BEHIND THE NUCLEAR DEAL: GREAT SATAN OR ROGUE NATION?
negotiation generally seeks a compromise that will satisfy all
parties around the table. A negotiated solution that will keep
into account personal interests, intentions, whether open or
underlying. When, finally, a document is drafted, words are
weighed carefully, sometimes they are intentionally ambiguous,
seldom the formulas used can mean everything and the exact
opposite. This is the art of diplomacy: appeasing just about
everyone. So, in the end, there are no winners, although everyone
claims they have won or, at least, not lost. This is what happened
during the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program after a mere
20 months of “official” talks managed to land a deal.
Did the Great Satan prevail or did a Rogue State? Neither of them. Common sense did over the sole alternative left – as US President Barack Obama publicly declared – that is war. And this is the one thing the Middle East doesn't really need today, yet another conflict.
The treaty, officially called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is a mixture of trust, controls and pragmatism. Iran will maintain its nuclear infrastructure (and thus, according to the opponents of the deal, its potential ability to generate nuclear weapons) in exchange for inspections and controls. Tehran will receive a series of incentives if it behaves well, such as the removal of the economic sanctions, but could be targeted once more, both economically and militarily, if it derails.
Overall, it's pretty clear that a good dose of mutual trust is needed to carry out any negotiation. Furthermore, all prejudices must be dropped and one has to believe in the good faith of the counterpart. It's not an easy thing to do when you come, as in this specific case, from 35 years of distrust and enmity between the United States and Iran. It all began in 1979 when Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power, the US embassy was assaulted and a number of US citizens were held hostage for 444 days while rescue attempts failed. It was then the turn of the Iran/Contras scandal, the shooting down of an Iranian civilian airplane by a missile launched by the USS Vincennes in July 1988 and so on.
Following the signature of the deal the battle has shifted on the respective home fronts. In the US Jewish and Pro-Israel lobbies fear the rise of Iran, while in Tehran the clash is between reformists and conservatives.
On the US (and Israel's) side
As far as the United States are concerned, despite the opposition of a Republican-held Congress, President Obama has made sure the deal with Iran was not blocked, rejected nor hampered. The Jewish lobby is particularly influential in Washington and especially the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), an association that has financed the electoral campaigns of several American congressmen. The AIPAC has spent some 40 million dollars to campaign against the deal.
The man that incarnated the fight against the negotiations was Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. It was a dangerous game that ended in a sound defeat because the idea of interfering in the decisions of a Sovereign State, albeit a friendly one, backfired big time. Regardless of the lack of feeling between Obama and Netanyahu, the fact that the majority of the American Jewish votes Democratic was not taken into account.
The result was that the Jewish community was split. A recent opinion poll published by the Los Angeles Jewish Journal has shown how 49% of Jewish Americans are in favor of a deal with Iran, while only 31% are against. It's pretty astounding to see how similar polls carried out on a wider American audience showed a higher degree of skepticism on the outcomes of the deal.
The Israeli Nukes
Israel's insistence in depicting the future potential Iranian nuclear program as a catastrophe could shift the attention of the international community on Tel Aviv's atomic arsenal. Although it has never been officially declared, and is not subject to any international treaty or control, Israel has developed its nuclear program since the 1950s. Today the Israelis own some 80 nuclear warheads, far more than North Korea, that can be launched by air (F-15s and F-16s), by land (Jericho missiles) or by sea (the 5 Dolphin submarines recently sold by Germany). This means a nuclear attack can be carried out at a great distance from the home land.
The nuclear supremacy in the region has become absolute as all attempts by neighboring countries to develop similar capacities were immediately thwarted. It's what happened with the attacks against the Iraqi structure in Osirak in 1981, then against the ones in Deir er Zor in Syria in 2007. But what matters the most is the fact that Israel has put in place an anti-missile system that will make any attack, whether nuclear or not, against its territory totally harmless.
Furthermore, the Israelis can count on the US financial support to its defense sector. The amount is well beyond the publicized 3 billion dollars annually as a number of bilateral technical collaborations are carried out at the same time. In the light of these circumstances, Netanyahu's paranoia of a deal with Iran appears unjustified. What is more striking is the lack of a Plan B by the Israeli PM, a strategy to obtain strategic gains from the political stand-off with the US and not just “compensations”.
On the Iranian side
As far as the Iranian political context is concerned, the deal has brought reformists and conservatives face to face once more. The first are in favor of a civilized, open and democratic society. The latter, instead, believe in a devout and centralizing theocratic system whose ideology is in contrast with the rest of the world. Such a clash is more resounding now that the February 2016 elections of the Consultative Islamic Assembly and of the Assembly of the Experts are approaching. These organisms will have a say in the choice of Khamenei's successor; the Ayatollah is presently 74 years old.
What is currently helping the reformists are the advantages that the deal on the nuclear program has generated: the removal of the financial sanctions (and the recovery of around 100 billion dollars that were frozen in foreign banks), the sale of oil and the revenues thereof, the return on the political and military scene in the region.
This last aspect is important not because of the fears that the circumstance generates in both the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf and in Israel, but because the United States needs Iranian support in a number of crisis: in the fight against the ISIS, in seeking a political solution for Syria, in finding an exit to the turmoil in Yemen. Iran has thus become part of the solution, not the problem.
Who fears the deal?
The hostility in the region comes mainly from those country that feel menaced by the return of Iran on the political scene. It's not just Israel, but all those Sunni-led regimes that don't believe in the US reassurances, nor in their military compensations.
In the background is the role played by the other actors around the negotiation's table. Russia for instance was dying to play a role in Middle Eastern affairs and the Iranian deal has paved their way. Germany and the EU were looking at the economic gains deriving from the opening of Iranian markets, while France played the tough guy to secure its defense contracts with the countries of the Gulf. While the UK just stood by the States, China thought it wise, given its problem with the Uiguri militancy, to side with Iran.
The validity of the deal will be put to test, as will the diffidence that still pervades the two main actors. Now it is a mere war of words. Ayatollah Khamenei has prophetized the disappearance of the “zionist entity” within 25 years. Netanyahu refers to Iran as a “terrorist regime”. The US have been considering Tehran a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” since January 1984, together with Sudan and Syria.
It is one of those twists of history that has led the United States to seek the help of the “terrorist” State like Iran to fight the ISIS or to help resolve the intricate political and military riddle that grips yet another Rogue State such as Syria.