After JCPOA withdrawal, life goes on

In the uncertainty following the US withdrawal from the JCPOA, some predictions are safer to make than others.

First, Iranian aggression in the Middle East and abroad will continue in various forms, as it did before the nuclear deal, and thanks to the direct infusion of cash, it continued during the period of time US was involved in the JCPOA. In recent weeks, the aggression has increased to the point that Israel has started taking increasingly direct action against Iranians and their weapons warehouses and factories in Syria.  The country has been on red alert as to the likelihood of rockets by Iranians from Syria, and other possible attacks. Indeed, Iranian Quds forces in Syria fired 20 rockets towards Israel, several of which were intercepted. Prime Minister Netanyahu is in Russia meeting with PResident Putin in an effort to contain the tensions.

Meanwhile, despite US requests and US-led ban on Boeing and other US companies selling jets to Iran, Germany has objected to the US envoy’s request to halt business cooperation with Iran. That is an escalation that has been noticeable since the deadline for JCPOA decision has been approaching; however, whether Iranians are merely testing Israel’s – and US – resolve; distracting the international community from a last minute scramble to secure more sensitive equipment; trying to scare Europeans into staying in the deal, or lashing out of desperation because Israel can do serious damage to their capabilities, remains to be seen. It’s also entirely possible that despite getting clobbered  in the immediate aftermath of the recent rocket attack on Israel (a direct act of war by Iran for the first time), Tehran may be seeking to draw Israel into a wider war on multiple fronts. Another possibility is that increased aggression reflects rivalry for fanatical devotion to attacks on the “Little Satan” by increasingly radicalized younger factions within the government, vying for power. They understand that Khamenei is on his last legs, and are looking to display the corrupt weakened regime led by aging ayatollahs with something even more sinister and dangerous. Despite being weakened on many levels, Iran still supports an impressive arsenal of ballistic missiles, and Hizbullah in Lebanon is armed to the teeth. The war is winnable, but would be messy and highly destructive.

Iran is in too deep, and even if tougher stand by US significantly weakens it over all, even if it loses ideological credibility around the world, and even if Israel does serious damage to its Syria front, it will not stop, but rather, escalate, like a cornered rat. It is indeed weak internally. Months of on-and-off protests over economy, labor, environment, and discriminatory treatment and abuse of Ahwazis, Kurds, and other nations have revealed a society fraught with tensions. The best thing the US government can do right now is cover these ongoing issues in detail, and give voice to non-Persians who remain staunchly opposed to the regime, and who have not had any opportunities to speak as members of opposition in most of Western media.

Nevertheless, Iranian proxies remain strong, Europeans and others remains steadfast in their greed and sense of investment, Russia continues its strong partnership and support, and most of the Middle East is in disarray.  This is a good opportunity for the Gulf State to step up to the plate and provide support, guidance, and a sense of stability to the nations affected by Iranian aggression. Iran, Qatar, and Turkey continue their line of domination in Africa. Morocco’s break of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic a week before the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw signals that it, too, understands the dangers of Iran’s continuous meddling in Africa and the undermining of national sovereignty of stable pro-Western countries.

Morocco’s response may be the first signs of a stronger line of opposition in response to Iran’s overtures in Africa. Until this point, France and the United States had focused their attentions on efforts against Sunni terrorist groups, disregarding the funding of these groups by state actors, as well as the proliferation of radical Shi’a militias. However, the public uncoupling which stirred a wave of very vocal support from the Gulf States, while may be entire coincidental to the JCPOA withdrawal deadline is not at all coincidental to the uptick in Iran’s and her proxies’ destabilizing activities around the world.

In fact, those activities may have reason in number and depth precisely because of the upcoming JCPOA withdrawal as Iran sought to secure her belligerent interests in Africa and other parts of the world in anticipation of having a harder time with greater scrutiny in the Middle East and Latin America, thanks to the White House’s policies. Now, for the first time – Hizbullah’s undeniable presence in Africa – is brought to the surface, and to the world’s attention. It should receive treatment as its cell anywhere else in the world, as it presents the same type of danger to US allies and security interests. Furthermore, Iran’s illicit activities in Africa must now receive the strictest of scrutinies in cooperation with African countries.

