By Barry Rubin
How do we know that the Obama administration Iran deal cannot work? Let me count the ways.
The only countries that have played it right are Canada; Egypt, which is now going to receive American weapons; and Iran itself, which will continue to profit from oil sales while making strategic promises it won’t keep. This is not about Iranian nuclear weapons. It is about the entire region.
Why have Canada, Egypt, and Iran gotten it right? In large part, Canada has ignored the proposed deal, because it doesn’t trust Iran to deliver on any of its promises nor does it believe Iran will change its policy if sanctions end. Iran is not going to change its policy, and Egypt is wisely and cleverly acting in its national interests.
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These three countries have simply followed what international diplomacy should be about–the pursuit of national interests, and humanitarian interests when possible. Canada was right, because it was suspicious of radical Islamists, who would push hard to try to get everything and give nothing in return. That it is not a profitable arrangement.
As for Iran, this is precisely about money and defense, not nuclear weapons. Iran wants to get the largest possible amount of money–say 20 billion dollars–but not abandon nuclear weapons completely, knowing Israel cannot attack it.
And Egypt is using its strategic leverage. The military government is in power, and the regime will not allow revolutionary Islamists to attack freely, especially after the last two years’ experience.
For example, revolutionary Islamists do not make concessions. That is not the way they bargain. Islamist Iran will never stop seeking nuclear weapons; it will be patient about it. The real danger to the Iranian regime is economic collapse from sanctions, and the potential gain would be for Iran to achieve its true ambitions–mainly, a Shi’a bloc made of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq; and the destruction of Israel, which won’t work.
Egypt played it tough and will probably be the only Arab state that has gained anything. Nevertheless, the Egyptians have so lost confidence with the United States that they just signed a 2 million dollar agreement to buy weapons from Russia. This takes the world back almost 60 years, to 1955, when Egypt was a Soviet client and was buying all its arms from the Soviet Union. Egypt then managed to obtain Russian arms deals for money and yet a U.S. arms deal for free!
Why has Canada gained? Because when the arms deal with Iran collapses, Canada will not be holding the bag.
These are not the only problems with the deal. For example, look at the Israel-Palestinian Authority question. They cannot make a deal without Gaza’s involvement. And yet nobody–including the United States and Russia–is going to force Gaza to be included in the peace agreement.
In fact, even the PA will not recognize Israel as a Jewish State, its only precondition.
In an interview, Palestinian leader Farouq Qaddoumi commented:
“… we were enthusiastic supporters of Germany.”
“This was common among the Palestinians, especially since our enemy was Zionism, and we saw that Zionism was hostile to Germany, and vice versa.”
Qaddoumi is honest, at least in mentioning this fact, especially to a news station and when WWII is still referred to as a great patriotic war. At the same time, a main representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe denies that it too was a partner in this alliance, while Iran’s leader refers to Israel as “Nazi.”
I can imagine that the West could agree to Asad staying on in Syria, but I could never agree that the PA will recognize Israel as a Jewish State. It would never do that, even if it were to get a state immediately, because its goal is in fact a state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean.
Iran wants to lead a Shi’a bloc consisting of Hizballah, Syria, and–if possible–Iraq. The West supposedly thinks that the deal will be to retain Asad. Yet Syrian rebels, supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, view this as a betrayal. They will not make a deal that officially keeps Asad in power in Syria.
Also, Iran is now backing the Sunni Hamas, which the Egyptians are suspicious of and view as a threat. Former Muslim Brother hood Muhammad Morsi has just been indicted for getting support from Hamas, Hizballah, Iran.
Meanwhile, Turkey thinks it will be able to play up to Iran because of economic deals between the two. How will Iran be challenged when Turkey is running Syria’s civil war against the Iranian bloc?
Even according to U.S. intelligence (stated foreign policy), Iranian commandos just raided an Iraqi compound in Ashraf that was housing an Iranian dissident group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), kidnapping seven members and killing over fifty.
Does Iran think it can include armed anti-Iranian (Kurdish) dissidents (the PKK) and Syrian dissidents in its bloc? That might put a crimp on billions of dollars in bilateral trade. By the way, the United States had already supposedly promised Iraq that the MEK would be protected, another source of accusations of “cowboy” behavior.
A U.S. official commenting on the Ashraf attack noted, “Iraqi soldiers didn’t get in the way of what was happening at Ashraf.”
I hate to say it, but it is almost as if the Obama administration just wants to keep the supposed “deal” alive until after the 2014 elections. It wants to be able to say, “Do you see what a great diplomatic triumph we achieved in the Middle East, resolving all problems?” only then to let the deal collapse. This is of course the reason President Obama said there is only a 50-50 chance with the Iran deal. Usually, the president and secretary of state do not talk about the certainty of deals before they are much closer to being completed.
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Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International
Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of
International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press.
Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition),
The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle
East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.