The nuclear agreement of Iran with the P5 + 1 (the five permanent members of the UNO Security Council and Germany), signed on April 2, 2014, even if it is merely a stage in long process of Iran returning to the international community, after years of sanctions, already started to produce effects in the Mideast. A volatile region, ongoing a fast process of geopolitical reform, especially after the start of the Arab Spring, it reacted fast and in various ways to this agreement, just as other lead actors of the international system did not cease to recalibrate their own approaches towards the region. It is a period when trends of evolution are sketched and axes of alignment are configured, due to define tomorrow’s power balance with the Middle East; and today’s movements are worth following with full attention.
At no more than a few days after the announcement regarding the agreement with Tehran, Russia announced that it would deliver Iran the missile defence system S-300, according to a contract signed in 2007, but frozen in the stage of sanctions against Iran. Russia’s rapidity in reacting to this openness towards Iran illustrates the impatience of the great international actors in assuming strategic, political, economical and military positions in the region under the circumstances of Iran being reintegrated in the international community. Nonetheless, Russia’s move immediately attracted negative responses. Israel was the first to express its opposition to such decision of Kremlin. Israeli PM B. Netanyahu explained Russian President V. Putin in a telephone conversation in April 14 that the delivery of S-300 installations creates “grave concerns” and “will only encourage Iranian aggression in the region [and will] further undermine the stability of the Middle East”. Because, at least for a while, these installations will prevent a new Israeli aerial attack against Iranian nuclear installations, an attack considered by Jerusalem as justified under the circumstances that Tehran would continue the program of producing atomic copper, defying the agreement. Israeli experts close to the opposition to Netanyahu consider that Tehran is at a distance of no more than a few months to producing the nuclear weapon, if the agreement fails. In the calculations made by Jerusalem, similar importance is gained by the fact that this military transfer increases the list of weapons Iran can deliver to its allies in the region, surrounding Israel and having a tradition of granting military employment to them, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon. Jerusalem considers that were these installations be owned by Iran and its allies, the strategic balance in the region would be overturned. As a response to Israel’s unrest, V. Putin mentioned in his periodic meeting with citizens – a special Q & A, that did not exclude instrumenting – that “As far as Israel’s position is concerned, we are always taking into account the situation in the Mideast. (…) We had an issue with the delivery of a S-300 in one of the Arab countries, and with their agreement, we have canceled that delivery because of the concerns of Israel. But the Iranian S-300 is no threat to Israel. This is a discouraging element.”
The issue of the delivery of the S-300 to Iran by Russia developed another matter, a far more complex one. Experts appreciated that the S-300 installation would be inefficient under the circumstances of the action with the F-35 planes, so that the signal of the Russian delivery by Iran has developed a significant trend. It is the trend of a competition that already seems engaged between the grand actors of the international stage to occupy the weapon market in this volatile region. A recent analysis shows that a field of intense competition is profiled between Russia and the United States of America, as far as weapon deliveries in this area are concerned. China, that had had a strong connection with Iran in this field in the past, during the 80s and the 90s, but interrupted in the years after 2000, also announces to be a strong competitor, especially in Iran. The President of China, Xi Jinping, will visit Iran “very soon” according to a recent announcement made by Teheran. Gulf states carefully watch the reintegration of Iran on the international stage, that can develop in this race for weapon sales, in which the West is competing with Russia and China.
To understand the profit potential of the region as a weapon market, it must be mentioned that, during last year, Saudi Arabia had bought weapons of USD 80 billion, the UAE had purchased weapons worth 23 billion and Qatar had signed an agreement of purchasing American helicopters worth 11 billion.
Yet, these evolutions are not the only ones to be connected to the signing, at the beginning of the month, of a nuclear agreement with Iran. Even before this event, Yemen has hosted the military intervention of an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia against the Huthi rebels, whose confession is doctrinary close to Shia, that has prevailed over the President and local Government. Many experts appreciated that the action in Yemen upon Sunnite Arab states is an expression of an increasingly obvious hostility noted in the Mideast between a Sunnite axis (the powers are Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the Gulf Emirates), and a Shia one (led by Iran, supported by the Assad regime in Syria, the political leadership of Baghdad or organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon). On the background of the Sunnite intervention in the Yemeni state, a public divergence started between the Government of Baghdad and Saudi Arabia, as the first one criticized the action of Ryad. In a visit to Washington, the Prime Minister of Iraq, led by Shia political forces, criticized the military operation of Yemen showing that “There is no logic to the operation at all in the first place. (…) Mainly, the problem of Yemen is within Yemen” (as on April 21, Saudi Arabia had ceased military operation in Yemen).
As it is known, the military operation of Baghdad against the Islamic State (IS) or Daesh (a Sunnite assembly that gained visibility in 2014), dominating territories in Syria and Iraq, is supported by Iran, which makes delimitation between the two axes – the Sunnite one, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia one, having Iran as a leader – more obvious. On this base, there are rumours about the probability of a launch of a common operation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to create an area of air traffic prohibition on Syrian territory, at the border of Turkey and thus, to accelerate the fall of the Assad regime supported by Iran.
With Yemen and Syria ravaged by devastating civil wars, with portions of Iraq under the domination of IS, with Saudi Arabia experimenting both a transfer of power and increased regional assertiveness, with Turkey nearing decisive Parliament elections in June, though restricted in its regional moves by the Kurd file, with the Government of Israel pressured by opposition in order to act towards creating closer bonds to the Obama administration, for a positive ending of the nuclear deal with Iran, the latter can accelerate significant regional trends for a functional power balance in the Mideast.