US and Iran stick to military warnings despite nuclear deal
ABU DHABI // Despite an international accord over Tehran’s nuclear programme, the United States and Iran have not hesitated to remind each other of their military capabilities.
Washington could still take military action if Iran violates the deal, US president Barack Obama assured a congressman last week in a personal letter seeking his support for the pact.
For its part, Iran on Saturday unveiled a new surface-to-surface missile called the Fateh-313, which Tehran said had a 500-kilometre range and could strike targets more accurately than its predecessors, according to Fars News Agency.
The trumpeting of military might is rooted in the decades of distrust between Iran and the US, along with its Gulf Arab allies. The nuclear agreement, signed on July 14 between Iran and world powers, does little to do away with that mistrust – even as critics contend that the Obama administration is overeager to implement the deal to bolster its foreign policy record.
In a sign of the deep sceptism about the deal, controversy erupted last week when the Associated Press reported on a draft document that seemed to describe the International Atomic Energy Agency allowing Iran to use its own inspectors to report to the organisation on a site allegedly used to develop nuclear weapons.
In response, the IAEA said provisions for inspections of the Parchin military site, part of the nuclear accord, “are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices”. The statements about Iranian self-reporting on Parchin “misrepresent” how the IAEA carries out its verification work, said the agency’s chief, Yukiya Amano.
Still, the report has given more fuel to opponents of the deal, both among Gulf Cooperation Council states and in the US, where 56 per cent of the public believe congress should reject it, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released on Thursday.
Speaking in Dubai earlier this month, Adam Ereli, a former US ambassador to Bahrain who is now vice chairman of lobbying firm Mercury’s Washington office, said the length of the deal, 15 years, was a key problem. While the Obama administration acts as if 15 years is a long time, “it’s a blink of the eye”, he said.
“I think [the Iranian leadership] have a long-term plan which they are going to implement and that the agreement serves.”
At the moment, the accord appears to have raised tensions in the Middle East rather than lowered them.
For instance, the prospect of Iran being empowered by the rolling back of international sanctions was part of Saudi Arabia’s calculus for forming a coalition to combat Tehran-allied Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen. The ongoing war is asserting Gulf Arab power in the region in a way never seen before and is aimed at rolling back Iran’s influence. Yet, the Houthis have not capitulated to the coalition’s demands and the country remains locked in conflict.
For its part, Iran appears glad to raise the level of tension in the Middle East, having already gained influence in countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon by taking advantage of instability there.
The day after the nuclear deal was signed, Bahrain arrested two men for smuggling weapons, explosives and ammunition into the country. At least one of the men had received training in Iran, according to Bahraini officials. News of the arrests was only released later, just days before a July 28 bombing killed two Bahraini policemen. The explosives used in the bombing were similar to those confiscated from the smugglers.
Also, more than a dozen people were reportedly arrested in Kuwait after authorities found a hidden weapons cache. There were conflicting reports in local newspapers on whether the weapons were brought into the country from Iraq by Hizbollah, an Iranian ally, or by sea from Iran itself.
The incidents are all indicators that hardliners in Iran are unlikely to renege on support for Tehran’s regional proxies nor shy away from policies that see instability as an opportunity.
This means that while proponents of the nuclear deal might hold up its diplomatic virtues with one hand, they do so while openly holding the threat of military force in the other.
Updated: August 22, 2015 04:00 AM