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The Reciprocal Action Policy: US Post-JCPOA Strategy in the Middle East

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

Through a cautious and prudent approach, the idea that Iran's power as a reformist actor in regional order is to get a further boost following the achievement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will lead to the conclusion that the United States has actually offered the Middle East to Iran on a silver platter. However, with a change of view and through a holistic approach it would transpire that JCPOA is actually part of the United States’ regional strategy.

Signs and symptoms of this development are already evident in the United States’ new National Security Strategy and the Obama Doctrine. A review of nine major doctrines which were followed in US foreign policy before President Barack Obama’s tenure will show that the Obama Doctrine is a combination of the doctrines followed by two of his predecessors, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The Obama Doctrine has underlined the need for interaction and coexistence with such nonaligned countries as Iran and the necessity for the empowerment of the United States’ allies. In line with this doctrine, the United States National Security Strategy for 2015 has emphasized the need to strengthen Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and maintain military supremacy of this axis in the Middle East region.

JCPOA can play an important role in shaping the Obama Doctrine in the region. The nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers also has the capacity to be perceived as a common threat by Israel and Arab states of the Persian Gulf, thus, paving the way for closer ties between Israel and these countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Jordan. A change in identity frontiers from enemy to friend between these two groups of regional actors can be followed by a change in behavior and reciprocal action on the part of Arab states and Israel within a totally different context.

This alteration will enter into a new and different phase the issue of maintaining Israel’s security, as one of the main goals and commitments of the United States foreign policy in the region, through action management.

During past years, the United States took most of the special measures that were aimed at supporting Israel as its brainchild, and this situation had not only increased Israel’s expectations form the United States, but also caused Tel Aviv to be isolated in the region and be regarded as some sort of a supported impish child. Through the new US strategy, however, Israel’s expectations from the United States are managed while other regional actors will believe that Israel is playing a constructive role in the region and this issue will have a direct effect on the peace process between the two sides.

On the other hand, available evidence shows that the United States’ regional policy following the conclusion of JCPOA is based on a positive balance strategy, which extends Washington’s support to all friends and allies of the United States in the region.

Before this, containment of Iran was mostly tried through creation of negative balance and imposing restrictions on the country through sanctions. However, following the removal of sanctions, offering more support to and maintaining military supremacy of Iran's rivals becomes more important. According to this strategy, a cooperative model will continue to be the dominant model governing Washington’s relations with regional Arab countries and Israel.

Along the same line, lending support to a united Arab army or providing arms, training and intelligence backing for the rapid reaction forces of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council’s [(P)GCC] member states will be among security-related instances of reciprocal actions that will be taken by the United States and concerned Arab states from a military viewpoint in order to balance the power of Iran's regional rivals with the power of an Iran that is free from sanctions.

It is obvious that management of reciprocal action of political units is not simply limited to relations among regional actors. By reducing its military presence and avoiding the role of a disciplinary officer, the United States will be able to play the role of a balancing force in the region. Playing this role in relation to Iran within the framework of reciprocal action and in view of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's foreign policy approach to develop relations with other countries, can provide Washington with opportunities to change its behavior toward Iran. The main characteristic of reciprocal action between Iran and the United States is remarkable economic reward for Tehran in return for a change in Iran's political and security behavior.

American think tanks believe that discarding the idea of not contacting with Iran by the US Department of State, establishment of relations with Iran's Supreme National Security Council, boosting nonmilitary nuclear cooperation between the two sides, maritime cooperation, academic exchanges, cooperation in management and prevention of natural disasters, cooperation in energy sectors, and similar instances can complete the process of JCPOA through the policy of reciprocal action.

At any rate, the risk of accepting a nuclear deal with Iran would be only justifiable for the United States if it could actually lessen the challenges with which US is facing in the Middle East. This means that Iran must not define all its regional interests within the framework of a zero-sum game, in which it would consider anything beneficial to the United States as detrimental to itself. Iran, on the opposite, must change the game into a positive sum game by acting proportionate to conditions on the ground. Interests – not apparent behavior and behavioral patterns – constitute the main compass of politics. During the past few months, Iran has shown that it has combined the approach it has taken to boost its regional influence with prudence and smartness, and knows how eager are its regional rivals to see it make even the slightest mistake.

Key Words: US, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Post-JCPOA Strategy, Middle East, Reciprocal Action Policy, Iran, Obama Doctrine, Interaction, Coexistence, Nonaligned Countries, Empowerment, Allies, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, Zero-Sum Game, Positive Sum Game, Regional Rivals, Military Presence, Kebriaeizadeh

More By Hossein Kebriaeezadeh:

*Solutions for Saudi Arabia to Get Out of Mina Crisis: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Solutions-for-Saudi-Arabia-to-Get-Out-of-Mina-Crisis.htm

*Economic Diplomacy, Iran's New Window to Foreign Relations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Economic-Diplomacy-Iran-s-New-Window-to-Foreign-Relations.htm

*Hamas’ Foreign Policy Approach to Iran: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Hamas-Foreign-Policy-Approach-to-Iran.htm

*Photo Credit: Ingram Pinn

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