Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Image Credit: REUTERS

There is no doubt that United States President Barack Obama, who is serving his last year in office, merits all the adulations he received since paving the way for allowing Iran to join the international economy after the international sanctions have been virtually discarded for abandoning its nuclear ambitions for at least 10 years.

This agreement with the US and the European Union will allow Iran to sell much more oil and regain back some $100 billion (Dh367.8 billion) held by the US government, virtually ending its economic and political isolation which crippled its economy.

What has been equally remarkable has been the simultaneous agreement to exchange prisoners which included the return of The Washington Post correspondent, Jason Rezaian, along with his wife and mother, and four other Americans as well as the release of seven Iranian prisoners from US jails.

Facilitating this turnaround was Iran’s agreement to ship 98 per cent of its fuel to Russia and to dismantle more than 12,000 centrifuges so that they could not enrich any uranium.

At the start, the Iranians, some 80 million people reportedly with an annual output of some $400 billion, seemed doubtful about the rewards or even publicly excited by this turnaround. Yet, they will no doubt be more jovial once they find out that major international companies are nowadays rushing to establish offices in Tehran and the international sanctions have been definitely lifted.

Much as this agreement with Iran is historic, there remains another serious issue that divides Washington and Tehran, namely Iran’s attempt to develop “ballistic” missiles that are capable of delivering nuclear warheads, assumedly towards Middle East targets. Now that the US has closer ties with the Iranians, it might be a good time for the Obama administration to launch a behind-the-scenes attempt to improve Iranian relations with the Arab governments, especially those in Iran’s neighbourhoods. The recent conflict Iran had with Saudi Arabia, following the execution of 47 Saudis, including a prominent Shiite clergyman, has electrified the relationship — a sectarian conflict that the Arab World would do well to avoid.

Out of all people in the Middle East to blow their horn once again this week against Iranian leaders has been Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which many believe possesses nuclear arms. His concern is that “Iran will now have more resources to dedicate to their terrorism and aggressions in the region and in the world, and Israel is prepared to deal with any threat”.

Alleging that “Iran has not relinquished its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu, in turn, could offer his accusers a willingness to allow international inspection of his warehouses, a step Iran is obliged to undertake under the new agreement.

Adding fuel to the fire, the US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, criticised last Monday Israel’s West Bank colony policies at what has been described as a high-profile security conference held in Tel Aviv. Shapiro maintained at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies that Israel’s continued expansion of illegal colonies raises questions about Israel’s intentions and its stated commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. According to the American ambassador, reported the Statesman, Israel has also legalised some Israeli-occupied West Bank outposts despite pledges to the US not to do so.

Shapiro also exposed Israeli actions that are typical of apartheid regimes. “Too much vigilantism goes unchecked and, at times, there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law, one for Israelis and another for the Palestinians.”

The Statesman explained: “Israelis are subject to Israeli civil law, while Palestinians are governed by Israeli military law, which offers far fewer legal protections.” The Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, said Shapiro’s comments were grounded in data they have been collecting that showed an 85 per cent failure rate in investigating ideologically-motivated crimes by Israelis against Palestinians.

Shapiro’s remarks, the Statesman continued, sparked a terse response from Netanyahu, who said they were inappropriate at a time of heightened violence with the Palestinians. But this spat, the Statesman concluded, highlighted the tense relations of late between the US and Israel, mostly over Israel’s fierce objections to the Iranian nuclear deal.

George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com