Diplomatic engagement with Iran that began over a year ago seemingly at Obama's initiative has taken many observers by surprise. Negotiations are set to culminate next month with a possible settlement of the long-running nuclear dispute. A settlement is predicated on Iran accepting strict limitations to its nuclear program that would ban any attempt to build an atomic bomb.
Iran has consistently said that its nuclear ambitions revolve around peaceful, civilian applications, and that it is not interested in, indeed ethically repudiates, building any such bomb. The lifting of Western-imposed economic sanctions on the country would be a major prize. But on that score, Washington has equivocated, saying that a nuclear deal would only result in gradual sanctions relief, possibly over a 10-year timeframe. Obama's insistence on graduated sanctions relief has irked Tehran, which says that anything short of full, prompt termination of the embargo on its nation is a deal-breaker.
So what is going on here? Is the Obama administration serious about finding a nuclear deal with Iran or not?
Moreover, in pursuing nuclear diplomacy with Iran, the Obama administration appears to have incurred a lot of political trouble. First, from a Republican-dominated Congress which is threatening to veto a nuclear deal.
Secondly, the White House appears to have alienated its foreign allies in Israel and among the Persian Gulf Arab states, primarily Saudi Arabia, whose rightwing Sunni rulers perceive Shia revolutionary Iran as a regional threat.
Nuclear diplomacy with Iran under Obama therefore seems to be more trouble than it's worth, especially given that the outcome does not appear to have clear, practical advantages for the US, nor a clear commitment from the Obama administration on what it is intending to achieve from such a deal with regard to Iran.
Well, here is a clear benefit: billions of dollars worth of American weapons sales to the Middle East region — based on the putative American diplomatic engagement with Iran. In other words, a definitive deal with Iran is not the real objective. The real deal are the "side-benefits" that come with the mere process of negotiating with
Iran. And these "side-benefits" are huge.
American sales of fighter jets, helicopters, missiles and other munitions are set to skyrocket in a regional market that is already saturated with US weapons — all on the back of stoking insecurity in the region from apparent diplomacy with Iran.
Washington is lining up Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab states for multiple "defence" deals — based on the alleged fears of these states toward the possible nuclear settlement with Iran.
This week, Reuters reported: "US defence aid to Israel is likely to increase after 2017, sources on both sides said… seeing a possible link to Washington's efforts to assuage its ally's fears over nuclear diplomacy with Iran."
The report added: "A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said negotiators were close to a new deal that would bring annual payouts to $3.6-$3.7 billion on average. An Israeli official, who also declined to be named, put the expected aid at between $3.5 billion and $4 billion."
Now, get this explanation courtesy of Reuters quoting the above Israeli official: "They [the United States] are trying to douse the fires after our flare-up about the Iran deal."
First of all, what Reuters and other Western media often refer to as American "aid" to Israel needs to be properly qualified. The annual $3 billion "payout" that American taxpayers currently fund the state of Israel with is all tied to the mandatory purchase of US weapons. The money is thus not really "aid". It is a massive American taxpayer
subsidy to US weapons companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, which is circulated as "foreign aid" to Israel.
Under a 10-year arrangement between the previous Bush administration and Tel Aviv, the US has been subsidising Pentagon companies with a $3 billion-a-year handout under the guise of "aid" to Israel. That contract is set to expire in 2017. As the Reuters report above indicates, the arrangement is set to increase to possibly $4 billion a
Washington's other client regimes in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Arab sheikhdoms — also stand to get more American weapons. Here the arrangement is slightly less of a racket since the money for the purchases will come directly from Arab coffers, and not as "foreign aid" from the American taxpayer recycled back to the Pentagon companies.
Nevertheless, we are still talking about astronomical cash injections to American "defence" companies. Between 2010-2014, Saudi Arabia alone bought $90 billion worth of American weaponry. The biggest single deal was signed in 2012, worth $60 billion — reportedly the largest bilateral arms contract ever.
When President Obama hosted the Gulf Arab leaders in a major summit in Washington earlier this month top of the agenda, according to the New York Times, was "White House looks to erase Arab fear over Iran nuclear pact."
During the conference at Camp David, the Saudi, Qatari, Emirati and other Gulf rulers were "assured" by Obama that the nuclear negotiations with Iran posed no security risk. By way of assurance, Washington promised to sell more hi-tech weaponry to "aid" their "defence". The US is now moving to sell F-35 fighter jets, Sea Hawk
helicopters, bunker-buster bombs, guided missiles, defence missiles and associated radar systems to the Gulf Arab monarchies.
Reuters reports: "Israel's worries about the [US] diplomacy [with Iran] have been echoed by Gulf Arab leaders, whom US President Barack Obama hosted on May 14 and sought to reassure with offers of boosted defence… Such aid to Gulf Arabs has often ushered in increases in aid to Israel, whose military 'qualitative edge' in the region successive US administrations have pledged to preserve."
Thus, the picture emerging seems pretty clear. Obama's supposed nuclear diplomacy with Iran is, in effect, all about setting up a "virtuous circle" — a virtuous circle, that is, for an arms bonanza for American weapons exports to the region under the pretext of "defence" and "aid".
Most sane people would, of course, see this phenomenon as a reckless vicious circle that will fuel more insecurity, conflict and wars in a region already beset by violence and turmoil.
Washington's ostensible diplomacy with Iran is therefore less a delicate balancing act between allies and foes and more a cynical racket of inciting insecurity and then plying that insecurity with massive American weapons sales.
A final note from Reuters is this: "Asked if the expected hike in defence grants to Israel was linked to Washington's recent dealings with Iran and the Gulf Arab states, the US official said: 'Could be.'" More accurately, the conclusion should be: "Definitely!"