A dangerous deal for the region

Iran gets nuclear energy, the region gets Iranian military adventures, incitement, and militias.

Iran''s Foreign Minister Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the deal a 'win-win' agreement [Reuters]

The background of the Iran deal almost makes it seem like, while the whole of the Middle East is on fire due to Iranian meddling in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon; that the negotiations have been taking place on another planet.

US President Barack Obama quoted a 14th century Persian poet as he noted “there are people, in both our countries and beyond, who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you – the people of Iran – is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek”.

One gets the feeling that the Americans see the Iran deal as necessary and any criticism of it is viewed as placing an obstacle in their path. That was particularly evident in the US administration’s wrath at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress on March 3.

Alarm over Iran’s rising influence

Netanyahu said what many in the region were thinking, Iran’s ambitions go beyond just a nuclear agreement, Iran will be emboldened by the agreement and seek greater control of Iraq, the Gulf, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and even Jordan. Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki al-Faisal told BBC on March 16 that the deal risked a regional arms race. 

Symbolic details

The most symbolic details underpin how this deal came about. Why is Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif always smiling so broadly in pictures of his “negotiations” with US Secretary of State John Kerry or former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton?

Who seriously believes these were “tough” negotiations for Iran? Iran received everything it wanted; a reduction in sanctions, and an agreement to keep its nuclear energy development, which it claims is for peaceful purposes. Iran shopped around a story that their Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had issued a “fatwa” against stockpiling nuclear weapons. This is the same Supreme Leader who was reported to be suffering from a terminal illness and has been in critical condition. 

When John Kerry spoke in Lausanne about the deal, he made clear the degree to which this has become a cornerstone of US policy in the region. It was in the US “interest” to achieve a good deal with Iran. But the details behind what those interests were are fuzzy.

“We will defend our interests, maintain urgency and uphold principles.”

Who seriously believes these were 'tough' negotiations for Iran? Iran received everything it wanted; a reduction in sanctions, and an agreement to keep its nuclear energy development, which it claims is for peaceful purposes.


Israel has played the role of a canary in the goldmine on this issue, constantly warning against an Iranian deal and empowering Iran in the region. This is unsurprising as Iran has been involved in funding and arming Hezbollah in Lebanon with which Israel has fought wars and whose arsenal threatens Israel. For years the Arab regimes and Lebanese were told Hezbollah is “the resistance” in Lebanon, resisting Israeli aggression and fighting for Lebanese dignity to restore its rights to the Shebaa farms area that Israel occupies.

Then Hezbollah’s “resistance” poured over into Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on those opposing his rule. The brutality with which Assad and Hezbollah suppressed the Sunni fighters in Syria precipitated the rise of more extreme elements such as ISIL. For Hezbollah it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, once ISIL appeared then Hezbollah claimed it was “protecting” Lebanon from extremists.

Sectarian politics

“We have fought a great victory so that the region will not fall into the hands of extremists,” Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah declared on November 4. It is the opposite, Hezbollah invaded Syria, it has created tension in Lebanon and blocked the new appointment of a president in Lebanon in the carefully balanced sectarian politics guaranteed by Saudi Arabia in the Taif agreement of 1989. 

When Saudi Arabia and 10 other nations, including the Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt intervened in Yemen on March 26, one of the first condemnations came from Nasrallah in Lebanon. Why was the “resistance” inserting itself in the Yemenite crises?

Because Nasrallah and his supporters in Tehran are guided by the same force. Reports that the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani who was leading Iraq’s Shia militias in their assault on Tikrit, might be heading for Iran, were not an aberration. Iranian arms were reportedly being unloaded in Yemen through last week and planes were landing in Sanaa

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Iran’s negotiators in the Iranian deal and its senior diplomats are highly skilled and mostly western educated.  Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s deputy chief negotiator, was educated at MIT and has a collegial rapport with the Americans. He and the other Iranians understand the Obama administrations desire for “peace” and the American proclivity for “getting to yes”.

Thrust into chaos

So they warn that absence of a deal can mean war. But war is exactly what Iran has launched on the entire Middle East over the last decades. Since the ill-conceived 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Iran has grown in power in leaps, while Arab countries have been thrust into chaos. Iran’s Shia militias from Yemen to Lebanon don’t built up economies or endow universities, they only undermine the sovereignty of their respective countries. 

When Kerry speaks about a “good deal” it is a good deal for Iran and a bad deal for the region. Iran gets nuclear energy, the region gets an Iranian octopus of military adventures, incitement, and militias slowly gobbling up the region and turning it into a wasteland.

They can quote Persian poetry all they want, but the real poets they should be looking to are those of the Sasanian Empire. After all, the poets praised Persian greatness, and Iran is trying to resurrect that greatness. The region has been handed to them on a silver platter in these negotiations.  

Seth J Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based commentator on Middle East politics and has lectured in American studies at Al-Quds University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.