The Middle East warmly welcomes Iran Deal, sees it as Step toward Denuclearizing Israel

Israel and Saudi Arabia have loomed large in reporting about the regional reaction to the UN Security Council plus Germany’s preliminary deal with Iran as they negotiate an end to the international boycott of Iran in return for practical steps permanently forestalling an Iranian nuclear weapon. Israel is a small country of 7.5 million with a GDP around the same as Portugal’s, and it isn’t actually all that important in the Middle East, which contains 600 million people if you include North Africa– and with which the US does $400 billion a year in trade.

But despite the fear-mongering and hysteria of Israeli politicians [see below], the general reaction in the region has been much more positive than the Likud government would have us believe. Moreover, far from there being an Israel-Arab consensus against the agreement, much of the Arab world welcomed the Iran deal and saw it as a first step toward getting nuclear weapons out of the Middle East altogether. That is, they are hoping that once Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is restructured as permanently peaceful, the United Nations Security Council will turn up pressure on Israel to give up its nuclear weapons.

Turkey, a NATO ally of the US that has some disputes with Iran (notably over Syria) nevertheless warmly greeted the announcement. Turkey has a population of 76 million, as does Iran, i.e., both are just a little less populous than Germany.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Twitter on Sunday,

“I welcome today’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. I have been advocating a solution through diplomacy and we hosted many diplomatic efforts in Turkey to this end . . . This is a major step forward. I hope it’ll be sealed with a final agreement soon. I congratulate all parties for their constructive engagement.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has a doctrine of seeking good relations with neighbors in order to expand trade. After AK came to power in 2002, Turkey’s foreign trade expanded a great deal ( it was $239 billion in 2012) and trade with the Middle East expanded from almost nothing under the nationalist, secularist generals to 22%. (Turkey’s GDP is $788 billion in nominal terms, more than that of the Netherlands and just behind Indonesia, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, lagging behind not only Indonesia but Mexico and South Korea).

The new commerce of the past decade is worth billions to Ankara and comes as cream on top of expanded trade with Europe and Asia. By 2011, Turkey’s trade with Iran had gone from almost nothing to $16 bn. Some 2500 Iranian companies have invested in Turkey. But in 2013 the value of the trade has fallen from the previous year, largely because of international sanctions that make it difficult for Iran to develop its oil and gas production and difficult for Turkish banks to interface with Iranian ones. Turkish officials view the level of trade with Iran as far below what could be achieved, and as currently almost insignificant. They would like to expand the trade to $100 billion, and had aimed for $30 billion by 2015.

International sanctions were therefore extremely inconvenient for Turkey’s policy of trade expansion in the region. Moreover, Turkey depends on inexpensive natural gas from Iran for some of its own electricity production. Compared to the Turkish-Iranian tiff over Syria, the possible cooperation in energy and trade expansion is much more important to Ankara. Likewise, the AKP supports the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and has that in common with Iran. Turkey is champing at the bit to trade unhindered with Iran and to invest in it, as well as to welcome further Iranian investment in Turkey. The Kerry-Zarif deal could not be more welcome in Ankara.

Iraq, with a population of over 30 million and a GDP of $212 bn., also enthusiastically greeted the news. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said,

“Reaching an agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the six nations over Iran’s nuclear program is a major step in the security and stability of the region… We hope that the process of confidence-building and dialogue will continue in the interest of both sides to prevent nuclear proliferation and to recognize the right of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.”

Iran and Iraq were probably at one point in a nuclear arms race with one another (and with Israel, which started it), so it is remarkable that Baghdad defends Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes. Al-Maliki has poor relations with the Sunni Gulf oil monarchies and so is isolated. He depends on Iran for trade and electricity and for support in his war of attrition with Sunni extremists who keep blowing up his capital.

