Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1255, (23 - 29 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

After the Iranian nuclear agreement

While pundits are hailing the Iran nuclear deal as a game changer, its real impact will depend on what the Arabs do amid regional conflicts and contradictions, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

By the time this article appears, the volume of articles and commentaries that will have been published on the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (actually, it is 5+2, since we should add the EU foreign affairs representative) will far exceed the volume of the agreement itself (159 pages).

In the coming days, the US will ask the UN Security Council to issue a resolution approving the agreement, thereby making it internationally binding. No difficulties will arise here, naturally, as the five permanent members collaborated in producing the agreement, so the resolution is a mere detail.

The same will apply when the agreement is submitted for US congressional approval. A rejection by the Republican majority will run up against Obama’s veto, which can only be overridden by a two-thirds majority, which will be impossible to obtain.

The agreement thus is an international and regional political reality. We should neither exaggerate nor underestimate its repercussions. Rather, we should try to place them in their proper perspective to the extent that our analytical tools permit.

The nuclear agreement with Iran has been described as the most important event in the Middle East since the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991. A better comparison perhaps would be between this and the first strategic arms limitation agreement between the US and the Soviet Union in 1972, known as SALT-1.

Both agreements Madrid and SALT marked the beginning of many developments. The Madrid accord set in motion the extensive Arab-Israeli peace process, which resulted in the Oslo Accords, which laid the foundation for the two-state solution and the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement.

SALT-1 led to SALT-2 and then to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1). In other words, it was the beginning of an extended political process, one of the side effects of which was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Both SALT and Madrid precipitated important strategic and historic results, but neither created a historical watershed that resolved structural complexes and contradictions. Neither did peace descend on the Middle East between the Arabs and the Israelis, nor was the gap between the US and Russia bridged.

In fact, it is probably no less deep than it was before Moscow and Washington sat together at the same table. I suspect that this will also be the case with the Iranian nuclear deal.

The agreement has changed nothing in the nature of either side of the parties involved. This was not the point in any case. The point was to halt an Iranian inclination to produce nuclear weapons and no more.

We should not read more than is warranted into the agreement. Iran can claim a victory because it has always maintained that it seeks to use its nuclear facilities for peaceful energy generating purposes, which is permissible under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

As for the US and its partners, they too can claim a victory because in terms of its scientific, technical and operational capacities, Iran’s nuclear arms production has been stopped and a close watch will be kept to ensure it stays that way through measures that even permit for inspections of Iranian military sites.

The victory celebrations on both sides, expressed in their own ways, are the product of successful international negotiations. But the contradiction between the countries of the Western world and Iran will continue to exist, as it did between them and the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation under Putin, with respect to which, whether it seeks to revive Czarist Russia or communist Russia is anyone’s guess.

Now that the agreement has been concluded, the unity of purpose that bound the five permanent members of the Security Council will come to an end. Russia and China will go their own way while the US, France and the UK, plus Germany and the rest of the EU, will go the well-known way of NATO.

Therefore, the Western trend to view the nuclear agreement as the beginning of an era of Iranian-Western concord, bolstered by the fact that the lifting of sanctions will make Iran less aggressive, is overly optimistic. By the same token, the prevailing trend among Arab commentators to perceive a Western “betrayal” and “pro-Shia” bias is even more excessive.

This does not refute the fact that the agreement will generate special dynamics that will bring change to the wider regional situation. But such dynamics will not be so profound as to overcome the major contradictions that can be essentially summed up in the fact that Iran, its revolution and its political system (as was the case with communism and the Soviet Union) does not have the ability to harmonise with the current international order.

The problem will be more of an Iranian one than a Western one. For one, Iran will be in a quandary over what to do with the some $100 billion of frozen assets that will be released. After so many lean years it can now enjoy some fat years in which the Iranian people can experience some economic progress.

Tehran could also see in those many billions a unique opportunity to advance its strategic vision to be the leader of the world’s Shia, and why not the entire Islamic world while they are at it?

The West will not face a dilemma of this sort. Even under the harshest types of sanctions, Iran achieved its Shia crescent and various regional spheres of influence, which brought it to the Bab Al-Mandeb.

In practical terms, there is nothing more it can do, especially given that some of the military sanctions will continue for quite a while. The Arab world, meanwhile, will have to evaluate the situation very carefully.

A non-nuclear Iran loses the ability to attain the international and regional status to which it aspired, not only secretly but also openly. Also, the agreement was signed against the backdrop of a raging battle in the region, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

This battle is not just with Iran, which has its sights set on “Shia” leadership, but also with the Islamic State (IS) group and its kin, which have their sights set on “Sunni” leadership. A reading of currently realities suggests that both these parties are losing in Syria and Yemen, while the battle between the two in Iraq is fierce.

But the battle as a whole extends from the Atlantic to the Gulf. It is a battle that is playing out independently of the agreement, and the main cards involved are still in the Arabs’ hands, now that they have summoned the resolve of military force and its uses. What they now need is to focus on is how to wrest the tactic of sowing sectarian strife out of the hands of IS and Tehran.

In brief, the situation in the region has not changed much. The Arabs, alone, have the power to dismantle these historical contradictions, and prevent others from meddling in their affairs.

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