The landmark nuclear agreement between Tehran and the P5+1, which was reached yesterday after a marathon of diplomatic negotiations in Vienna, has opened a way to lift international sanctions against Iran in exchange for putting limits on the country's nuclear program. While the deal will slow Iran's abilities to have the technology needed to build nuclear weapons, which is of course good news for the entire region as well as the rest of the world, it will change the dynamics in the Middle East, increasing uncertainty about the future.
The agreement probably will shift alliances as the Arab states have already started to look for new options like Russia, France, Turkey and Pakistan after they have been let down by the U.S., while a new hand of cards will be dealt in the energy game and the arms race will heat up. On the other hand, the final accord's lifting of sanctions might also be great news for the Syrian regime, which is dependent on military and financial support from Tehran.
Iran is the most powerful proxy force in Syria as well as other countries in turmoil like Iraq and Yemen. The Quds Force under the command of Major Gen. Qasem Suleimani has already kept alive the regime of the Syrian butcher, President Bashar Assad, and prepared a suitable swamp for mosquitos like the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) to be born and grow in the region with the help of the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran. As the losses of mostly Iraqi and Hezbollah fighters deployed in Syria increased, Iran has started to send Shiite mercenaries from other countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, offering them thousands of dollars to fight.
The Syrian regime had welcomed the framework deal reached in April. At first sight, the earlier agreement might indicate that the final deal would cause Assad a sigh of relief, but the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and other Western powers are already aware of the fact that the only way to defeat ISIS and to end the civil war in Syria is with a government without Assad. It is still too early to make predictions but a considerable number of diplomats and officials tracking Syria have been arguing that Iran might be asked to allow a transition period without Assad as part of finalizing the nuclear deal.
Of course, abandoning Assad does not mean abandoning its ambitions in Syria's future for Iran. Tehran will still have a vast number of options from supporting a political transition period including an Alawite leader to fanning the flame of the chaos storming Syria even without Assad. However, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reiterated Iran's support for Assad's regime last month. Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying: "The Iranian nation and government will remain at the side of the Syrian nation and government until the end of the road," in a meeting with Syria's parliament speaker in Tehran. Meanwhile, Tehran has continued to maintain a vital credit line to the Assad regime, which has torn Syria apart in the five-year civil war. Iran's state bank recently extended a new loan worth $1 billion to Syria after an earlier agreement between the two countries' state banks on a loan of $3.6 billion signed in July 2013. The recent financial aid is crucial for the Syrian regime in Damascus, as Syria's economy has shrunk by more than a half since the conflict started.
Will Iran support the Syrian government until the end of the road but abandon Assad? Or have the Western powers struck a deal without finding a way out for millions of Syrians suffering inside and outside the country? We will learn the answer soon.