Making sense of The Iran Deal

THE five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany concluded a preliminary agreement with Iran on Sunday, 24t h November. These are early days yet and this agreement is the first step and therefore tentative. But it is already causing a flutter and shockwaves across the region especially in Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, criticized this agreement as “a historic mistake.” Saudi Arabia, the other American ally in the Middle East, which sees Iran as its biggest enemy and threat in the region, is deeply worried by this rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. It is uncomfortable about an opening to Iran, but it took a measured approach, issuing a statement that cautiously welcomed the deal. But the Saudi discomfort about this deal is quite visible. The other Gulf sheikhdoms are also very perturbed at this turn of events, given their history of distrust of Iran.

Iran has been reeling under UN mandated sanctions for a very long time now. It hurt Iran’s economy, as their oil sales, their major source of revenue, dropped to almost half. Because of these crippling sanctions and their resulting impact on Iran’s economy, the currency also got significantly depreciated. But one important thing to note is that with this deal Iran hasn’t thrown away the right to uranium enrichment. It has definitely had to make compromises which will mean that their nuclear programme will be effectively capped for the next six months. Based on its progress, efforts will be made to sign and seal a final agreement.

It would be in place here to mention that the Iranian foreign policy post the 1979 Revolution has been consistent. They have spoken with one voice, with the Supreme Leader and the Iranian Govt always speaking in unison. Whether it was their earlier hardline stand or the more pragmatic one that they have adopted now, no one can accuse Iran of speaking different things at the same time. Despite being in the international wilderness for a very long time now, Iran has pursued its regional interests very vigorously, notwithstanding a decade long war with Iraq and a hostile neighbour like Israel always trying to make life difficult for them.

Iran now has an ally in Baghdad, which for long had been a Saudi ally. It continues to support Hezbollah, Israel’s bête noire in the region. Both Israel and Saudi Arabia, feel worried and threatened by the growing Iranian influence in the region. This deal came at the back of Saudis recent displeasure at the American refusal to intervene in Syria. Saudis now seriously fear that the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is going against them. They see this as a threat to their regional hegemony and also to their internal security. For the Saudis, this deal seems to have opened up a lot of vistas for Iran, which could seriously undermine their influence in the region. Saudi Arabia’s desperation can also be seen from a recent statement made by its  ambassador in London, Prince Mohammed bin Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz, who called the negotiations with Iran as an “appeasement,” and gave a veiled threat that Saudi Arabia would obtain its own nuclear weapons if necessary.

Saudi displeasure with the growing US-Iran relationship and the American refusal to intervene in Syria was visible even before this deal was signed. In October this year, Saudi Arabia rejected a seat on the UN Security Council, a first in the history of UN. This was done to make the Saudi displeasure known and as Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan told, “This was a message for the U.S., not the U.N.” The Saudi frustration is growing because across the region Iran is scoring some decisive victories. The coming months will be interesting in the Middle East, with diplomatic activity at its peak. Iran, after a long hibernation in the international diplomacy, has undertaken some smart moves and scored some decisive victories. But despite its apparent displeasure at Washington, Saudi Arabia cannot distance itself from the US, given its dependence on the American weapons and military support. Even the Americans will try to play it safe given the US dependence on Saudi Arabia for their energy needs.

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