It marks a victory for the Shia in their growing conflict with the Sunni Muslim Middle East. It gives substantial hope to Bashar al-Assad that he will be left in power in Syria. It isolates Israel. And it infuriates Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Kuwait and other Sunni Gulf States which secretly hoped that a breakdown of the Geneva nuclear talks would humiliate Shia Iran and support their efforts to depose Assad, Iran’s only ally in the Arab world.
In the cruel politics of the Middle East, the partial nuclear agreement between Iran and the world’s six most important powers proves that the West will not go to war with Iran and has no intention – far into the future – of undertaking military action in the region. We already guessed that when – after branding Assad as yet another Middle Eastern Hitler – the US, Britain and France declined to assault Syria and bring down the regime. American and British people – those who had to pay the price for these monumental adventures, because political leaders no longer lead their men into battle – had no stomach for another Iraq or another Afghanistan.
Iran’s sudden offer to negotiate a high-speed end to this cancerous threat of further war was thus greeted with almost manic excitement by the US and the EU, along with theatrical enthusiasm by the man who realises that his own country has been further empowered in the Middle East: Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. Assad’s continued tenure in Damascus is assured. Peace in our time. Be sure we’ll be hearing that Chamberlonian boast uttered in irony by the Israelis in the weeks to come.
But there’s no doubt that Geneva has called Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s bluff. He may huff and puff, but if he wants to bash Iran now – on the basis that Israel must remain the only nuclear nation in the Middle East – he’s going to be on his own when his planes take off to bomb Iran’s nuclear plants. The Aipac attack dogs can be sent up to Congress again by that most infamous of Israeli-American lobby groups to harry Republicans in support of the Likudist cause, but to what purpose? Did Mr Netanyahu really think the Iranians were going to dismantle their whole nuclear boondoggle?
When he said yesterday that “the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step towards obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapon”, many Arabs – and an awful lot of other people in the world, including the West – will have wondered whether Israel, which long ago obtained the world’s most dangerous weapon, is now – in rejecting the Geneva deal – the world’s most dangerous government. If Mr Netanyahu and his clique in the government decide to twit the world’s major powers amid their euphoria, he may bring about – as several Israeli writers have warned – the most profound change in Israel’s relations with the US since the foundation of the Israeli state. It would not be a change for Israel’s benefit.
But six months – the time it takes to solidify this most tangential of nuclear agreements – is a long time. In the coming days, Republicans in Washington and the right-wing enemies of President Rouhani will demand to know the real details of this febrile game at Geneva. The Americans insist that Iran does not have the “right to enrichment”. Iran insists that it does. The percentages of enrichment will have to be examined far more carefully than they were yesterday.
Mr Rouhani – or Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader whose dark wings hover over every elected Iranian leader – says that the fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon will be seen by future generations as a “historical joke”. Netanyahu says the whole shenanigans in Geneva will prove to be a “historic mistake”. The Sunni Saudis, always waiting to spot the winner before opening their mouths, have already sat down with their Sunni Qatari and Kuwaiti allies to commiserate with each other over Shia Iran’s new victory. In Damascus, I suspect, Bashar, himself an Alawite-Shia, will tuck the kids into bed and share a glass with wife Asma and sleep well in his bed tonight.