After a year of negotiations and five years of sanctions, Iran and the West are on the cusp of announcing the revival of their comprehensive nuclear deal. I imagine the announcement will be accompanied by a large-scale Iranian “propaganda” portraying Tehran as the victor.
Surely, Iran is a victor in some narrow sense, since the US has conceded its additional terms. However, many of Tehran’s demands have not been met, including compensation for years’ worth of economic sanctions when the deal was frozen. Let us recall that Tehran’s intransigence and obsession with maintaining its image cost the country three quarters of its income from exports during those years. “Our income has fallen from $100 billion to $8 billion,” says Iran’s former Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri.
Iran would have been an oil and gas superpower if not for the world’s apprehension to strike dealings with it on the long term. The country has enough proven reserves of gas –twice as much as Qatar and thrice as much as the US– to make it rank second in the world. It also ranks third worldwide in oil reserves, preceded only by Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Yet only a fraction of this tremendous wealth has been exploited since the current regime took power four decades ago.
This shows that the problem has always lain in Tehran’s political system, which has turned Iran into a shunned country in the international sphere; not to mention that most of Iran’s income is spent on military, expansionist projects. While most states around the world exert their best efforts to improve their economic capabilities, Iran sleeps on an enormous wealth that merely requires respect for the rules of international relations and increased domestic development efforts to be fully unlocked.
Once we understand the drivers and motives of decisionmaking in Iran, we can predict what path Tehran will take once the sanctions are lifted. Since maintaining its global image, especially among its followers, is more important to the regime than resolving its crises, we are sure to see extensive post-deal propaganda by Tehran in a bid to persuade its supporters that it has won the war.
It may also go for a regional show of force after the deal is signed, probably taking Iraq as its first victim, aided by its security agencies and proxy armed militias in the country. In fact, it has already taken several steps in the direction of imposing its authority in the neighboring country, suspending Hoshyar Zebari’s presidential bid via the Supreme Federal Court; using its devised “blocking third” veto system, which it had previously installed in Lebanon, to control the parliament following its loss in the latest election; and stoking the fire of the oil income conflict with the Kurdish component. Without deploying a single soldier, Iran is working to hold Baghdad in a tight grip, and its efforts may succeed once the anticipated deal is signed. However, despite it seeming like a piece of cake to Tehran today, controlling Iraq will likely be flavored with a secret toxic ingredient.
The revival of the nuclear deal will reopen many closed doors to Iran’s regime. Its ships will sail without having to hide, bribe intermediaries, or make tariff cuts. As such, Tehran will have a surplus of resources and consequently more room to fund regional conflicts, which did not abate even when Iran was hit with harsh economic sanctions and restrictions. The exaggerating and dishonest Iranian propaganda machine will surely try to embellish the regime’s image after the deal is signed. However, despite possibly winning this round, Iran is no longer the power it once was, with a wide support base across the Arab world and beyond. This will be the topic of my next article.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.