“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this.” – President Barack Obama, May 21, 2015 via Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic
Earlier this morning after marathons of negotiations and endless extensions of deadlines there finally was an agreement between Iran and the world powers in Vienna in regards to its’s nuclear proliferation. You can read the full text of the deal here given nicely to us by Max Fisher.
I’ll quickly summarise the terms of the deal (though I will advise to read the full text if you have time and a whisky bottle):
– 12 month breakout for 10 years
– US, EU, UN sanctions to be lifted
– 2/3 of centrifuges to be disabled
– Slash existing stockpile
-“Broader access” to UN inspectors
– Arak reactor to be redesigned to “support peaceful nuclear research” which will be monitored by IAEA
– Must disclose past activities
– Ban on arms sales to Iran to expire in 5 years
– Ban on sales of ballistic missiles to end in 8 years
– Monitoring of mines & factories
The announcement of this deal has broadly produced two reactions on the twitterspehere. The people who are generally right leaning claim this deal is a disaster and shows the appeasement of Obama to the Iranians and will gurantee an Iranian nuclear state which will be a serious security threat to Israel and The Middle East generally. Commentary Magazine lead with Iran Deal: The Right to Despair. Daniel Pipes called this deal a catastrophe.
The other reaction comes from more liberal minded people which says that this deal is “historic”, gurantees peace in our time, stops Iran from getting a nuke, and is a better alternative to war which is what those bloodthirsty neocons want and quite possibly may lead to the liberalisation of Iran. Slate published an article which effectively makes this argument.
The caricatures of parts of these two positions comes from Ben Shapiro of Brietbat.com and Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept.
My view is that this deal is not quite Munich 1938 nor is it 1989 when the Berlin Wall was torn down. And Obama is not Neville Chamberlain. It is neither historic nor a massive disaster. I do think that this deal will postpone Iran getting nuclear weapons capability in the forseeable future because the deal means Iran will agree to destroy over two-thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges it installed and redesign the Arak reactor to produce less than 1 kilogram of Plutonium a year for peaceful nuclear research and it extends Iran’s breakout time for a nuclear weapon. Of course this all depends on Iran holding to this agreement but there is some positives coming out of the deal.
However there are problems with this deal.
Firstly, there is the ending of the arms embargo after 5 years and sales of Ballistic missiles after 8 years. The sanctions relief will also give them around $100 billion. I’m sure they’ll use some of that money to help their battered economy which will in turn help the population who will no doubt hold them to account on that front since they can’t use the sanctions card anymore. In addition the population will see this deal as the regime retreating because they have negotiated with “The Great Satan” (something Khomenism defines itself against) so the regime will have to somehow reconcile this in their propaganda. The regime in response has stepped up executions and persecution in the last few months to show the population that they are not weak.
But is there any doubt that they will use a good proportion of that money to strengthen support for Assad? This effectively means Syria (or what’s left of it) is officially Iran’s lapdog and shows the ultimate betrayal of Syrians and the moderate rebels who have greatly suffered as a result of Iran’s support for Assad.
Also, lets not forget it might increase support for it’s proxy militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and The Houthis in Yemen. Who knows, Hamas might get some of the loose change. In other words, expect Iran’s imperial ambitions (or “resistance” according to Chomsky) to increase in the coming years.
Then there is taking Qasem Soleimani and The Quds Force off the sanctions list. This, I feel, is a bad concession as General Qasem is directly responsible for the deaths of Americans and other innocent civilians and still causes mischief in the region today (on a shoestring budget I might add). This I think will be a hard sell to Congress.
Second is to with the idea of “snapback” sanctions if Iran was to violate the terms of the deal. When allegations of violations come up, the powers have to agree that a violation has taken place and there is no guarantee that they will all agree to sanction Iran again, especially Russia and China who may have future business interests in Iran. Combine that with the fact that effective sanctions take time for them to fully come into force and cause its debilitating effect.
Third of all is the effect this deal will have in terms of the broader chaos in the Middle East as it will alienate the already paranoid Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, The Gulf monarchies and possibly Turkey who will view the implication of this deal as The United States appointing Iran as the de facto regional chief of the Middle East.This may well lead them to eventually develop nuclear programs of their own (or in Saudi’s case buy them off the shelf from Pakistan) which will create a scenario that we’ve never seen in a very sensitive part of the world and Israel will then have to rethink its very sensible nuclear policy.
This would also be exploited by ISIS to fit into their narrative that there is a Zionist-Crusader-Rafidah alliance to destroy Islam and will further entrench themselves and seek to consolidate support amongst the Sunni tribes of which they rule over in their totalitarian theocracy in order to further expand this caliphate they’ve created.
Moreover, this deal will have to be approved by the US Congress and the Iranian parliament, which may be difficult, especially for Obama, as he is going to have to sell this bill to a congress that is already quite hostile to him and “will skim through this deal with a fine toothcomb” (to use the words of Chuck Schumer). They will latch on to any holes to find any excuse to oppose this deal. Obama however has set up his stall on this potential obstacle by saying he will “veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.” So expect a fight in Congress over this but I think about in the end the deal will just about pass.
Congress will find ample evidence to back up their case. For example the arms embargo, the fact that very little of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will be dismantled, the very likely possibility that Iran will use the windfall they will get to fund their proxies in Hezbollah in Lebanon and to their crackpot militias in Iraq, taking Qasem Soleimani and Quds Force off the sanctions list, whether the inspection regime is tight etc.
