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Can the Iran Deal Shift the Middle East?

Moving a region from confrontation to containment.

August 6, 2015

Moving a region from confrontation to containment.

This is certainly a major and extremely rare event in the history of the Middle East! A number of disputing parties, who have been hurling violent accusations at one another for years, have successfully concluded a deal through dialogue.

Regardless of all the technicalities of the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” a peaceful nuclear deal that emerges from a region ruled, for the most part, by authoritarians and largely influenced by extremists is definitely a success.

Middle East culture (which includes Arabs, Turks, Persians, Kurds and Israel) is often driven by the two proverbs, “winner-take-all” and “all-or-nothing.”

It follows that all too often basically all efforts in the domestic political arenas throughout the region aim to satisfy these proverbs.

Inflexible mindsets

The rigid mindsets of Middle East rulers lack the ability to establish a dialogue that aims at compromise. Why is this so? Because it might weaken their ‘ruling statuses’ – that is, the perception of the reach of their power.

Quite perversely, although understandably given their own needs, Middle Eastern rulers have even managed to influence their respective societies to support their inflexibility.

Constructive international mediation is definitely an added value that can help to overcome this challenge.

And, as useful as the Iran deal with the P5+1 nations will hopefully prove to be, there is a whole lot more to be tackled.

The Middle East region has been suffering from:

  • The longstanding Arab-Israeli conflict
  • Alternate authoritarian-terrorist rule
  • Majority-minority inequalities
  • Intra-Muslim disputes
  • Gender bias
  • Widespread penchant for conspiracy theories that entail numerous unrealistic political scenarios.

Because of these conflicts, the region is living in a continuous state of actual or potential war that could erupt at any moment.

The great value of the Iran deal is in the transformation of a fundamental – and seemingly completely intransigent – conflict into a manageable problem.

That is where the potential benefit of the Iran Deal lies for the citizens of the wider region – although, at least for now, this is not much more than a figment of hope.

Deal will benefit the general public

What is quite certain at this juncture is that the deal will certainly have a positive impact on the Iranian people. They have suffered the effects of international sanctions and the lack of internal development for a prolonged number of years.

There is a broader debate to be had, though, about the pros and cons of the isolation of nations via sanctions regimes. After all, their imposition and maintenance often leads to strengthening their authoritarian rulers.

In standing up to the foreign oppressors, the rulers come to be viewed as patriots, while their citizens are left to live under repressive conditions for years. Integrating the Iranian people into the global community would certainly better serve the interests of both.

The new Iran Deal will give a boost to moderate Iranians at the expense of the rigid hardliner segment of Iranian society. Let us capitalize on this fact to reinforce and expand the moderates’ position.

It so happens that this would also be a much-needed shot in the arms of similar moderates in many other Middle Eastern countries.

We must remind ourselves that, due to the absence of democracy, most Middle East citizens are not well represented by their rulers and should therefore not be held accountable for their respective actions and behaviors.

Iranian rulers who used to call the United States ‘the big Satan’ do not reflect the opinion of their people as a whole, but only of a small segment.

The predecessor of the Iran Deal

It is worth recalling that the current Iran deal is actually the second major regional achievement in the process of shifting gears from a highly confrontational conflict situation to a state of containment and settlement.

The peace treaty concluded between Egypt and Israel almost four decades ago will remain the region’s touchstone.

The vast majority of Arabs who, misguided by their rulers, had rejected the agreement when it was signed, are highly appreciative of it now – at a time when the regional expansion of the treaty has become difficult.

Egyptian land formerly occupied by Israel (the Sinai) eventually became the biggest tourist attraction for Israeli citizens. This development, beneficial to the Egyptian economy, is one of the profitable aspects of the peace agreement that could not have been realized if Egypt had reclaimed its occupied land by war.

Dialogue that leads to peace has its own, often underestimated, long-term advantages. The negotiating partners need to establish a supporting mechanism aimed at directing the mindsets of citizens in the region towards valuing dialogue over the current state of confrontation, as well as at stimulating the region’s rulers to take concrete steps in this direction.

Towards a culture of peace

Capitalizing on the momentum and spirit of the Iran Deal could lead towards the resolution of other disputed issues with Iran, while using force will only bring more violence to a region that is already overburdened with belligerence.

President Obama began his first term in office by delivering a speech of outstanding rhetoric in Cairo in 2009. Yet, he eventually proved reluctant to commit fully to achieving a comprehensive agreement for peace in the Middle East.

The success of the Iran Deal should motivate the world to re-engage constructively in resolving some of the intense integral conflicts of this region. A comprehensive peace agreement might be currently infeasible, but diffusing some of our conflicts will eventually bring the missing peace.

Compromise is thus the one option most likely to settle many of our integral conflicts, which appear to be different but in reality carry the same seeds.

The United States remains the key player in the Middle East that is capable of bringing conflicting parties to engage in dialogue and achieve eventual progress. Another U.S. initiative is thus required.


The Middle East is living in a state of actual or potential war that could erupt at any moment.

The Iran deal is a step in moving from a confrontational conflict situation to a state of settlement.

US remains a key player in the Middle East capable of engaging conflicting parties in dialogue.