Regional powers could strike own deal for stability
The best way to look at how the renegotiated Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will unfold for the US, Iran and the Middle East as a whole is, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”
In 2015, the nuclear deal was sold to the world on the assumption that it would ensure Iran refrained from its negative interference. There was a view that, by welcoming Iran back into the international community, it would empower the “moderates” in the country and that it would change its behavior and become a positive player in the region. As we all know, this unfortunately did not happen. In fact, Iran expanded its nefarious activities, becoming more emboldened and sending its forces to Syria, pushing for more terrorist activities from the Houthis, and having Hezbollah continue its takeover of Lebanon. Shame on them indeed.
Today, as JCPOA 2.0 is on the verge of being agreed, the US administration is making the same assumptions as in 2015. This was confirmed in an interview on the US program “This Week” on Sunday, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated: “The first thing we need to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box… and then use that as a platform to build on and to try to deal with those other issues.” We can notice Blinken’s unconvincing tone when it comes to stopping Iran’s activities after JCPOA 2.0, or maybe America’s unwillingness to take on this role and force it to stop. Nevertheless, in the same interview he describes Iran’s activities very well. He said: “Iran is engaged in a number of activities, including funding extremist groups, supporting terrorism more broadly, supporting very dangerous proxies that are taking destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East, proliferating weapons.” And so, soon we will know where the shame of JCPOA 2.0 lies.
The fifth round of discussions is now underway in Vienna. But it has been quite clear since the first round that the question has never been if the nuclear deal will be reactivated, but when. There has been theatrics on all sides around the subject, rather than difficulties reaching an agreement. Most recently, Iran extended the International Atomic Energy Agency agreement for another month, with the new deadline falling shortly after the country’s presidential election. Most observers expect the agreement to be reached by then, leaving the new president with the fait accompli of JCPOA 2.0. The Iranian regime is also using this as a pressure point, feeding the narrative needed by the international community to push for a quick deal. In these difficult times, it is good news for hotels in Vienna, but it seems it could have been arranged with a few online video calls.
Despite its stated nefarious activities, Iran is being depicted as a liberty fighter or a power of resistance.
Khaled Abou Zahr
Blinken also stated in his TV interview: “Of course, many of these actions are going forward now and have gone forward over the last few years under the so-called maximum pressure being exerted by the previous administration, and clearly didn’t get the results that we all seek, which is to curb all of these activities.” There are two ways to see things, depending on who you think is being fooled. Iran considers both versions of the JCPOA to be the “Great Satan” yielding to its will, admitting defeat and paying retribution. It therefore feels emboldened to push forward and considers that it will gain from America’s retreat. The West frames the nuclear deal as a way to empower moderate Iran.
The Iranian regime, through its so-called doves and hawks, has only one objective, which is to impose its will on the Middle East by exporting its revolution and destabilizing entire countries. This regime has grown popular in the Western world, especially with the left-leaning Democratic Party, which is aligned with the European vision of the world. Despite its stated nefarious activities, Iran is being depicted as a liberty fighter or a power of resistance. They choose to ignore the regime’s evil actions or, worse, justify them as fighting against oppression. This fits within the changing view the Western alliance has of its role in the world and of its own societies. It contrasts with a traditional vision of leadership and also of a world where the forces of good need to stand against evil, or at least try.
It seems as though JCPOA 2.0 will be hailed as a diplomatic victory for all countries involved. The exaggerated theatrics around the negotiations are done to serve this exact purpose. So it might be a diplomatic victory, but will it be a victory for the stability of the region and the world? The answer is clearly no if the international community does not put forward a strategy following this agreement to stand against Iran’s interference in other countries’ domestic affairs.
The key difference from the JCPOA of 2015 is that countries in the region know what to expect and Iran, which is overstretched, could face stronger opposition, whether in Syria or Iraq, from Turkey. It must also look more carefully at its northern and eastern fronts, impacting its own domestic coherence, as the Azeri-Armenian conflict revealed. This time, Tehran’s actions might come with a higher cost. There is also Israel to consider, especially as the recent confrontations have changed the parameters of its future strategies and actions.
There is, unfortunately, little hope and few incentives for the Iranian regime to bring about positive solutions for the region. But a regional agreement for greater stability between local powers is not impossible. One could compare it with 19th and 20th-century Europe, which saw frequent wars with heavy casualties and high costs. However, coming out of the Second World War and learning the lessons of the past, it built a new vision for the continent that ensured prosperity and stability. It took the work of men such as Jean Monnet to build this vision. Although a grand vision, it started symbolically and prudently with the old enemies joining what was known as the European Coal and Steel Community. So maybe we could write our own story, with all countries joining a Middle Eastern Innovation Community.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.