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Balance of power will shift if Iran comes in from cold

Analysis of the Geneva deal from Le Monde Diplomatique, Ha’aretz and Al Arabiya.

Iranians flash the victory sign to celebrate their government’s new nuclear deal. Photo by Arash Khamooshi /AFP/Getty Images/Newscom

The thaw sets in
By Serge Halimi, translated by Barbara Wilson, Le Monde Diplomatique
December 2013

Could an agreement opposed by Binyamin Netanyahu, the pro-Israel lobby which bends the US Congress to its will, Iran’s ultra-conservatives and Saudi Arabia be a bad thing? Is Israel really in the best position to give the Iranian regime lessons when it has the bomb, has never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has violated more UN resolutions than any other country?

Under the interim six-month agreement concluded on 24 November, Iran will not enrich uranium over 5%, in return for the partial suspension of sanctions. That’s the best news in the region since the Arab Spring.

But the power of the coalition opposing the new deal suggests the reprieve might not last. Already, the main protagonists are each presenting the compromise they have reached as a major concession by the other: Barack Obama claims Iran has given way by halting its military nuclear programme; Tehran says the US has accepted Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment. This battle of conflicting communiqués, less lethal than the other sort of battle, is keeping the hawks on both sides busy: American declarations of victory, immediately broadcast in Iran, get equally belligerent rejoinders, instantly commented on in Washington.

Yet after 30 years of confrontation, direct or through intermediaries, Iran and the US are preparing to normalise relations. The event recalls the historic meeting between US president Richard Nixon and China’s Mao Zedong in February 1972, at the height of the Vietnam war. That transformed the entire geopolitical scene. Economic relations followed. Beijing now finances the US debt and Apple iPhones are made in Shenzhen.

The thaw between Iran and the erstwhile “great Satan” could also help to settle conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. Eleven years after George W Bush launched his “crusade” against the “axis of evil” (1), Iraq is in ruins, the Middle East is destabilised, Palestine is cut off and a swathe of Africa is plagued by jihadist military actions. But the Israeli government persists in pursuing its own destructive course, aided and abetted by Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states that want Shia Iran to remain diplomatically isolated and excluded from the oil trade.

Throughout the negotiations with Iran, French president François Hollande and his foreign minister Laurent Fabius dragged their feet, and even tried to prevent a settlement (2). Netanyahu is a lost cause, but at least we can hope that, for the next, delicate, six months, Bush’s ghost won’t spellbind the Elysée.

(1) On 29 January 2002 Bush declared, with reference to an “axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world” (North Korea, Iran, Iraq) that “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

(2) See Gareth Porter, “Lavrov Reveals Amended Draft Circulated at ‘Last Moment’”, Inter Press Service (IPS), 15 November 2013.

Israeli spies reportedly looking for ‘smoking gun’ on Iran deal

Netanyahu has ordered intel agencies to find evidence that Iran is violating nuclear agreement as Obama tries to sell Geneva deal, according to the Sunday Times.

By Ha’aretz
December 01, 2013

Israel is searching for a “smoking gun” to prove Iran was in breach of an interim agreement reached last week with the world powers over its nuclear program, Britain’s Sunday Times reported.

The order, which the Sunday report said came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, aims to foil U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to convince Congress to support the deal signed in Geneva last week and refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran.

According to the report, Netanyahu has ordered the Mossad and Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence to dig up evidence of an Iranian ploy ahead of the implementation of the deal.

The Iranian envoy to the UN nuclear agency said Friday that Iran anticipates that the landmark nuclear agreement will go into effect in early January.

The agreement – reached on Sunday in after more than four days of negotiations between Iran and the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany – was designed to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.

The deal calls on Iran to limit its nuclear activities in return for a relief in sanctions. If the interim deal holds, the parties will negotiate final-stage agreements to ensure Iran does not build nuclear weapons.

Why Israel really opposes the Iran nuclear deal

Sharif Nashashibi, Al Arabiya
December 02, 2013

Israel’s vehement condemnation of last week’s Geneva deal on Iran’s nuclear program was a surprise to no one as it had been lobbying hard against such an agreement from the outset. However, the stated basis for its opposition lacks any credibility whatsoever.

