The Middle East after a nuclear deal

The Middle East after a nuclear deal
Analysis: As nuclear talks come to a close, Iran's rivals are opposing the possibility of a new order on several political and military fronts.
4 min read
02 April, 2015
John Kerry (L) and Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif are working towards a deal [AFP]

Nuclear talks between Iran and the West are coming to a close, while the Middle East is heading steadily towards open war. The only country in the region that is not effectively at war is Oman.

In that context, the progress in nuclear talks between the Western powers and Iran is perceived as a glimpse of hope. But what is seen as a new era of peace and reconciliation between Iran and the West is not necessarily - and unlikely to be - a new era of peace in the Middle East.

The possibility of further escalation between regional powers is overshadowed by desperate pleas for a nuclear agreement.

It seems that the closer we get to the deal, the fiercer the struggle to resist it. The political landscape is getting more polarised and it is thus naïve to see a deal with Iran as a diplomatic platform that can contain the crisis in the region.

This is not to reaffirm claims made by anti-Iran propagandists regarding the credibility and genuineness of the Iranian regime. Instead, this sceptical view of the deal is based on a critical assessment of the geopolitics of the Middle East and the nuances of power.

Some statements made by Iran's rivals might be manipulative exaggerations. However, the course of events on the ground indicates that regional powers will do what they can to resist further political losses.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal clearly stated that the kingdom "will want the same" as "whatever comes out of these talks".

The political and military possibilities for Iran's rivals would  gain more legitimacy after the deal. The resources used in proxy wars and the diplomatic rift with Saudi Arabia and Iran at its forefront may deepen if sanctions were lifted on Iran, while simultaneously giving Saudi Arabia the green light to resort to force in Yemen and elsewhere.

     A right-wing government led by Netanyahu would likely favour military action over restraint.

Israeli concerns

As the talks conclude, Israel reaffirms that "all options against Iran, including military action, are open" if the deal proves to be a heavy compromise by the West.

Netanyahu's victory in Israeli elections paved the way for a far-right coalition to form the next government. A right-wing government led by Netanyahu would likely favour military action over restraint.

The military tendencies of a Netanyahu-led government can sanction a military reaction to a possible nuclear deal, especially if US-Israeli relations remain tense. The reaction is unlikely to entail direct confrontation with Iran. Instead, Hizballah's increasing military capabilities and ground control are not expected to be tolerated by Netanyahu and his far-right alliance.

In the case of war with Hizballah - in the Golan Heights or South Lebanon - Lebanon will be on the verge of collapse, with millions of Syrians and Lebanese displaced and in need of aid. The Lebanese state, without a president and under direct threat from IS, could itself be facing an existential crisis.

War and peace in Syria

Saudi King Salman has staunchly stuck by the kingdom's demands for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. King Salman emphasised his stance in his firm condemnation of Russia's message for peace and reconciliation in Syria during the Sharm al-Sheikh Arab League summit.

The Saudis refuse to push for talks with Assad as long as the balance of power on the ground hasn't been reached. On the ground, the rebels captured the city of Idlib in the north and are slowly making strategic advancements, after various rebel factions agreed on a timely coalition in their fight against Assad and his allies.

     The Saudis refuse to push for talks with Assad as long as the balance of power on the ground hasn't been reached.

If a deal with Iran is reached and sanctions on the Islamic Republic's economy are lifted, Iran will have even more resources at hand to empower Assad and Hizballah. This is likely to extend the war in Assad's favour.

Yemen's indecisive war

Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen will eventually develop into some sort of a ground invasion. Meanwhile, Houthis are not backing off their offensive on Aden. Regardless of the situation on the ground, it is becoming clearer that there is no way back.

The Saudi-led "Decisive Storm" reflects regional desperation to contain the perceived expansion of Iranian influence and control in the Middle East. It also coincides with the final round of talks between Iran and the West.

If a deal with Iran leads to military escalation in the region, Yemen's war will see a fair share of it. The possibility that a nuclear deal will exacerbate the conflict is higher than the possibility that it will contain it.

A nuclear agreement with Iran could legitimise Iran's ambitious regional project that stretches from the north of Iraq to the Gulf's southern shores. A nuclear deal is not intended to bring peace to the region as much as it is a political arrangement that safeguards the interests of both the US and Iran.

In order to reduce the political risks behind the deal, the West must follow the Iranian deal with talks and agreements with other regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Otherwise, "peace with Iran" by Western standards will only mean further chaos in the Middle East.