For many Arabs, Iranian centrifuges are of the least concern

There is no question that the comprehensive agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries on Tuesday is a step forward for the Non-proliferation regime and Iran’s relations with Europe and the United States after 36 years of isolation. The deal, however, coming at the lowest point for Iranian-Arab relations, is not exclusively viewed in the region for its arms control merits but for possibly financing Tehran’s armed network of proxies regionally.

In many Arab circles today, the immediate value of the agreement as a non-proliferation asset and a document that caps Iran’s nuclear program is overshadowed by Iran’s regional behavior across the Middle East

Joyce Karam

The reactions to the nuclear deal in the Arab world are not a zero sum game. On the one hand, the agreement was welcomed by UAE, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as a Non-proliferation necessity in a highly combustible Middle East. Nevertheless, concerns over Iran’s destabilizing activities from Yemen to Syria and Iraq were made to U.S. President Barack Obama in phone calls with the UAE and Saudi leaders. While the nuclear agreement lifting around $150 billion in sanctions could bring a much needed relief to the Iranian people, it is not guaranteed that it would weaken the hardliners. After all, it wouldn’t be uncommon in the Middle East if Iran’s elite chose to pursue economic openness at home while funding interventionist projects abroad.

Regional distrust

In many Arab circles today, the immediate value of the agreement as a non-proliferation asset and a document that caps Iran’s nuclear program is overshadowed by Iran’s regional behavior across the Middle East. Even in the final stages of the Vienna negotiations, Jordan reportedly thwarted a terror plot backed by Iran, while Hezbollah was going deeper into Zabadani battle in Syria, and IRGC’s Qassem Suleimani photo safari continued to Fallujah.

In that context, there is a sense of disillusionment by many in the Arab world in perceiving the deal as rewarding an expansionist Iran while turning a blind eye to its role in the bloodletting in Iraq and Syria. Lebanon’s outspoken leftist leader Walid Jumblatt referenced this sentiment while lambasting the agreement as a “result of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq...signed with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.” Jumblatt’s comments irrespective of their political correctness, sum up the bigger crisis for Iran in the region today, and which goes far beyond its centrifuges. A Zogby poll conducted toward the end of 2014 showed that between 74 to 88 percent of Jordanians, Egyptians, Saudis and Emiratis have negative views of Iran. That is a statistical coup from the 70 to 80 percent favorable ratings for Iran in the Arab world in 2008. In a matter of seven years, the Syrian war and Iran’s staunch support for the Assad regime has sunk its credibility in the region.

Healing the rift

Following the deal, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out the “opportunity” that the deal represents for Tehran to move in a new direction. Obama said that the “path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel” leads to a “dead end” while “a different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration.”

Obama’s words and choices for Iran should be coupled with a regional strategy for his administration. The nuclear agreement creates a diplomatic space for the U.S. and Iran to initiate conversations on regional conflicts whose settlement is key to the long-term success of the deal itself. Sticking to a morally bankrupt and a lost cause in Syria with the name of Bashar al-Assad will only deepen Tehran’s regional crisis, and drain its resources while strengthening ISIS. Pursuing instability in places like Jordan, Bahrain and Lebanon will not help embracing Iran in the international community.

The nuclear deal provides a window of opportunity for Iran to reexamine its regional policies, and for the U.S. to pursue a larger strategy beyond capping centrifuges. Slipping further into the path of expansionism and militia building in the Middle East will only bring more antagonism toward Iran, and prolong the status quo of conflict in the entire region.


Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam



Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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