What do opponents of an Iran nuclear deal really want?

In the run-up to America and Iran's day of reckoning there is much to consider

Dr. John Duke Anthony
Dr. John Duke Anthony
Published: Updated:
Read Mode
100% Font Size
30 min read

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is once again in Switzerland with his British, Chinese, French, German, and Russian counterparts to continue negotiations regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Whether the respective diplomatic and national security negotiators will succeed remains to be seen. To be sure, a mutually acceptable agreement with Iran by six among the world's most powerful and influential nations, on one hand, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, on the other, is no small matter. In substance as well as in procedure and desired outcome, the goals – ensuring that Iran does not produce a nuclear bomb and, to that end, agreeing on as intrusive a nature and range of inspections as any in history – are as laudable as they are in many ways timely, urgent, and necessary.

The negotiators are keenly aware that the talks have been occurring alongside a rise in regional tensions. Simultaneous to the discussions, the negotiators have been especially mindful of Arab governments' ongoing objections to the destabilizing influence of Iran's ongoing interference in the domestic affairs of their countries, e.g., members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a six-state grouping comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, plus Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. In this regard, they are cognizant of the GCC leaders' resentment that the issue of Iran's continuing intrusions in Arabia and the Gulf – destabilizing interventions as yet unreciprocated – was not allowed to be part of the talks.

In the run-up to America and Iran's day of reckoning there is much to consider

Dr. John Duke Anthony

The negotiators acknowledge these leaders' irritation at the reasons for the omission: namely, that Tehran was opposed to its inclusion. Indeed, in retrospect, in their eagerness to pursue an agreement of some kind – however partial and limited in its scope and potential impact – the negotiators were inadequately empathetic to the legitimate concerns of neighboring countries and too quick to accommodate Iran's objections. Even so, the negotiators argue in their defense that their efforts should not be defeated in advance by anyone with a sincere interest in advancing the legitimate goals of regional and global peace, security, stability, and the possible accompanying prospects for prosperity.

Opponents Outside of the Arab World

Possessing separate motivations and desires from those noted above, it is useful to assess the true intentions of others opposed to a potentially acceptable agreement: a group largely comprised of American neoconservatives, their Israeli allies, and other likeminded individuals and institutions. These groups have loudly proclaimed that they would have the P5+1 negotiators – representing the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council, i.e., China, France, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany – avoid reaching an agreement that may contain provisions not to their liking, which they believe may be imminently near to being concluded with the Islamic Republic.

Make no mistake, these groups seeks a profoundly different set of accomplishments vis-à-vis Iran than the ones under consideration in the nuclear talks. The intentions of these opponents of a potentially acceptable agreement are, rather, to see America directly confront Iran.

The Old Iraq Syndrome

Those driving the issue in this antagonistic and provocative direction are hardly new to the American and Israeli political scenes. One need only reference, as this author did in an address to The Voltaire Institute in Brussels in 2005, their influence and collective political and media clout in successfully moving Washington's decision making regarding confronting Iraq militarily from a concept to policy recommendation to an actual American-led invasion and occupation.

The outcomes that these groups seek this time around, like those they sought before, have been heavily obscured. They remain deliberately veiled in fear, myth, rumor, innuendo, and warmongering. What those opposed to a mutually acceptable accord with Tehran have in mind bears a strong resemblance to the bill of goods sold to the American people with the U.S. effort to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The results of the damage they wrought in Iraq – a country that had not attacked the United States or posed any credible threat to American interests – have yet to run their course. Already, with no end in sight, the consequences are certain to cost more than a trillion dollars. Already, the human price is inestimable. In addition to the thousands of American killed and tens of thousands wounded are the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, rendered homeless, made refugees, and maimed for life.

Even with the cessation of U.S. military operations in Iraq at the end of 2011, the suicide rate of U.S. soldiers returning from the cauldron forged by the collective weight of the American neoconservatives, elements among their Israeli allies, and others in a post-September 11, 2001 revenge mode against Arabs and Muslims continues at a disturbing rate. Beginning in 2004, the year after America's war against Iraq commenced, the rate of U.S. veterans committing suicide climbed to record highs.

