Fears linger after Iran deal

Friday 17/07/2015
US Secretary of State John Kerry at Vienna International Center

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.