A 159-page text, including five annexes. Seventeen sleepless nights. Twelve years of negotiations and deadlocks. But the historic deal between the six world powers and the Iranian government over the country’s nuclear capabilities was signed today. The agreement now faces review from a Republican-led US Congress and opposition from Arab countries and Israel.
“We have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region,” said US President Barack Obama. “We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic solution, and that is what we have done. . . This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction. We should seize it,” he added, noting a review ahead on Congress. He also said that he will veto any Congress legislation that might prevent the implementation of the deal.
Iranian officials were celebrating. “Today, we are at an important juncture in the history of our country and our revolution and the situation in the region,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said. “A new page has been turned and a new chapter has begun.”
It is this sort of speech coming from Iranian officials that raises a lot of anxiety in many Middle East governments, analysts say, because lifting the economic sanctions on Iran might boost the profiles and economies of several armed groups that the country backs in the region. The nuclear deal might reinforce Iranian-backed groups, such as Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias, that are fighting in Syria and Iraq. It might also antagonize the Sunni Arab monarchies that have been in a regional power-struggle with Iran for the past few years.
“Iran is becoming a part of the decision-making process in the region,” Lebanese analyst Qassem Qassir told NOW. “Tehran will probably cooperate if there is an international decision concerning the whole region. This will also apply to Iran’s allies, the groups that follow Tehran’s agenda. But, in general, I think that this is a very favoring context for Hezbollah.”
The effects on Iran
According to official Iranian television channel Press TV: “The Iranian banking, financial, oil, gas, petrochemical, trade, insurance and transport sectors will at once be annulled with the beginning of the implementation of the agreement.” Additionally, billions of dollars in Iranian revenue frozen in foreign banks will be free up. Iran will get access to more than $100 billion in frozen assets when the Iran nuclear agreement is implemented. Of course, this all depends on when Tehran curbs its nuclear program, allows access of the UN inspectors, and the IAEA certifies it.
“Reclaiming the Iranian share in the European oil market depends on our performance but we will try to do it at the maximum possible level about 42-43% of our exports,” said Mohsen Qamsari, head of international affairs at the National Iranian Oil Company.
For Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that should be good news. Party leader Hassan Nasrallah said that “Iran will become richer and wealthier and will also become more influential” under the deal reached last week, Nasrallah said in an interview with Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, according to a translation provided by Lebanese daily The Daily Star. “This will also reinforce the position of its allies. A stronger and wealthier Iran, in the coming phase, will be able to stand by its allies, and especially the Palestinian resistance, more than at any other time in history.”
The effects on Hezbollah
Lebanese analyst Mustapha Fahs says that regardless of how harsh the international sanctions on Iran have been over the years, Tehran continued to support Hezbollah’s military program. The financing continued despite the fact that many voices in the Iranian opposition raised concerns over how the Iranian government was investing in a foreign group money it should have used to sustain the country’s economy, Fahs says. “That’s no secret anymore. In 2013, at a football match between Iran and Lebanon on the Azadi football stadium in Tehran, tens of thousands of Iranians were cursing Lebanon and Hassan Nasrallah because they felt their money was spent on Hezbollah.”
The truth is that, in spite of serious economic challenges and austerity budgets, Hezbollah was still getting its share of aid for its not-quite-negligible expenses. “For instance, in 2005, Hezbollah’s purchasing power was half its purchasing power today, Fahs said. “It has actually doubled during the Syrian uprising. The Iranian people felt deprived, although the money sent to Hezbollah was not really enough, either. But Iran kept financing Hezbollah. Of course there were cuts on social services, but they did not affect the party’s military operations.”
While the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran will certainly help Hezbollah, it won’t happen rapidly, says Fahs. “These agreements require time to be enforced and even more time to show their effects. Hezbollah can claim the victory now, but they will have a long-term problem with adjusting the ideology to the new situation: for a long time they have advertised their anti-US stance; for decades they chanted ‘Death to America!’ It will be very difficult to keep up with the fast changes in Tehran.”
