29 July 2015

After the Nuclear Deal, a Region Recalibrates

By Stratfor
July 28, 2015


The six world powers and Iran have come to an agreement about the curbing of Iran's nuclear program. But it would be a mistake to assume that this agreement will result in an immediate, or even short-term, decrease in violence or competition among the Middle East's strongest powers. In fact, the opposite will be the case. Iran will use its newfound international legitimacy to attempt to realize its ambitions to become the regional hegemon. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a host of small countries and even smaller religious and ethnic groups will all compete and at times align for influence.


Though reams of bureaucratic red tape remain to be cut in the coming months, it seems likely that the joint accord will pass the U.N. Security Council. Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult for both houses of the U.S. Congress to muster the two-thirds votes necessary to prevent the lifting of certain U.S. sanctions levied against the Islamic Republic. Normalization with the West will give Iran the chance to improve its economy and recruit foreign investment, and will also open up potential relationships that sanctions prevented from developing. Proxy battles and diplomatic rapprochements on the periphery of the Middle East will continue apace, but Iran's primary focus will be on Baghdad. Control of Iraq is the necessary condition for Iran projecting force in the Middle East, whereas lack of control or, worse, control of Iraq by another outside power, would constitute a direct threat.

Ambitions of Other Powers

But Iran will have to contend with other regional powers. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the other heavyweights in the balance of power the United States seeks to create in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia hopes to lead a broad Sunni Arab coalition against Iran. Egypt has much in common with Saudi Arabia, but it also has its own ambitions and will bristle at taking a junior role. Saudi Arabia's and Egypt's interests will coincide most of the time, but the partnership will not be without competition. Egypt's domestic concerns, however, will limit how successfully Cairo can play this game.

Turkey, like Iran, is a non-Arab power seeking to dominate the region, and Arab memories of the Ottoman Empire are not exactly rosy. Turkey's relationship with Iran is not as antagonistic as that of major Sunni Arab powers: Turkey imported 26 percent of its oil from Iran in 2014 and is one of the biggest markets for Iranian natural gas. But Turkey is also a Sunni power, and of the three Sunni heavyweights, it is the most capable and equipped to prevent Iran from realizing its objectives. Turkey views the Middle East as its sphere of influence and will not look kindly on any country, whether Iran or Saudi Arabia, encroaching on its ambitions.

The most vociferous critic of the Iran nuclear deal has been Israel. The Iran deal for Israel is the final punctuation mark of a U.S.-initiated realignment of the relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv. The Iran deal is obviously not in Israel's interests, but it is not the catastrophe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making it out to be. Moreover, it illuminates sturdy bedrock upon which the close relationship between Israel and the United States will continue to rest. With Iran freed from pariah status, Israel represents the United States' insurance policy for the complicated game it is playing should developments not proceed according to plan. Israel may be forced to the front lines often in the coming years, but it will be able to lean on Washington should dire needs beyond its control arise.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Forecasts

Stratfor's long-term forecast is that if one's default unit of measurement for time is in decades, then Turkey will become the pre-eminent power in the Middle East. There are a great many pieces on the board that must be settled first, most important in Iraq and Syria, but also in Lebanon and Yemen. Israel has a role to play in that process, ensuring that Iran cannot secure the type of anchor on the coast of the Levant that would insulate it from the Turkish rise. The United States, however, does not want any one power to become too dominant, and Israel will continue to prove integral to U.S. aims by also preventing Turkey from being able to claim the region as its own personal sphere of influence.

After the Nuclear Deal, a Region Recalibrates was originally published by Stratfor and is reprinted with permission.

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