IRAN nuclear deal is due for US presidential waiver on May 12, 2018. President Trump’s bellicose tone suggests it will surely withdraw from the deal signed in 2015 triggering series of US sanctions against Iran. New US NSA statements, an Iran Hawk, also points towards the same outcome. President Trump is wary of Iran’s Israel-specific ballistic missile programme and its interventionist stance in the ME notably in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria. Iran stance stems from its desire to seek legitimacy for theocracy at home by confronting Israel and Sunni Islam, hence, most of its actions have religious overtones.
Post nuclear deal security situation in the ME has shown no improvements instead it has deteriorated. The question arises, will scraping the deal help in any way bring about durable peace in the region or it will further plunge the region into chaos? French President Macron during his recent visit to US, proposed a new deal aimed at curbing Iran military power and regional activities to exist alongside the three years old deal. Germany and Britain who helped negotiate the deal in 2015, have also voiced their concerns over scraping the deal altogether which will gravely impact the security situation in the ME.
Battle of Chaldiran between sixteenth century Persian Safavid’s Empire and Turks Ottoman Empire resulted in Ottoman victory and helped shape the contours of modern ME. Both empires were competing for Iraq and greater Syria. Safavids propagated Shia Islam and their defeat led to creation of relatively compact, Persian oriented Shia nation state in the Iranian Plateau. Its relatively small size as compared to its neighboring empires like Ottoman and Mughals helped in its existence over centuries which later evolved into a modern Shia theocratic state of Iran in 1979. Safavids influenced surroundings regions of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Southern Iraq and western and central Afghanistan which holds sizeable Shia population amid majority Sunnis. This century old Sunni-Shia divide and interventionist stance of modern Iran had led to many wars in ME and permanent state of instability in the region.
Iran’s threat to withdraw from the treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, is the clearest indication of how it will react should Donald Trump pull US out of the deal. Trump has vowed not to waive the sanctions again unless European nations manage to make radical changes to the nuclear deal, including curbs on Iran’s missile development. This programme is not covered by the deal, and Tehran says it will not bow to pressure to halt it. More than 500 parliamentarians from France, Germany and the UK have written to their US counterparts urging them to persuade President Trump not to abandon the deal. In their joint statement they have urged a White House rethink before a pull out of the deal commonly known as Joint Comprehensively Plan of Action (JCPOA) is undertaken.
Senior members of Israeli security establishment are also predicting the month of May will be one of the most volatile periods. Aluf Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli Defense Forces and Military Intelligence Directorate, said in an interview published in April 22, “I have not seen a May this dangerous since May 1967.” On April 30 Israeli PM Netanyahu showcased a vast archives of Iran’s own documentations showing Tehran wanted to develop nuclear weapons arsenal, lied to the international community about it and taken steps to proceed to the bomb within the bounds of nuclear deal.
Keeping in view the offensive and defensive strategies of US and P-5+1 regarding the deal, it looks most probable that President Trump will withdraw thus triggering waves of sanctions on Iran in times to come. This unilateral US action will have devastating effect on the regional peace and will prompt Israel to initiate military action against Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and the Lebanese army as well as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Salafist groups in Gaza. From Israeli point of view situation in the ME is ripe in terms of possible confrontation with Iran as Syrian President is battling to survive and Hezbollah meanwhile wants to retain its arsenal of rockets and missiles for “Judgment day”. Assuming Iran has to face Israel alone, that present opportunity to Israel to create new rules of the game and secure its red lines in Syria. With ongoing KSA-Israel rapprochement and mounting impact of sanctions, Iran’s march towards the bomb which is estimated to be seven years away, will see considerable time reduction.
Evolving security situation in the ME will set Pakistan a tight rope walk. Role and employment of its troops deployed in KSA for internal security and training missions will come under serious public debate if Iran-Israel conflict engulfs the GCC countries. Rising oil prices will definitely add more burden to the fast depleting foreign exchange reserves that will start with the talks of imminence of Iran-Israel war.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.