With the Iranian nuclear agreement reaching its first anniversary, it is clear whatever nuclear danger the deal prevented has been mitigated by the threat the Islamic Republic continues to pose to the stability of the Middle East.
Since signing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran is now a dominant regional player in the Middle East, fomenting sectarian divides between Shia and Sunni Muslims and supporting its proxies and allies such as Hezbollah and Syria’s Bashar Assad. The Islamic Republic is now also entrenched in Iraqi politics at multiple levels, particularly through its support of Iraqi Shia militias fighting Islamic State. Thanks to both Iranian and Russian support, Assad has been brought back from the brink of defeat.
In these ways and others, Iran continues to destabilize the region. Additionally, Iran conducts numerous ballistic missile tests in violation of international laws, illegally apprehends groups of U.S. sailors, actively encourages rebellion in countries like Bahrain and continues its age-old tradition of supporting terrorism abroad.
Secretary of State John Kerry insisted after the signing ofJCPOA the deal was not meant to “reform Iran’s regime, or end its support for terrorism.” A month later, President Barack Obama contradicted Kerry, saying he believes the deal could help bring Iran into the international community and help fight Islamic State. Despite Obama’s hopes, Iran’s aggressive behavior in the last year shows the deal had no chance of changing the Iranian regime’s antipathy towards the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the West.
Supporters of the agreement cited Iran’s February elections as a sign the regime was changing for the better. Media outlets were reporting so-called “moderates,” led by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, had won over those loyal to the supreme leader. Others disagree with this assessment, arguing the supreme leader culled the true reformers. Those opposing the “moderate” theory claim the notion of “moderate” election victories are a smoke screen for hardliners to continue to consolidate power.
Few leaders are as vocal about Iran’s aggression as Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel Bin Ahmed al-Jubeir. Since the Iran deal’s signing, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran have worsened, according to many. While Saudi Arabia tacitly supported JCPOA in public, privately, Saudi leaders expressed concern the deal would allow Iran to overrun the Middle East.
“The world is watching Iran for signs of change, hoping it will evolve from a rogue revolutionary state into a respectable member of the international community,” wrote al-Jubeir in an op-ed for The New York Times in January. “But Iran, rather than confronting the isolation it has created for itself, opts to obscure its dangerous sectarian and expansionist policies, as well as its support for terrorism, by leveling unsubstantiated charges against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Regarding its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has certified Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement, though the Institute for Science and International Security claims several key factors are missing from the report.
Despite what may or may not be missing from the IAEA report, Iran’s recent forays in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen show nuclear issues are not necessarily the premier foreign policy issue on the mind of the Iranian leaders. Many speculating about the reason for Iran’s change offer up two possible rationales: First, the nuclear deal has a sunset provision, meaning it is not permanent. Second, Iran has a constitutional mandate to export its revolution abroad, which is a key reason why it supports terrorist elements such as Hezbollah and backs friendly leaders like Assad.
“The nuclear deal has clearly emboldened the Iranian regime to expand its military and para-military actions, as well as its rhetoric, against the US and our allies in the region,” said Fred Kagan, head of American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, in an press announcement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Of the improvement in Iranian behavior promised by some supporters of the deal there has been not the smallest sign.”
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