Af­ter the Iran nu­clear deal

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

The thing to bear in mind about Tues­day’s deal be­tween Iran and the P5+1 coun­tries (the United States, Bri­tain, France, Ger­many, Rus­sia and China) is that with­out it Iran could get nu­clear weapons when­ever it wants in a short time. It has the tech­nolo­gies for en­rich­ing ura­nium, it could make the ac­tual bombs any time it likes (ev­ery ma­jor coun­try knows how), and the sanc­tions against Iran could not get much worse than they are now.

If you don’t like the cur­rent deal, and you re­ally be­lieve that Iran is hell-bent on get­ting nu­clear weapons, then your only re­main­ing op­tion is mas­sive air strikes on Iran. Not even the Repub­li­can Party stal­warts in the U.S. Congress are up for com­mit­ting the U.S. Air Force to that folly, and Is­rael with­out Amer­i­can sup­port sim­ply couldn’t do it on its own.

Then what’s left? Noth­ing but the deal. It doesn’t guar­an­tee that Iran can never get nu­clear weapons. It does guar­an­tee that Iran could not break the agree­ment with­out giv­ing ev­ery­body else at least a year to re­spond be­fore the weapons are op­er­a­tional. Sanc­tions would snap back into place au­to­mat­i­cally, and any­body who thinks air strikes are a cool idea would have plenty of time to carry them out.

So the deal will sur­vive. Is­rael’s Prime Min­is­ter Binyamin Ne­tanyahu can ful­mi­nate about how it is a “an his­toric mis­take” that will give Tehran “a sure path to nu­clear weapons,” but he can­not stop it.

Ne­tanyahu is ob­ses­sive about Iran, but even his own in­tel­li­gence ser­vices do not be­lieve that Tehran has ac­tu­ally been work­ing on nu­clear weapons in the past decade. The Is­raeli prime min­is­ter has burned all his bridges with U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, and his Repub­li­can al­lies in the U.S. Congress can­not stop the deal ei­ther.

John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, said that the deal will “hand a dan­ger­ous regime bil­lions of dol­lars in sanc­tions re­lief while paving the way for a nu­clear Iran," and he can prob­a­bly muster a ma­jor­ity in Congress against it. (Congress, as Washington in­sid­ers put it, is “Is­rae­lioc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory.”) But he can­not muster the two-thirds ma­jor­ity that would be needed to over­ride Obama’s in­evitable veto.

There will be a 60-day de­lay while Congress de­bates the is­sue, but this deal will go through in the end. So far, so good – but this is not hap­pen­ing in a vac­uum. What are the broader im­pli­ca­tions for Mid­dle Eastern pol­i­tics?

Ever since the vic­tory of the Is­lamic revo­lu­tion 36 years ago, Iran and the United States have been bit­ter en­e­mies. They have not sud­denly be­come al­lies, but they are al­ready on good speak­ing terms. Since al­most all of Amer­ica’s al­lies in the Arab world see Iran as a huge strate­gic threat, they are ap­palled by the prospect of a U.S.-Iran rap­proche­ment.

The high­est U.S. pri­or­ity in the Mid­dle East now is to pre­vent Iraq and Syria from fall­ing into the hands of Is­lamic State and its equally ex­treme ri­val, the Nusra Front. Iran is giv­ing both the Syr­ian and the Iraqi gov­ern­ments mil­i­tary sup­port that is es­sen­tial to their sur­vival, so there is ob­vi­ously the po­ten­tial for closer U.S.-Ira­nian co­op­er­a­tion here.

By con­trast Saudi Ara­bia and Tur­key, cur­rently Amer­ica’s two most im­por­tant al­lies in the re­gion, are pour­ing money and weapons into the Nusra Front in Syria, which is why it has been win­ning so many bat­tles against the As­sad regime in re­cent months. The prospect of an Is­lamist regime in power in Damascus is ac­cept­able to Riyadh and Ankara, but it is deeply un­wel­come in Washington.

So yes, a grand re­align­ment of Amer­i­can al­liances in the Mid­dle East is the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble now that the long cold war be­tween the US and Iran is over. In prac­tice, how­ever, it is most un­likely to hap­pen. The long­stand­ing mil­i­tary and eco­nomic ties be­tween Washington and its cur­rent al­lies will prob­a­bly tri­umph over cold strate­gic logic, and Amer­i­can pol­icy in the Mid­dle East will con­tinue to be the usual mud­dle.

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