Then there is Israel.
As expected the Israelis were not happy with this deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu called this deal a “historic mistake“. He also says that “Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction. We will always defend ourselves.”Israel has legitimate reasons to be unhappy about this deal because Iran is a threat to Israel via it’s proxies in Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and Hamas in Gaza.
However I think Israel’s argument in defense of its position on Iran has been poor because they’ve made it an issue only of Israel and even a pet obsession of Nethanyahu by constantly referring to comments by Ahmadinajad and Rafshanjani about wiping Israel off the map with a bomb and committing another Holocaust and making primitive cartoons equating Iran to ISIS.
The problem Israel and its defenders face is that it has to convince a lot of people (many of whom are quite hostile to Israel) to see it’s point of view but it’s not going to achieve this by hyperbole, hysterical talk and playing the “doomsday” card or to put it more accurately the “Holocaust card” rather than convincing people through reason.
Let me be clear; the toxic antisemitism Iran preaches is very worrying and it is a threat to Jew’s globally through its sponsorship of international terrorism and it fully intends to continue this policy.
But to compare Iran to Nazi Germany as Danny Ayalon did above is misleading and quite primitive as it shows they do not understand the threat Iran poses or how you’re going to deal with it because comparing anything to the Nazis now means you’re under the realm of Godwin’s law and any legitimate Nazi analogies will face diminishing returns. Also it leaves you open to accusations of sensationalism and scaremongering which will then lead to people not taking you seriously which will dangerous for Israel especially at a time when it now must be sober and calculated in coming up with cohesive policy to counter Iran other than hawkish dick measuring rhetoric.
Even though there is a lot to be worried about, this deal the only grain of hope I can find for the effect it will have on the population. It will show that the regime has cowered to some degree to The United States or “The Great Satan” something the mullahs have always politically defined themselves against in every way ever since the 1979 Islamic “revolution” (more like counter-revolution but that story will be for another day).
So for them to actually negotiate with the west will show them as being weak which is why a lot of the population is happy about this deal because the implication of it is that the regime wants a closer relationship with The West which was a necessity because the sanctions battered the economy and they had to do something about it. The people will embrace this closer relationship with the West as it will mean an improvement in the economy which will improve the lives of ordinary Iranians.
But more significantly it will entice their ambitions of making their society more open, more modern and improving in human rights -especially for its ethnic and religious minorities-which may lead in the long run lead to a political and social crisis in Iran as the people will have higher expectations of their government and the government will have respond in a way that does not contradict “Islamic values” and their totalitarian interpretation of Velayat e Faqih. The regime has already tried to counter balance this new sense of hope by ramping up the number of executions in the last few months in order to maintain control over the populace.
A lot of the deal’s defenders repeat the claim as made above that the deal will ultimately lead to the liberalisation of Iran and lessen the Islamist terrorism the regime inflicts on the population. I hope they are right but I’m very skeptical of that, I think it will lead to the regime being more oppressive to show people that nothing dramatic is changing and Iran will remain “Islamic”. There is a battle in Iran between the mostly secular youth of Iran and the theocratic mullahs and it will inevitably lead the abolishment of that theocracy when that revolution will occur I don’t know, I just hope it will occur before Iran has the chance to develop nuclear capability.
To Conclude. Is this deal “Historic” and will it guarantee “peace in our time”? No, because, to put it simply, this deal does not prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapon’s capability it merely delays it and puts a few speed bumps along the way. Or as Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal puts it. “It just kicks the can down the road for the next guy to deal with“. My fear about this deal is that it’s not a Munich 38 but that its more like the Agreed Framework of 1994 which according to Bill Clinton (every liberal’s hero) was meant to stop North Korea from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. Look how well that turned out. North Korea broke the agreement in 2002 and now has a stockpile of nuclear weapons that has destabalised East Asia and has made it untouchable and kept it in the news. I fear Iran will do the same lying and cheating and the “snap back” sanctions mechanism won’t work thanks to Russia and China.
Let us also not forget the windfall it will inevitably use to fund and support it’s terrorist proxies to solidify its regional hold in the Middle East. Which will mean more work for bigtime Iranian mischief maker Qasem Soleimani.
Is the deal a “Disaster”? Yes and No. The sanctions relief will result in an empowered Iran to cause even more chaos when it was already doing so on a shoestring budget, this will alienate America’s traditional Sunni allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia who may eventually decide to start their own nuclear program which will be a disaster for the Middle East and solidify their alliance of convinience with Israel.
It also reveals a part of a broader strategy on Obama’s part to lessen American hegemony in the Middle East, appoint Iran as the regional strong man and contract out the fight against ISIS to the Iranians and not to moderate Sunnis which will be disastrous. There is evidence that this is beginning to happen such as Ameica giving air support to Iranian proxy militias in Iraq as they fought to took back Tikrit from ISIS and reported support for US designated terrorist group Kaitab Hezbollah as they fought to take back Amerli from ISIS in September 2014.
This counter terrorism policy will be counter productive if carried on because the atrocities these crackpot militias commit against Sunnis such as burning villages , lynchings and other abuses. This will enforce the paranoia amongst Sunnis especially those of military age that if these Shia militias take back territory from ISIS that Sunnis are effectively fair game then they will look to ISIS for protection and support from the “crusader-rafidah” conspiracy against Islam.
In the end history will judge whether this deal was “Historic” or a “Disaster”.
By Ralph Leonard