These concerns have been variously expressed over the past several weeks since the July 14 signing of the nuclear agreement. Military leaders have been joined in that endeavor by think tanks and policy analysts, and concerns about escalating Iranian power have not been limited to Western commentators. The Obama administration has worked hard to gain approval from the US’s traditional Gulf state allies, but has thus far secured little more than tacit approval.
The Associated Press reported on Monday that Saudi Arabian King Salman reiterated his nation’s concerns during a weekend visit with President Obama. Salman reportedly urged Obama to sign a document guaranteeing that the US will take action to defend against any Iranian activities that threaten the security of Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The Wall Street Journal said on Monday that a likely consequence of the Obama administration’s push for the Iran nuclear deal would be an increase in funding for Israel and the Gulf countries, in order to shore up their national defenses and compensate for the perceived threat that comes with a policy of rapprochement with Iran.
That policy has, however, been defended by President Obama as a possible means of encouraging a trend toward moderation by the Iranian regime. On one hand, the nuclear negotiations themselves were regarded by some as a sign of moderation, but others emphasized that the effects of economic sanctions had left Iran with no choice but negotiate.
More recently, some Iranian officials have continued to reach out to the West for the sake of encouraging foreign investment. The nation’s second highest ranking cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani even took steps to limit the public role of Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. According to the Times of Israel, his comes after Suleimani loudly boasted of Iran’s growing influence over Shiite forces in such places as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Sistani’s criticism of Suleimani may be regarded as a move toward more moderate foreign policy views, but this interpretation is undermined by the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, and other top officials have made a number of recent, repeat comments insisting that Tehran’s policies remained diametrically opposed to those of the US and would not change in the wake of the nuclear agreement or related UN resolutions.
Sistani specifically sought to remove Suleimani from a role that was perceived as being that of a de facto foreign minister. The Obama administration and its allies have embraced the actual minister, Javad Zarif, alongside President Rouhani as a Western-educate pragmatist. But notwithstanding his role in the nuclear negotiations, it is not clear that there is any evidence of different policy positions on Zarif’s part, as compared to those of Suleimani.
Indeed, the AP reported on Monday that Zarif reiterated his government’s foreign policy positions with regard to the civil war in Syria. Zarif criticized Western governments for calling for the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He went on to accuse those same governments of being “responsible for the bloodshed,” and he denied that Tehran had been directly aiding the Assad regime in its fight against ISIL and moderate rebel groups headed by the Free Syrian Army.
But there has been a steady accumulation of evidence that the Quds Force is at least channeling Shiite militants and mercenary refugees into the fight, if not deploying its own combat troops alongside advisors. Furthermore, Iran has made no effort to deny that it is materially supporting the Assad regime, as by providing a new line of credit in the amount of one billion dollars, which was ratified in July.
Iran has also acknowledged the presence in Syria of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, which Tehran controls. Hezbollah tops the list of terrorist organizations that Western analysts fear will be greatly enriched by a portion of the tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief that Iran will receive soon after the nuclear deal is implemented.
Over the weekend, the Washington Times reported that US Senator Mark Kirk ordered a private government report which found that Iran’s defense spending and financing of terrorism may be larger than previously reported.
The report says, “Researchers estimate Iran spends between $100 million and $200 million per year on Hezbollah, $3.5 billion to $15 billion per year in support of Syria’s Asad Regime, $12 million to $26 million per year on Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, $10 million to $20 million per year to support Houthi rebels in Yemen and tens of millions per year to support Hamas terrorists in Israel.”