Now that the Iranian regime has the wind at its back after gaining international legitimacy and, soon, unfrozen funds, from the removal of sanctions from the deal on Tuesday, it can be expected to double down on support for its proxies in sectarian conflicts throughout the Middle East.
A stronger Iran will translate into a more robust Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthi movement in Yemen, and Shi’ite forces in Iraq and Syria, and increasing sectarian strife fueled by Shi’ite minorities or Iranian agents throughout the Arab world.
For example, with Iran controlling two Arab states bordering Jordan (Iraq and Syria), the kingdom has become a suitable target for expanding unrest and Tehran’s influence.
Jordanian media reported earlier this month that the country’s security forces had arrested an Iranian operative allegedly planning a terrorist attack in the kingdom.
In the Gulf, Sunni-ruled Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, has experienced sporadic turmoil since mass protests in 2011 led by majority Shi’ites demanding reforms and a bigger role in government – an uprising put down with military help from Saudi Arabia.
More of such uprisings could be forthcoming.
Arab Sunnis are not going to take Iranian escalation in Syria, Yemen, Iraq or elsewhere lying down, and are likely to respond by supporting opposing Islamists or other allied forces and push for their own nuclear option before Iran gains the capability.
Jihad el-Khazen a leading columnist at the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, wrote an article on Wednesday titled, “Very Wanted: Arabic Military Nuclear Program.”
The world powers’ deal with Iran “comes at our expense [and] requires the start of this Arab nuclear program,” he said.
Ayman al-Hammad, writing in the Saudi Al-Riyadh newspaper on Wednesday, said the deal “can be considered as a green light” for the development of a Gulf nuclear program, led by the Saudi program in order to achieve deterrence and maintain a balance of power.
“This is a very bad deal for the Middle East, worse than imagined,” Middle East researcher Ali Bakir told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Bakir, who wrote an article in the Qatari Al-Arab newspaper on Tuesday predicting the Iran deal would probably lead to more wars in the region, said the accord is “wishful thinking” and based on “false hopes.”
The agreement will not prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons and will not cause it to change its behavior in the region, he asserted.
While US President Barack Obama said the deal will prevent war, Bakir said that the opposite is more likely to be the case – more wars.
“Many Arab governments do not trust the Obama administration and certainly not the Iranian regime,” he continued.
The Iran Deal: The biggest deal of our time?
The idea of “fighting against radicalism” served as a catalyst for the deal, said Bakir, but since the US administration’s “practical definition of radicalism exclusively refers to Sunni groups, it will mean more regional wars which will lead to more radicalism, more sectarianism, and more terrorism.
“The deal may allow Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to get a Nobel Prize, but Iran would get its nuclear bomb,” he quipped.
Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Post in an interview on Wednesday that Sunni states in the region are worried about the agreement with Tehran.
“Iran has become a sort of a regional superpower,” he said.
Saudi Arabia will not be left behind and will seek advanced nonconventional weapons, “something that could raise fears in Israel,” said Rabi.
This kind of chain reaction could lead to a huge regional conventional arms race in addition to attempts by some to nuclearize, he added.
Rabi predicted that instead of the agreement pacifying the region as the Obama administration envisioned, it will make the Sunni-Shia divide even more stark, causing more Sunnis to join Islamic State and other Islamist groups.
We can expect “greater friction, more instability, fragmented realities, ad hoc alliances,” and all without a strong US presence in the region, he said.
The deal has caused a “dramatic change to the geopolitical landscape,” said Rabi, adding that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have learned that they cannot count on the backing of the Americans.Reuters contributed to this report.