It is premature to speak of notions of a new ‘Pax Iranica’ in the region. While there may be dreams of fulfilling the demands of the Iranian revolution, which includes activity far beyond Iranian borders, the capacity for such wide-ranging pursuits is hardly evident. At the same time, it is clear that Tehran has designs on what it perceives to be its national interests in the region — and that fundamentally relates to Baghdad and Damascus, and to a lesser extent in Beirut (the Yemeni file is far less important in Tehran).There is also the concern that continues to be raised by Arab diplomats time and again — and that is that the agreement with Iran is taking place against the backdrop of a nuclear power that already exists in the region. Israel has been suspected of holding a large nuclear arsenal for decades. If there is a fear about Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons after the deal’s 10-15 year period is over, any efforts to pursue non-proliferation in the region will count for naught if Israel’s own status in this regard is not addressed.
Until now, Tehran, nevertheless, has essentially been shackled in the international community. A nuclear deal, accompanied by a relaxing of restrictions in how Iran engages on all kinds of levels, could very well change that. In Cairo, the capital of the largest Arab country, in 2011 and 2012, Egyptians were opening up new trade relationships with the Turks; in 2013 and 2014, new relationships begun with the Saudis and the Emiratis. In 2016 or 2017, might we see Iranians frequenting Cairene hotels? How far will Iran be able to project itself into the Arab world — and what repercussions will those have on those countries over the long term?
Iran’s closest Arab neighbours, the Arab Gulf states, are, predictably, the most worried. One critical question for these governments, regardless of the efficacy of their concerns, is: what will they do? As it stands at present, Iran has shown a great deal of resilience against a strict sanctions regime. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), under no such restrictions, is often critiqued by foreign diplomats and analysts for not doing enough. Much of the GCC has failed to invest in the human development of its populations, relying heavily on foreign labour and expertise — will any nuclear deal encourage the GCC to more aggressively develop the potential of their citizens?
Finally, the question ought to be raised — would an Iran unburdened in the same way strengthen the hand of those who would push Tehran in the direction of a more pluralistic order within the country, and a more just foreign policy outside it? Would an Iran more accepted in the international community be more of an ally for peace in Syria — or it would use its leverage to ensure the continued existence of the Assad regime?
H.A. Hellyer is a nonresident fellow in the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World
, part of the Center for Middle East Policy
at Brookings. He holds simultaneous appointments as an associate fellow in the international security studies department at the Royal United Services Institute in London, and as a research associate at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Hellyer was the senior practice consultant at Gallup and senior research fellow at the University of Warwick. As a nonpartisan specialist in issues tied to the Muslim world—West relations, Egyptian politics, Arab affairs, European security policies, and political theory—Hellyer has been consulted by different governmental and nongovernmental organizations in Europe, the United States, and the Arab world. He regularly contributes to media outlets such as CNN, BBC, Foreign Policy, Al Arabiya, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The National.