POINT OF VIEW - Iran, from rogue state to reliable ally?
My enemy's enemy is my friend. Satan is ready to bow to military logic, but not the Saudis and Israelis.
- Thursday, 26 February 2015
As expected, the November 2014 talks between Iran and the world’s P5+1 powers – the United Kingdom, China, France, United States, Russia and Germany – failed to bring about a satisfactory conclusion to the ongoing negotiations over the fate of Tehran’s nuclear programme. All that was achieved was the extension of the supposed final deadline by seven months to 30 June, a move that provides a clear indication of how likely the parties believe a prompt agreement to be.
The greatest obstacle that gets in the way of a satisfactory solution is probably no longer technical in nature, but political. The two issues over which the November talks ran aground – uranium enrichment and the subsequent easing of sanctions – are indeed complex but ways to get round them had already been identified some time ago.
The conclusion of the more than decade-long dispute would, however, certify Iran’s acceptance within the community of ‘civilised nations’ once and for all. A change in status that would essentially confirm what has been true for some time now, however hard it is to swallow for Western nations and in particular the United States. Conversely, it would simultaneously and symmetrically rehabilitate the image of Europe and America in Iran where for the last quarter of a century they have been called “the Great Satan”.
This stall in negotiations, therefore, stems from motives that are more psychological and opinion-related than technical. In other periods, no short-term solution to this kind of situation would have been forthcoming. Yet at this moment in time, changes seem to develop much faster and we are forced to keep up with them if we mean to contribute to the making of our history, rather than simply take it on board.
We also have to bear in mind that in many parts of the world these rapid changes generate extremely perilous and unstable situations that have to be addressed immediately if we want to avoid them spilling beyond the initially affected area and spreading like wildfire.
For those of us in the West, the greatest risk at present would seem to be the rapid growth of a highly dangerous form of Islamic extremism of Sunni extraction that has two main points of reference -- al-Qaeda and the Caliphate which it wishes to restore in Syria and Iraq. This state of play ends up putting the West very much on the same plane as Iran that has for some time now taken on a leadership role within the Shiite Muslim world. A world that the Caliph considers to be heretical and often attacks with even greater ferocity than its European and American targets.
In this ongoing struggle, it is also worthwhile noting that the resources both the West and Iran can deploy on the battlefield would seem to be perfectly complementary. The West has an overabundance of fire power of all kinds but is short on infantry, both in terms of numbers and adaptability to combat conditions, while Tehran is short of high-impact weaponry but could easily provide all the required ground-based forces.
To some extent, it is already doing so. Revolutionary Guard units have already been flanking the inefficient Iraqi forces, which without their help would have probably already lost Baghdad after they proved unable to maintain control of Mosul and Tacit. The extensive involvement of Tehran in Iraq is further testified by various very indicative elements such as the high number of losses incurred and the deployment of numerous elite fighting units.
Meanwhile, on the Syrian front, Iran has taken a back seat by promoting the involvement of Hezbollah forces, the Lebanese Shiite militia that have always looked to Iran for guidance. In this battle against a common enemy, some form of cooperation has no doubt already been established between the Iranian troops operating on the ground and the coalition forces led by the United States, which have been bombing the Caliphate fighters. Full interoperability, however, will only be achieved once the mutual apprehensions, misunderstandings and suspicions generated by the nuclear dispute are eliminated.
We can therefore hope that all the interested parties have understood the full extent of the imperatives created by the new situation and there is some evidence of progress in this regard.
One example is a recent speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which he mentioned that the continuation of Iran’s nuclear programme could be submitted to a popular referendum. On the American front, hopes must be pinned on President Barack Obama's proven ability to make momentous decisions when the solution is ripe, yet it is not being addressed either out of political inertia or due to opposition by particularly powerful lobbies.
Putting an end to the West’s nuclear dispute with Iran appears to be precisely such a problem, even if in this case a solution – regardless of its merits – will never sit well with Israel, which fears for its very survival, nor Saudi Arabia, whose position as the world’s undisputed energy leader would be seriously undermined by a return to the market of Iranian oil.
This is likely to spark a formidable political battle in the US, fuelled externally by these two nations, which wield the greatest foreign influence over the US Senate and Congress. In Europe, acceptance of such an agreement would be much easier, especially for countries such as Germany and Italy, which have enjoyed good political ties and strong economic relations with Iran and implemented the embargo against Iran more out of solidarity with their partners than true conviction.