The debate on the Iran nuclear issue has fallen back to what it was before 2015, with significant differences, all of which are in Iran’s interest.
The first is Iran’s use of the nuclear deal signed with the G5+1 as a cover to provide international legitimacy to its nuclear activities in recent years in order to approach the level of uranium enrichment needed to build nuclear weapons, to develop a program of ballistic missiles capable of targeting neighboring countries in the Middle East and reaching Eastern and Central Europe.
The second is the expansion of Iran’s regional influence (including setting up and growing a network of regional proxies capable of wreaking havoc in the Middle East) in order to become an influential negotiating chip in any bargaining with regional and international powers.
Third, Iran possesses an arsenal of conventional weapons, in which drones play a key role, with a threatening potential for the security of countries in the region and US strategic interests.
Given the renewed tensions in Iran’s relations with the IAEA and the threat of failure looming over the Vienna talks, which seem to be in a state of clinical death, the key question is:
What are the options for regional countries in the event of the failure of the US alternative scenario for dealing with the Iranian nuclear and missile threat?
Certainly, the countries in the region have prepared for the nuclear deal revival scenario by trying to build bridges and open channels of communication with Tehran.
Things may look somewhat different when the efforts to revive the agreement show signs of failure, especially as the Ukrainian crisis has created new strategic variables that are pushing Iran to tighten its regional and international positions.
In fact, economic, political and diplomatic pressure on Tehran will not yield the desired results, whether this scenario is supported by Europe, with its thirst for energy and desire to reduce dependence on Russian gas, or any US pressure campaign on Iran, which will face not only Iranian defiance but also Sino-Russian disfavor.
In addition, the US administration won’t venture into any headlong action against Iran ahead of the midterm Congress elections.
I think the Biden administration won’t easily lose hope of reviving the nuclear deal, or even reaching a new “deal” with Iran, rather than just talking about containing the Iranian nuclear threat without an agreement in most Western circles. But the US certainly does not want to push the situation toward a Sino-Russian-Iranian alliance.
Given how interconnected the issues are, and how they affect each other, the results of what is happening on Ukrainian soil will have some implications for the other strategic issues, most notably Iran’s. Russian victory or defeat strengthens Washington’s efforts to stymie Iran and contain China. Otherwise, Iran will pose a major challenge to US foreign policy.
It is hard to talk about any effectiveness of sanctions, either with mutual support between China, Russia, and Iran, or with loopholes in sanctions on Iranian oil sales that limit the impact of sanctions and provide the Iranian regime with the resources to keep supporting militias and developing weapons capabilities.
To be sure, any alternative to dealing with the Iranian threat will only succeed if the Iranian regime senses the danger of a military strike aimed directly against it or helping to weaken it and bring about a popular overthrow.
Given the low probability that the US would resort to or even suggest such a strike, the diplomatic option, despite its low chances of success, is essentially the same, not accompanied by arm-twisting and pressure cards to boost its chances of acceptance.
Back to the main question about the options of the regional countries in this case, we can say that the orientation of the Iranian regime does not allow the objective observer to develop acceptable expectations that solutions and agreements can be found to contain the regional tensions, regardless of whether Tehran is a major player in them or whether there is a strong Iranian desire for hegemony that does not reflect the current regional balance of power in political, economic and even military terms.
Therefore, building a network of defense alliances among the countries of the region to offset the waning US interest in the security and stability of the region would be the most likely and realistic alternative to counter the threat posed by these countries. There is a collective capability to deter this threat and provide adequate protection to each state if it occurs.
Also clear is the need to understand the new strategic reality in the region and internationally, to develop strategies that reflect this reality, and to strengthen Gulf relations with Israel, Turkey, and other countries in the region. Preserving the delicate balance between the US and its allies on the one hand and Russia and China on the other is a crucial factor.
Anything less is either in Iran’s interest or limits the Gulf states’ ability to influence events around them.
Dr. Salem AlKetbiis a UAE political analyst