The current interactions among the strategies of the
players in the Middle East have produced a fragile equilibrium that does not
seem to be sustainable.
serious internal and external constraints in reaching accommodation with the
United States. To fend off pressures and threats from the West, especially from
the US, the Islamic Republic has been building its military deterrent
It has also
been developing its nuclear technology, which can give it industrial as well as
potential military advantages. In addition, Iran has tried to find allies
around the world as well as the region’s population. The former part of its
strategy has brought it to rely on China and Russia, while the latter part has
led it to be vocal against the US and Israel.
The leaders of the Islamic Republic do not see much
chance of accommodation with the United States under the current circumstances
because they perceive the US as intent to influence Iran’s internal politics
and undermine it as an independent power. The basis for this perception is
Iran’s own experience under the Shah as well as the situation they observe in
most Arab countries aligned with the US.
The situation might change if the US comes to accept
Iran as an independent power, as it did in the case of China in the 1970s. But,
Iran and the US have not reached such a stage yet. To deal with Iran’s
strategy, the United States has been using its levers around the world to
increase economic and political pressures on Iran.
The pressure on Iran has so far remained focused on
increasingly tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions. Given the internal
coordination difficulties and the prospects of being undermined if it gives in
to the Western pressure, the Islamic Republic has not been in a position to bargain
with the US. Inevitably, it has focused on expanding its military strength and
regional influence to deter a military attach.
Israel, the EU, and the GCC, on the other hand, have grown increasingly wary of
Iran’s path. Most other Arab countries, which are aligned with the US have kept
their distance from Iran, but are not active followers of the US strategy. Most
other countries that are not under direct US influence seem to see Iran not so
much as a threat that they see it as a challenge or even an opportunity.
As a result,
getting them to participate in pressuring Iran further has been difficult for
the US and its allies. Syria and, to some extent, Lebanon have tried to benefit
from their connections with Iran.
This has spanned the US negotiations with the EU,
China, Russia, India, and many other countries. But, these efforts have had
limited success due to the benefits that most of those countries get from
maintaining relations with Iran and because of their interest in keeping Iran as
a bargaining chip in their dealings with the United States.
A possible scenario is that under pressure, Iran
might leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reinforce the
suspicion that it is developing or has access to nuclear weapons.
drive the US or its allies to rash action, including a pre-emptive military
strike on Iran, with disastrous consequences.
But, it may alternatively create an arms race and
militarized standoff around the Persian Gulf.
This would make oil trade costly and impose
significant economic costs on many people, especially Iran’s population. So, there
are hardly any possible ways that would allow the tensions to diminish and help
establish a more stable and productive equilibrium
for the Future
The sweeping political change in parts of the Middle
East the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that may
help move the equilibrium in less destructive directions.
As a result of the uprisings, new Islamist-oriented
governments should emerge in important parts of the Arab world, especially in
Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. These regimes are likely to be less friendly
towards the United States and Israel than their undemocratic predecessors.
The new governments should be be more sympathetic
towards Iran, but most probably not in any position to form any alliance the
Islamic Republic. The GCC countries need to adjust their positions closer to
those of the new regimes in the region and, as a result, reduce their cleavages
with Iran. This will reduce the United States’ ability to maneuver against Iran
in the Middle East region.
At the same
time, the US and Israel should be more accommodating towards the Arab public
opinion and show more compromise in their dealings with the Palestinians. This
would take the wind out of Iran’s sales when it comes to the support for the
Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel and the US.