In July 2015, the P5+1 countries—comprising the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia, China) plus Germany—and the Islamic Republic of Iran reached an international agreement officially named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which is also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. The overall purpose of the deal, the negotiations of which lasted 2 years, is to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Ostensibly, the deal sounds good, and everybody wins: Iran cannot make nuclear weapons, thereby creating a safer world, and everyday Iranians finally get to experience a revitalized economy that had been cut off from the international financial system. However, aside from the real possibility that Iran will still be able to procure nuclear weapons years from now because of the deal’s loopholes, the other implications of the deal will very quickly catch up with reality. And the reality is quite simple: ever since its 1979 revolution, Iran has been openly hostile to the US and our interests, namely Israel’s security, and it has been designated by the US State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. Iran will undoubtedly continue this kind of aggressive behavior, despite the international accord, and US foreign policy must counter this behavior wherever it lurks.
The billions of dollars in sanctions relief have given the government in Tehran the wherewithal to pursue its destabilizing activities within the Middle East. An Iran vying for regional power and influence will at the very least use a significant chunk of the deal’s financial windfall--totaling “$50 billion in unfrozen assets” and including “freedom from severe trade restrictions”—to fund and empower terrorist groups, something that even US Secretary of State John Kerry admitted on the record. Let’s take a brief look at some of these groups:
This Lebanese-based political party, which the State Department labeled a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in 1997, is a trusted ally of Tehran. It also functions as a militant group that poses serious threats to its southern neighbor Israel. According to chapter 2 of the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, Iran “continued to transfer arms to Hezbollah,” which in turn “continued to act against Israel and Israeli targets around the world.” In addition, Hezbollah is a participant in the Syrian Civil War to its north and east. It, along with Iran, contributes to the horrific bloodbath there by backing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. And in light of Obama’s desire to see Assad step down, isn’t it ironic that the Iran deal will actually fuel Hezbollah’s actions undertaken on behalf of the dictator?
Palestinian terrorist groups
In addition to its support of Hezbollah, Iran has displayed its anti-Israel sentiments by supporting groups like Hamas and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that seek to undermine the safety and security of the Jewish state. Granted that Iran and Hamas have experienced strained ties in the past, 2015 was a year in which both sides took steps to repair relations. With regard to the PIJ, Iran has also recently attempted to make great strides in improving relations with the terrorist organization. Iran has done this by giving $70 million worth of financial aid to the Al-Quds Brigades, PIJ’s military wing. And that surely will not be the end of Iran-financed terrorism against Israel.
Iraqi Shia terrorist groups
In an effort to roll back ISIS’ gains in neighboring Iraq, Iran has shown resolve in supporting these groups. According to chapter 3 of the aforementioned State Department report, “many of these groups…have exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and have committed serious human rights abuses against primarily Sunni civilians.” It is no surprise that Iran is abetting these sectarian tensions because Iran wants to establish itself as a major geopolitical power that espouses Shia Islam, in direct opposition to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s major foe and an important Sunni ally of the US. And what could happen if ISIS is defeated in Iraq? This is very concerning because these Shia terrorist groups could end up filling the void created by ISIS’ demise. In this scenario, Iran would further sway Iraq into its orbit, thereby solidifying Iran’s influence in the Middle East and growing Iran’s revolutionary zeal that has been active since 1979.
It is very evident that despite the nuclear deal, Iran’s regional aggressions will not be curbed anytime soon. And why would Iran roll them back when its regime wants to vigorously expand the country’s influence?
Obama’s ultimate hope in pursuing this deal is that in the not-so-distant future, Iran will moderate its policies (due to its participation in the global financial markets) and thus play a responsible role on the international stage. However well-meaning he has been in coming to this conclusion, it will surely be a long, rough road before getting there. One would have expected Iran to soften its positions on a number of issues as soon as the ink on the deal was dry, but it has continually thumbed its nose at the international community. One of the many egregious examples since July 2015 took place last March when Iran conducted ballistic missile launches that were “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the deal. These types of activities will continue to be promoted by the government, despite Iran’s elections.
Even though Iranian moderates recently won the largest number of seats in parliament, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is still Iran’s Supreme Leader. He, not President Hassan Rouhani, is the person who literally makes the final decisions on every issue affecting the country until his death. And considering Khamenei’s old age and frail health, replacing him in the next decade is not a remote possibility. But replacing him with a moderate Supreme Leader is unthinkable because that would essentially uproot the identity of a country founded on hard-line Islamic fundamentalism. Unfortunately, Iran’s current foreign policy is here to stay for generations to come.
The Obama administration has not been as aggressive toward Iran’s meddling in regional conflicts as Iran has in advancing that behavior throughout the Middle East. With the JCPOA already being implemented, the administration should at the very least stop accommodating Iran at every corner in an effort to ensure that it receives the deal’s benefits. The administration, of course, wants Iran to see these tangible benefits so that it will not have an excuse to renege on its side of the bargain. But as Iran waits for its economy to thrive again, it will continue to fulfill the deal’s minimum requirements while being as anti-American and anti-Israel as ever.
Going forward, the US needs to hold Iran’s feet to the fire and pressure it to cease stirring up trouble at the expense of our interests and allies. While going to war with Iran should absolutely be the very last option considered, the US should always be militarily prepared in the region. For example, the US must maintain a robust military relationship with Israel so that it can better retaliate against incoming attacks from Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorists. The US must also use its leverage in the global financial system to stem the flow of payments that will be used to facilitate terrorism. Unless and until Iran significantly changes its behavior, the US should always look with a wary eye on Iran and find ways to mitigate the effects of its nefarious foreign policy.
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