The Gulf’s disagreement with the U.S. is on details
What we see around us is a massive Iranian propaganda that pictures retreat as a victory
Some Saudis and Arabs received the West’s agreement with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program with joy or anger while others gloated about it or considered it an absolute victory for Iran and a final defeat of Gulf countries.
Hold your horses! Yes, there’s a crisis and a real dispute here; however it’s over details and it will most probably not change much in regards to relations with Washington. We must take into consideration two major issues: the magnitude of Gulf interests in the U.S. and the diminutive Iranian capabilities which cannot replace four important Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE., Qatar and Kuwait – when it comes to relations of interests. I will here discuss why Iran is not an alternative to Gulf countries, and I will do so according to the theory of zero-sum game where your rival’s gains of utility are balanced by your losses of utility.
Iran produces 3 million barrels of oil per day while its four Gulf neighbors’ daily production is 15 million. Its productive capabilities are run-down due to the technical and economic embargo and it will need more than 10 years to reform and double their output! Oil experts estimate that in 2020, and after developing these capabilities, its production will only increase by a million barrels per day and hence become 4 million. These are real numbers in the calculations of international relations, and we must not become too busy reading news of businessmen’s trips to Iran to represent arms’ companies or oil, industry and banking corporates to seal valuable deals in anticipation of Iran’s promised openness to the world. To these businessmen, Iran is an additional market and not an alternative one. Doing business there will not be that easy due to the government’s centralization and the state institutions’ struggle over the country’s revenues. The Revolutionary Guards, for example, sought to control important production sectors, including petroleum refineries. The regime still views the agreement with suspicion especially when it comes to Gulf countries. Some in Tehran fear that the agreement is a Western conspiracy that aims to alter the regime from within. Iran’s government, like Gulf countries, mainly depends on oil sales as around 80% of its revenues come from oil and not from industry or agriculture!
Some pictured the $150 billion which Iran is said to attain as a result of the deal as a treasure trove that will alter the face of the country. First of all, these alleged $150 billion are not a reward but Iranian assets which were frozen due to sanctions. The West refused to unfreeze these assets until the Iranians accepted to negotiate on their nuclear program, and this is exactly what happened. Second of all, the amount is not that huge. Iran suffers from financial inability and poverty, and its infrastructure is corroded due to the long siege and will require much more than the sums retrieved, to reform it. Half of their civil aviation jets are no longer suitable for usage according to Iran Air’s manager who also said that they intend to buy 100 new aircrafts.
What we see around us is a massive Iranian propaganda that pictures retreat as a victoryAbdulrahman al-Rashed
No matter how much we criticize the deal, truth is the West actually made Iran submit. Gulf countries will not lose; they will rather win because the deal will curb the nuclear threat. If American President Barack Obama’s expectations are true that Iran will change due to the deal, then it will also serve the interests of Gulf countries, the region and the world if Tehran’s regime becomes a peaceful one. Gulf anger and controversy towards the U.S. is over details because the deal could have been stricter in regards to restraining Iran’s hostile policy.
Is retreat a victory?
What we see around us is a massive Iranian propaganda that pictures retreat as a victory. The Iranian government and its allies are dancing with joy in order to convince the Iranian people and those who support them that Iran won the 35-years battle against the West. However, so far this is untrue. The Iranian regime negotiated, froze its nuclear program, and signed the deal because it’s trying to escape the fate of countries similar to it. When Libya was subject to economic sanctions, the Qaddafi regime weakened and collapsed by the first spark of uprising against it. When economic sanctions were imposed on Syria, it weakened and the regime failed at dealing with the Arab Spring. Before that, Iraq suffered this fate during the reign of Saddam Hussein as Baghdad surrendered just one week after the invasion was launched against it. Let’s not forget the Soviet Union, which was exhausted by the economic siege, until it collapsed and disintegrated into 11 republics in 1991.
Although the American government rushed and could have attained better concessions, the agreement itself can be viewed as a 90-degrees turn by the Tehran regime who in the recent past totally refused to suspend, freeze or impose any conditions on its nuclear program and some in Iran even considered all of the latter as high treason. The Iranian regime spent billions of dollars on its nuclear program with hidden extra operation costs. Iran has also lost significant economic and financial opportunities due to the sanctions which were imposed on it. Two years ago. its economy deteriorated in terms of monetary standards to the extent where the dollar stands currently at 25,000 Iranian riyals.
The regime realized it will not live long due to the deterioration of its revenues and the siege against it so it brought the moderate Hassan Rowhani as president in order to begin its concessions with the West before it collapses, and it did so especially after having seen the fate of regimes similar to it, like the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and Moammar Qaddafi.
The only problem is that we don’t know if the Iranian regime is practicing some sort of false play that gives the impression it decided to change and catch up with the world. What’s certain is that it encouraged the American administration to seal a deal that saves the Iranian Government’s face before its citizens by stating that the deal did not cancel the nuclear program but just postponed it.
We think Washington could have waited to reach a better agreement that obstructs Iran’s aggressive policy and not just restrain its nuclear program. It’s clear that Tehran was willing to go far if pressure on it persisted. However, the White House was rushing to attain a deal which it thought will do the job and will be capable of changing Iran’s behavior later.
What about the Gulf countries’ relations with the U.S.? Was their alliance with it a mistake from the very beginning? Watch this space tomorrow.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 26, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
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