Op-Ed

Iran complying with nuclear deal. Here’s what really worries U.S. officials

A photo of President Donald Trump is set on fire Sept. 27 by Iranian mourners during the state funeral of a young Revolutionary Guard soldier beheaded by the Islamic State group in Syria. Iran has suffered casualties while its troops are deployed into Iraq fighting the Islamic State group and in Syria.
A photo of President Donald Trump is set on fire Sept. 27 by Iranian mourners during the state funeral of a young Revolutionary Guard soldier beheaded by the Islamic State group in Syria. Iran has suffered casualties while its troops are deployed into Iraq fighting the Islamic State group and in Syria. Associated Press

The pundits, policymakers and think tankers are abuzz as to whether or not the Trump administration will announce Oct. 15 that Iran is not in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal signed by the U.S., Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China in July 2015.

In order to obtain Congress’ approval of the deal, the Obama administration was compelled to accept the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act stipulating that the president must certify every 90 days that Iran is complying. That has been done six times.

The first time the deal came up for recertification during his administration, President Donald Trump agreed but indicated that it would not do so a second time — despite the fact that all other signees, the International Atomic Energy Agency and a host of international atomic weapons specialists have stated that Iran is in compliance.

The Trump administration acknowledges that Iran is indeed in compliance but that it is in violation of its “spirit”. This is one of the few times in diplomatic history that one country threatens possible war against another country for violating the “spirit” of a high-level contractual agreement.

There are three notable activities that the U.S. violently opposes.

The first is the strong Iranian presence in Iraq — a country of vital concern for the U.S., Iran, and its Arab Shi’a supporters in Baghdad. With the exception of the Kurdish region, Iran is now in control of much of Iraq. In addition, the Shi’a population of Iraq is around 24 million, with a Sunni population of 6 million and a Kurdish population of 5.5 million. The Kurdish population is closely aligned with the U.S.

It will be impossible to dislodge the Shi’a from power. The government now has some 350,000 armed forces and some 300,000 national police, the majority of whom are Shi’a. If most of the Sunni Arab population aligns with the Shi’a Baghdad government in the coming years, it will strengthen further the Shi’a. Furthermore, most of the Shi’a are aligned with Iran.

In addition, Iran has an estimated 100,000 or more militia forces in Iraq. Iran’s clergy also have a strong presence in the religious cities of Najaf and Karbala, both of them vital for maintaining the legitimacy of Shi’ism as a apolitical and ideological forces in Iraq and Iran.

In 2005, the U.S. put a Shi’a nationalist, Nuri al-Maliki, in power who did a thorough job of removing Sunnis from almost all government positions. The Shi’a position was further enhanced when the U.S. decided to withdraw its forces from Iran in December, 2011. By this time, Shi’a were firmly in power and had completely out-maneuvered Washington. This sticks in the craw of Washington policymaker and among generals who now run U.S. foreign policy if Iran, Syria and Afghanistan.

Two: The U.S. took a beating from Iran and Russia in Syria. The hesitancy of the Obama administration to robustly intervene in the Syrian civil war allowed the pro-Iranian Shi’a (Alawite) Bashar al-Assad regime to survive and to defeat the U.S.- backed anti-al-Assad opposition.

U.S. miscalculations could result in the establishment of a land corridor between Iraq and Syria that would strengthen further Iran’s presence in Syria. Iran’s alliance with Russia (in Syria at least) could result in Tehran’s ability to consolidate military, political and ideological power in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

It is the latter possibility that perturbs the U.S. and Israel as the Lebanese Hezbollah Shi’a fighting in Syria is also the strongest military and political force in Lebanon. While Shi’a comprise only 1,160,000 of Lebanon’s 4.3 million population (excluding around 1 million refugees), they believed that the defense of the al-Asad regime is vital to their existence in Lebanon.

It is the Shi’a Lebanese who were expelled and fled to Beirut in 1982 as a result of Israel’s invasion in 1982 radicalized them and increased their hatred of Israel resulting in several wars.

Hezbollah is a small fighting force. It has no air force, navy and few tanks. It reportedly does possess significant amounts of rockets and drones. Hezbollah possesses no threat to Israel. Israel’s armed forces are among the strongest, most modern, and lethal armed forces in the world possessing 250 to 350 nuclear weapons, every conceivable kind of missile, and one of the most advanced air forces in world. It has some of the most comprehensive and lethal cyber-war capabilities in the world, intricately intertwined with the U.S.’s global cyber-war network.

Given Israel’s geopolitical, geostrategic and domestic importance for the U.S., in order to maintain its current global dominance, Congress and the American public are willing to accept Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and portions of the Golan Heights, despite solid Arab opposition.

Hezbollah and Iran oppose these policies. This makes Hezbollah and Iran enemies. And it makes for a heady brew of demonization and war mongering.

Robert Olson of Lexington is a Middle East analyst who has published several books on the region.

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