It may be mistaken to think that the recently concluded Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action between the P5+1 and Iran in Vienna would lead to nuclear non-proliferation and international peace.
Successive Khomeinist regimes in Tehran have had a history of clandestinely proceeding with its nuclear armament programme. In 2003, Tehran stonewalled international (IAEA) inspectors for two weeks at an electrical plant in Tehran and took the time to scrub the site clean of any incriminating evidence. The Obama administration had earlier, rightly, called for “anytime, anywhere inspections”. Obama had claimed that Iran had already “agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear programme in history”. His Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz boasted the “anytime anywhere inspections” condition was crucial to the deal. But now a provision in the Iran deal allows for a 24-day delay on inspecting suspicious sites. Thus, Tehran could move much of its nuclear weapon equipment around easily. This time can be used to “sanitize the place, make new floors, new tiles on the wall, paint the ceiling and take out the ventilation”, as Olli Heinonen, formerly of the IAEA has said. The deal would allow Tehran in just over a decade to have a full-blown nuclear programme — a screw’s turn away from a nuclear weapon, at a zero break out time. The scenario could be far more dangerous than the one the international community has long feared from a possible three-month nuclear breakout by Iran.
It would be naïve to trust Tehran. Iranian defence minister Hossein Dehghan has even declared he would not allow inspectors to visit Iranian military sites. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser, Ali Akbar Velayati has rejected the idea of international inspection of military sites. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Mohammed Ali Jafari has lamented that the deal violates “the very critical red line” of “maintaining and upgrading Iran’s defense capabilities”.
The deal could boost Iran’s armament programme at home and its proliferation in the region. It would lift the arms embargo on Iran in five years and the ban on its ballistic missile trade in eight years. This would enable Tehran to acquire sophisticated weapons from Russia and China. As part of the deal, the US and the EU will lift sanctions on Iranian scientists, military officials, and companies suspected of developing nuclear weapons.
Sanctions will be lifted on a German engineer convicted of supplying centrifuge parts to A.Q. Khan’s black market network, which allegedly sold nuclear equipment to North Korea, Iran, and Libya. Sanctions will go off an Iranian company that secretly ran a uranium enrichment facility and a university accused of supplying scientists involved in the weaponization work. There will be no sanctions on the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) and its head, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who are responsible for researching and developing technology for nuclear weapons.
The sanctions will be lifted also against Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, which provides arms and training for terror groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Tehran could use its new economic and military assets to equip its proxies, formal and informal, state and non-state, in the region in much more aggressive ways.
Sources say that the future of the deal is not certain. Within two months the powerful American Congress is to review it. A dominant feeling across the congressional spectrum is the deal is not in the US interest. Some powerful Democrats and Republicans in Congress have already criticised the Obama administration’s decision to allow the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to vote on the final Iran deal before Congress could review it. There is a near consensus among experts, including Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf, former State Department official Aaron David Miller and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, that the nuclear deal will further destabilise the Middle East. Also, over 73% of Americans have “little or no confidence” that Iran’s leaders will abide by its terms (Pew poll). Among the 79% of Americans who have heard about the agreement, only 38% approve the accord. A huge 48% disapprove it and the rest have no opinion .
The deal has been met with a lot of opposition from Washington’s allies in the Middle East as well. Washington’s traditional Sunni allies feel that it is ready to dump them in its obsession of cultivating Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced, “Iran continues to seek our destruction… We will always defend ourselves.”
The Iranian masses will be the greatest sufferers as a result of the current deal. The growing accommodation of an oppressive sectarian regime in the international system is likely to embolden Tehran into pretending that all is well at home.