Iraq hasn’t paid any attention to the international sanctions on Iran because it needs Iran too much, and indeed it may have been extending aid to Iran to help it in its economic difficulties. The Maliki government has been caught between its American ally and its Iranian one, and been subject to pressure from each side. Kurdish Member of Parliament Mahmoud Osman made this point, saying that if relations between Washington and Tehran improved, it would reduce pressures on Iraq. Osman said that Iraq would benefit economically, because it would not have to extend aid to Iran to help it get through the harsh sanctions. This is the first time I’ve seen the allegation that Iraq is helping Iran with aid (it used to be the other way around). I would be very surprised if Iraq is not helping Iran smuggle petroleum out in contravention of American sanctions.

Lebanon’s Foreign Minister, Adnan Mansour, welcomed the agreement as “positive.” In particular, he tied it to Iran’s agreement never to produce a bomb, and saw it as a step toward the de-nuclearization of the Middle East. That is, Lebanon is hoping that after the Iran nuclear problem is dealt with, the world community will next turn to the Israeli nuclear problem, which Mansour says threatens his country.

Egypt, a country of 84 million with a GDP of $254 bn, took much the same tack as Lebanon. A spokesman for interim Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy “welcomed” the agreement and also saw it as a move toward the de-nuclearization of the Middle East.

The spokesman for the Jordanian government, Muhammad al-Mumini , said that the agreement was “a step in the right direction.” He went on to express his hope that the international community would go on to take equal interest in resolving the other security problems in the region. (He meant the Syrian civil war, which is putting an enormous burden on Jordan, and the problem of Palestinian statelessness, which concerns the 60% of Jordan’s population that consists of families ethnically cleansed by the Israelis from their original homes). Jordan’s King Abdullah II had long warned that a war with Iran would be a catastrophe for the whole Middle East, but a few years ago in the Bush era he was not always on the same page with his American and Saudi allies.

The Gulf Cooperation Council of oil monarchies was not as negative as the US media keeps reporting. The cabinet of the United Arab Emirates praised the agreement and said it hoped it would lead to regional stability and an end to nuclear proliferation. Likewise, Qatar and Bahrain welcomed the development, and like Lebanon and Egypt said they hoped it would lead to a nuclear free zone in the Middle East. We know Oman approves because it hosted the preparatory meetings between the US and Iran. Kuwait (a country of 3.2 million with a GDP of $173 bn) seems to dislike the agreement, since it appears to be silent on it.

As for Saudi Arabia, which some pundits allege is so upset by the negotiations that it is ready to throw in with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, well, not so much. The Saudi Minister of Culture, Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Muhyi’d-Din Khoja, said that the preparatory agreement could lead to a resolution of the Iran nuclear problem, assuming that that country acts in good faith. He was also glad that the agreement recognized the right of countries in the region to benefit from nuclear power. (Saudi Arabia wants nuclear reactors, something Iran already has at Bushehr, but Israel had bombed Iraq when it built a light water nuclear reactor, so Riyadh seems to see the UNSC undertakings as removing any Israeli veto against peaceful reactors in the region). Like Egypt and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia also saw the understanding as a first step toward also removing Israeli nukes from the Middle East.

Algeria, a country with a population of 38 million and a GDP of $209 bn, warmly welcomed the deal.

There was no question that Syria would be happy about the breakthrough, and Damascus said it showed that the region’s problems can be resolved through negotiation.

So actually, folks, the Likud government of Netanyahu is completely isolated in its loud rejection of these negotiations. Virtually everyone else in the Middle East is positive, and most of the countries that count (by size and power) are absolutely enthusiastic. The degree of Israeli isolation is matched only by the extremeness of its rhetoric. One Israeli cabinet member who has read too much Tom Clancy warned of “suitcase bombs” provided by Iran to terrorist for use in Western cities. Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon and there aren’t any such things as suitcase bombs and no country has ever given away a nuclear weapon to anyone, let alone to a scruffy terrorist. And, again, Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon or any particular prospect of one. Israel in contrast has several hundred warheads and the means to deliver them, bombs that it developed sneakily and under false pretenses. And Israel routinely uses its nuclear stockpile to threaten or blackmail other countries (as with Ariel Sharon’s threats directed at Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).

