November 26, 2013 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1038

The Geneva Deal: The Path To Historic Changes In The Middle East, Led By The U.S. Administration

November 26, 2013 | By Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1038


This is an initial paper analyzing the ramifications for the Middle East of the Joint Plan of Action signed in Geneva by Iran and the 5+1 group on November 24, 2013, and the roots of the U.S.'s policy change that led to this deal. This policy change concerns not only Iran, but also the entire Arab and Muslim world.

This paper focuses on very recent developments and on the crystallization of historic changes. It does not presume to explain the entire spectrum of events in the Middle East as they happen, but sets out the broad lines of this historic change in U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Arab and Muslim world as revealed by the Geneva deal, by what led up to it, and by the direction in which it leads.

The new U.S. policy has geostrategic ramifications for the region, and in this sense it constitutes part of the Middle Eastern reality and is not an isolated, strictly domestic "American" matter. Rather, it is shaping the Middle East reality that we at MEMRI are reading about in the media of the region.

The U.S.'s New Direction Is Historic; Iran's Nuclear Issue Is Just One Element Of It

Since his 2009 Prague address on nuclear nonproliferation, President Obama has been stressing both his vision for a world without nuclear weapons and his promise to U.S. allies in the Middle East that he will prevent Iran from obtaining them.

The Geneva deal, if it is carried out – keeping in mind Iran's decade of proven deception – does indeed provide an answer to the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb, at least for the next six months. A final agreement may also indeed be reached, if the focus is solely on a nuclear bomb, and this too will provide an answer to this threat.[1]

However, the Iranian regime's threat to the entire region and internationally has never been solely that of a nuclear bomb. Rather, it is a threat because it is an ideological Islamic revolutionary regime, that openly threatens the other regimes in the Middle East with ideological incitement and subversive activity. It does this using military and ideological organizations, out of a desire to export the Islamic revolution and undermine the existing regimes. With regard to the U.S. and Israel, this threat is manifested in the Iranian regime's ideology of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel";[2] on the international level, it is manifested in its attempts to undermine the world order, with all its institutions and their resolutions – the U.N. Security Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty – and in terror activity worldwide, including the October 2011 attempt to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel Al-Jubeir.

With regard to this comprehensive threat posed by the Iranian regime, the Geneva deal constitutes phenomenal reinforcement for Iran's geostrategic might vis-a-vis the countries of the region, and enhances Iran's efforts at subversion in the region and internationally.[3] It gives Iran recognized hegemonic status as a nuclear threshold state relative to all the other forces in the Middle East; the latter will have to come to terms with this and either submit to Iran's hegemony or pay dearly for their security and survival.

Thus, while the Geneva deal removes the threat of a bomb, it creates a much graver multidimensional threat for the countries of the region – all of which are long-time allies of the U.S. The deal shifts the geostrategic power relations in the Middle East and replaces the Arab-Sunni hegemony, which for decades maintained the pro-Western status quo in the Middle East, with Iranian hegemony, which remains as anti-West as it has always been. As a nuclear threshold state, a hegemonic Iran will in the future threaten Europe and later the U.S. as well.

The Roots Of The Geneva Deal, And The Historic Change To Which It Leads

The Geneva deal is rooted in a change in U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Middle East and the Muslim world, led by President Obama and stemming from his ideology – which he first presented openly in his 2009 addresses at the Turkish Parliament and Cairo University. This policy change involves an historic reconciliation between the U.S. and the regime of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. But it is not limited to Iran; it is a process involving the entire Arab and Muslim world, and it appeals to the peoples and to the revolutionary forces within them, and disregards their leaders.

In previous attempts to appeal to the peoples of the region, that is, in Ankara and Cairo in 2009, Obama presented a vision of an America that is no longer an imperialist power that maintains military bases in the region and intervenes militarily to protect the status quo, but a country that identifies with the aspirations and interests of the Arab and Muslim peoples and disregards their regimes.[4] In Obama's perception, the overall U.S. shift in recent years – the pinnacle of which is his attempts at reconciliation with the Iranian regime – does not stem from weakness but is ideologically directed; it dovetails with and intensifies the revolutionary changes taking place in the Arab world since the Arab Spring, with the aim of integrating the U.S. into the Arab and Muslim world of the future.

Obama sees Iran's Islamic Revolutionary regime as a legitimate regime that the U.S. is not seeking to topple. On more than one occasion, spokesmen for his administration have emphasized this position. Thus, in June 2009 his administration extended no aid to Iran's reform movement that protested against the Iranian regime following the presidential election there; thus too the administration did not, following a White House directive, include in the Iran sanctions the nearly $100-billion business empire known as Setad because it is directed by the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The administration's explanation for this was that by excluding this firm from the sanctions, it was sending a message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. considers it legitimate and is not seeking to bring it down.[5]

It should be noted that in contrast to U.S. administration spokesmen's linking the recent American outreach to Iran with the election of President Hassan Rohani, who is considered "moderate," this openness has no connection to any changes in Iran. As has recently been revealed, secret negotiations on the bilateral U.S.-Iran track began at the U.S.'s initiative in the era of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and prior to Iran's June 2013 election.

The Ramifications Of The Geneva Deal

First of all, it is expected that the Middle East region will go nuclear. There are already signs of this, in official Saudi, Egyptian, and Gulf statements. When this happens, Israel may be forced to emerge from its nuclear ambiguity. Thus, Obama will have achieved the opposite of the vision that he laid out in his 2009 Prague address.

