Iran's Nuclear Deal and Transition to a “Newer Middle East”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Masoud Rezaei
Ph.D. in International Relations &
Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies

If in terms of location, the Middle East is considered to stretch from North Africa to eastern borders of Iran, and in terms of time, the 18th century is considered as the period when this region made its debut in the world’s political literature, during the past two centuries, the region has been witnessing a series of events, developments, as well as political actors and currents, which are sign of all-out alterations across this politicized geographical expanse. Some say that the Middle East is not only an international region, but the most internationalized region in the world. Therefore, all historical periods of the Middle East have been characterized by games and reciprocal relations among rival powers, both in and out of the region, and have been defined on the basis of their influence. The only point of difference among various periods is the quality of the balance of power among rival states and the degree of their influence.

Therefore, we are willing here to divide the emergence of the Middle East and developments related to it into seven different periods:

“The first period” has been described by some historians to begin with the signing of the 1774 treaty, which put an end to hostilities between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and is considered by them as a turning point, which can be taken as the starting point of this period. On the other hand, there are other historians that consider Napoleon’s relatively easy conquest of Egypt in 1798 as the starting point of the modern Middle East. That incident showed the Europeans that it was time to dominate this region and also posed the question among Arab and Muslim intellectuals as to why the Islamic civilization lags behind the Christian Europe at such a great distance.

“The second period” has been considered by many thinkers to begin with the end of the World War I, conclusion of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, and subsequent implosion of the Ottoman Empire; a period in which the modern Turkey replaced the Ottoman Empire.

“The third period” of the Middle East from the viewpoint of many political scientists came about following the end of the World War II and the Suez crisis in 1956 and lasted up to the war between Arabs and Israel in June 1967, which is considered as a clear sign of the end of the colonialistic domination of the region and the beginning of the Cold War era in the Middle East.

Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979 and its consequences and outcomes were so resounding as to qualify to be considered as “the fourth period” in the history of the Middle East; a period, which started with the fall of one of the pillars of the United States’ policy in the Middle East.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1991 marked the beginning of a new period or “the fifth period” of the region’s history during which the influence and latitude of the United States grew unprecedentedly in this region and the entire world turned into a unipolar world.

Following the 9/11 terror attacks, the Middle East entered a new phase with various countries and actors getting engaged in war and conflicts and a time in which the balkanization of the region was diligently pursued by the United States, the UK, and Israel. As a result of this approach and due to a decision by the administration of then US President George W. Bush to attack Iraq in 2003 and occupy that country, Iraq, which was a regional power, turned into a bankrupt and unstable state, thus tipping the balance of power toward Iran. This stage can be considered as “the sixth period” of the Middle East. It was in this period that the “New Middle East” was introduced as a new term by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in an address in Tel Aviv in June 2006, to substitute an older term, the “Greater Middle East.”

The outbreak of Arab uprisings in December 2010 in Tunisia and their domino-like spread, while being very important and historical, does not qualify to be considered a new era and even the later emergence of ISIS terrorist group in 2014 can be seen in line with Rice’s promise about the New Middle East. This plan, whose formulation took place in a number of years, was conditioned on the creation of an arch of unrest, disorder and violence, which started in Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and was supposed to extend toward Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Iran and NATO’s borders in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, part of this plan has been realized so far and it is moving toward full completion through possible division of Syria into three parts and by taking advantage of such centrifugal forces as al-Qaeda, ISIS, al-Nusra Front and so forth. The plan is also achieving its goals in Iraq.

As said before, the time interval between various periods in the Middle East is being rapidly diminished and this issue it telltale sign of the fact that we will possibly witness a cascade of unpredictable developments in the future.

In the meantime, achievement of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers on July 14, 2015, has marked the beginning of a potentially new period in the Middle East, which can be undoubtedly considered as “the seventh period of the Middle East.” At a time that unrest and crises are deepening in the Middle East day by day and the region is moving toward “stabilization of disorder,” the United States’ decision to reach an agreement with Iran is sign of a strategic choice based on this hypothesis that Iran is part of the solution to the existing problems in the Middle East, not a part of the problem; a problem, which is actually threatening security and stability in the region. On a practical level, it seems that Iran's strategic considerations and its interests in the region have been relatively recognized by the United States. This approach was clear in US President Barack Obama’s interview with Thomas Friedman in April 2015, when Obama said, “I think the biggest threats that they [the Persian Gulf Arab states] face may not be coming from Iran invading. It’s going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries.

On the basis of his new approach, Obama is willing to enter Iran into the Middle East equations so that by assigning a regional role to Tehran, turn it from a centrifugal force into an agent of stability in the Middle East. Therefore, the Middle East that will be shaped on the basis of Obama’s doctrine can be considered “the Newer Middle East.” The Newer Middle East is a concept which does not ignore Iran and in which many regional problems are solved by countries in the region. In this way, the United States would not need to boost its presence in the Newer Middle East and Obama will be able to keep its promise for “switching the US strategic focus from the Middle East toward Asia-Pacific region in 2016.”

Tehran, on the other hand, believes that the nuclear agreement has brought about new conditions in which Iranophobia has no place in the region. Following negotiations with the P5+1 group, Tehran is trying to start new talks with regional states. An early sign of this effort has been Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s periodical trips to various regional countries to muster support for the fight against terrorism and encourage unification of efforts aimed at this purpose as Tehran’s main priority. Therefore, while Tehran has already started on the course to become a regional power, it is concurrently trying to convince its neighbors not to be concerned about Iran. Of course, this does not mean that Iran will not face any resistance in this regard.

Key Words: Iran, Nuclear Deal, Transition, New Middle East, Newer Middle East, Arab Uprisings, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Nusra, Greater Middle East, Islamic Revolution, Cold War, World War I, World War II, 9/11, US, Rezaei

More By Masoud Rezaei:

*Iran-US Regional Relations Subsequent to Nuclear Agreement:

*Iran-Russia Relations Need Soft Change after Nuclear Deal:

*Iran-Turkey Relations: A Change for the Best, or Intensification of Conflicts:

*Photo Credit: Inclusion HQ