TEL AVIV – In 2003, the United States – which, along with its NATO allies, had already occupied Afghanistan – toppled Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq and overran his army. Iran’s leaders, alarmed that they were being encircled, lost no time in offering the West a grand bargain covering all contentious issues, from nuclear-weapons development – they halted their military nuclear program – to regional security, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and their backing of Hezbollah and Hamas.
The recent framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has had the opposite effect. Though the deal does slow Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, it does not restrain – or even address – the regime’s hegemonic ambitions in the region, for which it has already spent billions of dollars and suffered crippling sanctions. As a result, the framework agreement is creating strategic chaos in an already dysfunctional region. A future in which regional powers like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia (which has worked closely with Pakistan on the nuclear front) possess threshold nuclear capabilities is becoming more likely that ever.
These are glorious days for Iran. After more than a decade of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions, its status as a threshold nuclear state has been internationally legitimized. Moreover, it has managed to compel the US to abandon its dream of regime change, and to coexist – and even engage – with an Islamic theocracy that it finds repugnant.
The regional balance of power is already tilting in Iran’s favor. In Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, Iranian proxies have prevailed over Saudi-backed groups. And the Iran-backed Houthis remain in control of Yemen, despite Saudi airstrikes.