Sanctions blues

Saturday became 'Implementation Day' for the JCPOA, with Tehran reentering the global marketplace after more than a decade of pariah status.

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January 17, 2016 21:28
3 minute read.
Thousand of Basij soldiers stage mock seige of Temple Mount in Iran

Thousand of Basij soldiers stage mock seige of Temple Mount in Iran. (photo credit: FARS)

 
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The campaign to stop the Iran nuclear deal - also the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - has failed.

Although it was led articulately by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and received support from key members of the US Congress as well as many Sunni states in the region, President Barack Obama and the leaders of the other P5+1 nations ultimately succeeded in overcoming all opposition.

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Saturday became “Implementation Day” for the JCPOA, with Tehran reentering the global marketplace after more than a decade of pariah status. The Islamic Republic will have access to tens of billions of dollar in unfrozen assets and a surge in business opportunities, and will be reconnected to the Society for the Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications or SWIFT, the world’s largest payments network for financial institutions.

However, recent days have seen a number of hopeful developments emanating from the deal. Iran removed the core of its Arak heavy water reactor and filled part of it with cement, a crucial step under the nuclear agreement.

Despite the embarrassment over the photos of American sailors being held captive by Iran after drifting into Iranian territory, the potentially devastating incident ended with the release of the American servicemen due to hours of diplomatic negotiations taking the level of discourse forged by the US and Iran during the nuclear talks to a new level. And on Sunday, Iran released three American prisoners as part of a prisoner swap.

Despite these signs that give a semblance of hope that Iran may abide by the nuclear deal, there are still a number of grave reservations about the JCPOA.

First, Iran will have the means to increase its destabilizing influence in the region from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Bahrain to Lebanon. If Iran managed to wreak havoc while under crippling sanctions, imagine what it will do now that its economy is unshackled. Sunni states and Israel will face a triumphalist and fundamentalist Iranian regime driven by apocalyptic fears.

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Second, fear of Iran will drive Sunni states like Saudi Arabia to take more aggressive – and potentially disastrous – actions that are likely to further destabilize the region.

The Saudis and other Sunni states will probably tighten their relations with Pakistan. Expansion of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities will be seen as a counterweight to Iran’s perceived nuclear threshold status. Intensification of a nuclear arms race between Iran and Pakistan could exacerbate relations between Pakistan and India.

Third, the signing of the JCPOA creates a misleading impression, particularly among Sunni states, that Iran has the support of America in its quest for regional hegemony.

And this could act as an important recruiting incentive for jihadist groups throughout the Sunni world.

Now that the JCPOA has been implemented the challenge facing those opposed to it is to limit as much as possible its potentially disastrous ramifications.

To prevent or mitigate some of the bad consequences of the deal mentioned above, the JCPOA should be seen as part of a robust policy of regional containment combined with other pressures on Iran.

The Americans and the Europeans who signed off the JCPOA seem to believe that the price of permitting a reemerging, hegemonic Iran is worth paying to stop – at least for the time being – the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program. Many of those supporting the JCPOA argue that the alternative is war with Iran. If, however, the bad side effects of the JCPOA are not curtailed, we may soon witness a sharp escalation in clashes between Iran and its neighbors that could easily lead to a regional war.

It is of utmost importance that the US and the other signatories to the JCPOA take steps to curb Iran’s influence in the region. To prevent the US’s historical allies - the Gulf states, Egypt, Israel - from getting the impression that the US is effectively promoting a Shi’ite hegemony in the region, a clear message needs to be sent that the US will not tolerate an expansion of Iranian influence. In Syria, the US should openly support more moderate Sunni forces; in Iraq it must avoid supporting Shi’ite forces aligned with Iran.

To prevent the Gulf states, Egypt, Israel and other American allies from taking matters into their own hands, the US must provide assurances – including more robust military cooperation – that communicate US commitment to countering Iranian aggression.

The US, and its allies including Israel, cannot afford to let the JCPOA be interpreted as American détente with Iran.

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