Secretary of State John Kerry announced that international negotiators would likely miss their political deadline to conclude a nuclear agreement by midnight in Washington, DC. With Kerry and his team having collapsed on almost every red line they previously laid out — allowing Iran more centrifuges than Pakistan had when it developed its nuclear arsenal; allowing Iran to keep its fortified, underground plant at Fordo; compromising on anytime, anywhere inspections; allowing Iran a plutonium path; and forcing Iran to come clean on its previous work on the military dimensions of a nuclear program—what is now holding up the agreement is reportedly Iran’s demand that sanctions on its ballistic missile program and arms exports be lifted.
In order to defend itself against charges that it was not doing enough to address other Iranian bad behavior — its holding of four American hostages, its support for terrorism, its support for Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime, its gross violations of human rights — numerous Obama administration officials have repeatedly explained that they were limiting the talks with Iran to just the nuclear portfolio. That Iran is now holding the deal hostage in order to advance its ballistic missile program and ensure its ability to export weapons shows that Tehran is not approaching the deal from the same baseline. For Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, national interest is paramount; for President Obama, philosophy is.
Given both President Obama’s quest for a legacy and Kerry’s previous poor negotiating prowess, it is hard to believe that they will hold firm if the only thing preventing their deal with Iran was the extent to which Iran could develop ballistic missile technology (or satellite launchers, as the Iranian press often calls them) or export weaponry to their groups and proxies in what they increasingly refer to in Persian as the “Axis of Resistance,” which comprises Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Let us hope that Kerry and his team do hold firm, though. Over recent weeks, Bahraini authorities have intercepted an Iranian weapons shipment meant to take the low-grade protest campaigns by the Bahraini Shi‘ite opposition and Saudi Shi‘ites to a new level. During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, Hezbollah crippled an Israeli ship with an Iranian-made C-802 missile. Hezbollah has since bragged both about restocking and upgrading its missile arsenal and about developing an underwater sabotage capability. The Houthis in Yemen, meanwhile, have not only allowed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to transform them into an Iranian proxy, but they have also seized territory along the southeastern Yemeni coast, thereby endangering shipping through the Bab al-Mandab. In addition, the windfall the Obama administration is prepared to allow Tehran to go on a veritable shopping spree with not only Russia and China, but also perhaps even North Korea, France, and Germany.
Who will be most vulnerable to this Iranian military build-up? Well, certainly ordinary Syrian citizens who are already suffering between the twin evils of the Assad regime and the Islamic State. But also the U.S. Navy. Khamenei has repeatedly demanded that U.S. forces leave the Persian Gulf, international waters be damned. And contrary to left-wing political activist turned Washington Post correspondent Ishaan Tharoor, the Iranian regime does subscribe to a notion of “Iranzamin” or “Greater Iran” based on the Persian Empire’s historical legacy. This will put Iran and the U.S. Navy on a collision course. That might be inevitable, but allowing Iran to equip itself with sophisticated missiles and weaponry that might have a higher chance to penetrate American defenses, that is unconscionable. Let Obama be a neighborhood organizer for the world after his term ends; while he is in the White House his chief job is to protect Americans lives, livelihood, and security.