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Iran nuclear deal: A powerful Tehran turned into America’s policeman in the Gulf? It could happen

BY ROBERT FISK

Published 04/04/2015

Iranians in Tehran celebrating Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers (AP)
Iranians in Tehran celebrating Iran's nuclear agreement with world powers (AP)
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond welcomed the progress
David Cameron hailed a "strong" deal struck at talks over Iran's nuclear programme
The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (AP/Mehr News Agency)

Iran was reborn as a major Middle East nation when it agreed to limit its nuclear ambitions. Despite the “ifs” (if Iran complies with the “key parameters”, if Iran’s Revolutionary Guards don’t try to wreck the agreement, if Israel does not batter Iran’s nuclear facilities in a rogue nation attack) the framework could one day return the 36-year-old Islamic Republic to the status of a regional superpower which last existed under the Shah.

Which is why the Saudis are so angry. For Iran as America’s new best friend may seriously damage Saudi Arabia’s privileged alliance with the United States. A kingdom that violates human rights in its treatment of women and fails to adapt to any form of free speech was never a “natural” ally of Washington, even if America’s friends have always included some extremely nasty states.

If Iran and the West keep their word, however, and the distrust which even Secretary of State John Kerry admits still exists, turns into mutual confidence, then this week’s compromise agreement – and compromise is admittedly a very dodgy piece of machinery in the Middle East – could have an enormous political effect on the region. Iran could, over time, become America’s “policeman in the Gulf” as it was under the Shah’s reign.

And who would be surprised if the US begins to re-examine its relationship with the Wahhabi Saudis who gave the world Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11? Their state religion is the same as that of the Taliban and, alas, of the more gruesome rebels in Iraq and Syria. Saudi Arabia as a state will do its best to pose, as usual, as the symbol of the local “anti-terrorist” struggle. But the times they are a-changing, albeit slowly.

Egypt needs American assistance in the billions. Former Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (now President Sisi) knows very well that US orders must be obeyed – that’s why Egypt cut off its alliance with Hamas, to isolate Israel’s enemies. Qatar and the Emirates will have to accept any American final agreement.

As for Iran’s only Arab ally, Syria – and Iraq has not yet reached that status – the Lausanne agreement looks like the best news Bashar al-Assad has had in Syria since the Russians prevented America’s air raids on his regime. Indeed, more and more Arabs will be inclined to believe that his life expectancy could be as long as that of his father, Hafez.

Unless, of course, Iran can now impose a ceasefire on Syria. Certainly Lausanne may one day be a key to the future of a country whose conflict has become one of the greatest Arab tragedies of modern times.

Every media lad and lass has been telling the world of Israel’s displeasure. And we all know how Israel’s friends among the Republicans in Congress could go into wrecking mode. But no one has asked about that other great tragedy of the Middle East, the Palestinians.

How soon will Iran suggest that a Palestinian state should be an important part of its new relationship with America? In which case, Kerry’s utter failure in Israeli-Palestinian talks – symbolised by “Palestine’s” new membership of  the International Criminal Court – may come back to haunt him after his greatest political achievement.

Unless. Unless Damascus falls to Isis or the soldier-killers of Sinai bring their trade to Cairo or the Saudi assault on Iran’s Shia friends in Yemen turns into a fiasco. The dangers are obvious. And whenever Washington boasts of its Middle East achievements – we do not need to recall “Mission Accomplished” – a debacle usually follows.

Yet history often turns in circles, even in little Swiss cities. Lausanne is where the Ottoman Empire was finally closed down in the last century – it is something to which Osama bin Laden used to allude – and where caliphates came to an end before the modern Arab dictators recreated them with their own families.

Perhaps the Iranian empire, or a modern version of it, will one day come to believe its rebirth occurred in the same Swiss town. So watch out for the next political earthquake in the Middle East. But remember all those “ifs”.

Online Editors

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