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Iran is on the rise in 2014, but dangers abound
January 7, 2014, 8:39 pm

What a difference a year can make in the Middle East.

Just 12 months ago, Iran was facing some daunting prospects: Painful western economic and financial sanctions, the potential downfall of its key Arab Syrian ally, and a resurgence in anti-Shia and anti-Iran rhetoric spurred on by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours seeking to undermine Iranian influence in the region.

But as 2014 kicks off, the tables have turned rather dramatically:

A historic compromise in Geneva between the P5+1 and the Islamic Republic recognised Iran’s nuclear aspirations, rolled back some sanctions and replenished the country’s coffers.

International consensus is starting to gather behind Iran’s Syrian ally and against its Saudi Arabian adversary, tipping the regional balance of power in Tehran’s favour.

Moreover, the Islamic Republic is now widely seen as holding key levers in the resolution of conflicts from Lebanon to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and beyond, placing Iran at the table with global powers who need its regional clout quite suddenly.

Diminished US influence in, and commitment to, the Middle East has peeled the constraints off Iran, which appears keen to assume a more prominent regional role.

Iran has gained critical support from UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China, also eager to end the dismal era of American hegemony in the Mideast.

Both states are committed to pushing a new global political and economic agenda based on multilateralism, and with Iran and Iraq set to becoming the Persian Gulf’s new energy hub, Moscow – and especially Beijing – are keen to protect those interests.

While 2014 is already looking much brighter for Iran, there are some significant dangers that will not make this an easy ride.

The Salafist Threat

For starters, Shia Iran – and its multi-sect regional allies – is a huge target for sectarian Salafist militants and Al Qaeda wannabes throughout the Levant and the Gulf.

Corridors of political violence have opened up from Lebanon to Iraq, threatening to destabilise the entire region unless there is a dedicated global effort to roll back Sunni extremism.

Iran is taking the regional lead in tackling this problem, placing the country in direct confrontation with longtime foe, Saudi Arabia. This battle is viewed as an existential one for the now boldly sectarian Riyadh, which is committing serious money and clout to thwart Iran’s ascendency, overthrow Syria’s government, destabilise Iraq and destroy Lebanese resistance group and close Iranian ally, Hezbollah.

Oddly enough, Iran and its allies will gain support in this fight from their adversaries in the West. The Salafist threat has grown too strong, its destabilising potential too obvious, and the threat of jihadism spreading westward too likely – and so there is a noticeable western narrative building against Saudi Arabia and its sponsorship of radicalism and militancy.

While Iran and its allies will lead the battle from within the region, with some key intelligence and support coming from new western partners, these are uneasy alliances with divergent interests…it will not be a smooth ride.

The Iranians are seasoned pros in the art of diplomacy, however, and have always chosen the soft power route over a military alternative, so we can count on some fights being won at the negotiating table instead of the battlefield.

Zarif sought to calm Arab fears that a nuclear deal would come at their espense [Getty Images]

Zarif sought to calm Arab fears that a nuclear deal would come at their espense [Getty Images]

Just recently, when the Saudis pushed their GCC partners to form a union to strengthen their hand in the Persian Gulf, it was Iran’s proactive diplomacy that threw a wrench in the works. Oman, which had quietly been courted by Iranians, refused to participate, and the UAE expressed disinterest too.

Call it a divide-and-rule strategy of sorts, if you will. But as the Iranian negotiating team headed to Geneva in November to iron out details of a nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif penned an unusual op-ed in leading Saudi paper Asharq al-Awsat entitled “Our Neighbors Are Our Priority”.

This remarkable commentary sought to assuage the concern of Arab neighbors that an impending nuclear deal would be “pursued at their expense” – and urged Gulf nations against adopting a “zero sum mentality” over this historic rapprochement.Shuttle diplomacy involving several Persian Gulf states ensued, and was undoubtedly pivotal in alleviating concerns about Iranian “intentions” in the region.