The result, moreover, toppled the regime, decimated the country's security and defense forces, sowed many of the seeds that made it possible for the Islamic State group to emerge, spread, and wreak the havoc it has wrought, and paved the way for Iran to become the single largest and most influential foreign factor in Iraq – without its having to fire a single shot or shed a drop of blood. It also allowed Israelis and Israeli agents to enter northern Iraq to assist in the training of Kurdish security forces, thereby further advancing decades-old Israeli-Kurdish collaboration and their joint goal of ensuring a weaker government in Baghdad than existed before in addition to practically guaranteeing that Iraq would be deprived of the means and ability to pose a threat to Israel at anytime in the foreseeable future.

Unspoken Goals

The dominant U.S. role in launching the war and in administering the occupation also succeeded in the placement of American advisers in most Iraqi government ministries. Such positioning enhanced American proximity to Iraqis authorized to plan and administer the successor government's multi-billion dollar contracts. This alone ensured that Americans would have privileged access to invaluable intelligence ahead of others. And it practically guaranteed U.S. companies a preferential position not only vis-à-vis future exploration and development of the country's energy and other economic resources. It also enabled American firms to be in a better position than might otherwise have been the case to bid successfully on Iraq's major lucrative aviation, engineering, infrastructure, reconstruction, and construction projects.

As with Iraq, what those against practically any mutually acceptable governmental accord with Iran regarding its nuclear program seek to achieve is as devious as it is damaging. By no stretch of the imagination is it in accord with America's legitimate interests. Instead, what they diligently seek might be seen as a single issue and interest: serving the perceived needs of Israel under the guise of doing what is best for America when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

As sure as actions have consequences, these U.S. and Israeli groups would abide a forceful American confrontation with the undeniable potential for yet another costly war. Indeed, an article titled "Time to Attack Iran," appearing in the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs – the most widely read journal among American policymakers, U.S. policy analysts, and foreign affairs practitioners – implied that, as the prospects are considerable that the United States will have to use armed force against Iran's nuclear program eventually, it might as well proceed to do so now, when the likely costs would arguably be less than later.

The U.S. Secretary of State's and his negotiator counterparts' efforts to do what is in American and global interests notwithstanding, many among the American and Israeli neoconservatives and other self-centric interest groups wish him to fail. While the true interests of the lead pressure groups seeking to trip him up are hardly unknown to many specialists, the danger lies elsewhere – in the fact that they have largely and purposely been obscured from important segments of a more generalized public.

Rather than the achievement of an accord that could usher in a more mutually beneficial U.S.-Iran relationship than any that has existed since 1979, the neoconservatives, their Israeli bedfellows – and not just, many believe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reelected to a fourth term as premier, together with others, including an indeterminate number of American Republican Members of Congress – prefer a continued standoff between Washington and Tehran, and would not rule out a forceful American confrontation with the undeniable potential for yet another costly war.

Returning to the Iraq War Playbook

The language is similar to the run-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq that commenced in March 2003. To wit: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared on one of the most widely viewed Sunday talk shows on March 15 calling Iran's government, "one of the worst regimes in the world."

Much the same was said by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a March 3 address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, echoing his 2002 testimony to the U.S. Congress advocating for attacking Iraq.

As was the case prior to their urging that the United States go to war with Iraq, opponents of an agreement with Iran have tended to couch their argumentation in the deliberately seductive terms of providing serious and favorable consideration to using force to protect America's alleged national security and related interests. Over a decade ago, such rationales were transparently bogus to area studies specialists and scholars long exposed to Iraqi culture, and its system of governance and political dynamics.

The result, to be sure, has hardly been cost-free. As reason is that the strength and weakness of any system of democratic governance turns on the consent of the governed. Of course, the most informed consent is that which typically follows adequate and responsible consultation. In the best of circumstances, consent and consultation are linked to the likelihood of citizens being able to make societally relevant judgments that are just, fair, and prudent. In this case, however, the dynamics of both processes fell far short of what was required.

Twelve years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq commenced, notwithstanding the fact that commercially speaking some American interest groups made out "like bandits," the American misadventure in Iraq overall, and practically from its onset, severely damaged American interests that have yet to recover.

