IRAN DEAL WORRIES MIDEAST NEIGHBORS

Wall Street Journal on July 14, 2015, reported that the nuclear deal signed Tuesday between Iran and global powers aims to make the world a safer place. But many in the Middle East fear the opposite will prove true.

Regional critics say the pact appears to reward Tehran for a series of interventions in conflicts that have ratcheted up sectarian tensions, from Syria to Iraq to Yemen. The conflicts have fueled perceptions in Sunni-dominant countries—and shared by rival Israel—that Shiite Iran is waging stealthy proxy wars to widen its role as a regional power broker and check Saudi Arabia’s influence.

Case in point, said Ahmed Ramadan, a Syrian opposition leader based in Istanbul, are the billions of dollars Iran has spent propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the start of that conflict more than four years ago.

“Iran’s hands are dripping with the blood of Syrians,” Mr. Ramadan said. “It will have to do a lot to wash this away.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the agreement an “historic mistake” and warned that lifting economic sanctions on Iran will give it “hundreds of billions of dollars” to boost support for allies in the Middle East that are also Israel’s enemies. He and other Israeli officials warned they would aggressively lobby against the deal.

Since 2011, when popular uprisings and then civil wars engulfed some Middle East countries, Iran has projected its military and political might to safeguard a sphere of influence spanning from Tehran to Beirut and from Baghdad and Damascus.

Its efforts, many say, have plunged the region into a full-fledged sectarian war between Iran and its Shiite allies against Sunni groups of all stripes. These people fear a rapprochement between Iran and the U. S.—absent any change in Tehran’s behavior in the region—will only add to Sunni grievances, which have increased since the U.S. invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago.

So while Turkey welcomed the nuclear deal, the country’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hoped it would present an opportunity for Iran to change what he called its “sectarian-driven policies” in the region.

In Iraq, where Iran has played a pivotal role in supporting the country’s Shiite majority, many Sunnis worried the agreement would embolden Tehran further and complicate efforts to build more of a cross-sectarian consensus to battle Islamic State, which controls swaths of Iraq and Syria.

News of the deal comes one day after Iraq’s religiously and ethnically divided security forces announced an incursion into Anbar, the vast Sunni majority province that has long been seen as an incubator for Sunni extremism and resentment against the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad.

“We believe this nuclear deal will make Iran more stable and stronger and this will mean more negative interference in Iraq,” said Sadoun Sadeq al-Dulaimi, a tribal leader from Anbar.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday cautiously welcomed the deal and said that it has always supported an agreement with Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons with strict verification measures and mechanisms to snap back sanctions if Iran violated it.

However, the kingdom has adopted a more assertive foreign policy since the new king ascended in January. Saudi Arabia has conducted a punishing air campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are seen as allied with Iran.

“What Saudi Arabia is doing is standing up to Iranian influence, which is now decreasing in some regions,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in Amman last week. “We are insisting that Iran doesn’t have a direct interference in the affairs of the Arab region.”

Throughout the talks and even during its final hours this week, Iran has assured Hezbollah that there will be no change in its support for the Lebanese political and militia group, said Mr. Obeid. Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah affirmed that during a televised speech to his supporters in Beirut on Friday, saying Iran would never recognize Israel’s right to exist and would continue its support for allies like the Syrian regime and what he called “resistance movements” across the region including in the Palestinian territories.

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