The Iran Deal Hasn't Changed Anything
Since the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany) signed the nuclear deal with Iran in July 2015, remarkably little has changed. Instead of using the opportunity to bring itself back into the international community, Iran has continued to sow instability across the region. Syrian forces are still backed by Iran, and Iraqi militias still get their orders from Tehran. From the Gulf to the Red Sea, Tehran is using Shia groups in its quest for supremacy up to the borders of the old Persian Empire. None of this should be surprising—Iranian policy has barely changed in two thousand years.
Cyrus the Great, the only Persian king still celebrated in Jerusalem, set the tone by ruling all the way to Egypt. Since the 1979 Revolution, the rulers of the Islamic Republic have sought to dominate this region once again.
Proxy groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Sadrist militias in Iraq have taken the fight beyond the capacity of Iranian government forces. In Yemen and Bahrain today, groups funded from Tehran have been armed, funded and trained to challenge the Arab governments. Since the Iran deal was signed, peace has remained remarkably elusive.
With all the flowery language coming from Western capitals about a new era of relations with Iran—including my own in London—many of our longstanding Arab partners and Israel are asking: Whose side are we on?
Trying to duck the question is an answer in itself. Our partners for generations, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and, of course, Saudi Arabia, hear our silence echo through their palaces and feel our indifference to the growing challenge to their authority.
If the United States and the United Kingdom are to remain trusted friends for the Gulf, we will have to think hard about reassuring those who rely on us for protection. King Salman of Saudi Arabia’s trip to the Kremlin in February shows that they have other options.
But this isn’t just about them. We have been fighting the Iranians for years. As a soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan I was struck by the speed with which fighters learned techniques in one theater and passed them quickly to the other. IEDs contained less metal; blasts became more powerful and shaped charges more targeted. The connection was clear—between the two lay the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Tehran’s special forces, who trained so many of the groups who have spent the best part of two decades trying to kill our troops.
Qassem Soleimani, the Quds Force’s commander, has waged a secret war against Britain and the United States for years. He pops up all across the region to support local Shia forces. He has American and British blood on his hands from Iraq and Afghanistan and is probably one of the most dangerous Iranians in the region, yet as part of the Iran deal agreed last year, his name will be removed from international sanctions.
Syria is a perfect example of his nefarious activities. Seeking to narrow the West’s options, his forces, Russian allies and Syrian and Hezbollah proxies, have slaughtered moderate Syrian rebels leaving us with a horrific choice between Islamist extremists and Assad.
Syria may look like a civil war to us, but to Sunni Arabs it is a struggle for regional hegemony. For the first time since Egypt stopped receiving Russian support in 1970, the United States is on the back foot and Moscow is back in, on the Shia side. That’s why the nuclear deal matters so much in the region––alongside the West’s inaction in Syria, it doesn’t feel like a peace treaty, but acquiescence to Tehran’s ambitions.
Even though the UK and a few others had a seat at the table, this was a U.S. deal, led and finalized by the United States. But it affects us all. We are part of the group who pushed Iran hard for years, and then blinked. While we can argue the details, the deal is now done and our role is clear: We must keep a keen eye on what happens, and ensure that Iran does not renege on its promises.
The monitoring must be robust and have consequences beyond an unlikely “snap-back” mechanism. The scientists cannot be allowed to continue experimentation that could speed up future production and, most importantly, our commitment to our allies in the region must be reinforced. Only by demonstrating clearly that we will stand with them can we ensure the deal (which did not include ending terror and subversion) has bite where it matters—in controlling Soleimani’s ambitions.
If these responses are not enough then we must be prepared to act as we did in Kuwait in 1990. The enemy may be different, but the message must be clear: our promises count and our allies matter.
Tom Tugendhat, MBE, MP, is a British Conservative Party politician and former British Army officer and has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been the Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling since May 2015.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Reza Dehshiri