When there is a chance of peace breaking out in the Middle East, you might think the world would cheer to the rafters. No such luck following the breakthrough achieved in Geneva on nuclear talks with Iran. First off the mark was Israel, self-appointed guardian of Western interests in the Middle East, whose Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced the deal in apocalyptic terms. His Economy Minister, Naftali Bennett, says the only result of the agreement is that Iran is likely to construct a nuclear bomb within weeks.
Were Israel the only embittered opponent of Western rapprochement with Iran, it might not matter that much – but where Israel leads, virtually the whole of the American right follows. President Barack Obama had better brace himself for some furious attacks from Republicans who will draw the usual analogies with Neville Chamberlain and portray him as the dupe of Tehran’s turbaned mini-Hitlers.
Then there is the Cassandra in the other corner, Saudi Arabia, which these days fears its regional rival, Iran, even more than the old Zionist enemy, so much so that the Saudis and the Israelis sing from the same hymn sheet on the question of Iran. Together, they form a formidable bloc of interests who want the Geneva agreement to fail.
The doomsayers do have some arguments, albeit distorted ones. Iran’s negotiators did not surrender abjectly to the four Western powers, plus China and Russia, in Geneva. They did not abandon all ambition to develop nuclear power but, in exchange for a partial suspension of sanctions, accepted more intrusive inspections and vowed to refrain from enriching nuclear power beyond a level suitable for weapons research.
If, like the Israeli and Saudi governments, you believe that Iran is hell bent on world domination, then clearly only a white flag waving from the rooftops of Tehran is good enough. For the rest of us, however, the deal is a welcome sign that a prolonged cold war between the West and Iran finally may be coming to an end. Most people, both in Iran and in the West, no longer understand why the sabre-rattling has continued for as long as it has, especially now that the Iranians have elected a reformist President committed to ending the politics of confrontation. Even in America, a recent poll showed that well over 60 per cent of the population wanted an end to this deadlock.
The benefits of movement on the diplomatic front with Iran could be far-reaching. Apart from the most obvious gain, which is that we avoid a new war in the Middle East, an arena for potential co-operation is Syria. While Iran feels boxed-in by Israel and the Sunni monarchies in the Gulf, it will carry on doing whatever it can to save the Alawite-led regime in Damascus. Conceivably, if Iran felt less cornered, the West and Iran could discover common ground here, however. Western governments may want to see the back of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but they are no more enthusiastic than is Iran about the prospect of Sunni jihadists taking over.
Iran and America working together to stop the carnage in Syria? The mind boggles, but the fact that one can even float such an idea shows how fast things could be changing – if the wreckers don’t get their way.