Iran and America win, Israel and the Gulf monarchies lose

John Kerry and Javad Zarif

Veteran Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan argues that Iran and the US will gain much from the historic nuclear deal signed yesterday, while Israel and the Gulf monarchies stand to lose.

Yesterday, in Vienna, Iran and the 5+1 world powers reached agreement on a historic deal which will see Iran guarantee to limit its nuclear capabilities in exchange for crippling sanctions against it being lifted.

The immediate results, not related to the content of the agreement nor its terms and disclaimers, were as follows:

First: a mile-wide grin on the face of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iranian Foreign Minister who even cracked a joke, drawing wary laughter from his western counterparts.

Second: an hysterical, furious outburst from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who immediately declared the agreement to be a catastrophic “historic mistake for the world.”

Third: a deadly silence, as from the tomb, in those Arab capitals which consider themselves to be America’s number one regional ally, followed by a creeping awareness of shock and confusion.

Nuclear bomb

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It would be impossible to report to our readers on the full content of the 100 or so pages of the agreement, but we wish to draw your attention to the key points contained therein:

First: the agreement does not prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium which means that, theoretically, it could suddenly upgrade enrichment to weapons grade if it had a change of heart; the deal simply lengthens the time it would take it to assemble its first nuclear bomb from an estimated 2-3 months to one year, giving the West more time to prepare a response should such a catastrophe arise.

Iranian nuclear facilities
Iranian nuclear facilities

Iran’s enrichment procedures will continue but are capped for fifteen years at 3.67 percent and its stockpile is limited to 300kg.

However, Iran has also kept around 35% of its centrifuges under the deal, these nuclear reactors all have the potential to be adapted illegally for military purposes should Tehran decide on that path at some point in the future.

Second: Tehran will allow IAEA inspectors “certain access” – a woolly description which appears to leave much of the decision making regarding what, when and where in the hands of the Iranians.

This is because Iran does not wish to experience the same fate as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq where the misreporting on weapons of mass destruction resulted in the country being occupied by the US for ten years.

Third: Iran will obviously continue to benefit from and exploit the brains and experience of its current generation of nuclear scientists who can, at any time in the future, resume the development of nuclear armaments in breach of the agreement; after the fifteen years of the agreement, these scientists and their students will be free to do as they wish.

Coming in out of the cold

Fourth: Iran will no longer be in the “rogue state’ category; will no longer be subject to descriptions such as “terrorist” and will no longer constitute one part of the “Axis of Evil” George W. Bush famously described.

Perhaps, and this, we feel is key, it will become a new regional ally for the US and its western allies.

Fifth: Iran’s economy will receive a massive boost by the release of $120 billion in frozen assets and the lifting of embargos which will allow it to export worldwide. Iran will swiftly become a major regional economic power, offering hundreds of thousands of jobs.

In terms of the global oil market, the impact will be devastating at a time when Saudi Arabia has kept prices artificially low by flooding the market.

Iran’s oil exports were halved by sanctions; when those are lifted, the market will be awash with Iranian supplies on top of the glut already produced by Opec countries.

Tehran already has 30 million barrels of crude in storage and ready for sale. Crude prices fell by 2.3% to $50.98 a barrel as the ink dried on the deal.

The Iranian economy is very much more diversified than those of its regional rivals. Oil accounts for only 33% of its overall revenues, whereas it is as much as 90% in Gulf countries.

Sixth: the coming resurgence of Iran will benefit and strengthen the “Brics” countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which have stood behind Tehran politically – especially Russia and China.

Obama’s legacy

Our final observations concern the motivation of President Obama, who has doggedly pursued this agreement for nearly two years having made a dramatic U-turn away from a previous course of military confrontation with Iran which saw the mobilization of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and special troops units in the Gulf.

This can be summarized in the following points, very briefly:

First: this agreement is an alternative to war, the United States has been exhausted morally, politically and economically by its decades long involvement in the Middle East.

Obama has tired of supporting Arab regimes that cannot protect themselves, defending their interests, and fighting wars on their behalf. We believe he would like to see a gradual American withdrawal from the region.

Second: President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at the beginning of his Presidency and wants to justify this honour. He wants his historical legacy to be one of peacemaker; hence his conciliatory approach to Cuba – on 1 July, Washington and Havana announced that they would be resuming full diplomatic relations after 54 years of hostility.

Obama’s failure to establish a Palestinian State, however, will always remain a black dot on his legacy.

Third: America’s real war in the Middle East is now against the Islamic State (IS) which has shown great potential for expansion. The US and her allies have become convinced that defeating is not possible without the cooperation of Iran.

The Sunni bloc

Unlike the Sunni bloc (led by Saudi Arabia), the Iranian-led Shia bloc (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah) is solidly aligned with none of the complicated internecine conflicts which are currently debilitating their regional rivals.

Tehran’s loyalties and projects are clear to see and often diametrically opposed to those of Saudi Arabia: it supports the Assad regime in Syria, for example, and the Houthi rebellion in Yemen at the Saudis southern border.

In terms of the profit and loss accounts it can be said that the Sunni Arab countries have come out the losers from this agreement, with two exceptions: the Sultanate of Oman and the Emirate of Dubai.

King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia
King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia

Oman maintained a neutral position on the Iranian crisis and hosted secret negotiations which became the kernel of the current agreement which will strengthen its relations with Iran and the West, politically, militarily and economically.

Dubai, meanwhile, remained a vital economic artery outside of Iran during the sanctions years of sanctions, just as it did during the Iran-Iraq war; the release of $120 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets is likely to see huge commercial and real estate investment in Dubai; by contrast, the rest of the GCC’s economies are shrinking because of lower oil revenues.

Algeria and Egypt, and to a lesser extent, Tunisia and Mauritania, also had the wisdom to distance themselves from open hostility towards Iran and, no doubt, will also benefit politically and economically from this regional sea-change.

We can conclude, then, that Mr. Zarif’s smiles, Netanyahu’s angers, and the Gulf states’ shock were all well-founded.

Iran’s resurgence as an international power will completely change the political map of the Middle East and present a real challenge to the only other, existing nuclear power, Israel.

We will see an end to Israeli dominance and arrogance, both regionally and on the world stage.

Iran’s steadfastness, the ability of its negotiators to stand firm with patience and courage, is a master-class in diplomacy and political acumen both for us, as Arabs, and the entire world.

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