By Arab News
By Gwynne Dyer
The thing to bear in mind about Tuesday’s deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) is that without it Iran could get nuclear weapons in a year or so whenever it wants.
It has the technologies for enriching uranium, it could make the actual bombs any time it likes (every major country knows how), and the sanctions against Iran could not get much worse than they are now.
If you don’t like the current deal, and you really believe that Iran is hell-bent on getting nuclear weapons, then your only remaining option is massive air strikes on Iran.
Not even the Republican Party stalwarts in the US Congress are up for committing the US Air Force to that folly, and Israel without American support simply couldn’t do it on its own.
Then what’s left? Nothing but the deal. It doesn’t guarantee that Iran can never get nuclear weapons.
It does guarantee that Iran could not break the agreement without giving everybody else at least two years to respond before the weapons are operational. Sanctions would snap back into place automatically, and anybody who thinks air strikes are a cool idea would have plenty of time to carry them out.
So the deal will survive. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can fulminate about how it is a “an historic mistake” that will give Tehran “a sure path to nuclear weapons,” but he cannot stop it.
Netanyahu is obsessive about Iran, but even his own intelligence services do not believe that Tehran has actually been working on nuclear weapons in the past decade. The Israeli prime minister has burned all his bridges with US President Barack Obama, and his allies in the US Congress cannot stop the deal either.
John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said that the deal will “hand a dangerous regime billions of dollars in sanctions relief while paving the way for a nuclear Iran,” and he can probably muster a majority in Congress against it. (Congress, as Washington insiders put it, is “Israeli-occupied territory.”) But he cannot muster the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override Obama’s inevitable veto.
There will be a 60-day delay while Congress debates the issue, but this deal will go through in the end. So far, so good, but this is not happening in a vacuum. What are the broader implications for Middle Eastern politics?
Ever since the victory of the Islamic ‘revolution’ 36 years ago, Iran and the United States have been bitter enemies. They have not suddenly become allies, but they are already on good speaking terms. Since almost all of America’s allies in the Arab world see Iran as a huge strategic threat, they are appalled by the prospect of a US-Iran rapprochement.
That is not a done deal yet. While Iran strongly supports Bashar Assad’s beleaguered regime in Syria, Washington still advocates Assad’s overthrow and arms some of the “moderate” rebels. It supports campaign by Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and backs the Saudi stand that the Houthis are mere pawns who are being armed and incited to revolt by Iran.
But nobody in the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon really believes that the civil war in Yemen is an Iranian plot. Very few believe any longer that Assad can be overthrown in Syria without handing the country over to the fanatics who dominate the insurgency there. And the most powerful force among those fanatics is Daesh, whose troops are already being bombed by the United States in both Syria and Iraq.
The highest US priority in the Middle East now is to prevent Iraq and Syria from falling into the hands of Daesh and its equally extreme rival, the Nusra Front. Iran is giving both the Syrian and the Iraqi governments military support that is essential to their survival, so there is obviously the potential for closer US-Iranian cooperation here.
So yes, a grand realignment of American alliances in the Middle East is theoretically possible now that the long cold war between the US and Iran is over. In practice, however, it is most unlikely to happen.
The long-standing military and economic ties between Washington and its current allies will triumph over cold strategic logic, and American policy in the Middle East will continue to be the usual muddle.