America’s nuclear deal with Iran creates a new political dimension in the Middle East and Central Asia. It’s important for the moment to focus on the general security picture for the region, leaving aside the existential concerns raised by Israel about the disruptive potential of lifting sanctions against a nation which is ultimately ruled by a clerical aristocracy whose reliability in following such an accord is uncertain.
Without a nuclear deal, Iran would likely to lean on Russia for its security and nuclear know-how. The U.S., on a collision course with Russia over Ukraine, was hardly in a position to let this happen. That would again massively involve Russia in Middle Eastern and Central Asian affairs after being pushed out in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union.
In a vaguer, less threatening fashion, was the prospect of having China involved in juggling Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. All this would have been part of a very cautious power play by Beijing where the trump card is the promise of a grand Silk Road bonding all Eurasia.
In their dealings on these issues, Russia and China dealt with all the countries in the region. The U.S. didn’t. Though the U.S. is the most powerful, this put Washington at a great disadvantage with respect to these other powers.
The reason why Israel gripes so much about the American rapprochement and is muted about Russia and China is also complex. Russia’s full involvement with Iran is yet to occur, and China’s ties with all parties are very complicated. There are signs that Beijing is being warmer to Jerusalem and the Saudis than to Tehran. And while Israel may be warming up to Moscow and Beijing, ties are not very hot, or not as hot as with the U.S. So we have a situation where geopolitical tensions are increasing on one hand, and decreasing on the other.
Besides these broad geopolitical concerns, the U.S. pushed its deal with Iran because America feels it can use Iran’s support against the Islamic State raging across Iraq and Syria. The other reason is that nobody, including Israel, managed to provide a convincing alternative to the U.S.-Iran nuke deal. At the end of the day, the crux of the matter hinges on nuclear capability, rather than the weapon itself. It’s the spectre of a little reliable anti-Jewish clergy in Tehran with their finger on the trigger of a bomb.
The big question is: What now? The possibility of Israel sabotaging the deal seems far fetched. But the ambitions of the Saudis, and perhaps Turkey, to go nuclear may have grown.
One possible avenue is for Israel to initiate rounds of confidential consultations with the Americans and Chinese on Iran. This would focus on Iran’s political evolution and development in the region. The U.S. would have the extra advantage of engaging China on a very practical project. Beijing, for its part, would be eager to proceed, because of its plan for the “One Belt, One Way,” Silk Road project. Joint Chinese and U.S. involvement could help assuage Israel’s legitimate existential fears, and help pressure Iran from another side.
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