After 19 days of intense squabbling, the negotiators in Vienna finally announced the attainment of a deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange of gradually lifting international sanctions.[i]
The deal is an exceptional accomplishment for non-proliferation and security policies and it gained a lot of political capital for the respective leaders involved. One can believe that with commitment and sound behaviour on behalf of the stakeholders it has all the reasons to last.[ii]
President of Iran, Hassan ROUHANI, invoked “a new chapter” in the relations Iran-the international community.[iii] Indeed, it may represent the most important diplomatic agreement post-Cold War.
The reactions in the Arab world are mixed. There is not frenzy for embracing something positive happening related to Iran’s international visibility. Iran is the arch foe of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), especially Saudi Arabia. The deal sent waves of mistrust to Saudi Arabia, the State that wants to lead the GCC bloc.
As a result, competition between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia might precipitate, as the balance of power inclines now towards Iran. Saudi Arabia is now producing oil as it has not been since the 1980s, but Iran without the sanctions will surely get involved into the global oil market. Iran is the holder of vast crude oil reserves and natural gas reserves, and will potentially bring 1 million barrels a day back to the market. That means the prices are to be kept low. Iran is not a rentier economy like the GCC States; it offers investors a diversified economy and it has a good ground for consolidation of various industries or businesses. In addition, it prides oneself on its own human resource, unlike the GCC countries that depend on the expats. How the competition is going to bounce back? If we judge the past decade of tension and enmity, proxy wars in the region can be the means through which the two powerhouses take up their resentment. And talking about military capacity, Iran is likely to expand it (not in the short run) and then it can back operations against the DAESH at a larger scale.
As things look like at the moment, Iran has started to gain ground against the old-guard U.S. allies.[iv] The ideal would mean that Iran comes to terms with the GCC countries and a lot of regional conflicts are solved, including the one in Syria. Contrarily, if key Gulf powers and Iran choose to remain antagonist, the conflicts that embroil the Middle East are likely to deepen, [v]out of eagerness to maintain supremacy at the cost of others.
If we take into account the Arab media, as an echo of the general vibe, one can notice that the deal was received with scepticism, unless it is about of countries where the Iranian presence is strong, namely Iraq.
Saudi Arabian media attacked Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers on the 14th of July 2015 (the day after the agreement). The agreement was featured as a hijack on Arab interests and columnists reflected views that Iran will continue to advance its hidden agenda through its submissive militias around the region. Riyadh’s official reaction to the deal was a very plain statement that welcomed any agreement that prevents Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but stressed the importance of mechanisms of control in order to check the adherence to this deal.[vi] Caricatures were widely published. For example, in As-Sharq Al Awsat, a pan-Arab publication close to the Saudi rulers “showed a trampled body marked Middle East[vii], with a placard saying nuclear deal sticking from its head”. The cartoons also display Uncle Sam shaking hands with the Ayatollah, expressing the angst that America has a secret deal with Iran at the Arab expense. In Al Jazirah daily, the columnists signed an article entitled “A terrorist Iran instead of a nuclear Iran”, assuming that previously cash-stripped Iran, has the means after the deal to pump more funds into Shiite militias.[viii] The Saudi media generally thinks of Iran as a threat running further escalation of conflicts. Mohammed al-Mohya, the news anchor Saudi Channel 1 (State-affiliated), said that: “Iran made chaos in the Arab world and will extend further after the agreement, and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries should reduce their confidence in America and turn their focus to Russia and China.”[ix]After all, he uttered the common feeling these days in the House of Saud.
