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After the Nuclear Deal, a Region Recalibrates


Analysis JULY28,2015|09:15GMT Print TextSize

(Stratfor)

Summary
Editor'sNote:ThisisthefirstinstallmentofanoccasionalseriesontheevolvingfortunesoftheMiddleEast
thatStratforwillbebuildinguponperiodically.
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ThesixworldpowersandIranhavecometoanagreementaboutthecurbingofIran'snuclearprogram.Butit
wouldbeamistaketoassumethatthisagreementwillresultinanimmediate,orevenshortterm,decreasein
violenceorcompetitionamongtheMiddleEast'sstrongestpowers.Infact,theoppositewillbethecase.Iran
willuseitsnewfoundinternationallegitimacytoattempttorealizeitsambitionstobecometheregional
hegemon.Turkey,SaudiArabia,Egypt,andahostofsmallcountriesandevensmallerreligiousandethnic
groupswillallcompeteandattimesalignforinfluence.

Analysis
Thoughreamsofbureaucraticredtaperemaintobecutinthecomingmonths,itseemslikelythatthejoint
accordwillpasstheU.N.SecurityCouncil.Furthermore,itwillbeextremelydifficultforbothhousesoftheU.S.
CongresstomusterthetwothirdsvotesnecessarytopreventtheliftingofcertainU.S.sanctionslevied
againsttheIslamicRepublic.NormalizationwiththeWestwillgiveIranthechancetoimproveitseconomyand
recruitforeigninvestment,andwillalsoopenuppotentialrelationshipsthatsanctionspreventedfrom
developing.ProxybattlesanddiplomaticrapprochementsontheperipheryoftheMiddleEastwillcontinue
apace,butIran'sprimaryfocuswillbeonBaghdad.ControlofIraqisthenecessaryconditionforIran
projectingforceintheMiddleEast,whereaslackofcontrolor,worse,controlofIraqbyanotheroutside
power,wouldconstituteadirectthreat.

Ambitions of Other Powers


ButIranwillhavetocontendwithotherregionalpowers.Turkey,SaudiArabiaandEgyptaretheother
heavyweightsinthebalanceofpowertheUnitedStatesseekstocreateintheMiddleEast.SaudiArabia
hopestoleadabroadSunniArabcoalitionagainstIran.EgypthasmuchincommonwithSaudiArabia,butit
alsohasitsownambitionsandwillbristleattakingajuniorrole.SaudiArabia'sandEgypt'sinterestswill
coincidemostofthetime,butthepartnershipwillnotbewithoutcompetition.Egypt'sdomesticconcerns,
however,willlimithowsuccessfullyCairocanplaythisgame.

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Turkey,likeIran,isanonArabpowerseekingtodominatetheregion,andArabmemoriesoftheOttoman
Empirearenotexactlyrosy.Turkey'srelationshipwithIranisnotasantagonisticasthatofmajorSunniArab
powers:Turkeyimported26percentofitsoilfromIranin2014andisoneofthebiggestmarketsforIranian
naturalgas.ButTurkeyisalsoaSunnipower,andofthethreeSunniheavyweights,itisthemostcapableand
equippedtopreventIranfromrealizingitsobjectives.TurkeyviewstheMiddleEastasitssphereofinfluence
andwillnotlookkindlyonanycountry,whetherIranorSaudiArabia,encroachingonitsambitions.
ThemostvociferouscriticoftheIrannucleardealhasbeenIsrael.TheIrandealforIsraelisthefinal
punctuationmarkofaU.S.initiatedrealignmentoftherelationshipwithIsrael.TheIrandealisobviouslynotin
Israel'sinterests,butitisnotthecatastropheIsraeliPrimeMinisterBenjaminNetanyahuismakingitouttobe.
Moreover,itilluminatessturdybedrockuponwhichthecloserelationshipbetweenIsraelandtheUnited
Stateswillcontinuetorest.WithIranfreedfrompariahstatus,IsraelrepresentstheUnitedStates'insurance
policyforthecomplicatedgameitisplayingshoulddevelopmentsnotproceedaccordingtoplan.Israelmay
beforcedtothefrontlinesofteninthecomingyears,butitwillbeabletoleanonWashingtonshoulddire
needsbeyonditscontrolarise.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term Forecasts