Viewed in this light, the clamor of some to attack Iran reads like a sad sequel for those who all along preferred that the United States invade Iran first and not Iraq. Indeed, long before September 11, 2001, it was well known among specialists that, dating back to the mid-1990s, America's neoconservatives, their kindred citizen allies, and innumerable Israelis alike wished for the United States to wage war against Iran – not eventually but before any other country. As for any and all others to be attacked and their regimes toppled or brought to their knees – the neocon list included not only Iran and Iraq, but also Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – these could wait to have America change their governments later.

The Ultimate Neoconservative Wish List

Many perceive that this is a rather embarrassingly sordid and sorry juncture of American history where the diplomats negotiating with one another in Switzerland find themselves. Bearing this history in mind, it is therefore worth pondering what those who would have the United States, with Israel's strong support, confront Iran and not enter into any mutually binding agreement with it would arguably like to achieve. It includes:

(1) Deflecting Attention Away from Israel
One of the most important neoconservative and Israeli objectives in having the United States attack Iran is to do whatever is necessary to shift the U.S. focus and notions of Israel's culpability of wrongdoing away from the eastern Mediterranean towards lands east, e.g., Arabia and the Gulf.

This would arguably absorb precious U.S. foreign policy energies, attention, and other resources on matters other than Israel for far into the future. It would likely squelch efforts to move as expeditiously as before to establish an independent State of Palestine. In the proponents' view, it would almost as surely deflect Washington from pressuring Israel into an early withdrawal from its illegal settlements in the Palestinian and Syrian territories.

By maintaining Iran's pariah status, neoconservatives and other groups are also thereby able to preserve what they have conjured and built up in the mainstream American and other Western media as a recognizable "existential threat" to Israel. The imagery of such a threat in many circles helps sustain the narrative of Israel as a besieged beacon of victimhood rather than a militarily powerful scofflaw inflicting brutal punishment on Palestinian Christian and Muslim Arab civilians in Gaza, and not only expropriating their land but also exploiting their orchards, olive and citrus groves, water, and other valuable natural resources in the Occupied Territories.

(2) Territorial Expansionism
This similarly happened when Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982. That act shifted Washington's attention away from rigorously continuing to pursue the goal of a just, enduring, and comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and towards Lebanon instead.

By the time that Lebanon regained the lands that Israel had invaded and occupied directly and by proxy 19 years later, the extent of Palestinian territory brought under Israeli control had expanded massively and the Israeli settler movement had quintupled its number of settlers. Israel thereby achieved, on one hand, its illegitimate interests while blocking the legitimate interests of the Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon, the United States, and the rest of the world in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

(3) Regime Change
Many believe American and Israeli goals are not to change the behavior of the regime in Tehran but, again as with Iraq, to change the regime itself. Those of this view seek an Iran that would be more moderate in its approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, one less supportive of Hezbollah in Lebanon and of the Assad regime in Syria, one ending its intrusions into the domestic affairs of the GCC countries and Yemen, one curbing if not reversing the degree to which it has eroded de facto the national sovereignty and political independence of neighboring Iraq, and one terminating the nature and extent of its forceful aid to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Palestine. These were among the exact same kinds of goals of the largely unstated American neoconservative and Israeli geostrategic, geopolitical, and related Israeli objectives vis-à-vis Iraq prior to its invasion in 2003.

(4) Protecting Privileged Status
Israel cannot take its relationship with America for granted and expect to compete effectively in the long run for America's favor. This is why many Israelis believe they have no choice but to be strategically opposed to the strongest and most expanded American-Arab and U.S.-Saudi Arabian relationship, and the day when, possibly, the United States may find itself in a reciprocally rewarding relationship with the six GCC countries as a single bloc to an even great extent than in the series of bilateral ties with these entities it has enjoyed for quite some time with the six countries all totaled already – there are 22 Arab countries and only one Israel.

Tehran finds itself with a similar strategic predicament. Indeed, for nearly half as long as Israel has existed, Iran geopolitically has viewed its situation similarly and has reasoned likewise. That Washington might be on the verge of turning a new page with Tehran that in time could lead to Iran being added to Israel among America's most valued strategic partners – and bringing nearer the day when there might also be a rapprochement between Iran and Israel, as in days of old prior to the onset of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 – is a pan-GCC nightmare.

