by Ben Gladstone
As the debate over the nuclear agreement signed between the world powers and Iran continues, a wide range of well-regarded figures and institutions have spoken out, both in support of and in opposition to the deal.
Several key voices, however, have been missing from this conversation; the people whose lives are most directly affected have been almost entirely ignored by the American media and political establishment. As in most major foreign policy conversations, Westerners have for the most part managed to shut out the perspectives of those overseas whose lives they are putting on the line.
Below, a number of Middle Easterners, the regular people who are most immediately affected by the deal, responded to the nuclear agreement with their own thoughts. Many referred to Iran’s imperialist endeavors in their own countries, frequently mentioning the almost immediate release of $150 billion to Iran’s coffers, much of which the regime has already pledged to its terrorist proxy groups. One group in particular that is likely to benefit from this deal is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s imperial army and resistance-breaking police force that facilitates many of Iran’s foreign projects. Included as well are brief descriptions of Iran’s activities in each country and relevant quotes from major political leaders.
In 1980s Lebanon, Iran founded the terrorist army Hezbollah, the “Party of Allah,” to serve as its primary proxy force. In a dramatic show of force in 2008, Hezbollah shut down the Lebanese government and instigated a political crisis that continues to this day. Its military wing is stronger than the regular Lebanese army and has taken abundant action to undermine the government-sanctioned military, seizing de facto control of much of the country’s borders with Israel and Syria. The political situation is such that no serious decisions can be made without Hezbollah’s approval. Thus Iran has created a loyal and powerful militia to control Lebanon on its behalf. Iran has promised Hezbollah a surge in funding if the deal passes Congress.
In addition to the threat of Hezbollah, Lebanese engineer Fred Maroun is afraid of the prospect of a nuclear Iran.
“Since we share a border with Israel, any nuclear attack on Israel would affect us in a major way,” he said. “I do not trust that the Iranian regime will comply with the deal, I do not trust the deal’s inspection provisions, and I do not believe that the restriction on nuclear weapons should expire in 10 years.”
Maroun was referring to the deal’s partial lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program after ten years, followed five years later by the near total legitimization of unrestricted Iranian nuclear development.
Antoine Andraos, the Vice President of the Future Movement (the primary opposition to Hezbollah’s dominance in Lebanese politics), told Al-Monitor that the nuclear agreement would, “have repercussions on Lebanon and lead to added military support for Hezbollah at the expense of state institutions. How, then, can one feel at ease about this agreement and simply rely on Iran’s peaceful intentions?”
Iran is engaged in similar imperialist endeavors in Iraq. In some areas, close to the countries’ shared border, Iran is undermining the Iraqi state by taking over public functions, such as the electricity grid – in other words, the Iranian government is gradually absorbing border provinces into its own sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi army is growing more and more dependent on Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) that function more as Iranian proxies than as Iraqi soldiers. Those PMUs are armed by Iranian money and trained by Iranian commanders, and, rather than restore captured territories to governmental control, they tend to treat native populations like conquered peoples, looting, destroying property, and ethnically cleansing some areas of Sunni Muslims and other non-Shi’a groups.
“Is Iran’s nuclear deal with the West a threat to the Middle East?” asked Muthanna al-Mahmood, a human rights lawyer in Baghdad. “Surely yes, and perhaps most importantly, Iran will swallow Iraq, Syria, and some of the Gulf States under the threat of nuclear power.” Al-Mahmood described Iran’s agenda as a “quest to dominate the Middle East.”
His predictions were well founded, as several Iranian leaders have declared the country’s imperial intentions, and Ali Younisi, advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, has even declared, “Baghdad is now capital of the Iranian empire.”
Sunni Iraqi Politician Hamid al-Mutlaq has expressed concerns as well, saying, “We are afraid that the lifting of all the embargoes will allow them [Iran] to meddle more in Iraq,” and noting that Iran has already, “created sectarian politics and sectarian killings, fellow Iraqis taking Iraqi blood.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has become essentially an Iranian protectorate, with the tide of the ongoing civil war turning in his favor only after Hezbollah intervened significantly in 2013, possibly saving him from defeat. His forces have killed more civilians than the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate) combined, and have created a climate of fear through chemical weapons (the military has recently developed chlorine weapons that dodge international restrictions), barrel bombs (unguided missiles, dropped randomly or on mosques, that are packed with scrap metal to maximize shrapnel and civilian casualties), and executions of the children of suspected rebels, including infants.
Supporters of the deal “have clearly not talked to Syrians living under the regime that continues to be propped up by Iran,” said Syrian-American Al Jazeera researcher Malak Chabkoun. “Both those living in Syria and expatriates have expressed alarm about this deal. If nothing else, they feel it is a final slap in their face by the international community after nearly five years of blood and death at the hands of a regime that wouldn’t have survived without Iran’s financial and political support.”
“To put it simply,” she added “the dangers of the Iran deal are not just wider financial and military support to the Assad regime. Rather, the larger danger is that this deal puts an international seal of approval (particularly, a U.S. seal of approval) on unwanted Iranian expansion in the Arab world. Iran has made it clear that it aims to overtake rather than cooperate with Arab nations.”
Secretary General of the Syrian National Coalition Mohammed Maktabi, an important figure in the anti-regime resistance, said the same: “We have a real fear that Iran will use the unfrozen accounts for more shameless intervention in the region and enflaming strife and war, as well as providing more support to the Assad regime to prevent its fall and allow it to continue carrying out terrorist massacres against the Syrian people.”
