Will a Nuclear Deal Alter Iran’s Arab and Palestinian Alignments?

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Iranian demonstrators hold a placard bearing portraits mocking US President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry alongside anti-Israel slogans during a rally to mark the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) on February 11, 2015. AFP/Behrouz Mehri

By: Sami Kleib

Published Thursday, February 12, 2015

Iran is stronger than its opponents think, which is why the West is engaging it, but weaker than its allies appreciate, which is why Iran has agreed to negotiate. This notwithstanding, Iran has imposed itself as a key player in the region on the eve of the US pivot to Asia Pacific.

This interim conclusion can help us understand the present and future Iranian role in the Arab region and occupied Palestine. But what are the constants and what are the variables in Iranian policy vis-a-vis Israel, the Arabs, and its allies and foes? Is the Syrian army’s operation on the southern front and along the border with Jordan and Israel meant to precipitate a deal or preempt a concern?

Thirty-six years after its Islamic revolution, Iran today seems to be in a state that runs counter to the overall regional and international situation. That is, Iran has expanded while others have contracted. Iran has become a major player that is hard to ignore or circumvent in the global anti-terrorism strategy, while many of its opponents are being accused in the Western media of supporting terrorism.

Iran used to import wheat from remote nations like Argentina or Kazakhstan, but today, it is self-sufficient. Those who have enough wheat to feed their people, can close their doors and open them whenever they want. Wheat amounts to sovereignty among self-respecting nations.

Iran suffered from the scourge of over-reliance on oil, but now only derives 30 percent of its budget from oil sales If Iran profits by less than $2 per barrel, or if the oil price drops a little more, Iran would still be able to cope with the repercussions. Iran’s exports were worth less than $5 billion, and today, its exports are worth more than $60 billion.

While most Arab countries import everything down to the nail, or even garlic and onion, from China, scientific progress in Iran according to a Thomson-Reuters report exceeded all surrounding countries by 11 percent. This is not to mention Iran’s missiles, weapons, satellites, and scientific innovations by young people sometimes not older than 30.

Iran is not estranged from any country in the world except Israel. Turkey, which is fighting in Syria against Iran’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, exchanges goods with Iran worth $30 billion. The two countries have many preferential agreements between them. Meanwhile, Hamas is still considered a resistance movement by Iran, despite the accusations against it in Syria and Egypt and its alleged involvement in wars, bombings, and tunnels.

Agreements and negotiations with those who contribute to the bloodletting in Syria raise questions among the Syrian public, but they are understandable if not desirable for the Syrian leadership. Assad knows that Iranian diplomacy is active in the region and the world, in a way that is no less important than Iranian military training from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine to Yemen. When the circumstances improve for the resistance axis, the Syrian regime will be in a more comfortable position, and when the Syrian regime endures, the Iranian negotiator will be in a more comfortable position.

But what about the future?

Obviously, there can be no negotiations without concessions. Tomorrow, when we see European and Western companies flocking to elegant Tehran, the Iranian economy will flourish and economic sanctions will be a memory. Cities and society will prosper. But is abandoning uranium enrichment the only concessions being asked of Iran?

Certainly not. The Iranians know how strongly the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius sought to foil a deal with Iran, and forced all sides to delay it a while ago. Barack Obama himself knows how much pressure the Israel lobby has put on the White House not to go further in the negotiations. And Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and his negotiating team know how many hardliners there are in Iran, who reject sitting at the same table with the Great Satan and his companions.

Nevertheless, the mutual needs of Iran and the United States, primarily, and Europe, secondarily, compel everyone to make concessions to reach a deal. The clear US strategy is to pivot to Asia Pacific, to China, the biggest threat to US economic and strategic dominance. The United States has to go there either to establish mutual deterrence, or to agree to a policy of integration between the two giants. How could the United States not worry, when China is economically ahead of it and has the world’s largest dollar reserves?

This is the crux of the matter. Let’s assume that the West will accept a compromise and allow Iran to maintain a reasonable level of enrichment, and open the way for investments in Tehran and unfreeze its assets. Let’s assume that the West accepts that Iran does not want a nuclear bomb and that the sanctions were never about the bomb but about the development of nuclear and military technology, and the growing Iranian role in the region. If so, then what is required of Iran?

A simple overview of all efforts, pressures, and wars against Iran and its allies for over a quarter century now, shows that there were two goals: Israel’s security, and protecting Western interests in the Gulf and the region, in that order.

It is therefore not surprising that the border front with Israel, from Sinai to the Golan, and from Shebaa to the Jordanian border, is heating up now.

It is not surprising either to see this rapid offensive by the Syrian army and its allies in the south, after Iran established military presence along the border with Palestine, where Israel assassinated an Iranian general recently.

One can in this case, conclude that all this Israeli hysteria as expressed by Benjamin Netanyahu and his people, and the Republican deference in Congress in spite of Obama, is part of the tug of war regarding the benefit Israel should derive from an Iranian-Western deal.

Israel wants a buffer zone surrounding its borders from Sinai to the Golan, Daraa, Shebaa, and the border with Lebanon. Israel may be seeking to exert maximum pressure to force the deployment of international peacekeepers along those borders, pushing back Arab armies and resistance forces to a safe distance from its borders.

At its worst, Israel has sought to build a human buffer zone along the lines of the South Lebanon Army, before it discarded its leader collaborator Antoine Lahad into humiliation in Israel, despite his years of betrayal. Let us watch al-Nusra Front and some of the “moderate” armed opposition and the movements of the Jordanian army in the coming period.

Yemen is not the issue. The United States is implicitly reassured by the Houthi advance, because it eliminates the most dangerous types of al-Qaeda and Salafi-jihadists. The issue is not Iraq, where there is a clear Iranian-American rapprochement centering on fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda, and the division of influence there. And the issue is not Lebanon’s president, which is a microscopic detail in the game of nations. The issue is Syria, Hezbollah, and resistance in Palestine, and the necessity of weakening and exhausting Russia.

So far, Iran is saying Palestine is a core issue and a constant, and says Israel is a cancer that must be uprooted. But can we expect a Western-Iranian deal without Israel gaining something?

Optimists talk about disengagement and security arrangements along the borders. Others say Iran cannot abandon the conflict, as it is part of its ideology, doctrine, and revolution, and one of the main reasons it is accepted among resistance forces in the Arab arena.

This is the main question, however. What will Sayyed Ali Khamenei and President Obama do about Israel to secure the deal? This is the question addressed to the Iranian revolution on its 36th anniversary.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar English's editorial policy. If you would like to submit a thoughtful response to one of our opinion pieces, send your contribution to our submissions editor.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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