Iran Deal Would Complicate Military Options

Michael Eisenstadt wrote an analysis of how military and intelligence options will change under the terms of the deal.  From improved air defenses to more powerful missile technology, Iran will be better fit to stand off an attack on its program if this deal goes through.

The most obvious complication comes in terms of the ability of Western war planes to reach and strike Iranian targets.  Vladimir Putin has already signed a deal that will involve the transfer of top-flight Russian anti-aircraft missiles to the Iranian government.  The Russian government has recently confirmed that it intends to carry out the transfer in the wake of the UN Security Council resolution backing the deal.  The S-300 system is one that the United States government has been considering how to tackle for some time.  DARPA has developed a systematic approach, but so far the technologies to leverage this approach are not all in existence.  This will provide Iran a window of comfort in which they enjoy increased safety from even American air force attacks, to say nothing of other powers with less advanced technologies.

A second set of capabilities Iran intends to increase are its payload-bearing missile systems.  MEMRI recently confirmed that Iran’s opinion of the P5+1 deal is that it has relieved them of ballistic missile sanctions immediately.  Senator Robert Menendez warned Secretary of State John F. Kerry that the language of the agreement appeared to shift from the strong bans of previous resolutions to  mere language that “Iran is called upon” not to perform ballistic missile improvements.  Secretary Kerry told the Senator that he, the Senator, was mistaken in his understanding of the language.  The government of Iran does not think so, and they appear to be correct:

As Senator Menendez points out, a UN Security Council resolution “calling on” Iran to avoid an activity has no teeth compared to a UN Security Council resolution barring the activity. The danger here is that Kerry may not understand his own concession. He agrees that he conceded that Iran would be able to return to ballistic missile improvements, a massive concession given that we believe they are trying to construct a nuclear bomb. He thinks he conceded it in five years or eight, but the agreement he actually made has no such language.

The ballistic missile and heavy weapons agreements were last minute additions to the Iran deal insisted upon by the Iranian government.  The United States government agreed to them though it was unwilling to introduce new issues itself, such as the release of American hostages, demonstrating that the United States administration was the party  most desperate for a deal.  It is likely that the language was crafted by the Iranians and their friends among the P5+1 powers, and that it slipped past Secretary Kerry because he viewed it as a side issue rather than a serious matter for his consideration.

In addition, the money from the deal will go to further Iran’s capacity to build out the proxy networks of militias with which it is extending and deepening its control of the region.  Iran has this week introduced legislation that will allow members of these militias to seek Iranian citizenship, which will bring them under the formal protection of Iran’s laws and diplomatic officers.

Proposed amendments to Iran’s Civil Code under the name “Facilitating Naturalization of non-Iranian Veterans, Warriors and Elites” will offer citizenship to foreigners who join Iranian military units—be it border patrol, militias confronting the so-called “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria, groups involved with public order operations, or any of Iran’s less “official” military initiatives, including support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Under the amendments, “revolutionary heroes” can become citizens without undergoing existing naturalization requirements.

This initiative would damage Iran’s ability to claim plausible deniability if it were extended to Hezbollah, but it would work very well to extend its control of Iraq and Syria.  By extending citizenship to these proxy forces, Iran would be able to claim an official interest in their status and well-being.  It will thus become difficult for the Iraqi or the Syrian government, whatever their future form, to suppress these militias should they become a danger to government stability.  Iran will be able to use these organizations as levers of control within the foreign states.  That will also further complicate efforts to strike militarily at Iran in the future.

While the military option will not vanish under the Iran deal, it will become more complicated.  The deal is going to strengthen Iran’s ability to sustain itself in the event of such an attack, and to strike back as well.  Far from limiting the risk of war, the deal makes it more likely that American lives will be lost should a war come.