Much of Yemen has also fallen under Iranian control. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah reportedly have presences of their own on the ground in the capital city of Sana’a, and pro-Iran forces have sent the internationally recognized president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, into exile. The Iran-backed Houthis sparked the vicious ongoing civil war with their occupation of Sana’a, and they frequently shell residential areas, impede United Nations humanitarian efforts, carry out arrests of professors and other voices opposed to their rule, and gun down civilian protesters in their effort to establish a religious fundamentalist imamate rather than allow the country to transition to democracy after the fall of the cruel and corrupt former dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was ousted in a popular revolution in 2012 but whose push for a return to power Iran is now supporting.
“If this agreement is done with Iran,” said Yemeni engineer Faheem Antar, “there will be a redrawing of the map of the powerful countries in the Middle East.”
Antar was incredulous at America’s willingness to trust Iran with such a weak verification system as that offered by the deal after, “Iran lied 1,000 times about its nuclear program.”
Antar was referring to Iran’s constant violations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and its frequent refusal to accommodate International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors. Rouhani himself even has a history of boasting that he deceived Western powers in earlier rounds of nuclear negotiations and was able to advance the country’s nuclear program as a result.
The deal puts Israel in serious danger as well. Not only does the agreement support Iran’s funding of terror groups on Israel’s borders, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but it also raises the existential threat of a nuclear power that is committed to the Jewish State’s destruction. Iranian leaders have repeatedly called for Israel to be, “erased from the pages of time,” and have been very open about their goal of launching a genocidal military campaign against the small country.
“If someone speaks about hurting us, we should suspect that he is telling the truth and be careful,” said Hilla Goldschmid, a soldier in the Israeli army. “The major thing many Israelis can’t conceive is how our best ally in the world, the U.S.A., can approve such a thing as letting Iran have its nuclear facilities keep working, without monitoring it, when Iran proves on a daily basis its support of terror.”
Those mechanisms that the deal and accompanying agreements do include regarding the monitoring of nuclear facilities are weak, providing Iran with opportunities to dodge and delay inspections and even allowing it to inspect the key Parchin facility on its own.
Meir Deutsch, an Israeli social activist, echoed Goldschmid’s sentiments. “History has taught Israel that we cannot rely on international guarantees to protect us,” he said. “World powers should believe Iran’s declarations about its commitment to the destruction of Israel. An agreement must be signed when there is a willingness on both sides to settle things peacefully. There is no logic to signing an agreement with someone who declares day and night that Israel has no right to exist.”
Many Israeli political leaders are similarly shocked, and there is an unusual consensus between parties across the political spectrum that this deal poses a serious, even existential, threat to the Jewish State. Not only is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leading a campaign of his own against the deal, but key opposition figures such as Yair Lapid and Isaac Herzog have also strongly opposed it, even criticizing Netanyahu for failing to convince the United States not to sign it.
Kurdish resistance forces are struggling for independence from a number of occupying countries, especially Iran itself, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Eastern Kurdistan, occupied by Iran, is under a system of repressive rule that will be further entrenched by the money and international legitimacy that this deal offers the regime. Southern Kurdistan, an autonomous zone claimed by the Iraqi government, will also suffer as a result of this deal, as the predominantly Shi’a Arab government in Baghdad is drawn closer into Iran’s orbit and becomes more dependent on Iranian-backed PMUs and therefore less willing to collaborate with Kurdish forces in the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Western Kurdistan, which is claimed by the Alawite Iranian protectorate in Damascus, will suffer similarly as regime forces may even be empowered to reoccupy Kurdish territories that have otherwise maintained autonomy in the wake of the ongoing civil war.
“As a Kurd, I am concerned that the cash bonus would add a huge value to Iran’s military budget,” said Kurdish rights activist Serbest Doss. “The deal would increase Iran’s leverage in the Iraqi mainly Shi’a-run government to keep the country under its control. This deal will also directly affect Erbil [capital of Southern Kurdistan]-Baghdad relations, which are already paralyzed.”
Moreover, the deal will strengthen the “IRGC’s military capability to advance its brutal and illegal occupation of the Kurdish cities in Eastern Kurdistan, with the use of excessive force to crush Kurdish aspirations and eliminate any possible moves by Kurdish political parties.”
Kurdish rights activist Jiyan Behrozy also emphasized the Iranian occupation of Eastern Kurdistan.
“Iran continues to hang Kurds in the open street until this day,” she said. Iran executes more prisoners than any other country in the world except for China, including at least 1,900 killings since Rouhani took office in 2013. Kurds in particular are a primary target of politically motivated, state-sponsored murder. The most recent incident was the hanging of 30-year-old Kurdish political prisoner Behrouz Alkhani for “enmity against God” and for having ties to a Kurdish nationalist organization after a trial that Amnesty International called “grossly unfair.”
Firat Shexbzeini, a Kurdish businessman living in Istanbul, further expressed skepticism that the agreement will have any of its intended results at all.
“At best, Iran is taking a break, and it will start again as soon as it is suitable,” he said. “Ask the Kurds and they will tell you how cunning the Iranian statesmen are. Many Eastern Kurdish leaders have paid for taking Iran’s word at face value.”
These voices are almost entirely absent from the American political debate. Also missing is recognition of the impact that the deal is likely to have on Palestinians who suffer under the authoritarian rule of the Iran-backed Hamas, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, Saudis, and Emiratis who live under constant threat of Iranian terror attacks, and many others.
The Western media even largely missed an open statement by Iranian dissidents, which pointed out that, “this deal will provide up to $150 billion windfall of cash into the bank account of our tyrants and theocrats. This money will not be spent on the Iranian people but rather to enrich a repressive regime.”
The United States and its European allies negotiated this agreement without consulting, or it appears even considering, the human lives most directly affected by it.