There’s a powerful scene in the film Love and Death, Woody Allen’s hilarious parody of the large, brooding 19th-century Russian novel. Allen’s character, a luckless Russian infantryman, casts his eyes high above to the hilltops where his army’s generals sit loftily and safely on their horses, observing the battle raging below. Standing in the muck and chaos of the bloody fighting, he says, “Wow! The battle looks completely different when you’re in the middle of it than it does to the generals up on the hill.”
That observation came to mind on Jan. 16, when leaders of the West congratulated themselves as the nuclear deal with Iran took effect. With it, of course, came the imminent flow into the Iranian treasury of some $100 billion (US).
“Today… the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world are safer because the threat of the nuclear weapon has been reduced,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry enthused in Vienna. Other spokespeople for the western governments involved in the agreement made similar pronouncements.
Meanwhile, leaders in the Middle East, the region where Tehran’s treachery and duplicity cause unceasing death and destruction, had a different view.
“The ‘implementation day’ of the nuclear agreement ushers us into a new and dangerous era, in which Iran is freed from most of its economic sanctions, without having to quit its nuclear program or provide explanations for its military activities,” said Israel’s strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan.
Does any serious thinker or even casual observer of the Middle East doubt how Iran will spend the majority of the billions? Its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei and his personally directed attack force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, have already made public their chief spending priority: upgrading the military. And Russia has already sold Iran the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft defence system. In addition, the two countries are negotiating possible sales to Iran of advanced fighter jets, anti-ship cruise missiles and T-90 tanks. France, too, has won a portion of the Iranian sanctions-liberated lottery and is currently negotiating a massive sale of Dassault Rafale fighter jets.
And does any serious thinker or even casual observer doubt that some of this new weaponry – not to mention some of the billions of newly received U.S. dollars – will be conveyed to Iran’s surrogates and violent satraps in the region?
Former CIA director David Petraeus has no illusions about Iranian intentions. In a recent interview with Ha’aretz, he noted: “We must recognize that it has been Iranian expansionism that has helped fan the flames of Sunni extremism, whether by enabling [President] Bashar Assad’s campaign of slaughter in Syria or backing sectarian elements in Iraq or Yemen. That is why at the same time that we step up our campaign to combat the Islamic State, we also need a reinvigorated effort to counter and roll back Iran’s malign activities across the region.”
The American administration, however, has adamantly refused to “roll back Iran’s malign activities across the region.” One need not look further than Iran’s recent illegal testing of long-range ballistic missiles and its illegal detention of U.S. sailors whose boats mistakenly crossed into Iranian waters.
In both cases, the administration’s response was obsequious. In the former case, only after “implementation day” of the nuclear deal and after President Barack Obama had threatened to block renewed Congressional sanctions against Iran for violating the UN resolution prohibiting the test of the missiles did the U.S. Treasury Department impose sanctions against 11 listed individuals and companies. In the latter case, Kerry gave effusive thanks to his Iranian counterpart for not harming the Americans whose very detention had violated all international norms.
In both cases, Tehran tested Washington’s resolve. In both cases, Washington showed none. It will fall to the countries in the Middle East who are the targets of Iran’s malign activities to show the resolve the West so alarmingly lacks.