The recently completed nuclear deal with Iran will only strengthen the Islamic regime in the coming years and make it more difficult to punish Tehran for violations of the accord, a former British defense minister told the Washington Free Beacon on Wednesday.
Liam Fox, currently a Conservative member of Parliament, said in an interview that the United States and Western countries are surrendering their leverage against Iran by granting it as much as $150 billion in sanctions relief, in exchange for modest restrictions on its nuclear program. Tehran will use the cash infusion to quickly upgrade its military and civilian infrastructure, he said.
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The United States and other world powers caved into several Iranian demands during the nuclear negotiations, he said, including the eventual lifting of embargoes on the shipment of conventional arms and ballistic missiles into Tehran.
"This isn’t so much a deal as the fulfillment of an Iranian wish list," he said.
Iran’s terrorist proxies and partners in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, Shiite militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the Assad regime in Syria, all stand to benefit from the sanctions relief under the nuclear pact, he said. The Obama administration has defended the deal in part by saying that Iran will devote most of the extra funding toward reviving its moribund economy, and that Tehran already siphoned resources to its proxies despite the previous economic restrictions.
Fox called this an "extremely optimistic if not utterly perverse view of the world."
"If they regarded them as so much of a priority that they were willing to fund them when they had little money, I think it’s reasonable to assume that they will get the same level of priority amongst that new funding," he said.
"We had leverage that we have just thrown away."
Fox also said the notion that Western countries will be able to "snapback" sanctions in the event that Iran breaks the agreement is misguided. Governments will be reluctant to cut off their domestic businesses from potential profit opportunities in Iran, especially after long-term contracts have already been signed.
Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, recently said there was a "huge appetite" for U.K. businesses to invest in Iran after Britain reopened its embassy in the country following the deal. Britain had closed the embassy in 2011 after Iran expelled its ambassador and protesters rioted in the compound, smashing windows and burning British flags.
"As Western countries start getting more and more involved commercially with Iran, it becomes more and more difficult for their governments to persuade their own industries, that having committed themselves contractually and in terms of time, that they should do away with any potential profits because we want to re-impose sanctions," Fox said.
"This great faith in this snapback I don’t share."
After the nuclear deal lapses in about a decade, he said, Iran will find itself with a much shorter breakout time toward a nuclear bomb, billions in unfrozen assets, and additional profits from the resumption of oil and gas exports. Unless the Iranian leadership changes significantly, that could lead to the regional instability the Obama administration says it is attempting to prevent.
"They’ll be in a much stronger position should they decide after 10 years, that there’s no real change in Iranian society, they will thumb their nose at the international community" and pursue a nuclear weapon, he said.
Even if Congress votes to disapprove the Iran nuclear deal this month, Obama is expected to have enough support to sustain a veto of that resolution, meaning the agreement would proceed.
Fox also discussed other global security issues, including challenges posed by Russia and the Islamic State (IS). He said he was dismayed that the Obama administration had not yet decided whether to arm Ukrainian forces battling Russian-backed separatists on their eastern border. More than 6,000 people have died in the conflict since last April.
"I don’t see it as arming the Ukrainian army, I see it as giving people who are defending their homeland the necessary tools to do it," he said. "They’re defending their homeland against a very serious aggressor in [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia."
He said he recently had a conversation with a U.S. senator who expressed concerns about the West sending the wrong signal to Russia, which would only further provoke Putin and cause him to escalate the fighting in Ukraine.
"Are you crazy?" Fox said he told the senator. "[Putin is] perfectly reading the signals from the West. The signals are you can provoke us and we will not react. His actions are as unpredictable as our lack of response is predictable."
"Who makes NATO policy?" he added. "Is it made in the Kremlin or is it made by the allies in Brussels? That’s a serious issue for us."
On the Islamic State, he said the United States and Britain’s noninvolvement in the early stages of the crisis in Syria contributed to the terrorist group’s ability to establish a base of operations in that country. The effects are now spilling into Europe as millions of Syrian refugees seek safety from the war and the brutal extremist group.
He urged the United States and Europe to lead the creation of a safe no-fly zone in Syria for the refugees, and to pressure Arab countries to become more involved in the fight against IS.
"Doing nothing is not a policy without consequences," he said. "Doing nothing is a decision."