In the turbulent 35 years since the Islamic Republic of Iran emerged overnight following revolution in that country, the balance of power in Middle East has shifted. For much of that time Iran has been hampered by internal power struggles, the imposition of sanctions, and from ostracization due to its links with terrorism. Today, however, Iran is emerging as a model of stability given that several of its neighbors have fallen into utter turmoil. Some of them are still suffering the back-swell from the Arab Spring, while others are under severe threat from violent extremists such as ISIS. Finally, observers see a distinct possibility that Iran may move towards meaningful rapprochement with its former enemies in the west.
In the past the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (comprising, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE), plus Iraq and Egypt would have able to form a counter-weight to Iranian influence in the region. For differing reasons they are no longer able to do so. The PGCC on its own is simply not strong enough to challenge Iranian power. Moreover, it is vulnerable to the revolutionary sympathies laid bare by the Arab Spring and to violent attacks emanating from Sunni extremists. Egypt’s economy is in a very poor state and due to divisions within society, the government is too preoccupied with internal matters to balance Iranian ambitions. Iraq and Iran are well on their way to forming an alliance, thus burying past enmity.
The primary threat to stability at the moment is conflict between various Sunni groups rather than struggles between Sunnis and Shia or between Islamic states and the west. These recent conflicts have been exacerbated by the emergence of several failed states, and by the reluctance of external forces, especially western powers, to engage in the region. The USA and Britain were badly hurt by their failure to subdue Iraq and Afghanistan, while Turkey is not keen to throw its weight against IS either on behalf of its western or Arab allies.
This leaves a loose coalition of Shiite forces including Iran, the Iraqi and Syrian armies, Hizballah, and the Kurdish Peshmarga to act as the main ground force to counter IS.
There is a real danger that a power vacuum could emerge in the region. The USA has decided to concentrate its foreign policy efforts in East Asia, and reduce its direct involvement in the Middle East. Naturally in doing so it has severely weakened its ability to manage crises in the region or to dedicate military ground forces to the task of pegging back extremism and terrorism. This in turn has left its allies in the region vulnerable to destabilization. They have not yet produced a common strategy capable of restoring stability and peace.
One possible way out of this dangerous impasse could then see western countries courting Iran as an ally in the battle against Islamic extremists such as IS by offering to lift sanctions against Iran. This would also enable Europe to out-maneuver Russia should that country go ahead and cut oil and gas supplies to Western Europe. Such an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 nations would draw Iran into direct cooperation with the west and pave the way for a joint push to restore stability in the region and the broader Muslim World. It would also, ironically, cement Iran’s reputation as the most stable country in the region.
Dr. Fariborz Saremi is a strategic analyst and has earned a Ph D in International Relations.Dr Saremi is a regular contributor to World Tribune.com,Freepressers.com and Defense&Foreign Affairs. At Times Dr Saremi has been an interview partner for Voice of America, German ARD/NDR and Russia Today.