33 Responses

  1. Our national televised media is so frustrating I find myself in Archie Bunker fashion yelling at the television.

    Yesterday morning on Good Morning America reporter Terry Moran reported on the brokered deal with Iran. Moran made two comments that stood out as Netanyahu talking points.The first AIPAC approved comment was “Iran is world’s chief exporter of terrorism” which was followed by “Iran has threatened Israel’s very existence.” No wonder most Americans think of Iran as a threat to civilization.

    • In a speech Sunday night, Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said sanctions must be continued and a nuclear capable Iran is a threat to Israel existence. It’s on youtube and Antiwar.com.

      This deal won’t go down easy. It’s not just Netanyahu and AIPAC.

  2. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the GCC countries are all less than enthusiastic about this preliminary agreement with Iran. That Saudi Arabia trotted out its (relatively unimportant) Minister of Culture who stated the obvious, that “the preparatory agreement could lead to a resolution of the Iran nuclear problem, assuming that that country acts in good faith,” is a pretty lukewarm endorsement.

    The Saudis, GCC countries, and Sunnis generally in the region would be pleased if this preliminary agreement does lead to a follow-on final agreement that ensures Iran will not have nuclear weapons capability. What they object to is the partial lifting of sanctions, as they fear that Iran may view itself as in the driver’s seat and on a roll in its quest to, as they see it, become the hegemon in the region. They fear that Iran ultimately will not act in good faith.

    There currently is a not-so-subtle proxy war going on in the region between the Sunnis and Shiites. This is being played out in Iraq, Syria, and to an extent in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the Sunnis are, of course, supporting the Sunnis, and Iran is supporting the Shiites. I think there is little doubt that Iran wants to become the major player in the region and will undermine Sunni interests where it sees an opening (such as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) that it can exploit. That is what drives the regional lack of enthusiasm for this preliminary agreement.

    The United States should not allow either Israel’s shrill “The sky is falling!” rhetoric or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the GCC’s lack of enthusiasm deter us from going forward in a measured way in attempting a final, iron-clad, fully-verifiable agreement with Iran. Such an agreement would be in everyone’s interest, whether they want to believe it or not at this point.

    On the other hand, we should not enmesh ourselves in the proxy war between Shiites and Sunnis for regional dominance by downgrading our relations with the Gulf states in order to curry favor and attempt an “alliance” with Iran. (An alliance, by the way, that Iran may have no interest in pursuing in any case.) The US interest in the region calls for good relations with all (non-hostile) states in the region. A formal “alliance” (other than that with Turkey as a member of NATO) with any state in the region would not advance US interests and would reduce our flexibility. We already have enough problems with Saudi Arabia supporting Islamist Sunni fighters and Iran supporting Hezbollah and Revolutionary Guard Forces in the region.

  3. This deal kills one more International treaty and sets back arms limitation and disarmament initiatives. In particular the nearly 50 year old Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons which aims to ‘prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament’ has been ignored and shown to be completely useless.

    What we now have is world rule by the security council members. They decide which states can develop nuclear weapons with impunity and which states will be punished for enrichment, although enrichment is allowed under the NPT. Implicit in this is which cities can be threatened with nuclear attack and which cities can not – Tehran and Tripoli can be bombed but not Tel Aviv. There is absolutely no international law behind this and it is shameful this victimization continues.

    Why should any nation now abide by the NPT? The nuclear states will not disarm and allow their client states to flout and ignore the treaty.

    • I wonder if this is just a moot point anyway.

      Can anyone REALLY stop Iran from developing the technology if they are bent on it.

      I think it is just a matter of time.

      How many wars and how many fronts can the ‘spent’ USA forces fight on? Especially, with no money —

  4. The only reason why Israel and Saudi Arabia are manic about a peace deal is that both are afraid of their nations being superseded by Iran.

    It’s also in Bibi’s interest to keep the Israel populace in a state of fear. If it wasn’t for a common enemy Israel could rally against, the orthodox and seculars would be at each other’s throats (and I mean this literally)

  5. Is this what the Israelis mean when they say that this might lead to the complete unraveling of the sanctions against Iran? That the Iranian market is so lucrative that once a little trade is allowed everyone will want to push the limits a little more until the limits are gone.