“This is a bad agreement that… allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium, leaves the centrifuges in place and allows it to produce fissile material for a nuclear weapon,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. His Economy Minister Naftali Bennet added: “Iran is threatening Israel, and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

Tel Aviv is conveniently ignoring a central part of the deal. Tehran’s commitment to halt uranium enrichment above five percent purity would keep its enrichment level “well below the threshold needed for weapons-grade material, which is more than 90 percent enrihment,” Al Arabiya journalist Saffiya Ansari pointed out.

Netanyahu can make as many cartoon-like drawings of bombs as he wants, but even he knows that the Geneva deal negates the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear threat to Israel or any other country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was right to state that the agreement “will make our partners in the region safer. It will make our ally Israel safer.”

Regional hegemony

Tel Aviv’s opposition has nothing to do with its safety (though the media has been happy to give ample space and credence to its propaganda). It has everything to do with its regional hegemony being challenged.

The partial lifting of sanctions against Iran (to the tune of $7 billion) will help its struggling economy. The deal leaves room for the possibility of further relief and benefits in this regard, depending on successful implementation and cooperation from Tehran. The potential for a complete lifting of international and unilateral sanctions would be a tremendous economic boost.

Netanyahu can make as many cartoon-like drawings of bombs as he wants, but the Geneva deal negates the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear threat to Israel or any other country. The agreement also paves the way for a thawing of relations with key Western powers that were involved in brokering it: the United States, UK, France and Germany. All are important allies of Israel (Washington particularly) that have had strained relations with Iran since its Islamic revolution of 1979.

If Tehran has managed to pose a challenge (albeit an exaggerated one) to Israel’s regional hegemony even under crippling sanctions and tensions with world powers, the Geneva deal could enhance Iran’s economic, political, and even conventional military standing, and thus its overall position in the Middle East.

It will also make it much harder for Israel to carry out its repeated threats of military action against Tehran, when the latter has agreed to limit uranium enrichment to levels well below those required for weapons-grade material.

An attack under these circumstances would be seen worldwide as brazen, unwarranted aggression. Israel’s allies would be unable to defend it, and may even openly condemn it, not just for the dangerous implications of military action, but for the undoing of the arduous work involved in reaching the Geneva deal.

Nuclear spotlight

Another fundamental reason for Israel’s opposition to the agreement is that it turns the spotlight back on its nuclear weapons. It also highlights the hypocrisy of the Middle East’s only nuclear power complaining about others in the region obtaining them, and the subsequent absurdity of its constant self-portrayals as vulnerable and existentially threatened by its neighbors.

Indeed, since the Geneva deal, calls for international pressure on Israel’s vast nuclear arsenal have resurfaced, either directly, or via general statements urging a Middle East free from WMD.

“It seems a touch unbalanced to have so much concern about nuclear bombs that do not yet exist, and so little apparent concern for the thousands of nuclear bombs that already do. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is an obvious example of this because of its status as the only country in the Middle East actually with nuclear weapons,” wrote Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Even Saudi Arabia, which has long been wary of Iran’s nuclear intentions, responded to the Geneva deal by calling for a comprehensive solution that leads to the “removal of all weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear, from the Middle East and the Gulf.” This is as direct a reference to Israel as one can get without mentioning it specifically.

The Geneva deal was signed soon after the Syrian government’s decision to give up its chemical weapons. Libya agreed 10 years ago to dismantle its WMD programs, and Iraq gave up its own ambitions in the 1990s.

With Israel no longer threatened by WMDs, the rest of the region calling for a Middle East free from such weapons, and Tel Aviv’s undoubted conventional military superiority, it can no longer rely on its already-spurious excuses of self-defense and deterrence. Israel’s concern is not about being threatened, but about being able to impose its will on the region unchallenged.

After the signing of the Geneva deal, Iran’s recently-elected President Hassan Rowhani said some countries had tried to isolate his, but instead, “now our enemies are isolated.” In referring to “an illegitimate, occupier regime,” he obviously meant Israel. It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of the deal will be on Iran, Israel and the rest of the region, but for now at least, Rowhani has out-maneuvered Netanyahu.

Sharif Nashashibi is a regular contributor to Al Arabiya English, The Middle East magazine and the Guardian He is co-founder of Arab Media Watch, an independent, non-profit watchdog set up in 2000 to strive for objective coverage of Arab issues in the British media. He can be found on Twitter: @sharifnash

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