Three years ago, in May 2010, the Islamic Republic News Agency of Iran – IRNA –
published a stern, if flowery, warning following a series of incidents involving
the Gulf states.
“There is no lion in the region save the one crouching
on the shore opposite the Emirates states,” IRNA said. “He protects his lair,
the Persian Gulf. Those who believe that there is another lion in the area [the
United States], his claws and fangs have been broken in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Lebanon and Palestine.
No good can be expected from him or from his
hunting forays. He is merely counting the days until he can find a way to escape
when he still can. Iran, the Emirates and the others countries of the region
will forever be neighbors because of their geographic situation.”
those words have become reality.
The Geneva agreement appears to be
another step in America’s flight from the Middle East rather than a genuine
effort to stop Iran’s rush to nuclear weapons.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
countries are still reeling.
The special relationship between Washington
and Riyadh had been the cornerstone of America’s policy in the Gulf and the
Middle East for nearly a century. The United States needed Saudi oil and secure
export routes through the Gulf. It supplied the kingdom with sophisticated
weapons. The Gulf states believed themselves safe thanks to this special
relationship, which endured for decades.
With the fall of the Shah and
the rise of Khomeini in 1979, Iran became the main threat to the safety of the
Gulf while America stood firm against Iranian subversive activities. That era
appears to be coming to an end.
What happened in Geneva came after a
series of steps that can only be seen as demonstrating the overwhelming will of
the American president to distance himself from the region: getting out of Iraq
and Afghanistan, with no tangible success; abandoning Mubarak, backing the
Muslim Brothers and even turning his back on the new Egyptian regime battling
radical Islam; zigzagging about Syria; and recently rumored to be conducting
secret talks with Hezbollah and radical Islamic factions in Syria.
together, these steps point to a deliberate strategy and game
The anti-Iranian pragmatic front that united Saudi Arabia, the
Gulf States and Egypt – with Israel as a silent partner – is no more. It was
already seriously weakened when Obama deserted his old ally Mubarak in January
2011 and hastened his fall.
Geneva was its death knell.
Iran is no
longer the enemy of America, which views it as a potential partner in reshaping
the Middle East.
Moreover, the Geneva agreement appears to be the outcome
of secret talks between Teheran and Washington, with the mediation of Oman,
leading the Iranians to grasp that Obama is even more eager to get rid of the
issue and distance himself from the Middle East, something they had long
They were therefore able to achieve remarkable results. Their
nuclear infrastructure remains intact; the West acknowledges their right to
enrich uranium – in stark contradiction with the six Security Council
resolutions in the framework of Article 7 of the UN Charter – that is, binding
resolutions assorted with the threat of sanctions, including the use of force
should they not be acted upon. Considering the spotty record of Iran in
implementing those resolutions, it is doubtful whether it will do better with
the Geneva agreement.
That this “preliminary” agreement will be followed
by a final settlement is no less doubtful. In fact, in exchange for practically
no concession from Iran, the United States and the European Union agreed to
unravel the fabric of sanctions that was strangling the Iranian economy. Had the
sanctions been maintained, they might have brought results.
international companies are eagerly planning their reentry to Iran. It is a
process that will be hard to stop and impossible to reverse.
Arabia, the agreement also means that Iran has been given a tacit nod to pursue
its subversive activities in the Gulf. This is a direct threat to the stability
of the kingdom. At home, the opposition that has long been calling for the
establishment of a constitutional monarchy will step up its pressure, while the
Shi’ite minority will clamor for an improved status.
And al-Qaida will
renew its attacks.
It must be remembered that Saudi Arabia, being the
bulwark of Sunni Islam, is facing Shi’ite Iran not only in the Gulf states, but
in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. This was brought painfully home a few weeks
ago when a pro-Iranian Shi’ite Iraqi militia opened mortar fire on the Saudi
border. Riyadh also has not forgotten the failed assassination attempt of its
ambassador to Washington by Iranian agents.
In addition, Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf states are no longer sure that America will maintain its military
presence in the area to secure the flow of oil.
Iran is already building
on what it sees as a victory of the first order. It immediately turned to its
Gulf neighbors, which are aware of its military and technological superiority
and now feel more exposed than ever.
Teheran hosted the foreign minister
of the Emirates while its own foreign minister, Jawad Zarif, went on a
much-publicized tour of the Gulf states. He has been so far to Kuwait, Qatar,
the United Emirates and Oman, and is due to visit Saudi Arabia.
peace offering, he stated that his country was ready to discuss the fate of one
of three disputed islands in the Straits of Hormuz, for years a bone of
contention with the Emirates.
However, Zarif did not withdraw another
threat, that of invading Bahrain. Nor did he assuage the fears of the Gulf
states concerning its subversive activities through their Shi’ite minorities.
Iran has very much the upper hand in the area.
There could be attempts at
dialogue in the coming months, but Saudi Arabia may be left with no alternative
but to start its own nuclear program. At the same time, the monarchy has had
preliminary talks with Russia on the basis of shared interests, such as fighting
the Muslim Brothers and supporting the new Egyptian regime. Others might
As to Egypt, the largest Arab country, it will in all likelihood
also feel it has to develop its own program of nuclear energy. The new rulers
have already stated that they were going to issue a tender for a first nuclear
plant in the Dabaa area, where Mubarak had laid the cornerstone for four such
plants to produce electricity.
The fact that the United States is no
longer a stabilizing factor in the Middle East is preoccupying.
appears to favor subversive radical elements – from Iran to the Muslim
Brotherhood, and even Salafi movements – which detect a growing Western weakness
in this trend. As a result, America’s traditional allies are deeply worried in
spite of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s efforts this week in Bahrain to
pledge continuing military support.
Russia is making a spectacular
comeback in the region while a new race for nuclear weapons is about to begin.