Most importantly, during these visits, Tehran managed to dissuade several GCC states from following the confrontational Saudi lead.

Nuclear Deal Has Pitfalls

Once the euphoria over the historic Geneva nuclear deal subsided, the myriad obstructions that could derail a final agreement became fairly obvious.

First, there are potential spoilers everywhere: the US Congress, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iranian skeptics, even France – vested interests in scuttling a deal abound. Second, any series of events in the Middle East could change the calculations that brought the various parties to the negotiating table. Third, there will be numerous points along the path to a final agreement when the interest of one party or another will shift because of domestic or foreign policy considerations. Fourth, mistrust between the parties is high and can hamper progress indefinitely over mechanisms of implementation.

The forecast is not all bleak, however, particularly not for Iran. The Islamic Republic has already essentially gained recognition of its right to enrich uranium at 3.5 per cent levels, which is what it has always sought. Inside Iran, it is no secret that building new nuclear facilities, jacking up the number of centrifuges, and upping enrichment levels to 20 per cent were all very helpful negotiating tools in reaching this outcome.

And that genie can’t be put back in its bottle.

Just as important for the Iranians is why this deal was done. A year ago, there was no real P3 interest in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue – just in slapping on more unilateral sanctions to affect “behavior change” in the Islamic Republic.

Over the past year, the Russians, Chinese and their BRICS partners have drawn red lines around further punitive Iran sanctions, thwarting US, UK and French (P3) attempts to up the ante.

But the reason the P3 showed up in Geneva, finally ready to “do a deal” with Iran, had little to do with nukes and centrifuges.  The nuclear agreement was struck because the West had lost control over its Mideast agenda – and Iran was increasingly looking like the only regional state that could offer up solutions.

Iran as a regional power

Under the Geneva nuclear deal, Iran will be allowed to enrich limited amounts of uranium [Getty Images]

Under the Geneva nuclear deal, Iran will be allowed to enrich limited amounts of uranium [Getty Images]

The Middle East is suddenly falling apart at the seams.

Foreign-backed regime-change operations in Syria and Libya have spawned a jihadist revival, with armed ideological fighters traversing borders with impunity and tearing at the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.

The US cannot rely on its old allies in the region – Egypt is in turmoil; the Saudis, Qataris and Turks, with their various Islamist alliances, hidden agendas and support for militants are no longer trusted; Israel has become marginalised and cannot play in any Arab theater for fear of backlashes. Washington needed a new regional partner – even if a foe – that shared the mutual goal of rolling back extremism and re-establishing stability in the key Levant and Persian Gulf areas.

So, no – Geneva did not happen because of the incoming “moderate” Iranian president, though he undoubtedly helped make it an easier sell to western audiences. Geneva took place because of the Salafist/jihadist threat – and Iran’s unique position to help troubleshoot the problem.

There is always the danger – as the year progresses – that as the threat of militancy diminishes on the ground, the P3 will scuttle some Iranian gains to level the playing field once more.

It’s an old tactic to keep adversaries in check, and it is likely to be put back into play at various intervals.Will this nuclear deal reach its intended goals in the one year allocated to finalize a comprehensive agreement? Unlikely, at this point, I suspect. There are too many divergent interests between the P3 and Iran still.

Washington has little incentive to remove all sanctions and let Iran off the hook for launching an indigenous nuclear programme and pursuing independent policies. That would require expending vital domestic political capital at a time when foreign policy is of little importance to Americans more concerned with jobs, healthcare, economy.

But they may intermittently roll back further sanctions, which is all Iran’s current and potential trading partners need to start the process of bypassing unilateral sanctions altogether.

The sanctions regime will not hold once that dam is broken – even collectively, the US and EU do not have the same clout they once enjoyed to dictate terms in a fast-changing global economy where every penny counts.

The US has spent three decades building up the “mad mullah” and “dangerous Iranian nuclear weapons” narratives – it will be extremely difficult to reverse that storyline and remove all punitive sanctions against Iran in the one short year allotted in the Geneva deal. Signs that things are on track for a final agreement? Watch for clear and drastic narrative changes favoring the Islamic Republic.

