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GCC-Iran Relations: How the US Can Improve Regional Security

Democratic Arab Center

It is a common belief that the Iranian nuclear deal was transactional rather than transformational. In other words, it was a give-and-take deal: Iran gives up critical components of its nuclear program and takes in return sanctions-free relations with the world. Tehran’s foreign policies and general behavior was not placed on the table from the start.

Within those limits, the deal achieved its transactional goal. However, this approach raises two issues:

1) It is impossible to separate any transaction from its implications in the area of behavior. A transaction is a procedural undertaking. Yet, its effect never remains within its technical limits. For example, Iran’s gain from the deal – lifting the sanctions – will have profound impact on its behavior. Abstracting the deal into a mere transaction is an error.

2) Thus, separating the definition of a transactional deal from its transformational implications, as the Obama administration did, should have been subjected to a critical analysis. This should have been followed by a clear-eyed strategy to contain any negative consequences, and incentivize any positive behavioral changes, as a result of the deal. No plan or strategy have been seen, nor any preparations for possible changes in behavior or attempt to explain how the US would contain any potential negative change.

It is difficult to spot any area where Iran improved its attitude towards the region or the world. Yet, advocates of the deal have started to tout a “promise” that at some point in the future, Iran’s behavior will change. This behavior may or may not change at any promised future point. But what is certain is that it will not change by itself. Moreover, why should anyone be that certain that it will change for the better?

Iran is not Germany 1938, but the bottom line is that the Munich agreement of that year produced a catastrophe for all of Europe. Not every deal produces in and by itself a positive result, regardless of intentions. Does not Iraq look very similar to “Sudetenland” 1938? Does not Syria, or at least good portion of it? A transactional deal is never merely transactional.

What should the next US administration do then to be able to contain any negative Iranian behavior, all the while preserving the transactional side of the nuclear agreement and providing rewards for positive behavior?

The next administration should move to a second major deal with Iran after the first that was signed by this administration. While the first one focused on the “transactional” side of the approach, the second should focus on the transformational side – that is, Iran’s global and regional policies. It should be based on well thought-out elements that enhance positive behavior and punish negative behavior.

Obviously, this is easier said than done. But in order to do it, without going back to the mechanism of comprehensive sanctions, a clear plan should be laid out with punitive and rewarding packages. But this approach describes the end of a process. The process itself is based on reducing both the risks and the expectations of any pressure tactics by Iran to get an exaggerated reward for its compliance with international norms. In other words, the name of the process is deterrence. Deterrence should be coupled with offers to reach a deal focusing on Tehran’s regional and global policies.

Basically, deterrence in this case is a dissuasive strategy. Its goal is not to threaten Iran, rather it is to persuade its hardliners to change their behavior and respect global laws, by demonstrating to them that any adventure in the Middle East or elsewhere comes with an expensive price tag.

Therefore, it seems proper to consider a two-track strategy towards Iran: On the one hand, set in motion a deterrence structure coupled with shows of determination to firmly confront any subversive adventures by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), and on the other, allowing Iran to integrate into the world community to demonstrate to its people and leaders the benefits of respecting international laws.

This approach has some important caveats and overlaps. One example is that to limit IRGC provocations it is always important to demonstrate to the Iranians that this negative behavior will not benefit the country. The limited sanctions which are still standing should be attached to particular Iranian policies and economic ties should be tailored to enhance the domestic role and relevance of the private sector in Iran, not that of the IRGC.

IRGC’s provocative behavior has a root in its internal political power projection. Any major setback for those ideological hardliners in one of its foreign adventures will result in a considerable contribution to the political balance of power inside Iran.

The neo-dual-track strategy is based also on enhancing ties with traditional US allies in the Middle East. Militarily, the GCC is able to defend its countries and confront regional IRGC provocations. But no one should want the two sides, with the current charged state of mind, to slide into a direct confrontation. This will lead to an epic regional war.

Enhancing ties with the GCC, filling the credibility gap created over the last 16 years, and manifesting firm determination to respond to the IRGC’s regional behavior are important elements in closing the existing gap.

On the other side of the equation, it is important for the GCC countries to understand that the US has its own limitations and interests – that is to say, Washington is not a member in the GCC. Expectations must be measured, and what is required from the Americans should be gauged to match their own calculations of means and objectives.

Moreover, GCC countries should close their ranks, adopt a division of labor in their diplomatic posture, put aside trivial sensitivities and understand that joint forums always require compromises. Enhancing GCC unity as an effective community is central to facilitating friendly powers to assist the group in building a defensive wall and a retaliatory structure.

But a new strategy to convince Iran to drop its regional hegemonic illusions requires, from the GCC, always to keep the road to building better relations with Tehran open. It is understood that a new global push is about to start, if it has not yet, to lay down a kind of plan to lower tension between the Arabs and the Iranians. If serious, this should be labeled the most important diplomatic undertaking in recent Middle East history.

The fundamental position of the Arabs does not contradict international laws and norms. They merely want Iran to bring its interventionist policies to a halt. Iran says it also refuses interventionism. The face value of the two positions provide a common ground, even only formally, to advance to the intricate details and the regional red spots.

It is better to start this diplomatic effort sooner rather than later, if it has not started yet. What the Middle East needs the most now is peace.

Source : Middle East Briefing


المركز الديمقراطى العربى

المركز الديمقراطي العربي مؤسسة مستقلة تعمل فى اطار البحث العلمى والتحليلى فى القضايا الاستراتيجية والسياسية والاقتصادية، ويهدف بشكل اساسى الى دراسة القضايا العربية وانماط التفاعل بين الدول العربية حكومات وشعوبا ومنظمات غير حكومية.

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