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Stratfor'slongtermforecastisthatifone'sdefaultunitofmeasurementfortimeisindecades,thenTurkeywill
becomethepreeminentpowerintheMiddleEast.Thereareagreatmanypiecesontheboardthatmustbe
settledfirst,mostimportantinIraqandSyria,butalsoinLebanonandYemen.Israelhasaroletoplayinthat
process,ensuringthatIrancannotsecurethetypeofanchoronthecoastoftheLevantthatwouldinsulateit
fromtheTurkishrise.TheUnitedStates,however,doesnotwantanyonepowertobecometoodominant,
andIsraelwillcontinuetoproveintegraltoU.S.aimsbyalsopreventingTurkeyfrombeingabletoclaimthe
regionasitsownpersonalsphereofinfluence.
Ifthetimescaleisreducedtoweeksandmonths,
however,thefutureismuchmoreuncertaintheconflicts
inIraqand,toalesserextent,Syriawillbethecentral
issuesthatdefinetheregion.Iranwillseektoempowerits
ShiitealliesinIraq,anditsabilitytomeaningfullyproject
influencebeyondproxiesintheregionwilldependonits
success.TheSaudisandEgyptianswillempowerIraqi
SunnistocounterIran'sallies.Theymayalsoflirtwith
increasingsupporttoKurdishfactions,inparttoprovidean
ArabcounterweighttoIran'srelativelyclosetiestoKurdish
Conversation: Shifting Alliances in
groupsandtogiveAnkaraareasontothinktwiceabout
pursuingitsinterestswithoutregardtoRiyadhandCairo.
the Middle East
TehranwilllookforweakpointsintheGulfmonarchies
RiyadhandCairowillrespondbyattemptingtoforgea
regional,ArabcoalitiontocombatIran.AllofthevariouspowerswillviewtheIslamicStateasamenace,and
unexpectedtemporaryfellowshipstorootoutthegroup'sstrongholdswillmaterializeconcurrentlywith
regionalcompetition.UnlesstheIslamicStateisabletoformmorepragmaticrelationshipswithneighbors
ratherthanlashoutatwhatitseesasauniversalepidemicofblasphemy,itwillbecrippledbyabroader,
regionwidepushtoeliminateit.
ThesedynamicsarewhatwillshapetheMiddleEastnowthattheIrannucleardealhasfinallybeensigned
andwillbethefocalpointofthefuturepiecestiedtothisseries.Thebreakdownofgovernmentssuchas
thoseinIraqandSyriacreatedchaosintheregion'sheart,andoutofthedisordersprangmultiplesmall
groupswithvariousideologies.ThestakesfortheMiddleEast'smajorpowers,Ankara,Cairo,Riyadhand
Tehran,havebeenraised,andeachwillattempttoshapethedevelopmentoftheregionbyinsertingitselfinto
thevacuumsthathavebeencreatedbygeneralupheaval.Smallercountriesandsmallethnicorreligious
groupswillbecaughtinthecrossfireandforcedtobalanceoldloyaltieswithnewrealities.Conflictinthe
MiddleEastwillstillappearchaotic,butmoreandmoreitwillhaveadeeperrationale.Ratherthanmerely
usingproxiestowageonecentralfreeforall,variousopponentswillbeplayingamanysidedgameofchess,
deliberatelymovingtheirpawnsintoformation,jockeyingforpositionintheregion'scenterandreadyingfor
thelargerbattlesthatwilleventuallycome.

Iran'sreconciliationwiththeWesthasdilutedpowerintheregion.TheUnitedStateswillnolongerintervene
withitsdirect,forcefulapproachofthepast,andIran'simprovingrelationshipwiththeWestwillenableitto
bettercompetewithcountriessuchasSaudiArabiaandTurkey.Theregion'sheavyweightsnowhavesimilar
strengthbutdifferentambitions.Theresultwillbeseveralrecalibrationsthatwillinvolvemorefighting,more
battlingproxiesandstrangetemporaryalliances.Asincenturiespast,thepotentialriseofaShiitepowerwill
bindtogethertheSunniArabworld,andTurkeyslowly,deliberately,attimesunwillinglywillbedrawn
intomaintainingstabilityinthelandssouthofAnatolia.
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