One does not have to be an expert on, which I am not, or even a dabbler in, which I am, the Middle East to be able to read the obvious. The obvious being that the short-term deal reached between Iran and six world powers over the Shia hub’s nuclear program has the potential to dramatically rearrange the strategic jigsaw.
Even the vague possibility that Shia Islam’s nerve center may strike up a less than adversarial relationship with the United States is fraught with enormous consequences in the region. For decades now, 34 years to be precise since Iran and America violently bounced off each other in 1979, the default strategic alignment in the Middle East has been Sunni in nature. Of course, Israel has been the pivot around which the overarching US interests have revolved.
I must control premature articulation over whether the stopgap deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for some easing of economic sanctions for six months will work or not. That said if the development is taken to its logical end, meaning if Iran becomes what the West understands to be a reasonable, sensible power, then it can eventually upend a strategic imperative carefully laid out by the plutocratic, oil-fueled Sunni majority with the help and connivance on the United States.
It is not for me to say whether one is necessarily better than the other because no one really knows the mood of the shifting sands. But one at least knows better than to herald any seemingly significant realignment in the Middle East as being for the final and larger good of the Middle East.
One advantage of a possible warming of relations between America and Iran is that the latter’s client states, in particular Syria, might become easier to deal with. It is entirely possible that through private, behind the scenes channels, Washington might have told Tehran to rein in its despotically errant client states if it wants the world to eventually lift the sanctions.
As has been pointed out widely, regaining Iran through diplomacy has been one President Barack Obama’s favorite foreign policy visions since 2007.To that extent the election that brought an apparently moderate Hassan Rohani as Iran’s president has proved to be a remarkably fortuitous turn of events for the U.S. president along with his own re-election. These are heavy variables that cannot be controlled. They just have to fall in place for the rest to happen.
The Iran deal is bound to unsettle Sunni regimes in the Middle East, particularly America’s most enduring partner Saudi Arabia. But that is something Washington will have to manage. As for Israel, it could be even harder to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than the Sunni Islamic states not to lose faith in America. Netanyahu has already called the short-term deal a “historic mistake.” The prefix “historic” is redundant because all mistakes in the Middle East are ultimately historic. There are no small mistakes given the terribly intractable cultural equations there.