The likelihood that it has smuggled out incriminating evidence of its illicit nuclear activities and other sophisticated weapons program to continue under the radar is very high. The regime itself may be quite week but the network of allies it has built around the world is disconcerting. South Africa, for instance, has a strong and growing business partnership with Iran with various investment MoUs. For that reason, the country will continue to support Tehran through thick and then, and will likely balk at any decisions by the African Union, the US, or the international communities that will pursue an anti-Iranian line. In light of these developments, we should expect temporarily further frictions, as Hizbullah’s state and non-state facilitators work to defend their benefactor in opposition to pro-Western interests and general regional stability.

Temporarily, things will get worse before they get better.

And that’s where another safe prediction will play itself out. The Obama apologists will continue to bemoan the JCPOA withdrawal treating everything that happens from now on as a calamity, and lamenting every tough policy that squeezes Iran as something that brings the US closer to the brink of war. The reality, however, is that Iran has declared war on the United States in 1979 by taking its embassy hostage. And it has continued with various acts of war through Hizbullah’s attacks on US military and the supply of IEDs to Iraq and other strategic locations.

But because the US has refused to acknowledge these bellicose acts as acts of wars, we have allowed these proxies to grow in strength and to continue gaining support around the world with little opposition. We have allowed Hizbullah, Houthis, and Hamas to prepare ground to wage constant attacks on US and her allies, and now the Triple H are better equipped than ever before, and better positioned than ever before to launch increasingly strategic and sophisticated attacks. The usual suspects – the Triple M – (Merkel, Macron, and May) – have, while lending some, usually limited, support against these proxies – have publicly conveyed a united line of continuing to do business with Tehran, thus enabling her aggression, human rights violations, and likely, continuing path to nuclearization.

The natural question is: leaving aside partisan hacks from the Obama administration, why would average mildly pro-JCPOA Americans, continue to tout the party line in light of all these developments? Would it not be better to avoid giving Iran legitimacy while giving a pass to its likely behind-the-scenes cheating? Some concerns are more legitimate than others – for instance, proceeding without first getting Europeans on board or agreeing to a plan to get them on board in the near future. These concerns address the issue of US putting its own companies at a disadvantage, while Europeans continue to profit from their relationship with Tehran.

One way to go around it is to impose secondary sanctions on the Europeans as soon as possibly. Only time will tell whether the Trump administration has political will to do so; fear of damaging sensitive relationships with European partners is just one of the obstacles. However, to make up for the financial losses, the United States should enter into additional agreements with countries who affirmatively make the choice to cease all business relations with Iran or otherwise act in a manner that helps address security concerns. European markets are stagnating; whereas many African and Middle Eastern companies are experiencing unprecedented growth. It is time for the US to look towards the future, and protects its economic interest from likely chaos in the near future.

One issue that neither the Europeans nor the Obama officials have ever fully explained in practical terms was the appeal of the Iran’s market. Iran is corrupt; many of its companies are controlled by a few families, all relatives of the ayatollahs and various politicians. In recent years, Iran’s state-owned companies reaped most of the boons from work with outsides. High political risk makes Iranian investments undesirable. And Iran is a poor country with many internal weaknesses, dissatisfied population, increasing destabilization, including massive recent protests all over the country, high unemployment in many areas, and students who are now being denied English language and Western education, which was not an issue a generation ago.

How much money did these companies realistically expect to make under such circumstances? First, a number of them likely was hoping to leverage corruption to personal advantage. In fact, for all we know these companies were lobbying their governments to turn a blind eye even to the remaining non-nuclear sanctions. We may yet discover that Iran was violating a great deal more than what currently meets the eye – all with the help of the Europeans, who were not above generally ignoring Iranian intelligence activity even in their own countries. Second, these companies ignored, underestimated, or covered up security and political risks, hoodwinking their shareholders into believing that Iran was a future paradise for investors.  If so, that information will eventually come out. Likely, however, this risky venture actually brought a cost to most but the lucky few with the personal connections.

