I aim to focus here on the impact of the Iran nuclear deal on two of the region’s polar opposites: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Before US President Barack Obama launched negotiations with the Iranian regime, the relationship was easy to define. Saudi Arabia was in the same camp as the US with regard to economic and political policies. Now, however, Obama’s administration does not only consider Iran a partner in terms of the nuclear talks but also views it as a partner in its military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and against the Afghan Taliban. The US is actually no longer an enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s regime.
A top Iranian negotiator appeared on CNN to address the framework nuclear deal and explained the secret behind the move. He said the Americans discovered that Iran, after the long-term sanctions siege, is home to the most stable regime in the region as well as being the most powerful and influential. Of course, those who are familiar with Iran are aware that not everything he said is accurate. Iran, like Syria, and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, is based on a security-obsessed, ideologically-driven regime.
The regime of Saddam Hussein collapsed only a few weeks after the American invasion began. Syria’s regime, infamous for its tight grip on security, was besieged by rebels who quickly lost their fear of the government. These rebels have made headway despite their lack of surface-to-air missiles or defensive weaponry.
Therefore, Iran’s security-military regime may actually lead to the system’s collapse rather than strengthening it. The Green Movement consisted of tens of thousands of Iranian youths who took to the streets demanding the fall of the Ayatollah-led regime. Basij militia suppressed them and ended a popular revolution that opposed the religious Iranian regime, it was the first revolution since the collapse of the Shah’s regime.
There’s nothing to prevent a repeat of such a popular movement, especially considering the regime’s current openness.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s regime is also based on religious and political legitimacy, along with such identifying markers as tribes, religion and oil reserves. Like most Arab Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia devotes a large chunk of its finances to services for citizens, unlike Iran which spends most of its revenue on military and security institutions, and of course, its nuclear program.
Still, Saudi Arabia and Iran are similar in several respects. Karim Sadjadpour, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, says the Saudi-Iranian rivalry is sectarian (Sunni vs. Shi’ite), ethnic (Arab vs. Persian) and ideological (US-allied vs. US-opposed) and geopolitical. The part of his argument regarding Iran’s hostility toward the West no longer stands, and the Iranian regime will tell its citizens that its reconciliation with the US was based on Western surrender. The Iranian regime will therefore market itself as the sole victor in a drawn-out battle. US diplomat Dennis Ross thinks the deal isn’t a deal until it is signed and adds that there are still many details that need to be finalized—details that may prevent the Iranians from reaching a final deal.
However, if Iran does not commit to the nuclear agreement, it poses a problem for Israel. The Israelis are afraid that the religious fascist regime in Tehran may one day press the nuclear detonation button and kill six million Jews. Iran previously sacrificed a million Iranians in the war with Iraq during the 1980s, all in the name of God and Imam Hussain. Saddam, at the time, was willing to reconcile as a result of his weak military situation and Iran accepted because it failed to defeat him outright.
As for the Gulf countries—particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain—they have been living under the threat of a possible Iranian attack for decades, even during the days of the Shah. Now, after the nuclear agreement, there’s no doubt that the threat has doubled. There is palpable anger toward the acquiescing Obama administration as Gulf countries feel that, despite the pledges they have upheld with the US, Obama sold out the region on the cheap and has left them to deal with their fate concerning a confrontational Iran.
I have previously written about the Eisenhower Doctrine which was signed in 1957 and in which the US pledged to defend Saudi Arabia in general. To comfort the Saudis, Obama announced he would reaffirm the pledge and vowed to defend the borders of Saudi Arabia. Of course, the word “border” was not defined and Obama needs to be clearer in order to put a stop to any Iranian ambitions, or indeed the desires of Iranian proxies such as Shi’ite militias. Both could be seeking to attack Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement.
As for Saudi Arabia, it’s a peaceful country with no aspiration to attack Iran. However, the same cannot be said of Iran and Iraq and if the Americans don’t clearly declare their commitment to defending Saudi Arabia from Iran and Iraq, then we will be faced with major regional chaos as a result of the nuclear deal. The Iranians push forward the idea that Obama is not interested in the security of the Gulf and of US allies in the region. This Iranian rhetoric will lead to more regional wars.
Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, are capable of confronting Iran if that’s what it takes. However, such a war would be costly in terms of the ensuing chaos and destruction. There is anger toward the Obama administration because it bases the dispute with Iran solely on the nuclear program when in fact Tehran’s regime is gearing itself up to make geographical gains. Iran’s wars have actually always been against Gulf countries and not against Israel. Iran currently seeks to impose itself as a regional power by neutralizing the West. However, this will not easily be brought about for several reasons, including the sectarian dispute. Iran sees itself as leader of the Shi’ite sect, which is small in comparison to the Sunni sect. Therefore, the majority of Muslims will view the US as an enemy due to its naive stance on the struggle between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
Washington is not being asked to adopt a hostile stance against anyone, but allowing Iran to become a nuclear country in ten years’ time or allowing it to be a dominant power in the region will lead to a long struggle that will increase the price of oil and will prepare the ground for the growth of extremist groups.