It is more likely that the agreements struck during and after Geneva will simply continue to be extended indefinitely, with perhaps some minor revisions and additions that suit the various parties. Only a huge “game-changer” is going to get us to a final agreement.

The West will look to “contain” Iran’s influence in a different way than in the past, but today Iran also has plenty of tools to reciprocate in areas important to the P3 – in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon – and it will employ these cards for gain anytime the West decides to make things difficult for Iran.

In this, the two sides are well-matched, with Iran having a slight advantage of the home court and some new support from rising powers.

Right now, tentative, positive steps continue to be made behind the scenes in areas where P3 and Iranian goals converge. The Geneva “deal” was only a Joint Plan of Action, and an actual agreement has not yet been put into play.

Both sides confirm that the bilateral and multilateral meetings now taking place are ironing out some key mechanisms and details, and all parties currently expect to finalise the implementation plan shortly.

Then the clock starts ticking.

This is a big year for Iran. In many ways, the Islamic Republic has already achieved several long-held goals: recognition of its position as a regional power and its policy independence, and recognition of its inalienable right to a peaceful nuclear programme.

Iran kicks off 2014 playing a much larger regional and international role, but does so facing the biggest threat to its national security since the Iran-Iraq war. One thing worth remembering this year: Iran plays the “long game” where others are impatient for quick results and rewards.

Thirty-odd years after being sidetracked in the world of international politics, the Islamic Republic has stepped back in, at the top of their game.

This is one country to bet on.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

17 Responses to Iran is on the rise in 2014, but dangers abound

  1. Comment removed by administrator Reply

    January 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    The contents of this comment have been removed by the administrator due to false impersonation and misuse of commenting privileges.

    • Debbie Menon Reply

      January 8, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      @ Cyrus Safdari. Seems to me what’s “insane” is your entirely unsubstantiated allegations – and your attempt to smear an author who dares to challenge mainstream narratives, given the hurly burly bullies on the block’s continued charades concerning Syria, Iran, support for Free Syrian Army Cannibals Brigade and obfuscation for the House of Saud’s defeatist mentality…

      Her arguments sound well-reasoned, and I daresay that she has predicted events in Syria and the region more accurately than most.

      Why not challenge those arguments instead of name-calling? I would be interested in hearing a reasoned counter to Narwani’s analysis. If you can, that is…

    • koertje Reply

      January 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Freedom of speech,let them taqiyya shia do their words.
      They changed overnight from ‘Death to America’ to ‘FRIENDS’.
      They are getting scared that the sunnis will butcher them, so they try to save them self by telling the US to be friends.
      I think those muslims are crazy fun, let them post, freedom of speech.

    • Communiste 313 Reply

      January 8, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      Oh hahahaha, you are just retorting blindly like all sheeple do best. So, in your logic, our Capitalist-Imperialist NATO régimes are not spouting propaganda (which is something they have been good at for decades through things like MKULtra, Operation Mockingbird); nor are their Zionist régime entity allies, nor are the sectarian Khawarjite-Qutbist-Wahhabi régimes of the Gulf?

      Your logic is twisted, biased, moreover inherently pushing the idiotic neo-colonialist agenda against the region & elsewhere. You do realise that the Iran-bashing, the destabilisation of Syria, the Hezbollah-hate is all being organised through the Gladio, Wolfowitz, Kirkpatrick, Ziad, Brzezinsky, Clean Break: Securing the Realm, amongst others of such neo-colonialist doctrines right? You do realise that the nations you hate have been the targets of propaganda for decades to remove the sole few nations that can oppose the neo-colonialist plots right? You do realise, that the Axis of Résistance is one of the last few bastions on Earth that can stop this madness yes?

