I’ve delayed commenting on the recent agreement with Iran over that country’s nuclear program, as I couldn’t get enough information about it to be sure I was accurate in my reaction. That information is now available, and it’s worse than I feared. The only appropriate historical comparison I can find is the infamous Munich Agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler in 1938 – the one that produced “Peace for our time” . . . and World War II a year later.
In the first place, this unravels very long-standing relationships between the United States and two of its allies in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia. As Stratfor pointed out in its report ‘Israelis, Saudis and the Iranian Agreement‘ (excerpts from which are reprinted here with Stratfor’s permission):
While the unfolding deal involves the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany, two countries intensely oppose it: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Though not powers on the order of the P-5+1, they are still significant. There is a bit of irony in Israel and Saudi Arabia being allied on this issue, but only on the surface. Both have been intense enemies of Iran, and close allies of the United States; each sees this act as a betrayal of its relationship with Washington.
. . .
… the problem that the Saudis and Israelis have … is that both depend on the United States for their national security. Neither country can permanently exist in a region filled with dangers without the United States as a guarantor. Israel needs access to American military equipment that it can’t build itself, like fighter aircraft. Saudi Arabia needs to have American troops available as the ultimate guarantor of their security, as they were in 1990. Israel and Saudi Arabia have been the two countries with the greatest influence in Washington. As this agreement shows, that is no longer the case. Both together weren’t strong enough to block this agreement. What frightens them the most about this agreement is that fact. If the foundation of their national security is the American commitment to them, then the inability to influence Washington is a threat to their national security.
. . .
The United States is not abandoning either Israel or Saudi Arabia. A regional policy based solely on the Iranians would be irrational. What the United States wants to do is retain its relationship with Israel and Saudi Arabia, but on modified terms. The modification is that U.S. support will come in the context of a balance of power, particularly between Iran and Saudi Arabia. While the United States is prepared to support the Saudis in that context, it will not simply support them absolutely. The Saudis and Israelis will have to live with things that they have not had to live with before — namely, an American concern for a reasonably strong and stable Iran regardless of its ideology.
The American strategy is built on experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington has learned that it has interests in the region, but that the direct use of American force cannot achieve those goals, partly because imposing solutions takes more force than the United States has and partly because the more force it uses, the more resistance it generates. Therefore, the United States needs a means of minimizing its interests, and pursuing those it has without direct force.
With its interests being limited, the United States’ strategy is a balance of power. The most natural balance of power is Sunni versus Shia, the Arabs against the Iranians. The goal is not war, but sufficient force on each side to paralyze the other. In that sense, a stable Iran and a more self-reliant Saudi Arabia are needed. Saudi Arabia is not abandoned, but nor is it the sole interest of the United States.
In the same sense, the United States is committed to the survival of Israel. If Iranian nuclear weapons are prevented, the United States has fulfilled that commitment, since there are no current threats that could conceivably threaten Israeli survival.
. . .
With this opening to Iran, the United States will no longer be bound by its Israeli and Saudi relationships. They will not be abandoned, but the United States has broader interests than those relationships, and at the same time few interests that rise to the level of prompting it to directly involve U.S. troops. The Saudis will have to exert themselves to balance the Iranians, and Israel will have to wend its way in a world where it has no strategic threats, but only strategic problems, like everyone else has. It is not a world in which Israeli or Saudi rigidity can sustain itself.
There’s more at the link. It’s worth reading the whole report.
In the second place, the agreement appears to be based upon the perception that the government of Iran is comprised of rational actors who will take decisions in the light of logical, reasoned thought processes. I doubt very much whether this is the case. Iran’s government has consistently demonstrated that it is motivated by a fundamentalist religious perception of reality that is far from rational. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reportedly one of the extremists who invaded the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and seized dozens of diplomatic staff as hostages. He’s on record as wishing for the reappearance of the ‘Twelfth Imam‘, an event that in Shi’ite Muslim expectations will take place ‘when the world has fallen into chaos and civil war emerges between the human race for no reason‘.
To this day Iran is officially categorized by the US State Department as an active state sponsor of terrorism. To this day, the Revolutionary Guards, the Quds Force and the Ministry of Intelligence and National Security act independently of the authority of Iran’s government, forming in essence a ‘state within a state’, under the nominal control of the Supreme Leader but in reality having its own factions that periodically struggle for control. Most Iranian support for international terrorism flows through those organizations – and crucially, none of them are under the direct control of the President of Iran or his Cabinet. Any agreement entered into by the latter parties is unlikely to restrict the formers’ activities. Right now, Iran is supporting the Syrian government in its crackdown against internal dissidents, and Iran is sponsoring the terrorist activities of Hezbollah and Hamas directed against Israel. (Hezbollah has already come out strongly in support of the nuclear agreement with Iran because “our side will be stronger locally, regionally, and internationally”.) Iran was also in dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt., and has supported terrorists acting against US servicemen and interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. Against that background, I can’t take seriously any commitment by Iran to do anything that might weaken its influence in Shi’ite Islam or in the Middle East. Abandoning or restricting its nuclear program would certainly do both.
There are also the wider geopolitical implications of the current agreement. Casey Research thinks it knows what those involve.
Over the weekend, the world changed.
Officials from Iran made a deal with six countries (the US, Russia, China, England, France, and Germany)—in exchange for suspending the world’s sanctions on Iran, Iran will curb its nuclear weapons program.
Though it’s only a six-month interim agreement for now, it’s an important first step toward bringing Iran economically closer to the rest of the world.
This is, by any standards, a historic deal (or a historic mistake, according to Iran’s archenemy Israel): the United States and Iran haven’t had diplomatic relations since 1979.
This is like Wile E. Coyote suddenly signing a peace treaty with the Road Runner.
But the more important question is “Why?” Why did Iran suddenly have this change of heart after pounding the table and claiming that enriching uranium is an inalienable Iranian right?
Is it really as the media portrays? Did the tough American and European sanctions placed upon Iran finally bring the country’s leadership to its senses?
As much as President Obama would like you to believe that, we think the answer is far more complicated.
All of these countries have some sort of agenda that they are pushing—and this deal is going to give them exactly what they want. And if you think that this is about “Middle East stability” and “world peace,” there is a bridge I would like to sell you.
There is only one thing on the minds of these countries: oil.
Again, more at the link, and worthwhile reading.
I believe the present agreement is nothing more than a smokescreen, disguising two realities. The first reality is that Western efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear program have failed dismally. The country is even sending scientists to North Korea to work on the joint development of a long-range missile with which either could target the USA. Why would either nation want such a missile if they didn’t intend to put effective warheads on it? The second reality is that Iran has consistently lied about its nuclear program in the past and evaded almost all diplomatic and other restrictions placed upon it. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that it isn’t going to do precisely the same thing again.
In the light of those two realities, I have no expectation whatsoever that this new agreement will lead to any worthwhile results. Instead, I suggest that it may move the Middle East closer to regional nuclear war, as I believe neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia will be willing to accept the new status quo. I suspect Saudi Arabia will now move to acquire its own nuclear weapons, while Israel will prepare a military strike against Iran, possibly involving the use of nuclear warheads. This will probably be held in reserve for now, but I expect it to be launched if Iran makes any overt moves towards becoming a nuclear-armed power – in particular, a nuclear test.