Saturday, 11 July 2015

Iran Deal Will Benefit Region (Pakistan Observer)

Friday, July 10, 2015 - In both Israel as well as Iran, there is an existential fear of other country. Israel frets at prospect of hundreds of thousands of Tehran-trained fighters swarming across its borders or raining Iran-supplied missiles into its cities. After all, despite its geopolitical heft, this is a tiny country, where a bicycle would suffice to take an individual from southern to northern tip. Those travelling to Tel Aviv from Amman barely have time to open a book to read after takeoff before aircraft begins its descent into airport. The awareness of its small size has had a significant impact on strategic thinking of Israel, making pre-emption rather than response preferred option. 

The problem is that such measures have mostly been carried out on a state even smaller in size than Israel, which is the Palestinian Authority (PA). When it comes to the PA, logic seems to go out of the window, for successive governments in Israel have refused to recognize that a full withdrawal from those parts of PA territory considered as inessential for Israel’s security followed by a sealing off of the border between the two states. The problem is that while the extent territory needed to ensure security for Israel’s own borders is limited, what is not is the ambition of those within Israel who seek to recreate the ancient land of Judea and Samaria in the 21st century. Such folks refuse to make any territorial concessions whatsoever, and if there be another all-out war between Israel and its neighbours that would conclude in a victory by the Jewish state, would seek to expropriate large chunks of Jordan and Syria as well into what they define as the correct boundaries of Israel.

This columnist has never hidden his respect - indeed, affection – for the Jewish people, and his sharing of the pain that they have suffered across millenia for no fault of their own. However, let it be stated that even if a modern-day Judea and Samaria were to arise, the boundaries of such a state could not be those of what was the situation in the past. The sooner some of the ultra-religious groups in Israel accept this fact, the better it would be for the country they belong to. The Palestinian Authority needs to have control over its own territory, although it should be disarmed except for the police and security services. 

At the same time, the GCC countries as well as India and China should invest massively in the PA, so that the gifted Palestinian people have job options at home rather than face the prospect of penury and want. Palestine can become a state as prosperous as any in the region, given the talents of its people. Those wishing to move to the PA from territories which would remain under Israeli control after a settlement should be allowed to do so together with their assets, as such individuals would be a definite plus for the newly-empowered Palestinian state. The reality is that Israel was created as a Jewish state in 1948, and this needs to be accepted, just as Pakistan was created as a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent a year earlier. 

These are two states within international community created out of considerations of religion, if we exclude Vatican City, which is technically a state independent of Italy. Each citizen of Israel and Pakistan of course needs to be given rights normal to a democracy, no matter the faith he or she subscribes to, President Obama has got it right. A nuclear deal with Iran is in best interests of Israel as well, in that agreement being discussed at Geneva would do away with two-thirds of that country’s centrifuges, shut down a reactor capable of producing fuel for a bomb as well as open nuclear facilities in that country to intrusive inspections. 

Those in the US or Israel who oppose such a deal would in reality be playing to the script of the hardliners in Tehran, who are relevant precisely because of tensions between Iran and the US-Israel alliance. However, given the desire of the people of Iran for an end to tensions and an improvement in economic situation, hardliners within world’s biggest Shia-majority country cannot openly admit that they would like nuclear deal to collapse. They are therefore hoping that the hardline stance of France, which seems to be doing its best to ensure that a deal gets torpedoed, as well as opposition within the US to deal will scupper any chance of an agreement.

This would enable them to tell the Iranian people that while they were ready for painful concessions, the US and its partners in the negotiations were not ready to go in for any deal except one too humiliating for any government in Tehran to accept, or a deal with conditions scripted by Israel, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, four countries which converge on the issue of Iran. In fact, these four countries would themselves benefit from a nuclear deal with Iran, in that overall growth and social stability in the region would get enhanced. 

Another player that would be disadvantaged were there to be a nuclear deal with Iran would be ISIS, which thrives in an atmosphere of sectarianism and crisis. The main obstacle to the deal is the continuing Clintonite approach to foreign policy within the US State Department. Such an approach constantly changes the goalposts, thereby setting new conditions each time the older ones have been met. In particular, there is an effort to link the deal to a snapping of ties between Iran and the Assad regime in Syria, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. A reduction in tension will automatically create the conditions for further discussions on such issues, while the breakdown of talks would exacerbate tensions across the region. 

John Kerry will need to ensure that his staff do not go by the Hillary Clinton playbook of seeking deals in which 95% of the conpromises are made by the other side, as the US is no longer in a position to get such outcomes. The coming days will tell if a nuclear deal with Iran gets completed or not. Should it take place, within a year the effects on the region will become clear. The states in the region cannot bear more years of instability and sectarian hatred in a context where ISIS is growing because of President Obama’s half-hearted measures against the scourge. Hopefully, both Iran and the US-led coalition engaged in the Geneva talks will understand that the future of the region is at stake and that success in the talks is crucial to a much better future than the immediate past .


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