A revived JCPOA should act as a further catalyst in the process of normalising Tehran’s relations with many Arab countries. But in this regard, Tehran needs to be forthcoming in addressing the security concerns of its Arab neighbours. If Tehran decides not to modify its present policies in the region, the process of rapprochement will probably fizzle out. On the other hand, if the revival of the JCPOA fails or is postponed to after the US mid-term congressional elections, this will have a negative impact on the prospects of a settlement in Syria.
While Arab countries view Iran’s policies in the region as a major threat to their security, Tehran also has concerns.
These Arab concerns can only be addressed if Iran’s influence is checked and ultimately reversed. This can happen under three conditions. First, stating the obvious, Iran needs to alter its regional policies. Second, Russia would have to retain its influence in Syria as a counterweight to Iran. Third, serious Arab engagement is needed in Syria, especially in the reconstruction and then in the economic resurgence of Syria. Iran is not the only concern for Arabs, the policies of both Israel and Turkey also pose serious challenges.
The most effective means to address both Arab and Iranian security concerns, and for that matter, those of Turkey and Israel, is through a comprehensive and inclusive regional security process that would ultimately establish a regional security architecture that would guarantee a balance of interests among all parties. This is a complicated proposition, but it is the only way to guarantee peace and stability in the Middle East. The challenge is therefore how to kick-start such a process. There are many ideas and proposals in this regard from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran, in addition to numerous ones emanating from think tanks and individual academics. I have made numerous contributions in this regard, the latest of which is my article : “Towards a Middle East Regional Security Architecture” published in Al Ahram Weekly on April 22, 2022.
As far as Israel goes, barring the eruption of a conflict in Lebanon, its present policy (until an acceptable arrangement is found concerning the Iranian presence in Syria) in selective air raids on Iranian targets will continue. Such an arrangement can only be the result of a bigger understanding involving Damascus, the Arabs and Tehran. The acquiescence of both Moscow and Washington would at least be required. Again, the establishment of a regional security architecture is the best means to address this matter.
Now to the difficulties that may arise from beyond the region, namely from the US and Russia.
Without a doubt, Moscow would encourage a settlement that would preserve its influence and interests in Syria. It accomplished its principal aims during its military intervention: acquiring air and military bases in the Eastern Mediterranean and preventing the replacement of a friendly regime in Damascus with an Islamist one, thereby enhancing its prestige and influence, not only in the region but beyond.