While Saudi Arabia gave a laconic official note, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) welcomed the deal officially. The official declaration was delivered accordingly: “The new direction we hope to see accompany the historic nuclear deal would demonstrate a genuine desire for Iran to help extinguish fires devouring the region”.[x] Like the other GCC members, UAE was wary about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. However, in the official declarations the emphasis was put on the importance of a deal equalling a change of path: “positive signal that would help the region avoid nuclear proliferation and all the risks this would involve for its security and stability”.[xi] The official news agency in the UAE said the leaders have congratulated Iranian President Hassan ROUHANI, expressing their wishes to “strengthen security and stability in the region”.[xii]
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to statements, was confident the Iran’s deal will help contain the IS (Islamic State)’s threat “Daish seeks to drag our region into perpetual conflict,” using an Arabic acronym for IS. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Ibrahim al-JAAFARI, announced the victory of the “doors of dialogue open”.[xiii]
Further from the Gulf, in Jordan, the Government Spokesperson Mohammad MOMANI underlined the Kingdom’s support for any route that helps in reaching stability: “Kingdom supports any move that positively reflects on the region and the security of its peoples, and prevents a regional arms race”.[xiv]
Lebanese politicians had mixed reactions after announcement of the deal. It is noteworthy that Lebanon is a mirror of the Arab world, given the mixt sectarian composition inclining either towards Iran or Saudi Arabia. Thus, it was featuring views ranging from positive to negative towards Iran.[xv] The ones siding with Iran expressed optimism. Free Patriotic Movement leader, General Michel AOUN was positive about the deal. The ally from the Marada Movement, MP Suleiman FRANJIEH, had the same expectations. “When a solution appears in a regional deadlock, it would surely have positive repercussions on us.”[xvi] Progressive socialist Party chief MP Walid JUMBLAT, the Druze leader, commented that benefits are for Hezbollah’s side: “You should congratulate (Hezbollah leader) Sayyed Hassan NASRALLAH.”[xvii] Samir GEAGEA, Lebanese Forces leader, who is a member of the anti-Hezbollah political alliance, cast his doubts that the deal would change anything for Lebanon and the Middle East. MP Fouad SANIORA, the head of al-Mustaqbal bloc (Sunni bloc, former Prime Minister Hariri’s political colour), made mention of the deal as an “important event.”[xviii]
Therefore, if we want to sum up the Arab countries’ stance, the “Iran deal is a perceived victory or an ominous defeat”. [xix]
But if the deal is supposedly opening a new international chapter, based on more cooperation and confidence and less on aggressive plans, the message was not understood as such throughout the entire Middle East. Unfortunately it aggregates that the potential for perpetual regional skirmishes is here to stay.
[i] The Economist, A Historic Deal, Middle East Geopolitcs, 14 July 2015, www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21657654-nuclear-deal-marks-milestone-irans-relations-world-details-matter-wary-hope.
[ii] Sir Richard Dalton, This Iran Nuclear Deal is Built to Last, 14 July 2015, http://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/iran-nuclear-deal-built-last#sthash.wEK5fZxG.dpuf.
[iii] Idem i.
[iv] Jane Kinninmont, Iran and the GCC: Unnecessary Insecurity, 3 July 2015, http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/iran-and-gcc-unnecessary-insecurity#sthash.GLvohqhH.dpuf.
[vi] Gulf. News Report, Iran no longer an ‘international threat’ – Rouhani , 15 July 2015, http://gulfnews.com/news/mena/iran/iran-no-longer-an-international-threat-rouhani-1.1550947.
[ix] The Guardian, Rasha Elass for Tehran Bureau, A roadmap for the Middle East after the Iran nuclear deal, 14 July 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2015/jul/14/arab-states-react-iran-nuclear-deal
[x] Gulf Times, Iran nuclear deal could turn ‘new page’ for Gulf: UAE, 14 July 2015, http://www.gulf-times.com/region/216/details/447215/iran-nuclear-deal-could-turn-%27new-page%27-for-gulf%3a-uae.
[xiii] Al Jazeera, Cheers and jeers greet Iran nuclear deal, 15 July 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/07/mixed-reactions-historic-iran-nuclear-deal-150714162542420.html.
[xiv] The Jordan Times, Iran deal reached; Obama hails step towards ‘more hopeful world’, 15 July 2015, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/region/iran-deal-reached-obama-hails-step-towards-more-hopeful-world%E2%80%99.
[xv] Idem ix.
[xvi] Naharnet Newsdesk, Lebanese Officials Have Mixed Reactions to Nuclear Deal, 15 July 2015, http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/184745-lebanese-officials-have-mixed-reactions-to-nuclear-deal.
[xix] Idem ix.