahs' regime is essentially based on wishful thinking and supposed unconditional trust. According to the details that have been revealed and that we have discussed in earlier articles, the agreement is not based on any strong and effective mechanism or strict deterrent regime that prevents the Iranian side from trying to cheat, deceive, or play around. If it tries to do this in the presence of such mechanisms or regime the consequences for it would be destructive.
This dangerous equation will ultimately impose itself on the region, because neither party trusts the other. The Iranian side has learnt from the experiences of others in an excellent manner. It has learnt from the Shah's experience, from Saddam and Qadhafi's experience, from North Korea and from many others. And what it has learnt is not to trust the Americans or even its Russian allies.
As for the American side, it knows for certain that the Iranians continue to cheat relentlessly, even after the November 2013 and April 2015 agreements. Recently reports have indicated that Iran is still trying to buy technological elements for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a clandestine and illegitimate way. This is based on a June UN report, as well as another report from German intelligence earlier this month (July) and despite Iran's declaration that it has been committed to the current agreement since November 2013.
The U.S. administration is turning a blind eye to all this for reasons stemming from Obama's personal ambitions, but also because it hopes that an agreement will subsequently change Iran's behavior. On the other hand, the lack of trust in the Iranian regime and its policies shared by most regional states, and as reflected in U.S. President Obama's policies, goes without saying.
There is no doubt that the Iranians will view an agreement as an opportunity to catch their breath, improve their economic conditions, enhance their conventional military capabilities, and develop their nuclear program's size, structure, and abilities, but with Western help. However, because they do not trust the Americans, they believe that the agreement may offer sufficient time for any incoming U.S. administration to prepare for confronting Iran at any phase of the agreement or when its deadlines are reached. And this requires Iran to pursue its own preparations so as to confront such a possibility and not rely on the agreement alone.
On the other hand, it seems obvious that the regional states – especially the Arab countries –will work to speed up their nuclear ambitions during the agreement's ten year timespan in the hope that this will narrow the nuclear gap between them and Iran.
To block the path to such American and Arab calculations, we should keep in mind that historical experience as well as Iran’s past behavior, indicate that the Iranian regime will inevitably resort to cheating and deception. But the extent and nature of this cheating will be gradual in terms of its quality and quantity, so that when discovered (assuming that it is), it would not elicit a destructive reaction, as much as produce confusion and division in the international community.
Questions will be raised: Has Tehran really cheated? Is there any evidence? What party is qualified to prove this? Does the scale of the deception require ending the nuclear agreement? Should Iran be punished for its deception? And so on. Such factors render the outbreak of wars in the region because of this agreement not only possible, but likely, especially during its initial and final phases.
At the beginning of an agreement, each side will try to get close to the other until it is endorsed on the ground and bolstered by common interests. This is the sort of logic we wrote about in previous articles many months ago regarding the behavior of the Obama administration and the Iranian regime. The two sides want to consolidate the agreement. And because the definition of 'extremism' when the issue of 'fighting extremism' in the region becomes a 'catalyst', basically and exclusively pertains to 'the Sunni other,' this entails more misguided wars that will only produce further sectarianism, extremism, and terrorism, especially when Tehran and Washington are part of the same project.
And if the agreement holds its ground for a few years, the next phase will be one in which the region will witness larger scale wars because the competition between its states and with time will be at its most intense.
"The irony is that at the time when the Obama administration argues with its opponents and justifies its behavior by claiming that there is no alternative because the only other option is war, the nuclear agreement will lead to the very war it claims to be seeking to avoid in one way or another," concludes Bakeer.
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