Fears linger after Iran deal
BEIRUT - The landmark agreement between Iran and US-led world powers announced July 14th signals the end of a 13-year-old confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear programme and possibly a more far-reaching rapprochement between the Islamic Republic and “the Great Satan” after more than three decades of hostility.
The deal in Vienna, where officials on both sides had engaged in fevered and often acrimonious diplomacy for months, points to a significant shift, not necessarily for the better, in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East at a time when it is gripped by unprecedented turmoil.
The agreement, hailed as a “historic moment” and “a new chapter of hope” by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, alarmed many in the Arab world, particularly in the neighbouring Gulf region where countries fear the Americans are leaving them in the lurch against an Iran bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
The West believes the aim of Iran’s nuclear programme is to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies that but accepted to block production of enough enriched uranium for at least ten years and provisions for wider outside inspections of its nuclear facilities, including military sites that have long been off-limits.
A UN weapons embargo will reportedly remain in place for five years, with a ban on purchasing missile technology staying for eight years.
Despite these limitations, the agreement is not likely to completely assuage the fears of Iran’s Arab neighbours, Israel or the US right.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who sees Iran as an existential threat and advocates bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, branded the deal “a bad mistake of historic proportions”.
Monitoring, something Tehran has steadfastly rejected in the past, will be all-important in the months ahead and will provide a barometer of Iran’s willingness to set aside a generation of mutual suspicion and fear.
On July 12th, even as the weary negotiators neared agreement in Vienna, Fox News quoted German intelligence officials as saying Iranian agents continue to seek nuclear and ballistic missile technology across Europe, part of a global clandestine operation to get around UN embargoes.
In return for Tehran scaling back its nuclear programme, harsh US-led international sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy are to be lifted. That will put up to $100 billion in frozen assets in Tehran’s coffers, with which it can resuscitate its economy, an immense boost for Iran’s clerical regime.
But Iran’s opponents argue this will allow Tehran to boost the widely reviled regime of Iran’s ally, President Bashar Assad of Syria, and finance extremist groups across the Middle East, as well as surreptitiously boost Iran’s military.
US President Barack Obama admits to Iran’s possible continuation of its subversive activities. “Now, I actually believe that they’re interested in trying to operate on parallel levels to be able to obtain the benefits of international legitimacy, commerce, reduction of sanctions while still operating through proxies in destructive ways around the region,” he told the New York Times on July 14th.
Indeed, the Arab Gulf states will not be reassured by the July 14th deal and the potential for conflict with Shia Iran will continue. Saudi Arabia is already engaged in a proxy war with pro-Iran Houthis in Yemen and the prospect of further turmoil in the region looms even more today.