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Opinion: Iran nuclear deal means change is coming | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif (L), the EU’s Catherine Ashton (2-L), Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Youssef Bin Alawi (2-R), and US Secretary of State, John Kerry in Muscat, Oman, before the start of their meeting on the Iranian nuclear file, on November 9, 2014. (EPA/Hamid Al-Qasmi)

The nuclear deal is now a reality and one that should be dealt with as a fait accompli. Even before getting into the details of the nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, we should be aware that significant historical change is looming on the horizon. The question remains: what direction will this take Iran and the Arab world?

Understanding and analyzing this deal will take time, particularly as it can be approached from multiple perspectives that are difficult to summarize. One angle is the impact the deal will have on Iran itself and countries in the region, such as Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, as well as regional powerhouses like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The deal may ignite a wider arms race, most probably nuclear. We must therefore scrutinize the consequences of the agreement on Arab relations with the West, and whether the deal will further fuel current sectarian conflicts.

We know we are facing dramatic change; the door behind which Iran was imprisoned by the world is about to open. However, we cannot be certain of the direction a free Iran will take, especially as the country has long been a concern even while it was still restrained.

Indeed, it’s wrong to build policies on assumptions and analyze these assumptions as proven facts. The agreement may be a victory for the Iranian regime over its rivals inside and outside Iran, but it might turn out to be a pliant deal. If halting Iran’s nuclear project, for the moment, only results in the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions but sets Iran free to become a major regional power then we will then be embarking on a more serious crisis and an era stained with more blood.

Nevertheless, if halting Iran’s nuclear project results in the freezing of Iran’s militarized nuclear activities, controlled by the lifting of Western sanctions, and an end to political antagonism towards Iran, then we will witness positive progress. This would mean that Iran has finally surrendered and will become, like any other country in the region such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a peaceful state that defends its borders.

The difference between the two outcomes is huge. The majority of observers I have spoken to tend to expect the first scenario, which would mean that Iran has genuinely agreed to abandon its military nuclear project, but only in exchange for the lifting of restrictions on its conventional military activity: this is the part that worries Arab countries. As for Israel, it is still afraid of Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Israel believes that this deal will stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb in the short term, but it will not stop it from becoming “capable” of developing nuclear weapons in the future. This deal allows Iran to keep its nuclear production going. It will still have the knowledge and tools to produce a nuclear weapon. Israel wants to prevent any possibility of Iran developing a nuclear bomb, and not just censor its actions.

Iran’s nuclear submission to the West could unleash its pent up desires. In order to understand this idea, I will compare the Iran nuclear deal to the Obama administration’s policy toward the Syrian regime’s crimes. The US opposed the use of chemical weapons by Bashar Al-Assad’s government, but did not pay the same attention to around a quarter of a million people killed by barrel bombs, guns and tanks. Now, Iran is outside its prison and will be able to buy advanced weapons, build oil capacities, trade in dollars, and at a later stage, it may be partly or fully allied to the West, which we are already witnessing in its cooperation with the West in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The dramatic change that the deal will bring about could whet the appetite of the Iranian regime for greater influence, and it does not need a nuclear bomb to control key areas. The Iranian regime suffers from a “major regional country” complex and might have plans for further adventures in the region.

This deal might enhance Iran’s influence in the region but it won’t necessarily serve the regime inside Iran. The Ayatollah’s regime has weakened with time, where the religious flame has satiated, and security—represented by the Revolutionary Guard—has improved at the expense of the clerics. The deal requires the openness of the regime, however Iran is not ready for it and could face the same fate as that of the Soviet Union after the deals to reduce its nuclear arsenal and improve cooperation with the West rapidly collapsed.

The other possibility is that the deal serves a regime that has been weakened by 30 years of isolation and is now politically drained; the deal would then give the Iranian regime the kiss of life. But most probably the agreement will slowly change Iran, as happened in China, where the Communist structure governed the country without Communism.