This past week a new agreement between the P5+1 (United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany) and Iran was reached in Geneva. Although a permanent agreement is still in the works, the deal so far essentially allows Iran the right to enrich uranium while at the same time loosening international sanctions on its economy.
Not surprisingly it received with unabashed euphoria in Tehran. While President Barack Obama welcomed the deal, saying it would “help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the interim deal a “historical mistake,” and warned that Israel “will not allow a regime that calls for the destruction of Israel to obtain the means to achieve this goal.”
Israel and the Gulf countries have consistently voiced their displeasure regarding any potential agreement. Their disapproval, coupled with the disorder emanating from Syria, may portend a period of instability surrounding Iran. The destabilizing impact of these factors was evident in the November 19 bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, which was carried out by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The attack was viewed as partially being a response to this latest session of nuclear rapprochement between Iran and the West.
Saudi Arabia joined Israel and other Gulf countries, including the UAE, in voicing its opposition to the agreement. The Telegraph reports that Saudi Arabia claims they were kept in the dark by Western allies over the Iran nuclear deal. They said they may have to start dealing with the issue on their own. Their fear lies in the belief that any potential deal will not impose the necessary conditions to disable Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons. The Sunday Times confirms that Israel and Saudi Arabia have begun to develop a tactical relationship regarding any future military engagement with Iran. An unnamed diplomatic source told the paper, “once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs.”
A report by Ethnographic Edge brings our attention to the fact that the trend is pointing toward more regional tension. This is evident in the rhetoric and actions of Iran. Earlier this week, Iran unveiled their largest and most powerful drone. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Israel as a “rabid dog.” An Iranian news agency also connected the Beirut bombing of the Iranian embassy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Clearly, the Geneva nuclear talks are forming the contours of a contest in the Middle East from which neither Iran, Israel, nor Saudi Arabia are willing to back down. Someone will have to keep these regional powers at bay. The US’s peace branch may soon have to turn into, to be realistic, quite simply, a big stick.
The agreement pledges to ease some of the crippling economic sanctions that have caused massive inflation in Iran and weakened its currency. That is why it is not surprising that Iran’s nuclear negotiation team returned home to a hero’s welcome. An article in the Guardian reports that the country’s leaders and its people were united in celebration of the historic agreement in Geneva. Many locals see this as a sign of hope that will reduce the threat of war and lead to an easing of their economic struggles.
As the economic sanctions are eased and the nuclear issue fades away for the time being, Iranians are provided with some much-needed respite, which might give them a chance to address some pressing internal issues. As Reuters’ Trita Parsi remarks, the public is now pressing Rouhani to address the issue of human rights violations in the country. The pressures will likely continue to increase now that the foreign policy matters have been dealt with. The people gathered at the airport to receive Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif chanting for the release of all political prisoners seems to be only the beginning of a long road toward internal Iranian reform.
Assets at Risk
Oil prices fell following the breakthrough accord in Geneva. This is a knee-jerk reaction to the agreement and is likely to only apply in the short term – especially since the current strategic picture points to an increase in tensions.