      Furthermore, you also fail to realise that the “democracy” rhetoric is a sham. Firstly, let me REMIND YOU that before Iran revolutionised in 1979 to restore a democracy that OUR NATO RÉGIMES stole from them in 1953 (by removing a legitimate Premier that was democratically elected), we had that bloody Shah Pahlavi as well as his notorious brutalising SAVAK secret police in power over Iran, AGAINST THE WILL OF THE IRANIAN PEOPLE. This twat killed tens of thousands, tortured, abducted, detained illegally, whilst silenced countless more, for “Anti-Communist, democracy, freedom, humanitarian, blah blah blah” purposes.

      You fail to realise we did the same to Syria in 1949, in an attempt to install a fascist Pinochet like dictator in power. Until the Ba’athist Socialists finally took their country back in the Corrective Movement. You fail to realise that our Capitalist NATO régimes & their allies have been the bloodiest murderers the world has ever known (utilising destabilising right-wing & cartel death squads against Communist & other countries throughout the Cold War has killed tens of millions, displaced many more, whilst has left behind consequences which ensue to this day; or the backing of right-wing régimes of the vilest sorts (such as Soeharto, whose régime alone killed 1-3 million to tens of millions of Indonesians); or the old colonial era where untold millions have been victims (want to see examples, look no further than Belgian Congo, British Raj India, or our nation (France)’s brutal occupation in Indo-China & North Africa); or old colonial era destabilisation wars (such as Taiping which killed 100 million Chinese people); or the Atlantic slave trading era which killed 36-42 million people; or the saga of slaughtering indigenous Americans (95-114 million deaths on that one), amongst plenty other examples I can show you, including how Capitalism has killed thousands daily due to inequality, poverty, famish, corporate/conglomerate funded violence, war diamonds, selling of vile substances, neo-colonialist exploitation, amongst other human rights violations).

      You fail to realise the joke of the double standards as well as flagrant lies & dishonesty found in the rhetoric of our “oh spreaders of democracy & freedumb” leaders to other countries. Who do I trust more? You, Cyrus Safdari, or a Lebanese journalist NOT afraid to challenge the rubbish of this world, the rubbish that Capitalist-Imperialism, Zionism & Khawarjites have been spouting through their grossly unjust monopolised assets such as the media or the UN (all of whom are just stooges for the neo-colonialist elite)?

      Who do I trust re Iran? Propagandists roving about getting their little Pahlavi puppet back to power again to murder Iranians; or a journalist challenging the motives of these neo-colonialists?

      Who do I trust re Syria? Mass murdering neo-colonialists whom have backed things like apartheid, Zionist apartheid, Morocco’s massacre of Western Sahara, UNITA, fascist contras, Latin American juntas, Rhee Sygman, Park Cheung-hye, Ngo Dinh Diem, al-Qaeda & other forms of takfirist terrorism (YES, just look up Reagan’s quote on his “similar valued” friends; just look how al-Qaeda was created by OUR WEST GOVERNMENTS & THEIR ALLIES) amongst others for decades on end? The same people arming cannibals, heart eaters, beheaders, sex jihadists, well dumping of body murderers, crematorists, amongst other twisted types I have seen destroy Syria? Or would I trust the Axis of Résistance as well as their journalists, they whom report on things MSM would never dare to report on, they whom are not afraid to take on the established narrative of the neo-colonialist elites?

      Conclusion, I trust Sharmine Narwani, I trust the Axis of Résistance, I do not shalt never ever trust neo-colonialist elite nor their media puppets & death squad terrorist mercenaries.

    • REAL Cyrus Safdari Reply

      January 9, 2014 at 12:34 am

      The person posting comments using the name “Cyrus Safdari” is using a false name. This person is NOT Cyrus Safdari and the repulsive views they express do not represent Cyrus’ views.

      • Communiste 313 Reply

        January 9, 2014 at 3:18 am

        So…. someone is impersonating you?

  2. Sasan Taymourian Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    This is an excellent article. The name “Cyrus Safdari” has nothing to do with the real Cyrus Safdari and the criticism directed against Ms. Narwani is both childish and dishonest.

