Better a deal than a war

Better a deal than a war
Comment: A rash of statements and high-level meetings suggest there is broad agreement that the framework deal with Iran, if translated into a permanent deal, is better than the alternatives.
5 min read
08 Apr, 2015
Erdogan's visit to Tehran is crucial for relations to come [Anadolu]

Perhaps the most salutary reaction to the P5+1/Iran nuclear framework came from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC is the bloc of fifty-seven countries with a population of over one-and-a-half billion people. Within its borders lives the bulk of the Muslim world, although the absence of India is significant (it is close to being home of the largest number of Muslims in a world – a close second to Indonesia).


What was important about the OIC statement is that it represents the will not only of the political leadership of these countries, but is also a reflection of views in the Gulf Arab states. And the OIC’s Secretary-General, the Saudi official, Iyad bin Amin Madani, said he hoped the framework deal

     Thousands of years of Iranian history have armed it to stand fast against any such intervention.

would result in a permanent deal.


Saudi Crown Prince Nayef went off to Turkey, where he held high-level meetings whose agenda included the Iran deal. This was a surprise visit. Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was due to visit Iran on April 7 – and so hours before he was to depart Prince Nayef arrived for an unscheduled and brief visit. It is likely that the Saudis have sent a message to Tehran via Erdoğan,


Erdogan’s visit to Iran is important, given their mutual reliance – Iran needs to sell its vast natural gas reserves, while Turkey is starved for energy. Disagreements over Syria and European pressure on Turkey to follow the sanctions regime have been the core reasons for the distance between Ankara and Tehran. This is now likely to be dialled down. What Prince Nayef told Erdoğan is key to the future of these relations, as well as the importance of “regional and international issues”, which sits heavily on the agenda of Erdogan’s visit with both Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani and its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Indications of support for the nuclear framework came quickly from Saudi King Salman, and from foreign ministers around the region. It was to be expected that protest would come from Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu. But the reaction from Tel Aviv is not serious. Others feel the dull edge of pragmatism – better this deal than the alternatives, which would only plunge the region further into chaos.


What were the other alternatives?




One of the crucial statements made by Iyad bin Amin Madani was for the revival of negotiations towards a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. All the countries of the region, except Israel, have been willing to participate in a conference for such a framework. It is well known that Israel has a nuclear arsenal, and it is widely understood that the United States parks some nuclear weapons either in Bahrain or Qatar (as part of its nuclear umbrella for the Gulf).


Ernst David Bergmann, who chaired the Israel Atomic Energy Commission from 1954 to 1966, during the period of its nuclear expansion, said, “There is no distinction between nuclear energy for peaceful purposes or warlike ones.” Israel’s nuclear weapons have never raised an eyebrow in the West, nor in deliberations in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


Madani’s comment goes back to a UN General Assembly Resolution in 1996 that calls for a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. This resolution came thirty years after it had become clear that Israel had a nuclear weapons programme. The week of the Iran deal, the US Government declassified a 1987 study called Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations, prepared by Edwin Townsley and Clarence Robinson. The study shows unequivocally that the US has known for a long time about the extent of Israel’s nuclear programme. It detailed the work of the SOREQ and Dimona/Beer Sheva facilities, where Israel conducts “nuclear weapons design and fabrication” as well as other technologies of destruction. It is curious that the US declassified this document at this time.


Israel got a free pass for its nuclear weapons ambitions. It has never been under sanctions or under any kind of surveillance.


Iraq and Libya


Both Iraq and Libya offer the ghastly alternative. Although Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been largely demolished by the first Iraq war (1991) and by subsequent aggressive UN weapons inspections, it nonetheless faced crippling sanctions and a second terrible (and ongoing) war. Raw materials for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been fed to it by the West during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) – including by P5+1 members such as the United States and Germany. These countries have not taken responsibility for their culpability in the creation of that arsenal. Their arrogance will not allow them the place for self-reflection.


Libya decided to exchange its nuclear weapons programme for an opening to the West in the 1990s. A complete surrender of its programme and payments for terrorist acts against Western targets allowed Libyan oil to enter the European markets. Libya also became a hub for the United States’ “extraordinary rendition” programme of “enemy combatants” in the War on Terror. This surrender by the Libyan government did not insulate it from being attacked in 2011 in the NATO war, which of course destroyed the Libyan state and led that country to chaos.




Iran is not promised the favoured Israel route. It has also refused to surrender itself to the Libyan road, or to be destroyed in the manner of Iraq. Turkey and Saudi Arabia perhaps recognize that the recent experience of Iraq (and Libya) is not to be replicated, despite their own views on the leadership in Tehran.


There would have been no good outcome if the United States struck Iran with its superior firepower. Thousands of years of Iranian history have armed it to stand fast against any such intervention. It would have been a cataclysm. Better a deal than war. That seems the message not only from the P5+1 and Iran, but also from Ankara and Riyadh.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.