Iran: One Year On - September 2016

Dr Matthew Offord MP and Bob Blackman MP
Parliamentary Officers, CFI

Over a year has passed since the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme between the P5+1 world powers and the Islamic Republic, and concerns over Tehran’s ambitions have far from abated.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between P5+1 world powers and Iran, was signed in Vienna in July 2015 following two years of intense negotiations. Many of those in the international community who had voiced their long-standing concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme – among whom included the Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - were assured that a “good deal” would be reached.

With no clauses referencing the regime’s vast human rights abuses against its own citizens, let alone its sponsorship of terror groups, the deal comprehensively failed to address some of the most important and concerning issues. These grave omissions allow Iran to continue transferring funds to its terrorist proxies, including Hamas and Hezbollah. In so doing, the international community has effectively green lit the actions of a pariah state, emboldening the Islamic Republic to pursue its hegemonic ambitions.

Troublingly, in the first 12 months since the deal was agreed, Iran has significantly advanced its ballistic missile development; continued to make explicit threats towards Israel and the West; and strengthened its grip on the region. These are far from the actions one would expect of a partner allegedly committed to exclusively peaceful intentions.

In the first year since the accord was reached, Iran is said to have conducted as many as eight ballistic missile tests. These ballistic missile tests are not to be taken lightly. The UK Ambassador to the UN among other Western diplomats have warned that Iran’s ballistic missiles are “inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons”, and in blatant defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions. One such projectile is the guided long-range Emad missile, which has a reported range of just over 1,000 miles and can deliver a 750 kg payload to within 500 metres of a target.

Iran makes little attempt to hide these activities; in fact it boasts about them. At the end of 2015, Iranian state TV broadcast unprecedented footage of a huge underground tunnel packed with missiles and launcher units. In August 2016 it emerged that Iran had even deployed a Russian-made S-300 air defence missile system at its secretive underground Fordow nuclear facility. The deployment of such an advanced air defence system gives good reason for the international community to suspect that it is continuing to accelerate its nuclear programme for purposes that are not entirely peaceful.

Iran has also stepped up its presence in Syria, providing substantial military and financial support to both Hezbollah and to the Syrian regime in contravention of the UN embargo on the export of weapons by Iran. Iran’s investment of significant resources into the Syrian civil war has exacerbated an already desperate situation.

Thanks to Iran’s generosity, Hezbollah has now amassed a reported arsenal of 150,000 rockets targeting Israel from southern Lebanon - 10 times the amount it had in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which killed 44 Israeli civilians. Iran also continues to operate a complex network of smuggling routes throughout the region to arm its terrorist proxies, breaching four UN Security Council Resolutions.

Rather than responding to the JCPOA by adopting a more cooperative stance with the international community, Iran has chosen to continue its belligerent rhetoric towards the West, in particular the US and Israel. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, for example, continues to issue unveiled threats against Israel, vowing to “fight the Zionists” by “all possible means”.

Let us also not overlook the fact that the annual Al Quds Day hate rallies against the West, calling for the “liberation” of Jerusalem, went ahead once again this year with the full support of the Iranian regime, and with President Rouhani in attendance. Among chants to be heard across Iranian cities were “death to Israel” and “down with America”.

Most alarming of all, Iran has reportedly secured access to more than $100 billion (£68.3 billion) of sanctions relief as a result of the nuclear deal, empowering the country’s hardliners and bankrolling its regional ambitions. Indeed, The Times reported in August 2015 that over 200 of the Iranian firms benefitting from sanctions windfall are controlled by leading members of Iran’s notorious Revolutionary Guard military force.

Moreover, one of the main beneficiaries of the sanctions windfall is Ayatollah Khamenei, who controls the Setad conglomerate - one of the most secretive and wealthy organisations in Iran, with estimated assets of around $95 billion (£65 billion).

All the while, the Islamic Republic’s human rights record remains abysmal. Under the supposedly ‘moderate’ President Rouhani, Iran leads the world in executions per capita - second only to China. It hangs gay teenagers in contravention of international law, persecutes minority ethnic and religious groups, and routinely takes political prisoners.  

It is against this backdrop that the UK has upgraded diplomatic relations with the country, appointing a British Ambassador to Iran for the first time since 2011 when ties were frozen after the British Embassy in Tehran was stormed and ransacked by a group of hard-line pro-regime students. While it is worthwhile retaining diplomatic ties with major regional players, we must not lose sight of Iran’s recent record and have to use this opportunity to bluntly express our dislike of any activities that run counter to British interests and values.