    If so, then good! Let the sanctions fall.

    • Let these sanctions fall. Yes. But I still “carry a torch” for sanctions (the “S” in “BDS”) agaisnt Israel to compel Israel to remove the settlers, demolish the wall and the settlements (yes!) (per UNSC 465 (1980)) and to lift the siege on Gaza.

      THOSE sanctions — if they ever eventuate — should remain in place (if initially imposed) until the tasks assigned are completed.

  6. It would be a tragedy if the small group of US Zionist lobbyists and other hysterics managed to derail this historic opportunity to improve relations with Iran. Consider contacting your Senators, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and encouraging them to not block the deal.

  7. “But despite the fear-mongering and hysteria of Israeli politicians […], the general reaction in the region has been much more positive than the Likud government would have us believe.”

    But for a healthy note of caution consider “Tehran accord designed to fail?” By Gareth Porter – link to atimes.com

  8. My only question about this excellent as usual piece- I get the part about Turkey’s need for Iranian energy, but isn’t the Turkish government, for all its “pro-Palestinian” gesticulating, also champing at the bit for pipeline deals that would bring in Israeli offshore oil/gas from the Tamar, Leviathan, and other fields via Cyprus?
    And what happens when the Israelis figure out a way to pilfer deposits that are known to exist off the coast of Lebanon and Gaza? My guess is that the “islamist” govt. in Turkey will have no qualms finding some way of doing business with its zionistisch counterpart.

  9. I happen to believe that we should treat Iran with some respect. It is a country of almost 90 million, and is a long, proud civilization that we used to call Persia. It has the right to exist. That point of view never seems to be heard in America. Instead, we are bombarded with the viewpoint of Israel, a small country of 8 million, that has only existed for 60 some years. Or we hear a lot about Saudia Arabia, a tightly held regime with a monarchy, that has about 26 million people. Why shouldn’t Iran have a lot of influence in the region?

  10. Thanks for the succinct summary, Juan. It certainly seems positive and Iran has been the one to be flexible. Surely only US religious extremists and neocons could continue to support the PM (Paranoid Maniac) of Israel now.

  11. Forgive any ignorance on my part, but I would appreciate clarification:

    Iran did not want a nuclear bomb, correct?

    Iran was not, in fact, building a nuclear bomb, correct? There has been little to no concrete evidence of this – at least publicly disclosed?

    However, Iran may have felt the potential need for a nuclear bomb, correct? Were they on a path, or setting themselves up, to possibly produce one should that supposed need arise?

    I ask because it is a little confusing. All of the news on this may reinforce the notion for people, Americans in particular, that Iran did want and was building a bomb when, in fact, they were never doing so to begin with. It is understandable, in light of recent actions in the Middle East by us, and of course Israel, that they may have felt the need for one, but it is not the same as wanting one.

    I had a thought that it seems like trying to take the keys away from someone you think is an alcoholic when there has been no evidence he ever too a drink despite having access to liquor and maybe, only, once expressed / hinted he would like one or felt he needed one after a rough day.

    In other words, all this could be an ignorant, paranoid, overreaction? Or is it justified? Or is it to make us and the world feel better and Iran is giving in regardless, letting us believe what we want, and going along to basically shut us up and get their lives, political and otherwise, back to some normalcy?

    • Perhaps that’s not a bad analogy, reflecting an over-reaction, but you’d have to take it further. For their part, Israel would say its like they’re a pregnant, vulnerable woman in the passenger seat, and Iran is like a crazed, irrational, suicidal guy, in which case even those “hints” represent an existential danger.

      The premise of such an Israeli position does not, in fact, exist: quite to the contrary. But from the perspective of rhetoric generated for a gullible public and lazy/co-opted/cowed/superficial press coverage, it does serve their cause nicely.

      No, don’t get distracted by this deal with Nukes. The real issue is regional domination. If Iran, BY ANY MEANS AND CONCESSIONS, manages to get the sanctions lifted and even nominally joins the world economy, Israel and the the Saudi’s positions of power will by horribly compromised. Add to this the pressure both countries are feeling due to the demographics in the case of Israel and falling revenues (due to alternative energy sources) in the case of the KSA, and you can appreciate some very genuine anxieties.

