A Deal For A Change

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Illustration: Dwijith CV
Illustration: Dwijith CV

When John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt explained how ‘the loose coalition of individuals and organisations’ worked to steer United States foreign policy into pro- Israel direction in their widely debated book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, it did not ruffle many feathers as far as the discerning international observers were concerned. For them, Mearsheimer and Walt were documenting what was an obvious fact, which the world was witnessing ever since the creation of Israel.

When on 14 July Iran and a group of six nations led by United States reached an agreement in Vienna on the vexed issue of Iran’s nuclear programme, pundits began speculating whether the leverage Israel enjoyed vis-à-vis US foreign policy will subside. By resisting pressure from Israel against having a diplomatic deal with Iran on the nuclear issue, if the US is signaling a change in its foreign policy then the geo-politics of the West Asia is bound to change. By agreeing to engage Iran diplomatically US is acknowledging the importance of the country in the West Asia — especially in the wake of Islamic State — but at the cost of enraging its staunch ally and Iran’s arch enemy Israel. Could this be realisation on the part of the US that its policy in the West Asia, centering around Israel, is ill-equipped to deal with a host of new problems that have cropped up in the most troubled area on the world map or is the N-deal a reflection of the domestic economic compulsions of the US, which won’t go to the extent of changing the geopolitics of the West Asia? Or, as some feel, does the deal represent the total subjugation of Iran which in turn will help Israel to pursue the kind of policies that the Jewish state has been following more aggressively?

Shared threat perception

While agreeing to ease sanctions imposed by US, European Union and United Nations in return for imposing long term curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme, both sides have stated that their engagement is strictly related to the nuclear programme. But with the US and Iran fighting the menace of Islamic State, many feel that the importance US attaches to Iran has increased, and this nuclear deal is a reflection of it. The threat posed by the proliferation of the radical Sunni groups in the West Asia is commonly shared by the US and Iran. Impetus to rapprochement was made possible by necessity.

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AK Ramakrishnan of the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, tells Tehelka, “For the United States, Iran is significant now because of the uncertainties in Syria and Iraq and in these troubled areas Iran can play a significant role. And also, Iran can play an important role in stabilising the situation in Afghanistan”. Along with this read the recent statement by Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, that the kind of extremism Sunni Jihadi groups are exhibiting is unprecedented and it poses highest threat-level the US has ever faced. Iran’s political influence spreads from Iraq to Lebanon. If the hostility between US and Iran, which started after the Islamic Revolution in the 1979, is transformed into political cooperation then it will be a game-changer as far as the West Asia politics is concerned. But this cooperation will be fraught with diplomatic pressure from allies of the United States who are wary of the emergence of Iran as the powerful regional player. And domestically also, President Obama has to wither away the opposition from the Republicans to carry forward his policy of engaging Iran.

But for Obama this has been his consistent position. When George Bush was harping on his ‘axis of evil’ theory bracketing Iran with Iraq and North Korea during his presidency, Obama was preaching diplomacy over military intervention when it came to Iran. But the Arab countries are aghast and skeptical about Iran being free of sanctions. Some feel that it is not about US aligning with Iran, but US starting to disengage with its allies like Saudi Arabia. Jeremy Shapiro of Brookings Institution puts it as this, “The Iran deal is not an attempt to get into bed with Iran but it is an attempt to get out of bed with Saudi Arabia.”

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