The concern, of course, is that the same will happen with Iran – that the continuation of a soft diplomatic policy by the US will only lead to a later confrontation with a stronger foe. There are signs that this is where we are headed. The Obama administration appears to be tacitly cooperating with Iran in a way that may improve the Islamic Republic’s military and economic prospects. And this is happening even though much of the Iranian leadership is still maintaining an aggressive stance towards the West, and is directing their newfound empowerment against it.
That empowerment comes, for instance, from the US’s assistance of the Iranian mission in Iraq against Sunni Islamic State militants. While the US and Iran have both repeatedly denied that they would cooperate in that conflict, Reuters observes that the two appear to be working together, “if awkwardly and at arms’ length.” But while the US’s approach to that cooperation has been to largely ignore the growing Iranian presence inside of Iraqi borders, the Iranian approach has consisted of criticizing and attempting to delegitimize the US-led coalition, while angling for more power for itself in the conflict.
In recent weeks, Iranian officials have repeatedly denounced that coalition as ineffectual, claiming victories for themselves in spite of the fact that international observers credit US air support for the victories of Iranian, Iraqi, and Kurdish forces on the ground. Furthermore, in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani proposed an alternative to the US coalition which would consist solely of Iran and its regional allies.
Hot Air suggests that the US’s soft diplomacy essentially embraces this project of Iranian expansion, in that it allows the administration officials to rely on Iran to “relieve them of the hard work of defending and securing a weak Iraq.” The author adds that this severely limits the US’s ability to confront Iran over its nuclear program. No doubt Iran is aware of this, as regime officials have also made public statements aiming to obtain Western commitments to the removal of economic sanctions in exchange for Iranian assistance in Iraq.
But Iran is not waiting for such commitments before it tries to get out from underneath those sanctions. With this in mind, the regime has been making significant overtures to European businesses, taking advantage of the atmosphere of détente in an attempt to weaken international support for a return of sanctions if nuclear negotiations fall through. The recent Europe-Iran Forum in London marked a major step in Iran’s economic moves into the West.
Many critics of the Obama administration even fear that the president will circumvent Congress to push sanctions relief through after the signing of a weak deal. This may further contribute to the atmosphere of détente and thus to Western businesses’ judgment that it is fairly safe to begin investing in Iran again.
This contrasts with the Wall Street Journal’s report that the US has warned companies not to rush into such investments. But that in turn contrasts with the picture painted by various reports indicating that investor interest is growing. Indeed, the same Wall Street Journal report focuses on the prospect that Apple, Inc. will begin selling its products inside of Iran soon after sanctions are suspended or removed. This is significant because it had earlier been reported that Apple was particularly cautious about making such a move, lagging behind many of its competitors in order to err on the side of legal caution. Apple’s recent reconsideration suggests that the incentive for investing in Iran has gotten stronger or that the perceived consequences have grown weaker.
The shift can easily be explained in terms of the policy of détente, though it is important to note that there are few indications that Iran is contributing to that policy in anything other than the economic domain. With regard to defense orientations, political rhetoric, and espionage, Iran has largely maintained its identity as an opponent of Western interests, and a mortal enemy to the state of Israel. But at the same time, Hot Air reports that at least one Obama administration official has boasted of reining in Israel’s moves against Iran with respect to its nuclear program.
This raises key questions about Iran’s recent statement, carried by Reuters on Thursday, that it had foiled a plot to sabotage heavy water tanks at the Arak facility that could produce plutonium as an alternative path to a nuclear weapon. Iran attributed the supposed plot to a “foreign country” without elaborating. The claims have not been independently verified.
Iran has traditionally made Western governments the target of its accusations, and has suggested in recent months that the US and Britain deliberately created the Islamic State. But Iran also has clear regional adversaries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All of these foreign entities have been combined into some Iranian conspiracy theories, such as its current narrative about low oil prices being a plot to weaken the Islamic Republic.
On one hand, if Iran is seeking to implicate the West in a plot against its heavy water tanks, it is possible that some US agency is acting against the publicly stated positions of the Obama administration. On the other hand, it is equally possible that Iran’s implication of a foreign power or the sabotage claim itself could be a bogus attempt to justify aggression toward the West by portraying Iran as the victim.
Either way, such Iranian aggression has the potential to be a more serious concern if circumstances continue to develop on their current trajectory. Want China Times reports that the developing relationship between Iran and China may soon provide Iran with a ready source of arms for upgrading its obsolete defense systems. If that relationship remains unchallenged but Western defense firms continue to stay out of Iran, China could develop a virtual monopoly in the Iranian arms market, thus empowering the West’s Middle Eastern adversary while enriching its East Asian competitor.
And concerns about Iranian arms supplies are not limited to their effect on Iran’s own strength. An increase in those supplies will almost certainly mean an increase in arms supplied to terrorist groups and Iran’s Middle Eastern allies. In Lebanon, where Iran already controls and supplies the Hezbollah paramilitary, Tehran has also offered to send arms to the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Tower notes that such shipments are plainly in violation of violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.
The fact that Iran evidently feels confident announcing these plans publicly suggests that it likely does not fear serious measures to enforce the broken resolution. There is no doubt that some of the Obama administration’s many critics will attribute this confidence to what they perceive as the emerging US-Iran détente.