      Both Israel and the KSA exist with a lot of what used to be called “internal contradictions,” when it came to speaking of the old USSR. They are inherently weak regimes due how they were founded and how they manage themselves. Until the time at which they change to get more in-sync with their TRUE internal and external politics they will need to rely on coercion (military and economic), and their abilities have been largely enabled by the US to this point.

      Israel and the Saudi’s really do face an existential threat to their historic way of doing business.

  12. “Iran and Iraq were probably at one point in a nuclear arms race with one another… so it is remarkable that Baghdad defends Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful energy purposes.”

    It’s not really that remarkable considering the fact that a completely different regime currently runs Iraq.

  13. Denuclearizing Israel? Will not happen.

    The only state which has done so was South Africa. That scenario was motivated by the fact that the apartheid regime did not want a black-controlled government having A-bomb capabilities and reinforced by the fact the African National Congress signed international protocols previously pledging to renounce nuclear weapons deployment.

    The organizing principle of the State of Israel since its inception was the acquisition and maintenance of a nuclear weapons program. This was spearheded by PM David Ben-Gurion and implemented via senior Defense Minstry official and current Israeli President Shimon Peres.

    Peres dealt directly with Pres. Charles DeGaulle in the 1950s and 60s in initiating and maintaining a joint atomic research program between France and Israel. France understood that these efforts were to be used for peaceful purposes, but Western intelligence services eventually concluded by the 1960s that Israel was seeking this scientific expertise to establish a nuclear weapons program.

    Israel has invested billions in generating an atomic weapons program via Argentine purchases of 80-100 tons of uranium oxide and 20 tons of British “heavy water”, plus delivery systems including the Jericho ICBM, and also the Dolphin submarines from German industrial giant Thyssen-Krupp capable of firing sea-launched cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

    Shimon Peres has often said that the nuclear arsenal of Israel is to promote peace by deterring potential aggression – no offensive use is claimed. He is likely Israel’s greatest living statesman, having won the Nobel Peace Prize for his involvement in negotiating the Oslo Accords.

    Israel’s only detonation of a nuclear device was probably the joint test with South Africa which was detected by the American oceanic hydrophone system as well as an orbiting Vela satellite when it picked-up the “double-flash” associated with a nuclear detonation in the Indian Ocean estimated at four kilotons (compare with 18 kilotons for the Trinity test at Alamogordo and 80 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb). Israel has joined the major powers when it became – along with the U.S., Russia, France, Britain and China – in acquiring a hydrogen bomb capability, probably in the mid-1980s.

    America and Britain were notoriously laggard in the early 1960s in following up on information gathered by Canadian intelligence both that Israel had intentions of constructing nuclear weaponry and was in the process of secretly purchasing “yellowcake” uranium from Argentina in 1963-64. U.S. authorities were given a runaround by Israeli officials in investigating information suggesting a sale and did nothing after the Argentine transaction was completed in 1964. This is despite U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara openly opposing Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities during this timeframe.

    Comparing the Israeli and Iranian programs and the respective responses by the international shows that sauce for gooose is not necessarily sauce for the gander.

    Israel sees its survival in a viable atomic arsenal.

      • Yes, but South Africa is the only one that apparently had an A-bomb and detonated a nuclear device as well.

    • Peres, historically, was in the forefront of INITIATING and promoting the settlement project in the West Bank. Pressuring Rabin.

      He was, even before that a planner of the Suez Crisis.

      He has defended the annexation of land — so i guess we could say the only agression he has deterred was that of the Palestinian arabs to reclaim their land by Israel having nuclear capability.

      He deserved the Nobel Peace prize like Obama deserved the peace prize.

      • When I referred to Peres as likely the greatest living Israeli statesman, it was chiefly due to lack of competition.

  14. “No such thing as suitcase bombs”??? US intelligence became aware of such devices developed in Moscow in the late ’90’s. You aren’t doing your homework.

