The Arab Spring: Iran’s Unexpected Windfall

Even before this week it was clear that the only real beneficiary of the events pre-emptively described as the ‘Arab Spring’ looked likely to be Iran. This week that grim realisation became clearer still.

Firstly of course there is the realisation that Iran looks likely to ‘win’ in Syria. The fact that Russia has now come into the war fully on the same side as the Mullahs, fundamentally changes the prospects for the war’s outcome. The clarification of that war – a clarification Assad, Putin and the Mullahs always sought – between the most appalling force imaginable (ISIS) and the Assad regime makes it unlikely that any international body would not back Assad in such a final battle. It was not necessary that the Syrian war ended this way, but Western inaction coupled with intensive Iranian and Russian action helped make it so. Yet while everybody has considered the results of ISIS dominating Syria after a victory, few people in the West seem to have considered the possibility of what the region will look like after an Iranian-backed win in Syria. Not least what Hezbollah will look like in that country and how it will be emboldened in the wider region.

But it is not only in this theatre of operations, but on the global and nuclear stage that Iran has now made another gain.

This week the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran was ratified by the Iranian Parliament. There had been some confusion in the Western press about this, and not only over what role the Iranian Parliament had. The reports were also replete with moral confusions. Numerous papers on both sides of the Atlantic reported that ‘ring-wing’ ideologues in Iran had been trying to stop the deal. This allowed them to make a neat and offensive symmetry between Republicans and others opposed to the deal in the U.S. and those opposed in Iran. The none-too-subtle innuendo was that we’ve all got our nutters: Obama’s got the Republicans and the Iranians have got their equivalent.

Like so much that goes in to coverage about Iran, the significance of this vote is not understood. The fact that the nuclear deal has been ratified by the Iranian Parliament against some opposition is not a reminder that there are hardliners in Iran but rather a reminder that a majority of Iranian representatives saw what a good deal this was for them and their wider ambitions.

Iran looks set to win in Syria at around the same time they get tens of billions of cash injections thanks to the P5+1. And of course the right to continue their nuclear programme with Western blessing and an oversight and inspections system which is fit to do neither of these tasks. And of course this week Iran also test fired a new long-range ballistic missile. People in the West who were worried about Iran when it was cowed by sanctions are going to love what Iran does next after such a batch of victories.



For all their manufactured nature, every now and again, a TV debate that you happen to be in ends up resonating. So it has been today with a Sky News debate on whether British Prime Minister David Cameron has a coherent foreign policy. I happen to believe that he does, although this is not always immediately apparent.

As I explained in a recent article for Fathom about the Conservatives’ Israel policy here in the UK, Cameron has shown an “instinctive and decisive response to foreign policy crises” throughout his leadership tenure, despite these sometimes being shackled by realist tendencies around him. He has also had to deal with fractious Coalition politics and a growing isolationism among Conservative MPs which have restricted his freedom of movement. The real question is not what has passed but what is to be. In general, Western foreign policies have been guilty of a timid and confused approach over the past few years to any number of international problems.

What we now desperately need is Mr Cameron to not just take advantage of his changed domestic circumstances – where he has a majority, albeit small, and a number of Labour MPs now willing to vote to do the right thing on international matters regardless of the party whip to offset his own rebels – but to rediscover the interventionist verve and take charge. The post of Leader of the Free World, abandoned by President Obama, is vacant. Will Mr Cameron be bold enough to try and fill it?

Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza

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