Iran has provided rockets and technology enabling Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) to bombard Israeli cities, in keeping with the Islamic Republic’s genocidal intentions towards Israel and goal to destroy the Abraham Accords. According to a senior Iranian commander, placing Israel ‘under siege’ could also extract ‘concessions from America’, presumably while current intense negotiations in Vienna aim to revitalise the Iran nuclear deal cancelled by President Trump.
Having pledged to ‘stand up against human rights violations wherever they occur’, the talks between Iran and major world powers provide the Biden administration with an opportunity to leverage the regime’s flagrant human rights abuses, such as the high number of executions in the country, and sponsorship of most of the world’s terrorism.
Apart from the Sunni terrorist organisations, Hamas and PIJ, Iran runs proxy Middle East Shia militias, including the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, and Hezbollah, with global reach, particularly in South America, Europe, and Africa. Coordinated by the Quds Force, the extraterritorial arm of Iraq’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s adventurism has destabilised Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen with untold loss of life and displacement.
These human rights abuses have not spurred the Biden administration to recalibrate their relationship with Iran — a policy reserved for Saudi Arabia.
Although President Biden set human rights as a cornerstone of his foreign policy, he has chosen to focus on Saudi abuses while turning a blind eye to Iran’s far more egregious and worsening violations.
What is more, the US is currying favour with the Islamic Republic by revoking the terrorist designation of the Houthis. The Biden administration also helped free US$7 billion in frozen Iranian assets, exchanged for the release of a South Korean chemical tanker and crew seized by Iran.
US-Saudi-Iran relationships are central to the current fast-tracked negotiations that aim to renew Obama’s JCPOA nuclear deal as a top US foreign policy objective.
Adopted in 2015 by Iran and members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the controversial agreement required Iran to restrict its nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Sunset provisions provided the Islamic Republic with a legitimate path to nuclear weapons within years and exacerbated the existential fears of regional states threatened by Iran.
The JCPOA also aimed to balance Iran-Saudi rivalry. Since the 1979 revolution, Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia have vied for regional hegemony and leadership of the Islamic world. Unlike President Trump, who supported the Saudis, Biden chose to continue Obama’s policy of backing Iran, even though the Islamic Republic likely falsified the scope of its nuclear intentions, developed ICBMs that could deliver nuclear weapons and increased uranium enrichment in breach of the nuclear deal. Nor did funds raised through rescinded sanctions reach the Iranian people with economic relief. Instead, Shiite paramilitaries were strengthened, wreaking further havoc in the region.
Since their terrorist declassification, the Houthis’ missile and drone bombardment of Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities and cities has surged. This escalation, together with American withdrawal from the region and news of a Bill to limit US arms sales, has signalled waning US protection for the Kingdom and driven a chastened Saudi Arabia towards rapprochement with its Iranian nemesis. Subservience to Tehran has already borne fruit in a reported Saudi move to accommodate Iran’s strategic ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Defusing tension between two Islamist titans wrestling for pre-eminence would seem advantageous to the region. But to many Gulf Arabs and Israel, Saudi Arabia’s submission to Iran heralds a return to Obama’s follies of appeasing enemies and alienating allies. Moreover, regional states have been denied seats at the Vienna negotiations conducted by countries distant from the firing line and eager for new business ventures in the largely untapped Iranian market.
A deal that requires trust in Islamist extremists uncommitted to universal human rights is bound to unravel. History has shown that backing the mujahideen to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan returned to bite the US. How much worse an authoritarian Islamist theocracy granted a conduit to nuclear weapons within years.
If the history of the 2015 JCPOA is repeated, Iran will utilise funds from lifted sanctions to export their radical Shia ideology, pursue imperialist ambitions and create more disruption in an unstable region.
At great personal risk, dissenters inside the Islamic Republic have sent similar warnings in a letter to President Biden, imploring him to maintain full economic, political and diplomatic pressure, as well as support for human rights and release of all political prisoners. Of those who signed the letter, most have been arrested.
Gulf states are watching the Gaza conflict with trepidation, while Israel fights on the front line, and they may feel compelled to follow Saudi Arabia down the path of conciliation with Iran if Hamas and PIJ are not decimated.
This outcome would dismantle the Abraham Accords before normalisation between the parties had time to consolidate and expand. It would also fulfil Iran’s goal to demolish these historic, transformative Middle East peace agreements.
President Biden continues to embrace the Iran nuclear deal and a policy of appeasement. Even before the talks in Vienna began, he accepted Iran’s demand to keep the US out of the negotiating room, forcing the Americans to communicate through shuttled messages from the European delegates.
Biden’s appeasement, which effectively gives Iran and her proxies a green light to fire rockets at will into Israel, also sends the Gulf states a sombre warning to expect something similar in the event they don’t submit to the Islamic Republic.
If Biden’s human rights protestations were meaningful, he would highlight the plight of regional states and advocate for the release of political prisoners incarcerated in Iran. Sadly, his grandiose claim to uphold global human rights serves as a cover for a hurried new nuclear agreement that could empower a treacherous, retrogressive and belligerent regime at the expense of the Iranian people, regional allies and beyond.
The Biden administration should heed the call of dissenters within Iran, abandon futile appeasement and halt negotiations.
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Ida Lichter is the author of Muslim Women Reformers: Inspiring Voices Against Oppression
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