These dynamics periodically draw Israel and Iran together despite their denials. One of the most powerful illustrations of their two capitals dancing in each other's strategic shadows and scratching each other's back was their military and geopolitical collaboration during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. The Israel-Iran-Contra affair revealed in November 1986 that Israel and Washington, under the Reagan administration, were providing arms to Iran despite Iranian agents and supporters holding American citizens in Lebanon hostage. That collusion with Iran, which made the war last longer and occasioned the killing of many more thousands of Iraqis vis-à-vis Iranians than would otherwise have been the case, dealt a devastating blow to overall U.S. foreign policy needs. In keeping with Iranian and Israeli interests, it soured U.S.-Arab relations, miring them to a greater extent than previously in suspicion, doubt, and distrust for an extended period.

(5) Financial Opportunity
Some see a different Iranian leadership environment providing opportunities to construct what could be a golden gateway to the country's economy. The rationales undergirding this kind of long-term strategic thinking are, once more, in many ways similar to those that preceded the attack against the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Not only could such an opportunity potentially help achieve numerous objectives of an economic, political, commercial, and military nature, as proved to be the case in Iraq. More particularly, it could help determine the uses to which Iran's prodigious energy reserves would be put fiscally, developmentally, and internationally.

Indeed, the financial, infrastructure, building, and material needs of Iran are immense, diverse, and a potential business bonanza for whomever will cash in after the international sanctions are lifted. Iran, should it so choose and to a greater extent than it has had for a very long time, be able to grant American and other multinational companies' access to its investment markets, banking system, and raw materials.

Tehran will also be in a much better position to decide the terms of foreign entry into the country's national energy sectors, harbors, mega-infrastructure, reconstruction, and advanced exploration and production contracts worth billions of dollars of ultra-lucrative opportunities to do business in Iran once the government's quasi-pariah status comes to an end.

For investors and strategic development planners, two other features of Iran, in an eventually and differently configured future, have the potential to function more as economic constants than variables. One, nowhere else along the entire far eastern side of the Gulf – on the western side only Saudi Arabia approximates the same – does one country, as in the case of Iran, border landward or seaward as many as more than a dozen other nations. The resulting possibilities for forging lucrative multiple transportation corridors and connecting aviation routes from Iran to destinations as yet unreached or presently linked less directly and beneficially than could become the case once sanctions come to an end have the potential for generating profits as yet undreamed of during the course of the past three and a half decades of relative economic isolation.

The second constant is demography. At a population around eighty million and counting, Iran's citizenry is more than twice that of Iraq. It is also substantially greater than the population of the entire number of inhabitants of the six GCC countries – citizens and non-citizens combined. What these numbers could sooner rather than later come to represent – from the perspectives of consumer goods and services, production, marketing, and distribution activities as yet unrealized among business opportunities yet to come in Iran – are likely increasingly limited in the eyes of many outsiders and insider venture capitalists alike only by the imagination.

There is certainly strategic value and a heightened prospect for achieving economic and commercial advantage in being near or at the head of the line for such mega-business as to be had.

(6) Energy
While some might view the recent onset of the international petroleum glut in petroleum supplies and exports as ruling out any energy-centric goal among the would-be forcible interveners in Iran – regardless of whether or not what they have in mind is regime change – there is merit in considering such matters from a longer-term perspective. Certainly, American and other major international oil and gas companies not engaged in Iran's energy industries take that view.

In addition to being renowned for being second only to Russia in proven gas deposits, few countries possess anywhere near the prodigious hydrocarbon reserves held in the Islamic Republic beneath its waters and sands in three separate and distinct areas: the Iranian mainland and two bodies of water – on one hand, the Gulf, with its accompanying coastline of more than 550 miles, longer than any six of the waterway's seven other countries combined, and, on the other, the Caspian Sea.

The United States and Israel, moreover, are past beneficiaries from the energy resources in Iranian hands. Both before and since the onset of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Iranians, Israelis, and Americans were petroleum industry partners. Israel obtained ninety per cent of its oil imports from Iran through 1998. The United States stood to renew its benefits in 1995 had the American Israeli lobby not quashed a lucrative Iranian concession granted a major U.S. company to develop an offshore Iranian gas field abutting one administered by Qatar.

