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One Move on the Chess Board

November 26, 2013

By Avi Melamed

The Iranian regime has very good reasons to be satisfied with the interim agreement signed recently in Geneva:

The Iranian regime played their cards right. The Iranians came to the table under immense stress due to the growing economic crisis stemming from the Western imposed sanctions. The Western powers – for some reason – failed to take advantage of the Iranian regime’s stress which could have secured a much better deal for the West.

The interim agreement positions the Iranian regime as a regional – if not global – power which cannot be ignored.

The agreement substantially limits Israel’s ability to launch any kind of military strike – a scenario that disturbed the Iranian regime.

The agreement allows the Iranian regime to continue operating in Syria and it improves Iran’s negotiating position in an international conference expected to be held in January 2014, a conference whose aim is to discuss a diplomatic solution for the war in Syria. It is no wonder that Iran’s major allies and proxies – Assad and Hezbollah – rushed to express their support for the interim agreement describing it as an Iranian triumph.

The agreement does nothing to impede the Iranian nuclear military project. Though the agreement imposes a temporary pause and freeze of the Iranian nuclear program, it is compensated by the benefits the agreement offers the Iranian regime.

The sanctions imposed on Iran caused growing discontent and criticism inside Iran and weakened the Iranian regime. The agreement allows the regime to counter the criticism.

Those supporting the interim agreement argue it is an important step towards a peaceful solution which will ensure that Iran will not have nuclear weapons. That perspective is clearly valid and reasonable.

Yet, paradoxically, it is possible that the interim agreement will not bring about a peaceful solution and will actually increase instability in the Middle East for two reasons:

The Iranian regime’s basic assumption is that the West is not interested in a military confrontation with Iran. Therefore, the Iranian regime concludes that the West will contain an Iranian military nuclear capacity. In the eyes of the Iranian regime, the interim agreement validates this assumption. However, it is possible that the Iranian’s assumption is wrong; it is possible that the West is indeed determined to avoid the scenario of a military nuclear Iran by all means – including the use of military might. Thus, the Iranian misinterpretation could result in a tougher Iranian position which will block the diplomatic channels and ultimately force the West to use military means in order to secure its interests.

The interim agreement deepens the feelings of mistrust among the major US allies in the Middle East and towards the United States President, and strengthens their suspicious that the current US administration is choosing a policy of containing a military nuclear Iran. Given the indecisive, incoherent, and ambiguous US policy towards major events in the Middle East (the war in Syria, the use of chemical weapons, the political turbulence in Egypt, etc.) these fears and suspicious are understandable. The continuation of the strained relations between the US administration and its major allies in the Middle East could drive some of the US allies in the region to come to the conclusion that their strategic interests require an independent policy and unilateral actions even if they don’t comply with the US’s outlook. For example, Saudi Arabia can decide to arm itself with nuclear weapon should the Saudis conclude that Iran is going to have military nuclear capacity. Such a development obviously has significant ramifications – and not necessarily positive ones.

In the Middle East chess board the interim agreement with Iran is only one move. Similar to the game, it is sometimes difficult to see or to predict the long term impacts of that move. The game, however, continues…

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