Amidst the growing hopes in reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran following the recent Geneva talks, policy makers and analysts have begun to deliberate the probable outcomes of such a deal in relation to regional dynamics stemming from the Arab Spring, the Syrian crisis or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
There is an emerging consensus among Iranian policy makers to re-evaluate the country’s nuclear policy aimed at stopping the incremental crippling sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the United States, the European Union, and other like-minded states since 2008.
However, it is too difficult to say whether the Islamic Republic of Iran has given up its attempts to retain nuclear facilities, specifically, its nuclear enrichment program.
President Hassan Rowhani said in his presidential campaign that he strongly believes that Iran can pressure its nuclear rights without confrontation with the international community.
Like any other state in the international system, Iran aspires to boost its power and influence in the region in order to protect its national security.Shahin Dadkhah
With its huge hydrocarbon reserves, an educated professional pro-democratic middle class and a semi-pluralist political system, Iran is a significant player in the surrounding region.
Like any other state in the international system, Iran aspires to boost its power and influence in the region in order to protect its national security.
There are several likely effects that a nuclear deal being reached with Iran could have on the Syrian crisis, Iranian-Arab relations, Iranian-Turkey relations and Israel’s security situation.
The Syrian crisis
Syria is certainly an indispensable part of Iran’s regional policy. Deterring Israel, backing Hezbollah, and competing with Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Turkey is too difficult for Iran while maintaining a strategic relationship with the Syrian government.
The cementing of ties between Iran and post-Saddam Iraq has persuaded some politicians in Iran that it can replace Syria with Iraq in the near future. It means that Iran’s policy towards the Syrian crisis is not unalterable and it may change if there is a persuasive progress in Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the West.
Iran’s long term interest in Syria is to sustain its influence rather than preserving a specific leader or political party. At the same time Iran is against any military attack which may diminish Syria’s political and economic infrastructure and especially its regular army.
Hence Iran’s declared policy in Syria is supporting a free election. Assad’s possible defeat in this election would not affect Iran’s influence in the post-Assad Syria.
Same argue that any regional crisis would deviate attention away from Iran’s nuclear issue and intensify sentiments against Iran. With this in mind, Iran aims to see an end to the Syrian crisis. A substantial breakthrough in Iran’s new nuclear policy would strengthen president Rowhani’s foreign policy initiations, especially those regarding Syria.
Iran and the Arab world
Ahmadinejad’s presidency coincided with deepening Shiite-Sunni division as a result of the U.S. military strike on Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent toppling of the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein . Many Arabs, and more importantly, some conservative Arab states believe that the U.S. helped Iran to bolster the Shiites in the region by invading Iraq in 2003.
Saudi Arabia strives to deter Iran from increasing its influence by increasing cooperation with the secular Shiites in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is competing with Iran in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and is exaggerating Iran’s nuclear threat in hopes of boosting its leadership in the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have contradictory approaches towards Iran’s nuclear issue. On the one hand they hope for a long-term and durable nuclear agreement with Iran which is crucial to regional peace and stability but on the other hand they are worried that such an agreement may bolster Iran’s regional power which would be detrimental.
President Rowhani is serious in pursuing enhanced relations with Iran’s neighbors. However, the success of this policy is dependent on Arab states being willing to refrain from exerting pressure on Iran and putting aside old rivalries with regional states in hopes of reaching a diplomatic breakthrough. Like many Arab states, Iran has several legitimate security concerns in the Middle East. The U.S. military bases in Iran’s immediate security environment magnify the sense of being under siege while the Arab states of the Persian Gulf are the main hosts for these bases. The additional deploying of anti-missile or nuclear umbrella systems in these countries is a direct security threat for Iran and may exacerbate Iranian-Arab tensions.
Israel’s security dilemma
Israel is the most concerned state regarding Iran’s nuclear developments. Israel’s complicated security environment, controversial borders and deep hostility towards Palestinians have intensified the sense of insecurity among many Israelis. Israel’s harsh reactions to Iran’s nuclear activities and its rhetoric are understandable in this perplexing context. Fragmentation in domestic politics is another incentive for Israeli political parties to overemphasis Iran’s nuclear threat. There is a rough consensus among Israelis that Israel will be the main loser of any nuclear agreement with Iran because it will pave the way for a covert military nuclear program.
A possible Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be catastrophic for both sides and regional countries. This attack will reinforces the political and religious radical and extra mist groups within Iran and other regional countries endangering pro-democratic forces in the Middle East. A democratic powerful Iran is better than a non-democratic one, not only for Israel but also for the region. Taking into consideration the complexities of Iran’s nuclear politics may help Israeli policymakers to be more realistic in tackling with Iran’s nuclear issue and evaluating the consequences of a nuclear agreement with Iran.
Though the ruling AK party’s foreign policy assisted Turkey to mediate between Iran and the West for a while, the Syrian crisis increased the mistrust between the two neighbors. Turkey sees Iran’s nuclear issue from the perspective of balance of power in the region. Iran gaining nuclear capabilities would change this balance in favor of Turkey. Turkey seek a nuclear umbrella from NATO or pursue its own nuclear program. Needless to say this scenario would be horrific for Turkey’s accession to the EU. A tangible nuclear agreement with Iran will ease the West’s pressures on Turkey to enforce sanctions.
Turkey is amongst the main trading partners of Iran and solving Iran’s nuclear crisis will help both sides to increase trade and cooperation. However the differences over the Syrian crisis may overshadow the improvement of bilateral relations in the years to come.
Shahin Dadkhah is a political expert in Middle Eastern affairs, receiving his doctorate degree on international relations from Madrid University in Spain. Dadkhah was a former advisor of Hassan Rowhani at Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.