Has Iran changed its hues?

Friday 22/05/2015
Basij training in Tehran

BEIRUT - There is a growing debate in the Middle East about which way things are headed with developments under way in several hot spots.

Iran’s international position will likely change after the nuclear deal with the West is signed. There will be a change in the regional balance of power, influencing the regime’s make-up and its relations with areas of influence in place since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

But will this agreement truly influence Tehran’s regional rela­tions and tone down its bellicose rhetoric? Or will it serve as a new incentive to step up its political attacks for the purpose of bringing down more regimes in its sphere of influence?

Tehran has yet to indicate a true change in behaviour and its allies have yet to change their blustery tone, even though Iran no longer enjoys the freedom of action it did prior to the recent quasi-coup against the regional status quo.

In Tehran’s thinking, Washing­ton believes it should employ Iran as its local policeman, or at least not ignore it altogether, when a new regional order is established. This is despite several indications in US circles that such a belief is exaggerated.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent statements reiter­ated the goals pursued by Wash­ington from the signing of the nuclear agreement. Kerry said people were wrong to believe the deal involved only ten or 15 years of inspections because the goal was to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weap­ons till “forever”.

US officials have also recently spoken about re-linking this objective to regional issues, taking into consideration new objec­tions, from Israel as well, about Iran’s regional role.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed that Tel Aviv will not let Iran’s missiles threaten its borders, pressing for a new po­litical formula to restore balance to the region.

Perhaps the “surprise” came from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which launched Operation Decisive Storm in Yemen, in their initial response to Iran’s crossing of certain red lines.

Initial reaction to the violation of these red lines was reminiscent of when Washington’s policy of looking the other way was seen as tacit acceptance of agendas that the regional and international order could not, in fact, tolerate.

Such was the fate of Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait, and it will be the fate of the Syrian regime of Hafez and Bashar Assad. It will also happen to Iran with its entanglement in the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Thus, the deci­sion to embark on Decisive Storm isn’t a response to the border problem with Yemen; it is an Arab response to the changing regional order.

Vital interests continue to war­rant joint Arab action. The Yemen campaign is addressed to Wash­ington, after US President Barack Obama’s commented that Shia extremism cannot be compared to Sunni extremism and that the return of stability was linked to re-employing a policeman — possibly Iran — in this unruly region.

Saudi Arabia’s recent internal reordering of power also took eve­ryone, and especially the United States, by surprise. The “smooth” succession was a response to the wagers by some that the kingdom would fail to make this transition. It was widely forgotten that the re­gion’s extremely sensitive state in the post-“Arab spring” phase and the existential threat felt by many because of destabilising condi­tions in the region, all contributed to the political transition under way in Saudi Arabia.

Will Iran alter its political be­haviour after these changes play themselves out?

This is unlikely, especially since the nature of the interna­tional consensus whether over Tehran’s nuclear programme or the future of relations with the Is­lamic Republic, remains unsettled. Significant differences remain — as reflected for instance by the French position.

France has expressed its region­al aspirations and acted directly against terrorist groups in Africa and the Islamic State (ISIS). It’s likely that Paris will help balance things after Washington’s policy of “abandonment”. It remains to be seen how the international community will adjust its policies towards the region as we await the results of the US-Gulf summit at Camp David, Maryland.