The Iran Nuclear
Deal: Rewriting the Middle
By James M. Dorsey
Synopsis The agreement to resolve the Iranian nuclear programme could rewrite the political map of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as strengthen the US pivot to Asia. It could also reintegrate Iran into the international community as a legitimate regional power.
IF ALL goes
well, the preliminary agreement between Iran and the five permanent members
of the UN
Security Council – the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia – plus
would ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and ultimately
it into the international community. In doing so, it would not only remove the
threat of a
debilitating war with Iran and prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East
but also return the Islamic republic to the centre stage of the region’s
force regional powers such as Israel and Saudi Arabia to focus on their most
issues rather than use the Iranian threat as a distraction, while offering the
opportunity to revert to its stated policy of pivoting from Europe and the
Middle East to
To be sure, a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue is not a panacea for the
vast array of
political, economic, ethnic, national and sectarian problems in the Middle East
Africa. Political and social unrest, boiling popular discontent with
politics are likely to dominate developments in the region for years to come.
Nonetheless, Iran’s return to the international community is likely to provide
the incentive for
constructively contribute to ending the bitter civil war in Syria, breaking the
Lebanon where the Shiite militia Hezbollah plays a dominant role, and
peace between Israelis and Palestinians. That would also take some of the sting
out of the
region’s dangerous slide into sectarian Sunni-Shiite conflict.
All of that would reduce the number of fires in the Middle East and North
Africa that the
administration has been seeking to control and that have prevented it from
its intended re-focus on Asia.
Countering US policy
A resolution of the nuclear issue offers Iran far more than the ultimate
lifting of crippling
sanctions. Iran has over the last decade been able to effectively counter US
the Middle East and North Africa through its support of Hezbollah which is the
powerful grouping in Lebanon; Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction in Gaza;
its aid to
embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; backing of restive Shiite
oil-rich Gulf states and Iraq; and ensuring that the government of Iraqi Prime
al-Maliki looks as much toward Tehran as it does to Washington.
Iran’s incentive to become more cooperative is the fact that resolution of the
involve acknowledgement of the Islamic republic as a legitimate regional power,
regional players - alongside Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel and
Pakistan - that
ability or economic, military and technological strength to project power. It
Iran to capitalise on geostrategic gains it has made despite its international
Iran is likely to be further motivated by an easing and ultimate lifting of the
sanctions that will
allow it to
address boiling domestic social and economic discontent. President Hassan
election earlier this year has for now replaced that powder keg with high
more moderate policies would ease the heavy economic price Iran was paying for
programme. This is despite many Iranians feeling disappointed that Iran will
in benefits from the freshly concluded agreement in the coming six months. The
serve, however, as an incentive for Iran to come to a comprehensive and final
its nuclear programme.
From spoiler into a constructive player
What worries opponents of the nuclear deal like Israel and Saudi Arabia most is
the potential transformation of Iran from a game spoiler into a constructive
player. The nuclear deal removes
republic as the foremost perceived threat to the national security of Israel
Israel, this risks peace with the Palestinians reclaiming its position at the
top of the
making it more difficult for the Israelis to evade the painful steps needed to
that is nearing its centennial anniversary.
For Saudi Arabia, it complicates its efforts to fuel regional sectarianism,
deflect calls for
treatment of its Shiite minority as well as for greater transparency and
establish itself as the region’s unrivalled leader.
Nowhere is that likely to be more evident than in Iranian policy towards Syria.
and what Saudi Arabia and its allies would like the world to believe,
are not based on sectarian affinity but on common interests stemming from
isolation. That reality changes as Iran rejoins the international community.
For the US, a deal means evading at least for now the threat of another Middle
potentially catastrophic consequences and enlisting Iran in addressing the
That creates space for it to focus on long term goals in Asia.
However, in removing Iran as a regional lightning rod, the US is likely to be
forced to clearly
Middle East policy that balances short term national security with the reality
regional volatility and unrest to come that could redraw some national borders
is likely to
involve messy political and social transitions, following the toppling in
in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen and the civil war in Syria.
Dorsey is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International
(RSIS), Nanyang Technological University. He is also co-director of the
of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The
World of Middle East Soccer blog and a forthcoming book with the
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