An unshackled Iran can only be countered by a firm Saudi Arabia

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei (file photo).
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei (file photo).

With the nuclear deal sealed and sanctions lifted, an unshackled Iran is now a reality. The region – and the world at large – now holds its breath in anticipation of what kind of global player the Islamic Republic wants to be.

Not even the harshest critics of the deal – which was agreed with the U.S. and other superpowers last year – can argue against the fact that the world would be a safer place without the threat of a nuclear Iran.

At the same time, not even the most passionate advocates of this deal can comfort regional U.S. allies (namely Gulf countries, who were excluded from the negotiations) that an unshackled Iran will not use its newly-obtained resources and freedom to create further regional upheaval.

‘True Religion’ will never be a pair of jeans

Advocates of the deal will theoretically argue that as soon as the Islamic Republic sinks its teeth into a juicy Big Mac and then sips through its first Starbucks latte, it will abandon its extremist ideology and expansionist dreams in favor of rebuilding its economy and lifting the standard living for its people.

But let’s face it, these are extremely simplistic assumptions and turn a blind eye to the reality of the Iranian regime which has – from day one – sought to use religion to justify the promotion of regional upheaval and extended its reach by providing loyalist paramilitary groups with support.

Advocates of the deal will theoretically argue that as soon as the Islamic Republic sinks its teeth into a juicy Big Mac and then sips through its first Starbucks latte, it will abandon its extremist ideology and expansionist dreams-Faisal J. Abbas

Indeed, “true religion” for the Mullahs will never simply mean a pair of jeans. This was evident last year when during the closing stages of the nuclear deal, Iranian officials bragged that their country has now formed a new empire which occupies four Arab capitals.

Advocates of the deal also ignore the fact that Iran, despite decades of sanctions, managed to afford to channel billions of dollars to fund regional terrorist groups, according to U.S. government findings published recently in The Washington Times.

Iranian money has been used to destabilize the region; from funding Hezbollah in Lebanon, to Asaib Ahl Al-Haq in Iraq, to the Houthis in Yemen and even Sunni terrorists such al-Qaedaon the grounds that the enemy of my enemy (in this case Saudi Arabia) is my friend.

The obvious question is that if Tehran could do all of this with sanctions imposed, how much more damage can it cause now that they are lifted and the government is due to receive approximately $100 billion?

More recent examples

We only need to consider events which unfolded in the past few weeks to understand that Iran has no intention to play nice. It also appears in no mood to give its moderates the opportunity to use the nuclear deal to truly reform the country.

On one hand Iran claimed it couldn’t control its own thugs who burnt down the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and President Rowhani (supposedly a moderate who had hoped to mend ties with GCC countries) was quick to condemn the attackers describing them as “criminals.”

On the other hand, Iran seemed perfectly capable and mighty when it swiftly arrested a number of U.S. Marines who barely trespassed into territorial waters. Iran made quite a big show out of humiliating what it describes as “Great Satan” just before President Obama was due to give his final State of the Union address.

One really wonders who Iran thinks it is fooling, but that is not the issue as, at the end of the day, the truth will eventually emerge.

We only need to consider events which unfolded in the past few weeks to understand that Iran has no intention to play nice-Faisal J. Abbas

However, what is really bewildering is the global astonishment and caution towards Saudi Arabia’s new firm foreign policy.

I can’t find a better answer to this than what Saudi FM Adel Jubeir recently said in a televised interview that the kingdom is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” kind of situation.

On one hand, Riyadh has repeatedly been asked to lead and fight its own wars to end regional injustice and acts of hostility, but then doesn’t get the support it was promised. On the other hand, I don’t see the U.S. or any of the global powers rushing in to stabilize the region; and I am sure if it did, then all its allies would have been happy to wholeheartedly lend their support.

There needs to be checks and balances and so far, the only way to counter the potential threats of an unshackled Iran is to have a decisive and pro-active Saudi Arabia.

However, lets always keep in mind that if Iran chooses to abandon its mischief and revert to respecting its boundaries, then there is no doubt that a new era of peace and prosperity will be in everyone’s interest.

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Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.