While many Americans’ eyes were glued to the TV regarding the dysfunction of government in Washington, eyes elsewhere in the world were observing the current geopolitical and potential geo-strategic changes taking place in the Middle East.
The news from Washington diverted attention from the horrible civil war in Syria and the renewal of negotiations among the five permanent members — the US, Russia, China, United Kingdom and China, plus Germany (P5+1).
After President Hassan Rouhani’s early October appearance at the UN and preliminary bilateral talks with top Obama officials, including a short telephone conversation between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama, earnest negotiations were launched with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. It was also clear that Iran wanted an agreement in the P5+1 negotiations in Geneva on Oct. 16-17. While negotiations were expected to move forward slowly, preliminary prognostications suggest an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program could be reached by late April of 2014.
The expected agreement between the P5+1 and renewed Washington-Tehran relations is already leading Middle East analysts to predict substantial changes in the geopolitical configuration of Middle East states.
The most significant change expected as a result of Iran’s reintegration in the comity of Middle East politics is a changing relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. The major reason for this is that as early as 2015-17 the US is expected to be the largest oil and gas producer in the world, out-producing Saudi Arabia and Russia. This means that the US will become virtually independent of Arab Gulf states’ oil and gas. While Washington will continue to have good relations with the Arab Gulf states, continue to deploy its fifth fleet in Bahrain and maintain a string of air and naval bases and depots of weapons along the Gulf, it is signaling it will not be the protector of Riyadh’s armed involvement in Middle Eastern and other countries.
To ensure the stability of the Saudi dynasty and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the US will continue the flow of arms. The US sold $60 billion in arms to Saudis in 2011 and $20 billion to the UAE. This month the US agreed to sell another $10.8 billion to the Saudis and to the UAE. The Saudis argue they need this amount of arms to meet the challenges of a resurgent and economically sound Iran. But Middle East analysts think Riyadh also wants the arms to control unrest among its 2.3 to 3 million Shia population, ironically many located in the eastern oil-producing region and to ensure the stability of the Saudi dynasty.
Saudi Arabia also hopes to be able to use the arms to fund Sunni zealots and fanatical fighters in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Washington is sending a message to Saudi Arabia that its involvement in supporting Sunni zealots against Shia in Arab countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Caucasus and in Central Asia will receive little support from the US. Washington does not want Saudi shoes in the lighter footprint that Washington intends to have in those countries.
The US also needs Iran to help stabilize the Middle East after the destructive wars in Iraq and Syria. The latter war is supported by the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, which have destabilized Lebanon and Jordan as a result of the inflow of refugees. The US only curtained its support for the Salafist forces this year. The US now thinks that Iran, along with Russia, can play an important role in bringing an acceptable end to the war in Syria and the removal of the Baathist and Alawite Bashar al-Assad regime while preserving the Alawite Shia people and community. The securing of such developments could also bring about a lessening of Iran’s support of the Shia Hizbollah party in Lebanon. This, in turn, it is hoped, could also result in diminishing the position of Hamas in Gaza contributing to more earnest negotiations between the Fatah party in the West Bank and Israel and ardently supported by Washington.
The US is also hopeful that a lessening of Iranian support for the above-mentioned groups will induce Israel to slow its annexation of the West Bank, the economic strangulation of the Palestinians in Gaza and their discrimination in Israel. Washington thinks that Israel’s torpedoing of a two-state solution jeopardizes not only Israel’s relations with the Palestinians in the West Bank (2.5 million) and Gaza (1.6 million), not to mention the 1.6 million in Israel itself, but with both Israel’s and US relations with the 3.5 million in Jordan, 500,000 in Syria and 500,000 in Lebanon.
If Iran reaches an agreement with the P5+1 and in its bilateral relations with the US, it will also demand that Israel signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol. The latter stipulates intrusive and verifiable inspections of all countries that sign the protocol. Iran has not signed the Additional Protocol. It has signed the NPT, but Iran’s parliament (majlis) has not. In their statements in New York, both Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif repeatedly stressed that they, like all countries in the Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Israel, want a nuclear-free region. The US also wants a nuclear-free Middle East but is unable to advocate such a position because neo-conservative, pro-Israel and Jewish lobbies in the US Congress oppose it.
Like the message that Washington is sending to the Arab Gulf countries, it is also sending a message to Israel that in spite of the oft-declared dictums of all recent US presidents that relations with Israel are “enduring, unshakable and sacrosanct,” the rapidly changing geopolitical circumstances in the Middle East and the need of the US to pivot its geo-strategic interests to East and Southeast Asia, an expanding Israel that is constantly at war and at loggerheads with Middle East Arab countries, in addition to Iran and Turkey, is detrimental to US strategic interest.
Dr. Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky.
This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading newspaper of Turkey. Click here to go to the original.