Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Arabs must get real about Iran's nuclear deal

By: Khalil al-Anani


Comment: The nuclear accord with Iran will radically alter regional relationships and Arab states which continue to oppose Iran may find their allies drifting away, says Khalil al-Anani.
There is no justification for the panic that overcame some Arab elites after the nuclear deal was reached between Iran and world powers. I do not understand the anxiety of some Arab capitals after the deal was struck, which reflects the problems with our system and strategic view.

I am fully aware of the deal's strategic effects on the region and understand the mistrust of many Arab countries towards Iran due to its behaviour and interference, however crying and lamentation is not an appropriate response.

If the deal was respected and implemented, it would mark a turning point in the Arab region for years to come.

On the one hand, it will bolster Tehran's economy and allow it to rehabilitate its ailing infrastructure that has been weakened by decades of sanctions, especially in the oil, construction and traditional arms industries.

This puts Iran on course to become a regional or perhaps even an international economic power in a short amount of time, just as Turkey had become an economic power within a decade.

    This puts Iran on course to become a regional or perhaps even an international economic power in a short amount of time.
On the other hand, the lifting of sanctions will no doubt increase its regional weight and standing, not just because of its improved economy, but due to the repercussions of the deal on Iran's strategic relationship with its allies.

It is important to note here that with or without the deal, Iran was going to continue its support for its regional allies.

The Iranian deal could also lead to a normalisation of relations between Tehran and the West, especially if the Iranian leadership softens its position and hostile rhetoric towards the West, and especially the US.

If that were to happen, it would be a historic shift that rivals the shift in US-Chinese relations in the early 1970s when US President Richard Nixon visited China for the first time since the Korean War, or the shift in Egyptian-Israeli relations after President Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel in 1977, which paved the way to the peace agreement that radically changed the balance of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although it's hard to imagine that US President Barak Obama would visit Tehran during what is left of his term, or address the Iranian parliament, if Tehran adheres to the deal and western diplomacy was successful in deciphering its ideological code, we could possibly see western leaders flocking to shake the Supreme Leader's hand or exchange embraces with Iranian clerics in Qom.

What should worry Arabs is not the prospect of Iran becoming a regional power, because that has been a reality since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, but rather their failure and inability to come up with a comprehensive regional project that can protect their interests.

Furthermore, Arabs should be worried about our internal weaknesses, which are either due to the authoritarian structures of our Arab states and their failure to contain their social and political movements and minorities, or due to our problems and conflicts that flare up every now and again.

Let Arabs be honest with themselves. The deal between Iran and western powers reflects among other things a clear recognition of Iran's power and influence in the region. Even if the deal means a recognition of the obvious, it brings into sharp focus a reality that had been slowly emerging over the past few years.

Meanwhile, many Arab regimes have been busy trying to quell internal movements calling for change since the start of the "Arab Spring", which has lead to a waste of large amounts of resources in addition to those regimes losing focus of the regional game.

If relations between Iran and the west do normalise, which at the moment seems difficult but not unlikely, I would not rule out an increase of differences and divisions in the Arab camp. Here, I mean that some Arab countries would rush to normalise their relations with Tehran, if not to get a slice of Iran's economic cake then in response to pressure from their western allies.

In other words, if all goes according to plan between Iran and western powers, it would have serious implications on Arab-Arab relations. Arab states that had decided to engage in a nihilistic conflict with Iran will suddenly find their allies and partners rushing to cosy up Iran's theocrats.

Khalil al-Anani is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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