Analysis: Welcome to the Iran era

The deal is a building block to resolve Middle East conflicts should Iran's opponents abandon zero-sum game approach.

Iran's investment in the nuclear programme might have been the most important and successful Iranian endeavour so far [EPA]

At 5:58am on July 14, the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz tweeted: "The #IranDeal is based on hard science. Our nuclear experts & #NationalLabs helped shape the negotiations w/ rigorous technical analysis." 

Secretary Moniz's impressive CV and MIT nuclear engineering background might have made him President Barack Obama's favourite candidate to sell the nuclear deal to the American public.

But Moniz's most re-tweeted message can hardly persuade opponents of the agreement. The technical aspects of the agreement are the least of their concerns, and most opponents voiced their discontent even prior to drafting the agreement.

It is what Amos Yadlin, of Israel's Institute for National Security Studies, called the "non-nuclear aspects" that concerns the most ardent opposition to the deal.

Therefore, pinpointing one part of the agreement to minimise the significant Iranian achievement, as many opponents of Iran have done so far, seems futile and a misguided tactic of opposition.

OPINION: The 3 myths: how the Iran deal impacts the Middle East

Back in April, I wrote in the Egyptian Al Ahram Weekly: "It is not the bomb" they oppose rather it is the possible formation of a non-American Middle East that is driving Israel's opposition to the agreement.

In his letter to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the aftermath of the agreement, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a member of the Iranian revolution's first generation, noted: "The United Nations Security Council [UNSC] will 'for the first time' in history formally recognise uranium enrichment programme in a developing country."

On July 20, and for the first time, the UNSC recognised the right of Iran, a country in the global south, to enrich uranium and to possess the full nuclear cycle. On July 21, Zarif reiterated the same idea before the Iranian parliament in his quest to defend the agreement.

The nuclear programme was simply Iran's weapon to lift the sanctions, achieve real independence and sovereignty, and improve its regional status.

As such, Iran's investment in the nuclear programme might have been the most important and successful Iranian endeavour so far. It is really difficult to imagine another scenario in which the US would have been willing to even sit on the other side of the table, let alone sign an agreement and agree to lift the sanctions had Iran's hands been empty.

Iran would have been left to suffer severe sanctions, just like Cuba, for decades. It is, therefore, rather simplistic to argue that a "weak country has outmanoeuvred and out-negotiated the United States and the EU", as Elliot Abrams wrote in the National Review.

The nuclear programme was simply Iran's weapon to lift the sanctions, achieve real independence and sovereignty, and improve its regional status.

Nuclear investment enabled Iran to successfully avoid the other detrimental option/model.

Iran would have been left to suffer severe sanctions, just like Cuba, for decades [AP]

The least likely scenario is what Obama himself dismissed in an interview with the New York Times. "We are not measuring this deal by whether it is changing the regime inside of Iran," said Obama.

Unlike Cuba, where "the main concern is to make sure that over time it opens up", and where "change in policy is designed to achieve that", Obama noted: "In Iran we have a much more modest goal."

Additionally, the successful investment in the nuclear programme, coupled with the changing international and regional strategic environment, empowered Iran enough to avoid making any unnecessary and harmful concessions in other unrelated issues.

In wake of the Iran deal, a Middle East arms race?

Actually, Khamenei dismissed any policy change, tweeting: "Even with #IranDeal, our policies towards US' arrogant system will see no change. US policies in the region differ through 180° from Iran's."

On July 21, Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran's supreme leader confirmed: "The Islamic Republic of Iran will never back down on its defensive policies."

To expect, therefore, any radical change in Iran's domestic and regional policies is wishful thinking - at best - and at worst demonstrates an ignorance of Iran's conditions and the regional and international conditions that made the deal possible. 

Khamenei's speeches entail aspects of the most likely scenario to unfold in the future. The combination of political and economic power that will be at Iran's disposal will gradually change the political and economic scenes in the region.

Iran will obtain its frozen assets (estimated at $120bn), its banks will rejoin SWIFT, and, unlike Israel, its integration into the international milieu and the legitimacy of its regime will intensify: In the next few days, Tehran will host the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and EU High Representative Federica Mogherini.

As such, Iran, and by implication Iran's allies in the region, will be empowered.

RELATED: Iran deal: What is next?

Nonetheless, the opponents of the deal did not show any sign of accepting the potential regional implications of the agreement or conceding a new regional role to Iran.

Therefore, an escalation from Syria to Yemen in the short term by the opponents of the deal, especially Israel and some Gulf states, should be expected.

In the mid and long term, however, such endeavours will prove to be futile. The deal and the diplomatic process leading to it can be a building block, a precedent, to resolve the conflicts in the region should Iran's opponents abandon their zero-sum game approach.

The regional strategic environment, especially the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) factor, might become a common ground between Iran and the Arab states to reach an understanding regarding the shape of the unfolding new regional order.

In the short term, however, it is possible to expect escalation, especially in Syria and Yemen.

With the new economic power and international recognition of its political role and status, Iran will be able to shape both the political and economic regional scenes more than any other Middle Eastern actor.

While the US presence in the region will continue, however, as the Israelis realised, this is a "different America", facing rising and capable international contenders.

Israel's dependency on the retreating US power, together with its continuous defiance of the international consensus, will increase its isolation and limit its influence. Saudi Arabia's hegemony depended on an eroding Arab order, while Egypt's recovery is not expected in the short term.

Finally, Turkey's latest election outcome might lead to political instability, but will definitely impact the regional agenda of Turkey's Justice and Development party [AK party] and reorient Turkey towards the EU.

A new Middle East regional order is forming. Welcome to the Iran era.

Seif Dana is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Source: Al Jazeera