The perennial saga known as “Iran’s nuclear program” ended with a deal marked by joyous smiles and odes of praise. The deal will doubtless add new momentum to developments in the Middle East. However, despite many experts’ belief that this momentum is a positive thing, there is another point of view.
Paradoxically, long-term instability actually creates the feeling of stability. During the 12 years of negotiations with Iran, the international community in general — and the Middle East in particular — got used to fruitless summits, conferences and meetings. Clearly, no one expected this process to end. So what does this deal mean for us?
Within the context of the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear deal touches on two sensitive issues: the fight against terrorism — namely the Islamic State and its satellites — within the context of growing Shiite influence and global hydrocarbon prices. What’s more, both issues are closely interconnected.
First, terrorism. In light of expanding terrorist activity in the Middle East, we will focus on the Iraqi front. Currently there is an ongoing full-scale operation against Islamic State group fighters in Iraq.
This time, fighting is occurring in the Western Sunni-dominated province of Anbar. Iraqi military units, Interior Ministry forces, so-called pro-Iranian Shiite militias, and armed detachments of several Sunni tribes loyal to Baghdad are all participating in the operation. International coalition forces are also providing air support.
As can be expected, a diverse group like that is deeply divided and ineffective in the field. The Shiite units are the largest and best-equipped force, and they often ignore commands from the Iraqi army and fight on their own.
The Sunni clans act the same way. At present, the army and Interior Ministry are physically incapable of carrying out major operations. Instead, they must rely on irregular Sunni and Shiite detachments.
The Iraqi air force is equipped with Russian attack helicopters like the Mi-17, Mi-35 and Mi-28. The air force also has the Su-25 close-air support fighter. Unfortunately, the air force is fairly small and incapable of handling the volume of combat missions.
Allied air units act independently of events on the ground, and don’t coordinate missions with Iraqi military commanders. “Allied” planes occasionally even attack Iraqi units. What’s more, these attacks occur with astonishing regularity at critical points in the fighting.
Plainly speaking, despite the White House’s claims that its air support is incredibly effective, only 25 percent of coalition flights end with an airstrike. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the planes return to base with their entire payload.
Furthermore, the allies systematically fail to deliver promised military equipment to Iraqi forces. America’s delivery of only four out of 36 F-16 fighters — purchased by Iraq under the condition that they be used only with U.S. permission and that Kurdish pilots must be allowed to fly them — seems like a humiliating joke for Baghdad.
All this is pushing the Shiite Iraqi leadership to seek closer ties with Iran. After the nuclear deal, Tehran has received a peculiar carte blanche for strengthening its position in the so-called Shiite Crescent. It has excellent opportunities in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. This has Sunni nations in the region extremely worried.
It is no coincidence that Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Zarif made his first official visit to Iraq after the nuclear deal. At the same time, the head of the Iraqi parliamentary committee on security and defense headed to Tehran. While this went on, the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. publicly scolded the White House for its half-hearted support of Baghdad in the fight against the Islamic State group. He also noted Iran’s timely and comprehensive assistance.
Second, oil. The oil situation is no less complicated than the war on terror. Without sanctions, Iran will become a heavyweight in the hydrocarbon market in the near future. Even without Iran’s inclusion, that market has seen better days.
The addition of such a powerful competitor will make a noticeable impact. Every party involved understands this. According to the most pessimistic forecasts, oil prices could fall to nearly the cost of extraction. After that, no one will gamble on them getting any lower.
Of course, a number of experts claim that Iran needs years to rebuild its infrastructure in order to export 4 million to 6 million barrels a day. However, Tehran can currently supply 1.1 million barrels, and international oil companies are willing to invest in Iranian oil by taking funds from other projects.
On top of that, informed sources report that the Iranian government has already loaded around 40 million barrels of crude oil onto tankers, with plans to sell them on Asian markets. In turn, the Asian markets eagerly await their delivery.
The outlook of current developments has Sunni monarchs along the Persian Gulf worried. So are Turkey and Israel. Tehran’s economic resurgence will undermine the positions of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iran’s military potential will grow as well.
So how, you might ask, does this help America? The U.S. is acting with surprising pragmatism. They need chaos in the Middle East. Yes, Shiite Iran will greatly assist the Shiite Iraqi government. However, Tehran will also compete with Baghdad in the oil market, tempting oil and gas companies with its no less-promising oilfields far away from the battlefield.
Iran’s resurgence will allow the Americans to bring the “emboldened” Saudis back into their orbit. The Saudis will have no choice but to turn to the U.S. for help. Not for the last time, falling oil prices will hurt Russia. The nation must strike a balance between its friendships with Iran and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the realities of the current economic situation.
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