By Joshua Block
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already announced plans to press forward with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. In a speech broadcast on Iranian state television less than one week since diplomatic talks expired in Vienna, Khamenei stated, “Peacetime offers great opportunities for our armed forces to. . .build up on preemptive capacities.”
Khamenei’s call for increased military activity should hardly be viewed as the words of a leader whose regime is pursuing nuclear power to generate electricity, as Iran has repeatedly claimed. Rather, it is an ominous dictate from the powerful throne of the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism that could further destabilize the disarray known as the Middle East.
Time is on Iran’s side, having been granted a seven-month extension until the next deadline for diplomacy. The United States and its allies should be concerned that Tehran will exploit the absence of vigorous pressure to continue its nuclear work and further dig in its heels against making the concessions necessary to meet the demands of the international community. At this critical juncture, now is not the time to withdraw pressure. Iran must finally be required to dismantle its nuclear capacity.
During the past year, Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and destabilization of its neighbors has continued – and in many ways worsened – even as Iran has engaged the West in nuclear talks. Iran’s terrorist arm, Hezbollah, is a major strategic threat, having been responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any group except al-Qaeda.
In 2009, at the beginning of his first term in office, President Obama announced that his administration would be seeking to “directly engage” with Iran. The administration’s foreign policy strategy was and is based on the hopeful belief that Iranian behavior could be moderated through a series of cooperative and coercive measures. Unfortunately, that notion has collided with reality as Iran has repeatedly sought to undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East.
There is both logic and appeal to the administration’s original plan. Iran boasts a range of hard-power utility options that can, so the argument goes, be obtained through cooperative measures and then wielded against extremists to beat back their progress across the region. Iran, which sits strategically at the rim of the Persian Gulf, maintains a dominant toehold in Lebanon and parts of Syria through its proxy, Hezbollah, and it exerts influence in Iraq by fueling sectarian tensions there.
Vitally, Iran also controls the Strait of Hormuz, thus it administers the free flow of oil to the West. In other words, in a destabilizing Middle East in which state borders are rapidly collapsing and thousands of people are being killed daily, Iran appears to be a one-stop foreign-policy-shop.
The main problem with power-sharing agreements, however tempting, is that they inevitably come with consequences. In the case of Iran, the world’s leading financier of terror, the consequences of cooperation would be counterproductive, if at all even possible.
The downside of forming a tactical alliance with Iran against a third party has a long-held and poor precedent by U.S. standards. Iran has historically supported all sides in conflict, hoping to gain influence over the side that wins. Today, in addition to helping prop up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran also is playing key destructive roles in Lebanon and Iraq.
Tehran also provides support to the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS, despite the fact that each group seeks to eradicate Shi’ism, the religious underpinning of the Iranian regime. Iran has spawned important tactical relationships with these terrorist groups because they share a common adversary, the U.S., and they all maintain virulent anti-American agendas.
With a new deadline set for talks after the deadline was extended yet again, the P5+1 must avoid at all costs agreeing to a deal which falls short of dismantling Iran’s nuclear capabilities or relying too heavily upon Iranian promises of transparency. The Iranian strategy of double-dealing remains the country’s modus operandi, thereby undermining diplomatic channels and creating a debilitating ripple effect of destabilization across the Middle East.
Joshua S. Block is President & CEO of The Israel Project.