  15. All this Israeli talk about “suitcase nukes” is a classic case of projection. In the late 1960’s, Moshe Dayan tried to threaten the Soviet Union with exactly that:

    “In Dayan’s scenario, Israeli intelligence agents would secretly inform their Soviet counterparts as soon as Dimona’s assembly line went into full production. And when Israel developed its first bomb in a suitcase, Moscow also would be told – and reminded – that there was no way to stop Mossad from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border by automobile or into a Soviet port by boat.” – Seymour Hersh, The Samson Option, pp. 98-99.

  16. what will Israel do without Iran to rail against. or the idea of having nuclear bombs? gosh, i can’t imagine Israel going quietly into the night, so to speak.

    is this just a trap with a trip wire for Israel to use. sounds too good for peace to happen in the Middle East. with all the hatred and mistrust the Israelis have created about Iran, can the Israelis dare let this go to the bitter end/peace in the Middle East.

    and how can Iran not fail? the path is so circumspect with fine details. this sounds like a perfect excuse for Israel to bomb Iran at any missed minute detail.

    color me skeptical of Israel’s ability to stand buy and not attack.

  17. This is from a National Interest article I was reading:

    “… and just last week Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, provided an important reminder of why. Israel, he averred, is a country ‘doomed to failure and annihilation’, ‘an illegitimate regime’ led by ‘untouchable rabid dogs’, whose leaders ‘cannot be called human beings, they are like animals’.

    There have been major mistranslations in the past as we all know. Any Farsi speakers that can confirm or provide corrections?

    Thank you.

    • Maybe the reader should go look at the “sourcing” and decide for him- or herself the validity of the claimed language. link to nationalinterest.org And then go spend some time with the neocon “policy” rags in our very own Free Democratic America to see what some of our high officials have to say about “enemies” of one sort or another. And it’s been regularly reported here that people on the other side of the ancient divide say and believe and act on notions that are at least as immoderate as the claimed Khameini words.

      From that same “National Interest,” there’s stuff like this, too:

      link to nationalinterest.org

      • Good Grief, Mr. McPhee! Mr. Attaher simply asked if anyone could confirm if the translation of Khamenei’s statement was accurate. He wasn’t making a judgment call on the content. Must you turn every comment, even an innocuous question like Mr. Attaher’s, into a whetstone upon which to grind your ever-poised ax? Must every comment be turned into a nail upon which to pound your single-issue, editorializing hammer?

        • Thanks Bill. I’m not sure how my comment gave the impression that I’m a neocon… That’s really, really funny given my ethnic, spiritual, social, fiscal, intellectual, academic, and national background.

          McPhee, you are a very angry person.

          Cheers

      • Good grief indeed, Bill! Did I say or even imply that M. Attaher was a neocon or anything like? I was pointing to the article in question, in context, looking for the source of the quoted words. And then maybe inartfully pointing out how difficult it will be, given all the noisy neocons and what are called, way too kindly and succinctly, “hard-liners,” who gain from the Game, people whose lexicon is full of the exact “kill them all, they are less than human” content, people whose facades and dogmas run against comity and accommodation, in pursuit of “national interests” that very clearly are about money (even if the planet burns) and what Bill calls “maximum flexibility.” Which in the US case is the high hand of imperialism, with all rights and range of action reserved to our rulers. National sovereignty of others? Treaty rights? “Rule of law?” To be ignored and ridden down with impunity in a fog of “legalisms” and crafty PR.

        I’ll cop to being angry about the framing of geopolitics that hypersimplifies and artlessly obscures the nature of the Game, including the idiotic personification of nations. If that “nail” is one of the parts of the behaviors of the powerful and those who get rich off of activities that are killing the rest of us, in my so very humble estimation, I’ll gladly give Bill more chances to impeach my observations by serial mischaracterization, and to smugly denigrate from his high horse.

  18. I feel bad for President Gul. Turkey spent years carefully working for good relations with Israel, with Iran, with Syria, and one by one they all turned around and slapped Turkey.

Comments are closed.