By Shahzadi Tooba Hussain Syed
There are mixed reactions in the Gulf towards the Iranian nuclear deal. Those who support a deal – any deal – argue it would prevent the region from sliding into a destructive nuclear arms race that would deplete everybody. But others say the deal will have a number of negative consequences for the Gulf. The secretive nature of the talks made many uncomfortable about the outcome, as did the absence of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. Wisdom has it that if you do not have enough cards on the negotiating table, you may not get everything you want, but if you are not even present, you will certainly get nothing.
In Geneva, everybody concerned was present except for the Gulf states, which would be directly impacted by any kind of agreement in their backyard. Additionally, any deal between Iran and the US would likely not be favourable to the GCC states. A compromise between negotiating parties would stipulate mutual concessions, and the question remains: Beyond the lifting of economic sanctions, what would Iran want in return for ending its nuclear programme?
The US surely does not want to see a more powerful Iranian hegemony in the region, but at the same time, it does not appear to mind some kind of Iranian influence in the region. Iran has been seeking to reclaim its previous role as the region’s police. It is clear that a western recognition of Iranian regional influence would come at the expense of the Gulf states, given that they are the weakest link in the regional chain of influence. In the post-deal reality, there would be three regional powers: Iran, Turkey and Israel.
From an economic perspective, any agreement between Iran and the West would certainly lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iranian oil exports that are estimated at between one and 1.5 million barrels a day. This would further flood the already saturated oil market with cheap Iranian oil, bringing prices even further down. If this persisted, it would have adverse economic consequences on the Gulf states, which are already financially overstretched.
In light of these shifting realities, the Gulf Arab states may be wise to make a number of changes to preserve their long-term interests, including abandoning their military and security alliance with US in favor of their own joint military cooperation. The Gulf states should also build strategic partnerships with the regional powers of Pakistan and Turkey, who share the Gulf nations’ fears of Iranian ambitions in the region. Finally, the Gulf states would need to improve internal GCC relations; indeed, their cooperation in the Yemen air campaign has shown that these states can not only work together on regional threats and initiate major actions, but also have the potential to become a major regional player capable of countering US-backed Iranian hegemony.
Neither Iran nor the US is interested in military confrontation and both have much to gain from an agreement. But since this deal will constitute a building block towards diplomatically resolving other regional conflicts involving Iran and the US, all sides have been negotiating with their eyes on the future.
For all forces involved, winning and losing are not etched in stone. Saudi Arabia and Israel can be either losers or winners. If they really do not want a bomb, they are winners. If they want Iran to stop being Iran – if they seek nothing less than Iran’s destruction – they will definitely lose.