The Iran deal is Iran’s nuclear bomb
By : Mohammed Alyahya
There is a popular notion among Middle East analysts that had it not been for Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria in 2012, Bashar al-Assad would have been toppled, the ISIS phenomenon in its current form and strength would have been avoided, and that al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups would have never gained the same power and clout they enjoy today. With the recent Russian escalation in Syria, the stakes have been raised to a whole new level, and prospects for a resolution that would end the unabating bloodshed in Syria seem bleaker than ever before.
Since the announcement of the final Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA) in July, 2015, Iran has reportedly stepped up its support for Shiite militias in Iraq, increased its Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) presence in Syria, and continued its support for the Houthi-Saleh militias in Yemen. In recent months, Bahrain and Kuwait have announced the interception of Iranian arm shipments and the uncovering of bomb making facilities on their soil. And, recently, the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen announced the seizure of an Iranian arms shipment loaded on a vessel masquerading as a fishing boat on its way to Yemen, some 150 km southeast of Oman’s Salalah coast.
I believe the Iran deal was an advance payment to Iran for its goodwill that the IRGC was too quick to dishonor. The argument that the nuclear deal would encourage Iran to become a more responsible state invested in building peaceful relations with its neighbors and the international community has now become a pipe dream to be lamented in history books.
The nuclear deal paradoxically gives Iran the same protection that a nuclear bomb would have given it
In a July interview with President Obama on the BBC, interviewer Jon Sopel suggested that “The net effect of lifting sanctions is that billions more will go to groups like Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and that is going to destabilize the region even more.”
The president’s response was: “If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, then they could cause all those same problems that you just listed with the protection of a nuclear bomb. And create much greater strategic challenges for the United States, for Israel, for our Gulf allies, for our European allies.” Obama was in effect saying that it was acceptable for Iran to be causing all these problems as long as that happened without the protection of a nuclear bomb. This is now an evident and tested flaw in the deal as regional neighbors witness an intensification in Iran’s destabilizing activities only with more money, confidence, and the protection of the nuclear deal itself.
The nuclear deal has arguably achieved its primary objective of eliminating the threat of Iran as a nuclear threshold state – at least in the short to medium term. Yet one must not forget why a nuclear Iran, unlike a nuclear Pakistan or a nuclear India, is such a grave threat to the international and regional community in the first place. It is precisely because Iran has a track record of supporting and exporting terrorism and sowing instability and discord in neighboring countries that the thought of a nuclear Iran is so terrifying.
What the P5+1 have done, essentially, is traded every single bargaining chip at their disposal, i.e. all the sanctions, for a bomb that Iran does not yet have. The only ground for the return of any of the sanctions according to the concluded deal, would have to be a violation related to Iran’s nuclear program. This deal is, in effect, normalizing Iran’s destructive foreign policy. Not only does it seem impossible that any sanction can be re-imposed should Iran redouble its regional meddling and backing of terrorist organizations and proxies, but even minor nuclear restrictions will unlikely prompt any backtracking on the lifting of sanctions. The P5+1 and the West have put themselves in the vulnerable position of constantly fearing that a failure in the concluded deal might instigate a regional nuclear arms race.
In a letter addressed to President Rowhani last month, Ayatollah Khamenei wrote, “throughout the eight-year period, any imposition of sanctions at any level and under any pretext (including repetitive and fabricated pretexts of terrorism and human rights) on the part of any of the countries involved in the negotiations will constitute a violation of the JCPOA and the [Iranian] government would be obligated to take the necessary action as per Clause 3 of the Majlis bill and stop its activities committed under the JCPOA.” Khamenei was sending a clear signal to the Qest that any attempts to pressure Iran to cease any non-nuclear violations will be met with the return of Iran’s nuclear program in full force.
Khamenei made the obvious clear: Iran has carte blanche to meddle in the region and support terrorism and no one has any leverage on Iran as a result of this deal.
The geopolitical threat before the deal was a potential nuclear threshold Iran sowing instability through a network of proxies and terrorist organizations. The geopolitical reality after the nuclear deal is a non-nuclear Iran (arguably for 10 years) with the same foreign policy albeit with more money to spend and the comfort of knowing that the west has no appetite nor any real leverage to pressure it to cease its destructive activities. In its essence, the nuclear deal in its final configuration is a self-defeating endeavor.
The main threat of a nuclear Iran is not that Iran would use a nuclear weapon against any of its enemies. It is, as President Obama suggested in the interview, that Iran will continue with its destructive and expansionist foreign policy and meddling with the protection of a nuclear bomb. The nuclear deal paradoxically gives Iran the same protection that a nuclear bomb would have given it. The Iran deal is Iran’s nuclear bomb.
Mohammed Alyahya is a London-based political analyst focusing on Gulf politics and policy. His writing and analysis has appeared on Al-Monitor, the Huffington Post, and U.S. News, the BBC, Al Jazeera, CCTV America and other outlets. Among other affiliations, he is an Associate Fellow at the King Faisal Center for research and Islamic Studies 2014-2015 and a member of the advisory board at the Future Trends in the Gulf Region project at Chatham House. He tweets @7yhy.
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