Third, most of the money made from Iran was not in building peaceful infrastructure – that was relegated largely to China, but rather to sales directly to the government, including chemical weapons, or worse. Did European governments violate their own laws and various agreements in making these sales? Once again, that is something to be examined closely, but no doubt they disregarded the practical risks of enabling a regime that would likely turn on Europe at some point down the road. In fact, Europe, at least as much as Obama, is directly responsible for the mess in the Middle East, not only through passively ignoring Iran’s misdeeds, but by supplying the aggressor with everything it needed. Fourth, Europeans were ok with maintaining existing relationships with Gulf States, while profiting from deals with Iran. The Gulf States belated started shifting towards Russia as a way of balancing out some of the relationship; however, many of the same countries are invested in Russia as well.

Overall, the best opportunity to squeeze Europe is for the United States and its Arab allies to jointly impose secondary sanctions against EU partners who refuse to withdraw from the deal. Fifth, Europe counted on Saudi Arabia, et al. to fail economically within less than ten years due to its failure to diversify. For that reason, in part, they saw Iran as the future, and to Obama, in particularly, shifting support to Iran may have been one way of catalyzing what he saw as the inevitably. Interestingly enough, the now-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his public rise by becoming the Defense Minister at the same time as the details of the deal became public and it was concluded. At this point, it was obvious to everyone that Obama was enabling Iran to become an aggressor, and so the Saudis had agreed to appoint someone who would be perceived as much more assertive in foreign policy. That Vision 2030 was announced soon thereafter is likewise no coincidence; it certainly was a desperately needed response to the economic demands of the country, but it was also a signal to Iran and the international community that Saudi Arabia’s impoverishment and demise were premature.

Whatever has happened in Saudi Arabia internally since, however, the European states have continued to view that relationship as a one-way street. Most of the recent agreements were focused on what essentially amounted as large donations to select European states, with some humanitarian and cultural joint ventures that would stroke the egos of European bureaucrats and be of some benefit to KSA. Europeans, at this point, have increasingly little to offer in terms of their own markets. But rather than observing the increasingly erratic actions by the regime and signs of potential future collapse, the greedy European governments prefer to continue amass investments with the country, without taking the prudent step of shifting back to the more stable Gulf allies. They still maintain the belief that these countries will either collapse under their own wait, or, thanks to weak or small militaries, will ultimately be subsumed by Iranian influence.

Very likely they are miscalculating. Projections of Iranian growth have not materialized, as the country, predictably, spent most of its potential on bellicose activities. And the concerted actions by its internal and external opponents will lead to ever increasing destabilization and collapse. The beneficiaries of assorted defense industries will continue to make money until the last minute – and for that reason among many others, they should be the ones hit hardest with secondary sanctions. But what will happen to all the deals US and others are doing with European defense industries? These sanctions will ultimately benefit the US defense industries and we will ultimately shift our deals to other targets. But Europeans are being short-sighted. The Islamic Republic has no future; it is widely despised by most of the population. In the future, it is the Europeans who will be disadvantaged economically.

Yet Obama and his cabal of followers will continue to crow hysterically as their plans unravel and it becomes obvious that investing into the Islamic Republic was from the start a dangerous delusion, and not just because of the downsides of the one-sided deal. Their legacy was always a bubble; that bubble has been transparent from the beginning and now it’s about to pop. They can continue to desperately cling to relevancy; but their future is ultimately is discreditation and rightful derision. This delusion was both uninformed, malicious, and dangerous, and it is now coming back to haunt its creators. The next step is watching what happens when the regime eventually collapses from internal pressure, when the Iranians will have finally have their fill and the ayatollahs fall just as the Soviet Union once collapsed. What will become of all these investments? I look forward to finding out, hopefully soon.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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