After Iran Nuclear DealóBest and Worst Case Scenarios
21 July 2015
By Amir Taheri
It will take several months before the deal declared by Iran and the P5+1
group is out of danger zone and ready for implementation. But assuming the
deal does not fall apart, as was the case with the Lausanne accords, what
impact could it have on Iran's relations with its neighbors in the Middle
In the best case scenario, Iran may draw even closer to the United States by
casting itself as a force for stability in the region. This week, Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed a telling episode in the Vienna
talks. According to Lavrov, Russia and China pressed hard for the embargo on
the sale of arms to Iran to be lifted immediately. Both, of course, had hopes
that the lifting of the embargo would enable them to capture big chunks of
the Iranian arms market before others rushed in. According to Lavrov, the
Iranian team did not press for an immediate lifting of the embargo, thus
siding with the US team led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
The reason is obvious. President Hassan Rouhani hopes that in five years'
time Iran would be so close to the US that it could buy American arms. Who
wants Russian and Chinese weapons?
For his part, US President Barack Obama has made it clear on a number of
occasions that if Iran changes its behavior, it could become a key American
ally in the Middle east as it was before the mullahs seized power in 1979. An
Islamic Republic allied to the US would have no interest in wreaking havoc in
the region by trying to "export revolution" through violence and terror.
In that best case scenario, Tehran would reconvert its terrorist networks,
notably Hezbollah in Lebanon, into political parties loyal to the Islamic
Republic. Iran would pursue its interests, including prestige and influence,
in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen through political, diplomatic and economic
channels rather than terror and war.
Allied to the US, Tehran will also see no need in keeping Bashar Al-Assad in
power in Syria. Jettisoning Assad would help Tehran repair its relations not
only with Ankara but also with Arab states opposed to the Syrian despot.
Iran could also rediscover the interest it has in better relations with Saudi
Arabia whose support is needed to regulate oil prices away from wild
fluctuations. Iran and Saudi have no tangible state-to-state disputes over
borders, access to markets and natural resources, and trade rivalry. The root
cause of the current cold spell in their relations is Iran's insistence on
behaving as an ideology rather than a nation. Once Iran has moved away from
ideology and started to behave as a normal country it could have no
difficulty repairing ties with Riyadh.
There is, however, a worst case scenario as well.
Iran's current rulers may see Obama's strategic retreat from the Middle East
as an invitation to reshape the region after their own fashion. Ali Akbar
Velayati, foreign policy adviser to "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, has already
announced plans to create "a coalition" led by Iran and including Syria,
under Assad, Lebanon, held at gunpoint by Hezbollah, and Iraq, where Iran is
building a parallel army. Velayati claims that Algeria is keen to join while
"positive signals" also come from Cairo.
Iran is already trying to split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by wooing
Oman, bullying Qatar, courting Kuwait and setting Dubai against Abu Dhabi in
the United Arab Emirates.
A new and more aggressive Iran, no longer suffering from cash flow
constraints, could emerge to intensify the crisis in Yemen, raise the tension
in Bahrain and pursue the dream of a "Shi'ite Crescent".
Which scenario has a better chance? The answer depends on the outcome of the
power struggle in Tehran. If the pro-American faction, led by former
President Hashemi Rafsanjani and including Rouhani and his team, wins, one
could put even money on the best case scenario. If not, the worst case
scenario cannot be ruled out.
Amir Taheri was born in Ahvaz, southwest Iran, and educated in Tehran, London
and Paris. He was Executive Editor-in-Chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran
(1972-79). In 1980-84, he was Middle East Editor for the Sunday Times. In
1984-92, he served as member of the Executive Board of the International Press
Institute (IPI). Between 1980 and 2004, he was a contributor to the
International Herald Tribune. He has written for the Wall Street Journal, the
New York Post, the New York Times, the London Times, the French magazine
Politique Internationale, and the German weekly Focus. Between 1989 and 2005, he
was editorial writer for the German daily Die Welt. Taheri has published 11
books, some of which have been translated into 20 languages. He has been a
columnist for Asharq Alawsat since 1987. Taheri's latest book "The Persian
Night" is published by Encounter Books in London and New York.