Lebanese commentator Ali al-Amine believes that changes in Iran’s position in the international community will also impact Hezbollah politically. “Hezbollah is already the strongest party in Lebanon — it has a strong presence in the government and the administration and controls decisions made by the Lebanese state,” he told NOW. “But if Iran is taking the diplomacy road, Hezbollah might have to embrace it too. In the past few years, Iran always used the military option in asserting its presence on the regional Middle Eastern political scene; it supported armed groups in Palestine, Hezbollah in South Lebanon, and others. This deal might make the political option more viable than the military pressure.”
The effects on the region
Fahs, however, does not think the Iran deal is the path to a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. “Hezbollah will feel strong under the protection of a stronger Iran. The parts of Syria under Hezbollah/Iranian/Syrian government control will become ‘occupied Syria.’ The Sunni Arab monarchies will never accept that, and they will fight back,” he said. “Angry people act in a violent way. Imagine if more people radicalized and supported the Islamic State — if only five percent of the Sunni population started supporting the Islamic State, it would count for the entire Shiite population of the Arab countries. How would Iran mange then?”
Al-Amine is more optimistic: “The rapprochement between Iran and the West in facing terrorism in Syria will give Hezbollah more roles to play; it will put on the side the fight against Israel because for the moment it is not a priority. Terrorism is, and this provides Iran and its allied groups with international support.”
The agreement will be approved by the UN Security Council in a resolution that will call all its previous five sanctions resolution against Iran null and void and will take Iran off Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
With the framework agreement from April focused mainly on Iran’s domestic nuclear program, and the supply chain that supports it, the question becomes whether Iran would use international proliferation as an alternative to their domestic program once the final agreement, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), comes into force?
The framework does not specify which language from which UN resolutions will be reinstituted. It does, however, mandate that, “Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.”
If in fact the enforcement of pertinent UN resolutions will be left up to the UN itself, UN enforcement of nuclear regulations against Iran has shown itself to be an inefficient and unreliable process.
In fact, documents recently released by WikiLeaks suggest that Iran has previously sent advanced nuclear equipment to Sudan, and their involvement in covert Syrian nuclear projects has already been exposed.
Due to the murky nature of international proliferation, it is unlikely that any intelligence agency would be able to discover, document, and know beyond a reasonable doubt, that a given project anywhere in the world had been intended to yield a nuclear weapon, and then head it off before its use.
Snap-back sanctions, therefore, cannot depend on concrete evidence of a nuclear weapons program, but rather must be triggered by the discovery of any uncoordinated nuclear-related activity anywhere in the world, including any transactions involving Uranium, Plutonium, or parts used by nuclear-related facilities.
Sanctions must apply, not only to the Iranians themselves, but also to any other actors found to be working with the Iranians on nuclear-related projects outside of Iran.
According to the National Interest:
The main agreement was a legal framework for civilian nuclear cooperation, with Saudi TV reporting that the country may pay Russia to operate as many as sixteen civilian nuclear power reactors. If accurate, such a deal would be hugely beneficial for both sides: Russia’s Rosatom would receive a lucrative contract, topping up government coffers, while the Saudis would be able to export significant amounts of oil and natural gas that are currently used to meet high domestic energy demand.
The various agreements contain a number of provisions including cooperation on the Yemen issue. The nuclear arrangements are generally being interpreted in economic terms and in terms of the Russian relationship with OPEC. As Nuclear Power Industry News notes the deal could mean up to $80 billion dollars flowing into Russian coffers due via nuclear construction projects.
As Reuters reports, such a deal would also allow Saudi Arabia to sell oil on the international market that might otherwise have been diverted for domestic consumption. However, it should also be noted that Saudi Arabia has already signed nuclear cooperation deals with the United States, France, South Korea, China and Argentina.
Meanwhile, Nuclear Power Daily tells us:
According to Russia’s state-run atomic energy agency Rosatom, the deal for the first time in the history of Russian-Saudi relations creates a legal framework for bilateral cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. It opens a number of prospects, including cooperation in construction and operation of reactors, nuclear fuel cycle services as well as education and training.
This story has largely gone under the radar in the western press, particularly the American press, and reading most of the reports, so far, this all sounds relatively benign. The National Interest even claims that the deal is “good news” while blandly noting that “a friendlier Saudi-Russian relationship raises some concerns for the United States.”