(7) The Naval Dimension
The Russian government and its predecessors for centuries have long sought direct access to a warm water harbor far to the south of the Russian mainland, and Iran has always been deemed ideal. In a future nearer than one might imagine Iran will determine who will have preferential access to its ports and who will not.

The Gulf's ongoing relevance to global maritime interests, the home-porting and basing of the United States Fifth Fleet in GCC member-state Bahrain, America's self-assumed responsibilities for operating out of Bahrain to ensure freedom of navigation throughout the length the Gulf, and U.S. continuous surveillance of and vigilance towards the ever-present potential threats to those tasks as represented in part by Iran being situated directly across from GCC member-state Oman's seaborne artery, through which passes a fifth of the amount of world oil traded daily and near which units of Iran's military recently held mock maritime maneuvers where units of its naval forces practiced attacking a replica U.S. vessel, are as of a piece within a seamless web of challenges that, in nature and extent, are all self-evident challenges that the United States has not left untended.

(8) Diaspora Dynamics
A quite different Israeli goal more than an American one vis-à-vis Iran stems from Iran being home to the last remaining significant Jewish population in the eastern Islamic world. With a view to how best to continue ingathering as many Jews as possible, some Israelis muse about what an attack against Iran and/or regime change in Tehran could accomplish.

Some believe it could inspire Iranian Jews to want to relocate to Israel, or emigrate somewhere else first and then Israel. If so, the result could help eventually enable the current Jewish ethnic and religious majority in Israel to be better able to cope with the demographic challenge facing the country.

The increasingly high cost of living in the Jewish State and/or a wish of its citizens not to live with fears about the long-run prospects for survival could continue to spur the ongoing outflow of citizens from the country. Alternately, a more draconian scenario could enable the Jewish majority in Israel to remain in its numerically superior status.

Israeli security forces could respond to protests against an attack on Iran by expelling significant numbers of Palestinians. The result would fulfill Israeli declarations in support of population transfer, a phrase that masks the intent to ethnically cleanse the country of its Palestinian inhabitants.

Electoral Dynamics

A perennial component in U.S. and Israeli domestic politics provides still further insight into how war with Iran – or even the fear, threat, or otherwise emotionally-charged aspects associated with it, as just seen in the reelection of Israeli Premier Netanyahu – might benefit Israel. The point is hardly academic. For example, American and Israeli special interest groups, as just occurred in Israel, often seek to ascertain the extent to which candidates for public office are more likely to keep Israel secure from radical Arabs, Iranians, and Muslims.

Election-related dynamics in either Israel or the United States are therefore not to be taken lightly. They can yet determine not only whether but, if so, when Iran might be attacked. A precedent is rooted in 1981. In that year's national elections, the Israeli attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor was widely credited with enabling Menahem Begin, previously behind in the polls, to win re-election.

Day of Reckoning Approaching

From a historical point of view, one can conclude that there is nothing strange about these kinds of motivations for preventing the P5+1 from reaching an agreement with Iran. Since recorded human history the propensity of mortals to covet their neighbors' assets and to engage in duplicitous and manipulative behavior in pursuit of strategic advantage and material gain is hardly new.

In the run-up to America and Iran's day of reckoning there is much to consider. At this time it is important to be clear about relevant matters that are not being discussed, let alone debated, in terms of America's needs, concerns, and interests.

Therefore, ponder the implications of what is enumerated herein and reconcile them with logic, history, and precedent. Indeed, there is no reason for anyone to be hoodwinked regarding the true nature of various American interest groups' largely unstated and unacknowledged goals and objectives in wanting to bring down the Iranian regime, if necessary by force.

This article was first published by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations.


Dr. John Duke Anthony is the Founding President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations. On June 22, 2000, on the occasion of his first official state visit to the United States since succeeding his late father, H.M. King Muhammad VI of Morocco knighted Dr. Anthony. The Moroccan monarch and head of state bestowed upon Dr. Anthony the Medal of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, Morocco's highest award for excellence. Dr. Anthony is the only American to have been invited to attend each of the GCC's Ministerial and Heads of State Summits since the GCC's inception in 1981.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
Top Content Trending