Seismic Strategic Shifts Due to Easing of Sanctions Against Iran

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The easing of sanctions on Iran as part of the nuclear deal has prompted a major strategic shift in the region in favor of the terrorism-sponsoring regime, and Europe and Turkey are looking to cash in in it. The Middle East is split between three alliances and the one opposed to both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood is now fracturing.

There is a Shiite alliance led by Iran; a pro-Muslim Brotherhood alliance led by Turkey and Qatar and a third alliance led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia that opposes both Iran and the Brotherhood. The first two alliances are coming together. The third is growing closer to Israel, Russia and China and further away from the U.S.

Governments and companies around the world are looking at Iran as an economic opportunity because of the nuclear deal. European investors are readying to do business at the earliest opportunity. Italy is moving quickly to trade with Iran and a delegation of major French companies will visit Iran next month.  Russia is negotiating a deal to buy 500,000 barrels of oil from Iran per day.

An analysis by Joseph Zaalishvili explains that a major energy deal is being forged that could bring together Europe, Iran and Turkey. The economic opportunity is an added incentive for Iran and Turkey to heal their relationship and, if it goes through, it is hard to see how meaningful sanctions on Iran will be maintained.

One of Europe’s major problems is its dependency on Russian natural gas. The Russian government is not afraid of using this dependency as a means of political pressure. This is a major consideration for Europe that other countries can exploit.

Zaalishvili points out that oil companies in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia agreed on December 17 to develop a gas field for this purpose. By 2019, six billion cubic meters of gas will go to Turkey and 10 billion will go to southern Europe every single year.

Enter Iran. An Iranian state-controlled company owns 10% of the natural gas field. In addition, Turkey wants to act as a corridor for Iranian gas shipments to Europe. Turkey also wants to import more gas from Iran and its Iraqi allies. The end result is an Iranian-Turkish bloc that Europe depends on.

Meanwhile, the third alliance is weakening. Saudi Arabia hoped to transform the Gulf Cooperation Council into a Gulf Union, basically creating an Arab NATO consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Oman rejected the idea of a Gulf Union right off the bat. The country served as a secret staging ground for talks between the U.S. and Iran and wants to remain neutral.

This stance is best explained by a report that Iran has agreed to give Oman free oil and gas in about two years after a natural gas pipeline is built. In return, Iran gets a “strategic location on Musandam mountain” that allows it to threaten the Strait of Hormuz.

The United Arab Emirates, a collection of six emirates, is reportedly about to finalize a deal with Iran over three disputed islands. This is an important development because it was the UAE that called for a regional alliance against Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood in October 2012.

The emirate that is softest on Iran is Dubai. Its leader doesn’t appear in the media often, but he made an exception to give an interview where he called for sanctions on Iran to be lifted.  Trade Arabia says Dubai would be the “big winner” if a deal is struck with Iran. The Iranians are trying to lure the UAE into its orbit by making concessions and enticing the country with trade.

Qatar is a member of the Turkey/Muslim Brotherhood alliance, so count that “ally” out as a reliable partner. It has tried to improve its relationship with Iran and condemned Egypt for labeling the Brotherhood as a terrorist group and cracking down on it. The furious Egyptians summoned the Qatari ambassador earlier this month.

Kuwait is also refusing to grant Egypt’s request that it ban the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.

That leaves Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan as the remaining players in this bloc. Three of them have distinct vulnerabilities.

Jordan is a majority-Palestinian country with frequent unrest. The bulk of Saudi Arabia’s oil is located in its Shiite-majority Eastern Province. And Bahrain is a Shiite-majority country whose population rose up en masse in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Bahrainis say they foiled a wave of four terrorist plots and arrested 17 suspects in late December with links to Iran, Syria and Iraq.

These countries are very upset with U.S. support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey and engagement of Iran. They view the U.S. as siding with the first alliance and flirting with the second to their detriment.

The Crown Prince of Bahrain even said the Arab world would be forced to have Russia fill the U.S. role and, indeed, Egypt has already done just that. The Saudis have offered Russia a strategic alliance and energy deal. 

This bloc is also looking to China. The Chinese and Saudi Foreign Ministers discussed a “strategic partnership” in addition to growing ties between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council as a whole. The Saudis and Chinese also share an ally in Pakistan.

In summary, there are five trends:

1. Closer relations between the blocs led by Iran and Turkey

2. Europe towards Iran/Turkey 

3. Oman, Kuwait and Dubai (part of the UAE) towards Iran/Turkey

4. Saudi-led bloc towards Russia 

5. Saudi-led bloc towards China

All of those trends are noticeably away from the United States.


Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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