  3. Guest Reply

    January 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Another brilliant piece!
    Gee you surely rattled the junkies (false jihadists) cage and that earns you even more points.
    Frankly we have no problems with those who do not agree with us it is lack of their “education, knowledge and above all SELF RESPECT that we have a great problem with”

    One can take a horse to the well but one cannot make it drink – that sums up these imperialist jokers playing jihadists – no future, no ideology just vicious insane aggressive barbarians

    • Debbie Menon Reply

      January 9, 2014 at 8:38 pm

      Sharmine is right on the mark. Her analysis is objective and unpretentious.She provides a very realistic portrayal of current developments in the Middle East and Central Asia.

  4. Soraya Ulrich Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 12:47 am

    Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the content of this article, it is unconscionable to write comments under another person’s name. The comment attributed to Cyrus Safdari is false and it is misrepresenting another’s view.

  5. Editor Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 6:57 am

    After receiving several complaints including an email from Mr Cyrus Safdari regarding a comment by someone falsely impersonating him, the administrator has removed said comment originally posted January 7, 2014 at 10:30 pm.

  6. molleboon Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Islamic extremists fighting each other,

    • Debbie Menon Reply

      January 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      @molleboon.Spoken like an American Zionist!

      • molleboon Reply

        January 12, 2014 at 6:45 pm

        What do you think, who’s gona win the Holy sunni – shia war ?

  7. fereydoun barkeshli Reply

    January 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    This is an important article.Thought-provoking and full of wit.I wish to add the Russian threat to the subject too.By that I mean Russian-U.S.rivalry that has frequently characterized the big power’s policies in the Middle East and Central Asia.Russia does not like to see an Iran foreign policy too close to Washington and the west.

  8. Lunasea Reply

    June 2, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    The real reason behind this is IMF and petrodollar antagonism by Iran. The US wants to hold on to dollar as world reserve currency. Israel played along motivated by loss of power in the region, not fear of Iranian nukes.

  9. Baddu Reply

    July 14, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Under: ‘Nuclear Deal Has Pitfalls’, the author mentions Saudi Arabia and France as ‘spoilers’, without expanding on the fact that France was offering to sell a dozen of its exquisite nuclear powerplants together with several years supply of priceless Chateau Rhône-Alpes enriched uranium fuel to KSA, that only spoiled, arrogant, rich, AlQaeda affiliated princes envious of the Majus AlUnsuri’s would be foolish to buy. Read the following quote from Wikipedia:

    Begining of quote:

    In 1974, the Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Shah of Iran, lent $1 billion (and another $180 million in 1977) for the construction of the factory, in order to have the right to buy 10% of the production. Iran remains a shareholder of Eurodif via Sofidif. The Franco-Iranian consortium shareholder still owns 25% of Eurodif. …………………………………..

    Naturally occurring uranium contains 0.7% of uranium 235. Currently, it is enriched up to 5% by a gas diffusion process using uranium hexafluoride (UF6). France plans to abandon the gas diffusion process currently used by the Eurodif factory for a centrifuge process. The project announced by Areva to make the change was the subject of a public discussion in the Rhône-Alpes region from September 1 to October 22, 2004. The advantage of the new process is that it is more energy efficient: Eurodif currently uses the power generated by all three (2,700 MW) of Tricastin’s nuclear reactors for uranium enrichment, whereas the centrifuge-based plant could make similar amounts of uranium with only 50 MW.
    Dismantling the original Eurodif facility is planned to be completed by the end of 2020.

    End of quote.

    So! Iranian centrifuge enrichment process is 54 times (!!!) more energy efficient than the French gaseous diffusion process – in which also Iran is a partner!

    May this be why France is against centrifuge enrichment in Iran but runs after K.S.A. to sell nuclear power plants and supply its expensive uranium fuel, in spite of the latter’s known connection to AlQaeda. The bad news is that those shi’ite heretics would win eitherway!

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