Apr 28th 2015

How Iran Is Winning

Extracts:

"....the key question has never been when Iran will develop a nuclear weapon, but how to integrate it into a stable regional system before it does."


"If the Palestine issue is not resolved soon, there can be no lasting alliances with “moderate” Sunni powers to counter Iran."


TEL AVIV – In 2003, the United States – which, along with its NATO allies, had already occupied Afghanistan – toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and overran his army. Iran’s leaders, alarmed that they were being encircled, lost no time in offering the West a grand bargain covering all contentious issues, from nuclear-weapons development – they halted their military nuclear program – to regional security, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and their backing of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The recent framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has had the opposite effect. Though the deal does slow Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, it does not restrain – or even address – the regime’s hegemonic ambitions in the region, for which it has already spent billions of dollars and suffered crippling sanctions. As a result, the framework agreement is creating strategic chaos in an already dysfunctional region. A future in which regional powers like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia (which has worked closely with Pakistan on the nuclear front) possess threshold nuclear capabilities is becoming more likely that ever.

These are glorious days for Iran. After more than a decade of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions, its status as a threshold nuclear state has been internationally legitimized. Moreover, it has managed to compel the US to abandon its dream of regime change, and to coexist – and even engage – with an Islamic theocracy that it finds repugnant.

The regional balance of power is already tilting in Iran’s favor. In Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, Iranian proxies have prevailed over Saudi-backed groups. And the Iran-backed Houthis remain in control of Yemen, despite Saudi airstrikes.

Iran’s leaders can thank George W. Bush. Far from producing the outcome that they feared in 2003, Bush’s wars in the Middle East left Iran as the most influential actor in Iraq. As Saudi officials have observed, Iranian militias fighting the Islamic State in predominantly Sunni regions north and west of Baghdad hope to reinforce their country’s control over Iraq.

The perceived threat posed by the Islamic State has also caused the US to drop ousting Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s main regional ally, from its agenda. Indeed, the US has ended up indirectly allied with Hezbollah, a key Iranian proxy, which is fighting alongside Assad’s troops against foreign jihadi forces.

Meanwhile, America’s relationship with its traditional Arab allies – the region’s conservative Sunni regimes – is faltering, owing largely to US President Barack Obama’s failure to respond effectively in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. Obama’s offers of security guarantees and “nuclear umbrellas” have not been able to restore their trust. (Such security guarantees are, after all, implicit.)

For Iran’s enemies, the message of the framework agreement is clear: protect your own vital interests, rather than waiting for the US. And that is precisely what countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are doing, having established a joint Arab military force to fight Iranian influence in the region, as well as discreet security links with Israel, another self-declared victim of the framework agreement.

Turkey is also engaging in strategic recalculations. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called Iran his “second home” during a visit to Tehran last year, recently accused the Islamic Republic of “seeking to dominate the region.”

As a result, Turkey now finds itself collaborating with Saudi Arabia in backing the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian arm of Al Qaeda, which captured Idlib in the first major military setback for Assad in recent months. Still, Turkey’s recent behavior – from Erdoğan’s shocking call for an end to the Sykes-Picot system to its de facto collusion with the Islamic State’s siege of the Kurdish town of Kobani, just over the border in Syria – has discouraged the region’s major Sunni powers from pursuing closer ties.

But no regional leader is as frantic – or as dangerous – as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In his vulgar use of Holocaust metaphors to portray the Iranian threat, he sounds more like the principal of a Jewish ghetto about to be annihilated by an agitated mob than the prime minister of the most powerful country in the Middle East.

Netanyahu’s lack of self-awareness is perhaps best exemplified in his interactions with Obama. He expects the US to offer Israel security assistance to face the challenge that Iran poses, even as he barges clumsily into Obama’s political backyard and forges alliances with his domestic opponents.

In fact, Netanyahu has fundamentally misunderstood the Iran challenge: It is not an existential threat, but part of a broader struggle for regional mastery. Rather than engaging in an unrealistic campaign to kill the nuclear agreement, Netanyahu should have been focusing on the strategic implications of Iran’s rise. It is Iran’s geopolitical behavior, not its threshold nuclear status, that matters.

Of course, Netanyahu is intentionally exaggerating the Iranian threat to deflect attention from Israel’s real problems – especially its enduring conflict with Palestine. But he can hope to obscure the sins of occupation only temporarily. If the Palestine issue is not resolved soon, there can be no lasting alliances with “moderate” Sunni powers to counter Iran.

In order to bring some semblance of stability to the Middle East, the US must think beyond the framework nuclear agreement with Iran and develop, with all stakeholders, a collective security regime – an initiative that will require the US to regain the trust of its allies in the region. In reality, the key question has never been when Iran will develop a nuclear weapon, but how to integrate it into a stable regional system before it does.


Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace. He is the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2015.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
May 21st 2019
Extract: "Brexit, after all, is as much a Kremlin project as it is anyone else’s. Putin wants to divide Europeans, and in the UK, Brexit has succeeded in dividing Britons like nothing since the Corn Law debates almost 200 years ago. Putin wants the EU to fragment, and Brexit is causing the biggest crack yet in the bloc’s history. Putin wants to sow doubt about the legitimacy of traditional news sources; pro-Brexit media consistently promote lies as truth and inveigh against reputable papers like the Financial Times as elitist enemies of the people."
May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.