The American-Iranian agreement on reviving the nuclear deal with mutual concessions has been a source of joy and happiness in Tehran despite the drawbacks. The joy wasn’t ruined, neither by the attack on Natanz nuclear site, nor by last month’s leaked audiotape of the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticizing Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated 15 months ago.
Critics were not convinced by Zarif’s justification of a conspiracy to tarnish his reputation as he had admitted to having said everything in the leaked audiotape. And even though the criticism took place during a private meeting behind closed doors, it was by no means a justification for censuring a military man who was killed in the battlefield. Soleimani is considered a leader above any criticism or besmirching by Iranian fundamentalists.
President Hassan Rouhani, coming to the aid of his minister, tried to silence the critics and warned that the leak is a ploy to threaten the national unity, which is the unity of the regime in his view.
However, the most important development, which will have significant complications, is taking the fight to Iran itself. Israel is leading this battle as of late by targeting “Natanz” facility and a number of Iranian Ships at sea, as well as increasing its cyberattacks on Iranian facilities and repeatedly bombing Iran-backed militias in Syria and on the Iran-Iraq border.
For the past four decades, only the US and Israel were in conflict with Iran through its proxies, like Hezbollah and Hamas, and later, through armed groups it established in Iraq before arming and moving Afghan and Pakistanis to fight in Syria, and finally, the Iran-backed Houthi militias, which Tehran used to take over almost half of Yemen.
To avoid any direct clashes, Americans and Israelis accepted the rules of the Iranian game; waging wars through proxies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, even though the true actors remain in Tehran. However, the situation changed with the assassination of Iran’s top military figure Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, followed by the assassination Israel carried out in broad day light in Tehran, which resulted in the killing of Iran’s most senior nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was behind the covert Iranian nuclear weapons program. The long reach policy shifted to intercepting and targeting Iranian ships at sea, to which Iran assumingly responded by firing a missile at Dimona. Iran is no longer relying on Hezbollah or Hamas as it used to, and Israel, for its part, is no longer content with attacking Iranian armed proxies in Syria and Iraq.
Against this volatile and ambiguous background, reviving the nuclear deal will mean lifting sanctions against Iran and allowing it to deal freely with all countries and markets. If Tehran signs the deal without pledging to stop its aggressive actions in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon alongside its threat to the Gulf states, then the West might breathe a sigh of relief but the Middle East will witness a military escalation. This will only increase regional interventions while Russia and China will strengthen their military presence in the area. Untethering the Iranian regime without binding commitments will not serve anyone’s interests, neither regional powers, nor Europe and the US. It is also worth mentioning that exacerbating the level of tension will not be in Iran’s favor because if Iran does not put an end to its operations in Iraq, there will be a need for regional and international interventions. The same applies to Yemen and Syria.
Rouhani’s government expressed its willingness to open a new chapter with Saudi Arabia and called for dialogue. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responded during a tv interview and said that Saudi Arabia would accept Tehran’s invitation on the condition that it suspends its military and ballistic activities.
However, if these Iranian positive steps and friendly moves were just smoke and mirrors to sign the nuclear deal and lift US sanctions, then it would only be paving the way to a worse future, and not the other way round. The fact of the matter remains that there is no permanent and sustained military victory to anyone in this region.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.