Even as their highest-ranking diplomats were shaking hands this week
on a landmark nuclear accord, the United States and Iran continued
moving weapons, money and fighters across the Middle East in an
uninterrupted shadow war.
At secret CIA bases in Jordan, US
operatives continued to arm and train fighters being sent into Syria to
oust an important ally of Iran.
In Saudi Arabia, American
military advisers remained at a command centre selecting targets for
airstrikes in Yemen against Shia rebels allied with Tehran.
the same time, Iran offered no indication that it intends to suspend its
support to Hizbollah, militia groups in Iraq or troops loyal to Syrian
leader Bashar al-Assad.
The agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear
programme was hailed by President Barack Obama and other world leaders
as a step toward stability in the Middle East.
But there are already competing theories about whether it will
help defuse other disputes, or lead hardliners to dig in and use the
expected jolt to Iran’s economy to escalate long-running proxy wars.
officials have sought to reassure Middle East allies who fear that the
lifting of sanctions on Iran will lead to an economic surge that would
enable Tehran to increase its support for militant groups.
Thursday, Obama expressed hope the deal might result in conversations on
other subjects with an Iran that is “less aggressive, less hostile,
more co-operative”. But he also voiced significant doubt.
“Will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path? Of course,” he said. “But we’re not betting on it.”
have criticised the agreement as likely to embolden Iran in its
competition with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other US allies. Even within
the Administration, there are widely divergent views on how the deal
might affect stability in the Middle East.
Obama, for whom the
agreement is a signature foreign policy accomplishment, has made the
case that reopening Iran’s shattered economy will strengthen moderates
in the country and push hardliners away from militant activities that
prompted broad, international penalties.
Vali Nasr, a former
State Department official who serves as dean of Johns Hopkins
University’s School of Advanced International Studies, urged the Obama
Administration to use the nuclear deal to foster more open dealings with
Iran over issues such as Isis (Islamic State), the militant group that
now controls much of Iraq and Syria.
“We’re not in the Arab world
of pre-2011 where you have all these stable regimes that are our
friends, and even those that are not our friends have control of their
territory,” Nasr said.
“We’re now in an era in the Middle East
that is orders of magnitude more complicated. We have to take stock of
the reality, rather than focusing only on what Iran is doing.”
however, fear the agreement might prompt hardliners in Iran who are
worried about a loss of standing to reassert themselves by intensifying
support to Shia militias in Iraq or even endorsing attacks on the
expanding US presence there.
The US has about 3500 troops in Iraq as the White House broadens its campaign against Isis.
most religiously conservative elements in Iran have historically held
sway over the Quds Force, the foreign military wing of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard Corps, and are most likely to oppose the nuclear
Speaking to lawmakers last week, Obama’s top military aide,
General Martin Dempsey, cited an array of “malign activities” that Iran
might continue. Among them are weapons trafficking, cyberattacks and
the use of marine mines.
Iran also continues to hold Americans, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, on espionage and other charges.
said on Thursday that “our diplomats and our teams are working
diligently to try to get them out”, but said the negotiations could not
be linked to their release.
The US has engaged in its own
cyber-sabotage campaign to derail Iran’s nuclear programme. It is
unclear whether such efforts will now be suspended because of the
agreement, but many expect US espionage efforts against Iran to
intensify to monitor compliance with the accord.
officials have chided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his
fervent opposition to the nuclear deal, which many in Iran greeted as a
tentative but potentially significant turning point in the country’s
long-standing and costly conflict with the West.
But the agreement also prompted more cynical praise from Iran’s regional allies.
In Syria, Assad struck an emphatically expectant note.
are confident that the Islamic Republic of Iran will support, with
greater drive, just causes of nations and work for peace and stability
in the region and the world,” he said.
Thousands of Iran-backed
Hizbollah militants are fighting alongside Syrian forces, and Assad
recently ratified a US$1 billion ($1.5 billion) line of credit from
In Iraq, Tehran’s influence appears to be at an all-time
high, as Iranian-equipped Shia militia groups have helped reverse gains
made by the Sunni-dominated Isis.
Iranian-backed militias killed
at least 500 American troops in the Iraq war. But in a measure of how
political turbulence has scrambled traditional alignments, the US and
Iran are now wary allies in the campaign against Isis.
from Iranian-backed militias have massed around the Iraqi city of
Fallujah, US officials say, complementing the offensive started this
week by American-supported Iraqi troops around nearby Ramadi.
the deal, American officials have pointed to plans to extend a United
Nations embargo on arms sales to Iran. The US also has worked to block
weapon shipments to proxy groups and will retain sanctions on
individuals supported by Iran.
At the same time, US officials are
working to bolster joint security measures for Persian Gulf nations,
whose leaders Obama gathered at Camp David in May. But enacting such
measures has been slow.
Obama played down the potential for Iran
to increase its proxy campaigns after the nuclear accord. With sanctions
removed, he said, “I think that is a likelihood that they’ve got some
additional resources. Do I think it’s a game-changer for them? No.”
Israel blasts British view
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday delivered a sharp rebuff to
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over the Iran nuclear deal,
publicly dismissing Hammond’s assertion that Israel would have been
unhappy with any agreement.
In a tense exchange that reflected
the gulf between Israel and the six world powers who negotiated with
Tehran, Netanyahu rejected Hammond’s efforts to sell the pact, while
tackling criticisms by Hammond.
“Israelis know better than anyone
else the cost of permanent conflict with Iran and it is wrong to
suggest that Israel wants such an outcome. We seek a genuine and
effective diplomatic solution,” Netanyahu told Hammond in Jerusalem.
alternative to this deal is not war. The alternative is a better deal
that would roll back Iran’s military nuclear programme and tie the
easing of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme to changes in Iran’s
On Thursday, Hammond told the House of Commons that Israel opposed any accord with Tehran and would prefer permanent conflict.