The interim deal between the P5+1 and Iran appears to be an enigmatic albeit dynamic development in the Greater Middle East Region (GMER). It portends hopefully positive but definitely far reaching ramifications. However, there are many variables in this equation and self-serving interpretations of the deal have made the final outcome largely uncertain.

What has then caused this sudden change in attitudes of the belligerents, in particular Iran? Has it given up its nuclear ambitions, pretensions to regional eminence and its endeavors to balance out nuclear Israel’s dominance of the GMER? Has it in effect decided to live in the shadows of a nuclear Israel and accept its hegemony? Is this the price it has to pay to end its international isolation and overcome its economic hardships? Is it creating further time and space for itself to recover economically and then pursue its nuclear ambitions in more appropriate geopolitical circumstances later on? Or has it eventually been outclassed by the guiles of classic coercive diplomacy ruthlessly executed by the P5+1? Which one or a combination is it then?

The unshackling of Iran will have unintended consequences as well. It will radicalize the region drastically and create multiple centers of power based on conflicting compulsions. There is a possibility of Israel, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran eventually emerging as three distinct albeit conflicting centers of power in a severely radicalized GMER with the latter two leading likeminded sectarian dominions? It will be a massive challenge for the P5+1, in particular the US and the world at large to deal with such a complex array of conflicting animosities.

Regardless of Iranian assertions that it still retains the options for (limited) enrichment of uranium and the preservation of its plutonium producing Arak nuclear plant (a professed red line) the P5+1 have actually made a crucial initial ingress into its nuclear program. A link has clearly been established. It has given the P5+1 a vital and critical toehold into Iran’s nuclear program which will be expanded into a foothold and later a virtual bridgehead. Henceforth, it will have a say in all matters that pertain to the Iranian nuclear program. It might turn out to be that one Trojan Horse that would eventually overwhelm and kill Iran’s nuclear ambitions for good and satiate the US-led West’s and Israel’s long abiding fears and insecurities.

A nuclear Iran was always unacceptable to the world at large and particularly the regional powers. A nuclear Iran would have brought about another center of power in the region which would have competed with nuclear Israel challenging its hegemony as a “regional cop” and severely curtailing the strategic space, freedom of unopposed action and advantage it commanded in the region. That would have impinged upon some of the vital interests of the US-led west and been unacceptable to it and most Arab states as well. It might have encouraged the likes of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt to follow suit too.

So by forcing Iran’s hand the P5+1 has been able to maintain the imbalanced strategic status quo in the GMER for the time being. It has created the time and space it needs to fully dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. It has managed to retain nuclear Israel’s dominance of the GMER and further secure its own multidimensional interests too. A major threat has been distanced (in time) from Israel if not totally removed.

However, Saudi Arabia and Israel both feel irked and badly let down by the P5+1. Ironically, both have the same adversary but for clearly very different reasons. Both feel that the P5+1 had Iran in its crosshairs and it should have delivered the deathblow to its nuclear program. They feel that it has been let off the hook, with the chances of its reviving its nuclear ambitions not totally foreclosed.

Saudi Arabia has been stung twice in quick succession by the US and its allies -.first in Syria and now in Iran. It clearly feels let down by the US. The Saudi Arabia-Iran animosity is likely to get more serious with time. Similarly Israel feels that Iran has been let off the hook. It too feels let down by the US. So an intriguing scenario is evolving in the GMER. The conflicting Saudi Arabia-Iran and the Israel-Iran animosities are likely to dominate events in the GMER in the near future. Saudi Arabia may feel constrained to look beyond the US for other sources of succor (China, Russia or even Pakistan?) particularly in the wake of its two diplomatic setbacks in Syria and Iran.

Pakistan could actually play a vital role in bridging the “gulf” between the two major Muslim states. It has very good relations with both and also has a sizeable Shiite population. It is thus ideally located and positioned to do so. It actually could help both friendly states avoid becoming victims of their respective fiery rhetoric and the vagaries of US policies in the region. The ineffective OIC actually could have played a singular role in defusing the feud between the two and bringing them closer. United, these two Muslim states could become impregnable. Divided, they will allow outsiders to defeat them piecemeal!

Pakistan has been a bit hasty in jumping to conclusions, too. It has been overly optimistic about the early revival of the Iran Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project. Similarly, the Chabahar-Herat link has been overplayed as an alternate route for the US/NATO/ISAF to egress from the region or for India to carry out its trade with Afghanistan and the CARs outflanking Pakistan. It is a poor and uneconomic substitute to the Wagah-Torkham, Karachi -Chaman and Karachi-Torkham routes.

The geopolitical situation in the GMER is thus likely to remain dynamic, evolving and uncertain. In the next six months Pakistan could actually play a crucial role in shaping the future of the   GMER - if it has the foresight and determination to do so! 

 The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NIPCONS (NUST).