The Deal

After years of kicking and screaming, Tehran is ready to give up its nuclear ambitions — for now

Asad Rahim Khan July 20, 2015
The writer is a barrister and columnist. He tweets @AsadRahim

Binyamin Netanyahu has been called many things: a liar by the former president of France, a petty little man by the opposition, and a war criminal by sane people everywhere. Yet few would say Mr Netanyahu lacks composure: murdering boys on beaches means ice in the blood.

This past week, however, the Israeli PM’s been sounding like a dying farm animal, and with reason: the man can’t catch a break with Iran. Bibi’s boys have tried everything but the kitchen sink — from blowing up Iranian scientists to showing cute cartoon bombs to the UN — to stop this deal from happening.

That also meant throwing a marathon hissy fit: from hijacking the US Congress, to tweeting Iran’s “true goal … in the end is to take over the world”, Bibi resembled a gambler dodging casino security.

But for all his huffing and puffing, the PM just couldn’t blow the house down. Now that the deal’s gone through, Mr Netanyahu’s spokespeople inform us the PM’s threatened “to kill himself”. Which begs the question: would the world be a worse place for it? As fire begins raining down on Gaza again, one prays Israel doesn’t take Iran’s anger out on the Palestinians (as it did Lebanon’s in 2009).

Meanwhile, Bibi’s back-up singers in the GOP aren’t far behind: Donald Trump just walked out of 1776, declaring “the Persians are great negotiators’. Further reducing 80 million people to a nation of snake-charmers, fellow presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham said, “Everything I know about the Iranians I learned in the pool room.” Senator Graham realised, while working at a bar, that “the Iranians are liars”, an accurate look into the red party’s grasp of foreign affairs.

Judging by its enemies, then, it seems the deal’s not a bad idea after all. To tally those for: Pakistan, India, the US, Russia, China and Europe. To tally those against: Israel and the Gulf kings. It seems Iran has met its moment at last.

After years of riots and wrangling, this day is nothing short of historic. On Day Zero of his presidency, Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, “…We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” To pundits, the president was pointing to Iran, isolated by all.

Mr Obama’s methods in the Middle East are easy to understand: after the spectacular crimes of Bush and Bremer, President 44 is all about the cheap and easy — playing proxies in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, and ensuring a cesspit of civil wars. If the Bush doctrine was to make the world a worse place, the Obama doctrine succeeds at the same (if with a fainter heart).

That makes Mr Obama’s handling of Iran all the more surprising: whatever his weak stomach, Mr Obama refused to dither on the nuclear question, keeping his goals close to the ground. We saw no regime change a la Paul Wolfowitz, no supplanting a “sinister religion” a la Tony Blair, and no bombing reactors a la Dick Cheney. Mr Obama reached out instead.

And the Supreme Leader got the memo. While Mr Obama can lay claim to a legacy move (after seven lacklustre years), the ayatollahs are rejoicing their taming the Great Satan. But Iranians are celebrating in the street too: after sanctions galore, 55 per cent of Iran’s urban population lives below the poverty line, inflation is on the rise, and the Ahmedinejad years have been a PR disaster that echoed well into the present.

Which brings us to the deal itself: after years of kicking and screaming, Tehran is ready to give up its nuclear ambitions — for now. Most of the agreement’s provisions will remain in force for 10 years, so should the Iranians try a double-cross, the West will go right back to square one.

But few can say Iran isn’t conceding enough: cutting its pile of centrifuges, and limiting uranium enrichment to 3.67 per cent (90’s required to build a weapon). It’s opening itself up to weapon inspectors, and its programme is to turn far more transparent.

In return, the West will release its pincer-grip on Persia’s neck, lifting sanctions that ban banking, embargo oil sales, and generally make life miserable. That means a world of new opportunities for Iran, including one particular prospect closer to home.

Post-deal, the failing, flailing Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is back in the news: 1,800 kilometres of pipeline meant to bring both Islamic Republics together (and Islamabad out of the cold). While the Iranians held up their end of the arrangement, Pakistan supposedly stalled the project “citing US and European sanctions” (believe what you will). Sans sanctions, it seems Pakistan’s energy woes might come closer to resolution.

Of course, a gleeful Iran — under a theocracy that lives to expand — doesn’t bode well for the Middle East’s regional rivalries. Whereas sanctions must be lifted, Tehran’s proxy policy shows no signs of abating: from Hezbollah to the Houthis, the ayatollahs’ men are on the march.

Most damning is Iran’s lifeline to Syria, as leaked cables tell us what we already knew: the Assads are massacring civilians in numbers that leave ISIS far behind. And let’s not forget Assad’s war gave ISIS its second wind, consciously ignoring Zarqawi’s zombies until the West noticed. Yes, pushed against the now-panicking Saudis, the Middle East is set to explode for some time to come.

But it begs repeating, whatever the perils posed by the ayatollahs, the world was very different in 2004 — when Bush World was peaking. There was a real and present danger Iran would be invaded, spilling the same rivers of blood we see in Mesopotamia. This deal does away with that nightmare, for the time being.

There is also begged a moment of silence for Tel Aviv, where the leadership is in a frenzy: Naftali Bennett, longtime loon (and Bibi coalition partner), calling the deal the darkest day in world history”. This, from a land that routinely makes war on Lebanon and Gaza — and encourages it in Iran and Iraq — offers the world a moment to reflect.

Because from the State of Israel, such an assessment can only be welcome.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st,  2015.

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