Second, in contrast to his statements of commitment to traditional U.S. allies, in practice the Obama administration's policy is disregarding the security interests of these allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – which have for years hosted strategic U.S. military bases – and Israel. The administration is instead forming a new axis, comprising the U.S. and popular revolutionary forces in the Arab and Muslim world, for whom Iran serves an example.[6]

Within this new axis, the U.S. administration is overturning not only the power relations in the Middle East, but also the perception of who the "good guys" and "bad guys" are. Iran's public relations efforts are being upgraded, in a way that erases its worldwide ideological subversion and terrorist activity, and its decade of deception about its nuclear program – the latter of which has led to six U.N. Security Council resolutions against it. Meanwhile, commentators close to the Obama administration are depicting Saudi Arabia and Israel as the source of the tensions and problems in the region.[7] The result is serious damage to the commonality of interests between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the U.S., and to these countries' right to insist that their security interests be protected.

Thus, these traditional alliances have become a burden to the new U.S. policy that looks to a different future, and traditional allies representing the old world are now compromised. As the U.S. administration sees it, these old allies have no cause whatsoever to complain that they are being endangered by the U.S. reconciliation with Iran – because the U.S. has promised Israel that Iran will be prevented from obtaining a nuclear bomb, and has offered the Arab countries a nuclear defense umbrella. But everything beyond that – that is, everything that concerns the revolutionary shift in the U.S.'s relationship with the various forces in the Arab and Muslim world – is U.S. business alone, and a U.S. prerogative; neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel have any right to oppose it.

Accordingly, the Geneva deal is instigating a profound and enduring crisis between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries, and between the U.S. and Israel. The moment the U.S. reached out its hand to hegemonic Iran, which is continuing to undermine the Saudi and GCC regimes and threaten Israel's existence even if not by means of a bomb, it placed in question the commonality of interests and values it purportedly shares with these traditional allies.

Despite President Obama's expectation that Iran will respond to his move, it is doubtful that the Iranians and their allies in the increasingly strong resistance axis will give his administration the cooperation that he needs in order to advance his historic agenda. It is also doubtful that the U.S. will win the legitimacy, or even the fans, that this move is aimed at obtaining. Even if Iran does comply, any move in this direction on its part will come at a price, as has been clarified by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who stated that there is no normalization of U.S.-Iran relations beyond the Geneva deal.[8]

Moreover, Iran will use its nuclear hegemony status, the legitimacy of its regime, and the hand that President Obama has extended to it in order to advance its status on the strategic and international level – but will not do this in cooperation with the U.S. This is because ideologically, Iran strives to change the global world order that is led by the U.S., and is seeking a status equal to or greater than that of today's superpowers.

Furthermore, this historic move by Obama will lead to regional instability. It will not assuage the existing tensions and conflicts; it will only inflame them, and this exacerbation will take the form of violent actions both in the region and outside it.

* A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iran Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.


[1] As will be recalled, Iran declared at the outset of the negotiations that it is demanding recognition of its nuclear program according to the Japanese-German model, that is, the status of a nuclear threshold state. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 209, Iran Seeks EU Consent for Modeling Its Nuclear Program on the 'Japanese/German Model' – i.e. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capabilities Three Months Short of a Bomb, February 23, 2005.

[2] Even during the negotiations, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei expressed his stance vis-à-vis the U.S. and Israel., November 20, 2013.

[3] Furthermore, the importance of the deal lies primarily in its geostrategic dimensions; it is important to note that in contrast to statements by Obama administration spokesmen, the deal does indeed give Iran the right to enrich uranium, by virtue of the fact that under the deal it is continuing to do so and that this deal itself sets the parameters of the final agreement, and it states that Iran will continue to enrich uranium on its soil even under agreed restrictions. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5535, The Geneva Joint Plan Of Action According To Iranian President Rohani And Iranian FM Zarif, November 24, 2013. In addition, in contrast to Obama administration statements, the deal does permit Iran to enrich to 20% for research and development purposes. Also, the work at the plutonium reactor at Arak will continue, even if it is not expanded to aspects of operation of the reactor.

[4] Notably, Obama demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood attend his June 2009 Cairo University speech, and in Israel in March 2013 he refused to speak at the Knesset, but spoke instead to students, presumably a potential force for change against the democratically elected Israeli government.

[5] See Reuters investigation, November 11, 2013.

[6] It should be noted that as with every ideological policy, actual implementation involves exceptions and compromises, such as with regard to Syria; in that case, the Obama administration is not supporting the Syrian rebels for various reasons, whether or not this is due to circumstances – because Assad's regime is hanging on and it does not matter that this is due to help from foreign elements such as Iran and Hizbullah. The U.S. has also launched a dialogue with Hizbullah as a legitimate political body. The fact that the Syrian rebels include jihadist and Al-Qaeda elements also has an impact.

[7] See for example articles by David Ignatius and Farid Zakaria.

[8] Zarif said in Turkey that the Geneva talks were only to resolve the nuclear issue and not for normalization of relations with the U.S. He added that if the talks were successful, then Tehran and the West must adopt a new approach. Jomhour-e Eslami, Iran, November 3, 2013.

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