Commentary

Iran Nuclear Deal Greeted with Skepticism, Hope

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The news of an agreement on limiting Iran’s nuclear program has provoked a lively and, at times, heated debate about the implications for the region. Most observers readily acknowledge the historic nature of the agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 world powers, but are divided on the question of whether Iran can be trusted to play a responsible international role. Concerns about Iran’s past and present behavior and the possibility of a reinvigorated hardline regime permeate most editorials and op-eds. However, with the exception of some voices within Israel, there has been little written as to what counter-measures countries in the region could or should take.

According to an Oman Observer report, Muscat played a positive role in the negotiations, with Iran’s ambassador to Oman confirming “the ‘big and appreciated role’ played by the Sultanate in bringing all opinions together. Describing Oman’s policy as the ‘soft strength’, he said that the Sultanate was there from the beginning of the negotiations on Iranian nuclear file....Most of the Gulf countries welcomed the agreement as they will benefit from its results in the long and short terms....’We will have wider political and economic cooperation with the countries in the region especially Oman as a priority. I think Oman in the coming period will be the major crossing point for commercial exchange between Iran and the countries of Asia and Africa.’”

A recent Khaleej Times editorial characterizes the outcome as “a good deal,” but expresses reservations about Iran’s intentions: “[the] Iran nuclear deal is a huge positive—but a qualified one. The country that former U.S. president George W. Bush once described as 'evil' now has a chance to prove that it's neither rogue nor evil, no matter its past acts....given Iran's past record, the country needs to be monitored closely. Right now, there is nothing to believe that the deal doesn't provide for a close monitoring of Iran's nuclear installations and research facilities....The deal is risky for sure, if managed and monitored well these are risks worth-taking.”

But the Saudi Gazette editorial staff expresses skepticism about the extent to which Iran is said to have compromised and given in, since “after nine years of talks, Iran has in essence, merely agreed to abide by the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty to which it had already signed up.... It would be good to believe that the Iranian government will use this opportunity to open a new chapter in its relations with its neighbors....But it should not be forgotten that there remains an important core of hard-liners able, as they did only last week, to turn out mobs to burn U.S. flags and rant the same old rhetoric which pitched Iran against the international community, not least other states in the region.”

There are also questions and fears, reflected in a recent Peninsula (Qatar) editorial, about whether Iran’s actions might lead to a nuclear arms race, thus further destabilizing the region: “Iran stands to benefit most....Some Arab countries have welcomed the agreement, but many are apprehensive because they think a powerful Iran means a powerful Shia bloc in the Arab and Islamic world. The fissures and friction between Sunnis and Shias are likely to intensify if Iran flexes its newly acquired muscles. There are fears the deal will spark a nuclear race as other Arab powers would want to acquire nuclear capabilities to restore the balance. Competition and fears will only bring more chaos to a region that is suffering from multiple malaises. Iran must adopt a constructive approach and transform itself into a peaceful power and refrain from actions that will create tension in the region. That will be the next challenge for President Hassan Rowhani.”

Asharq Alawsat’s Salman Aldosary is even less restrained in his assessment of the final negotiation and expresses deep skepticism about the possibility of a changed Iran: “If the deal has limited the nuclear capabilities of Iran and forced it to bow down, at least temporarily until it catches its breath, the real concern is what it will produce and whether the Iranian regime will use it as a political card. No wise person would believe that Iran will give up its policy of destabilizing the region....Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states can only welcome the nuclear deal, which in itself is supposed to close the gates of evil that Iran had opened in the region. However, the real concern is that the deal will open other gates of evil, gates which Iran mastered knocking at for years even while Western sanctions were still in place.”

One of the reason for the widespread pessimism seems to be the impact the end of the sanctions regime will have on the balance of power within Iran, with some, including Arab News’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, suspecting the biggest winners will be the hawks within Iran: “What we fear is that the deal might strengthen the hawks in Tehran and therefore stall any positive transition within or outside the regime for a decade or two....That is why we disagree with Washington as it could have signed a better deal that could have positively changed the region, as Iran is the official supporter of most extremist parties, from Hezbollah to Hamas to the League of the Righteous. Iran is the reason for the emergence of extremist parties such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh and its terrorist operations have expanded to include the Philippines in the far east to Argentina in the far west.”

In Israel, there is widespread opposition to the deal, with recent polls putting those against the deal at 78%, with 47% of the Israeli public supporting unilateral Israeli military strikes against Iran: “An overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis believes the deal reached with Iran by the world’s leading nations on Tuesday endangers Israel and brings Iran closer to acquiring a military nuclear ability, according to a Capital Politics poll taken for The Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication, Maariv Hashavua....When asked whether they support an Israeli military strike on Iran if it would be necessary to prevent the Islamic state from getting nuclear weapons, 47% said yes, 35% said no, and 18% did not know....Fifty-one percent said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should use all possible tools to persuade Congress to vote against the deal, 38% said the prime minister should instead try to reach understandings with U.S. President Barack Obama about its implementation, and 11% did not know.”

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick even makes the argument for a unilateral military strike against Iran’s nuclear program: “On Tuesday, we moved into a new nuclear age....if Iran abides by the agreement, or isn’t punished for cheating on it, in 10 years, the greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the world will be rich, in possession of a modernized military, a ballistic missile arsenal capable of carrying nuclear warheads to any spot on earth, and the nuclear warheads themselves. Facing this new nuclear reality, the states of the region, including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and perhaps the emirates, will likely begin to develop nuclear arsenals. ISIS will likely use the remnants of the Iraqi and Syrian programs to build its own nuclear program.... Israel cannot replace the U.S. as a regional superpower, dictating policy to our neighbors. But a successful attack on Iran’s nuclear program along with the adoption of a vigilantly upheld strategy of active nuclear defense can form the basis of a successful Israeli nuclear defense system. And no, Israel shouldn’t be overly concerned with how Obama will respond to such actions.”


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