My suspicion – and it is only a suspicion – is that the Russian-Saudi deal is, at least in part, a reaction to the nuclear deal that United States President Barack Obama hopes to shortly conclude with Iran. Analysts are predicting that Obama’s Iran nuke deal will fuel a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and, in all likelihood, this is what we are looking at. It could be that the primary motivation of the Saudis is simple economics. By building nuclear facilities for domestic energy consumption they can sell more oil on the international market. What is also quite likely, however, is that Saudi Arabia, like Iran, has cast its eye on the potential for a nuclear weapon. It seems highly unlikely that Sunni-controlled Saudi Arabia, not to mention Sunni-controlled Egypt, is going to look kindly upon a Shia bomb in the neighborhood.
The Russian-Saudi deal is a preliminary step that will allow Saudi Arabia to begin its own nuclear weapons program. They may not do so, however. It could be that Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Sunni-Arab world, are perfectly content to see their Shia rivals become the dominant Muslim force in the region, but I would not bet on it.
Ultimately, this development may have dire consequences not just for the Middle East, but the entire planet. Given the instability brought about by the misnamed “Arab Spring” a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East is potentially disastrous. As such weaponry begins to proliferate within the region there is absolutely no telling whose hands they might end up in. Imagine the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with nuclear weaponry.
By Ari Yashar
As world powers and Iran reach a deadline Tuesday – which may be extended – for talks on the Islamic regime’s nuclear program, Israel is taking steps to prepare for a military strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities so as to defend itself from the impending threat.
Iran has refused to allow inspections of its covert nuclear sites and declared it will use advanced centrifuges as soon as a deal is met, meaning the leading state sponsor of terrorism could potentially obtain a nuclear arsenal within weeks, all while getting billions of dollars in sanctions relief through a nuclear deal.
The Hebrew-language Walla! reported Tuesday that it has learned from a foreign source that IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot has appointed Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan to head a special team tasked with examining the military options against Iran.
The team would explore what kind of striking options are available to Israel after a deal with Iran is signed.
By appointing such a senior IDF official to the team, it is estimated that Israel is considering the signing of a deal to be a game changer which would require a serious reevaluation of the regional situation, and likely necessitate military action against Iran.
Sources close to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) say there is a pressing need to present a powerful military option against Iran, a reality which is being used to demand that the defense budget not be reduced by the Knesset.
For over 15 years the IDF has been examining the possibility of military action against Iran’s ever burgeoning nuclear program, and the majority of the funding for such preparedness has gone to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) and the IDF’s intelligence branch.
“Iran is lying – what do we do?”
A source close to Ya’alon was quoted by Walla! saying, “nothing has changed regarding the military option. Our working assumption is that Iran is lying all the time, beyond the fact that it is funding and directing terror in the Middle East. It (Iran) is our most bitter enemy today, even though we don’t share a physical border with it, and we must not put off any kind of preparedness against it.”
“In the end we don’t believe Iran. We don’t believe the (nuclear) project will be stopped. Therefore the (military) option will remain. …We need to be ready also for the day in which Israel will need to make decisions alone. (What) if it becomes clear they are pushing the envelope in breach of the agreement? Or if Iran goes down deep underground (with its nuclear facilities)? And if new sites are found? Will we wait for the US to take care of them?”
“You have to prepare yourself for all of the threats. Not only for Gaza and Lebanon,” added the source. “The military option costs money but the more time goes by, you’re better prepared to carry out the mission.”
Indicating Israel’s growing preparedness ahead of a potential military clash with Iran, the IAF held a special drill with the Greek air force two months ago, in which roughly 100 members of the IAF took part including dozens of crews from all the F-16i squadrons.
The unusual drill had IAF pilots operating in unfamiliar territory for a night and the following day, and included simulations of strikes and dogfights involving dozens of fighter jets.
Most importantly, in the drill the Greek army reportedly deployed advanced anti-missile defense systems similar to the Russian S-300 that Moscow sold to Iran and has yet to ship. The advanced S-300 system is considered to be a major challenge in carrying out an airstrike in that it can shoot down rockets as well as jets.