Can The Nuclear Talks Survive The Gaza War? – OpEd


As the brutal Gaza war extends into its second month with the Israeli government mobilizing more forces to beef up its ground campaign inside the Gaza Strip, given this war’s sharpening of political polarizations on a global scale, the question is what impact, if any, will it have on the Iran nuclear talks, due to resume in September?

Assuming that come September the Gaza war is still on-going, it will undoubtedly be a top priority at the UN when the world leaders congregate for the annual General Assembly summit. Despite President Hassan Rouhani’s preference for a calm approach to the global issues, the occasion calls for stern Iranian reaction to Israel’s atrocities in Gaza that have exacted so many lives and triggered a major humanitarian catastrophe, perhaps in league with other Muslim and non-aligned nations. Lest we forget, compared to his predecessor and his fiery anti-Israel speeches, Mr. Rouhani’s UN speech last year was devoid of “incendiary rhetoric” and was focused on polishing Iran’s image by projecting a new moderate approach to regional and global issues.

But, with the passions in the Muslim world running high as a result of Israel’s brutal military assault on Gaza, this year’s speech by Mr. Rouhani will likely be tempered by the Iranian outrage at Israel’s atrocities and the nation’s demand for strong international condemnation.

Not only that, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has already twice articulated Iran’s firm support for the Palestinian resistance, calling on the world community to help arm the Palestinians even in the West Bank to fight back against their oppressors.

Meanwhile, the US government’s uncritical defense of Israel, resupplying ammunition for the latter’s murderous campaign, is a cause for alarm in Tehran since it demonstrates Washington’s callous disregard for international norms and values, thus resulting in a widening gap between Tehran and Washington.

On the other hand, the hawkish US lawmakers and pundits have seized on the Gaza war to blame Iran, which has openly admitted to military technology transfer to Hamas, and to call for linking the nuclear talks to Iran’s support for Hamas, some going as far as threatening new legislation that would condition any sanctions’ removal to the termination of Iran’s relations with Hamas. The war has in fact instigated a new pro-Israel turn in Washington politics and even the usually outspoken black congressional leaders have refrained from any criticisms of Israel. Having succeeded, much to the complicity of mainstream US media, to paint the Hamas threat as an “existential threat,” the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an eye on Iran in his war calculations, hoping to corner the White House and to force the administration away from any reasonable compromise with Tehran in the nuclear talks. As a result of the war’s political windfall for Israel in Washington political circles, the Obama administration realizes that its chance of passing through the Congress any compromised deal with Iran is now substantially lower and politically risky.

Simultaneously, the Gaza war is intertwined with the Ukraine crisis, which has ignited a new cold war hostility between US and Russia, whose cooperation is essential for a final deal in the current Iran talks. Russia’s diplomats have already gone the record threatening to play a spoiler role and now that Moscow is slapped with harsh new sanctions aimed at its financial and oil institutions, the downward slope in US-Russia relations for the foreseeable future is guaranteed. How Moscow behaves in the upcoming Iran talks can no longer be safely predicted and, instead, we can assume a good deal of disunity among the “5 +1” nations — that may increasingly look like “5 -1” the one being Russia.

Gaza War’s impact on Iran’s national security calculus

Although the on-going war makes it difficult to tabulate the net impact on Iran’s national security calculus, nevertheless certain tentative lessons for Iran observing the war’s theater can be fathomed. The first lesson is that the US and rest of Western world are untrustworthy custodians of the post-cold war order and their duplicity of silence vis-a-vis Israel’s cold-blooded murders in Gaza speaks volumes about a global anarchy where might speaks louder than rights. In other words, the war has been an eye-opener as far as Iran is concerned, reminding the country as a whole that the promise of world’s passage to a more civilized and secure post-cold war era remains largely unfulfilled, thus necessitating Iran’s utmost military preparedness and quest for reliable allies in the region and beyond.

The second lesson is that the UN is a useless instrument that plays a marginal role in major international crises, sidestepped by the powers instead of acting as a focus of world politics. This can be seen in the rather pathetic role of UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, reduced to verbal condemnation of Israel’s repeat attacks on UN shelters, without any meaningful follow-up.

The third lesson to be drawn from the Gaza war is the necessity of Muslim unity and the overcoming of sectarian cleavages presently dividing the Sunnis and Shiites, who need to remain focused on the common Zionist enemy that harbors grand ambitions of expansionism partly by its ‘rent a superpower’ attitude of divide and sow the disintegration of territorial unity of Middle East nations.

The fourth lesson concerns a greater distrust of the Obama administration, which has no qualm about preaching Iran to “live up to its international commitments” and, yet, has no such audacity with respect to Israel, which has trashed all sorts of international laws and norms, including the Geneva Protocols on protection of civilians in the occupied territories and war zones as well as international humanitarian laws. At a time when a final nuclear deal requires building bridges over the US-Iran diplomatic chasm and confidence-building, the Gaza war has fueled the opposite stream of confidence-deficit and even hostility, with US and Iran supporting opposite sides in the Gaza war.

Henceforth, the question is no longer if the Gaza war will have an adverse impact on the nuclear talks, but rather how severe an impact and, relatedly, what if anything can be done to offset the damage? By all indications, the Gaza war represents a major shock for the ship of nuclear diplomacy that although it may not capsize it nevertheless has the potential to strand it in the volatile war environment. It is therefore up to the diplomats and negotiators involved to correctly assess the situation and to present the remedies for the sake of a much-needed breakthrough in the nuclear talks.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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