Iran Deal Leaves Hezbollah Emboldened and Israel Constrained

Breitbart news reports that the Iran deal “will provide Iran with a cash windfall” that could be “as high as $150 billion.”  Since 1948, Israel has received only $124.3 billion in aid.  Israeli generals report having taken possible strikes against Iran off the table partly due to a need to focus more on an increased threat from Hezbollah arising from the deal’s terms. 

The $150 billion in unfrozen funds is in addition to expected investments in Iran’s infrastructure, particularly in oil.  In 2010 Undersecretary of State William Burns estimated that Iran would receive an additional $60 billion in investments without the sanctions regime.

The aid to Israel is mostly recovered by the United States, as 75% of it must be spent with American firms.  Iran, by contrast, will be unfettered in how it spends the cash that is unfrozen as the sanctions regime is dismantled.  We learned yesterday in Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s testimony before the House of Representatives that there are no mechanisms in place to prevent it from using that money to fund terrorism or to kill American citizens.  Asked if implementation of the deal would increase Iran’s support for terrorism, the Secretary answered, “Possibly.” Asked if Iran would supply weapons to terrorists to kill Americans, he said, “They may.”

Concerned by this development, US congressional leaders have begun formulating a mechanism of their own to control for at least this one danger of the deal.  Their strategy is to pass a re-authorization of the Iran Sanctions Act with new, specific terms related to preventing terrorism.

Both the US administration and the Iranian government have warned Congress that creating new sanctions aimed at terrorism might derail the nuclear agreement.  Indeed, Secretary Kerry is reported to have said that “the legislature would not be allowed to create new sanctions against Iran’s other illicit activities as a ‘phony excuse’” to replace nuclear sanctions.  It is unclear what power the State Department has to inform Congress as to what it is allowed to do, but the President has threatened to veto any legislation that would interfere with the Iran deal.

More telling may be the fact that the administration views concerns about terrorism as “a phony excuse” rather than legitimate concerns in their own right.  The Iran deal seems structured to view Iran as an increasingly responsible actor in the region.  It waives heavy weapons sales and ballistic missile sales restriction.  It contains no provisions meant to ensure that money freed to Iran will not be spent on terrorism, in spite of Iran’s lengthy history of state-sponsored terrorism.  For some reason, these concerns were not a priority for the United States’ executive in negotiating this deal.

This sense is not shared by US ally Israel, whose generals report increased concern that the deal will embolden Hezbollah.  According to the Economist, “Israeli officers are concerned not simply that [Hezbollah] will get more money and advanced weapons, but also that it will feel less constrained in using its large arsenal of medium-range missiles provided by Iran.”  The reason is that previously Hezbollah has not used the heaviest weapons provided to it by Iran, but has held them in reserve to as a threat should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear program using its air force.  “Now that such an attack is off the table,” the Economist reports Israeli generals as thinking, Hezbollah may use the heavy missiles for other reasons.

These reports suggest that the deal has already resulted in a strategic planning shift in Israel.  If the generals now believe that an attack is off the table, it may be because the terms of the deal commit the United States to helping Iran prevent sabotage and encourage the security of Iran’s nuclear sites.  Israel may feel constrained to act against its chief ally in this matter, and also may believe that the United States’ intelligence services will be focused on detecting and preventing any such attacks.  That the deal would appear to leave Iran with a greater capacity to support terrorism and an emboldened Hezbollah is thus only half of the picture of the regional shift.  It will also leave an Israel feeling increasingly constrained to act independently.