Leading article

Iran can’t be trusted

This is an awful plan, but it’s the best option we’ve got

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

Iran is, beyond doubt, a sponsor of terrorism and this week it has been made much stronger. It has (again) agreed not to make a nuclear bomb and in return trade sanctions are being dropped — so money will start to flow in once more. We can be sure that the cash will soon find its way to Hezbollah in Syria, and to what remains of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. A stronger Iran means a longer and bloodier Syrian civil war, a more vulnerable Israel and a further injection of money and arms into the world’s deadliest war zones. None of this is in doubt.

The question is whether, after this week’s deal, Iran will be less likely to menace the region as a nuclear power. The ayatollahs have allowed inspectors in, and agreed to the quick return of sanctions if they go back on their word. But Iranians are past masters at playing the West for fools, and capitalising on the great desire of Washington to believe that a historic breakthrough is possible; that a fanatical regime dedicated to Israel’s destruction can be tamed; that it will prefer an enriched economy to enriched uranium.

It’s possible that if sanctions had been left in place they might have toppled this regime in the end — just as the Soviet Union crumbled when its economy began to stagnate. But the experience of North Korea suggests that there is no clear relationship between prosperity and nuclear weapons. Crackpot regimes can usually find the money for nukes, especially if they consider them to be their best chance of survival. Keeping Iran under the acute pain of sanctions would not have precluded its becoming the world’s tenth nuclear power.

The hope is that an invitation to resume trading with the rest of the world may now provide Iran with a firm incentive to reform. The deal may bolster the position of Tehran’s moderates — including its president, Hassan Rouhani. Much has changed in the region, as Ahmed Rashid describes on page 14. It may well be that, for a whole range of reasons, Iran will decide that being able to trade with the world (and the wealth that comes from that) is preferable to being able to terrify the world.


But history suggests that Iran’s leaders cannot really be trusted. They have a record of reneging on agreements — and pursued a secret uranium-enrichment programme for nearly two decades while supposedly refraining from it under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In theory, it should become increasingly difficult for Iran to hide weapons development, with teams of inspectors demanding the right to go where they wish. In practice, it all depends on whether the inspectors are allowed to. If the regime does start to interfere with them, how quickly will sanctions reapply? What if it takes months, or years, for the so-called ‘snapback’ sanctions to kick in? We just don’t know.

What we do know is that Iran has agreed to relinquish 98 per cent of its stock of enriched uranium, and two thirds of its centrifuges. It would have been better if it had given up all its nuclear devices, but it’s a good start. And the experience of Iraq does show that an inspections regime can work. Saddam Hussein, it turned out, had indeed destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. His co-operation with weapons inspectors was genuine, rather than a cover for clandestine activities. He liked to pretend otherwise, to make his regime seem stronger than it was.

At least on this occasion no one can say of western policy that it is dictated only by our insatiable demand for Middle Eastern oil. With the US now the world’s largest oil producer, the importance of Middle Eastern reserves to western economies has dwindled. If anything, US oil interests would have been better served by a continuation of sanctions against Iran, the lifting of which threatens to dump even more oil on an already saturated international market.

Iran now has the upper hand. It knows that it has just brokered a deal with a war-weary West, and with a Russia that wants to drop the whole idea of action being taken against unsavoury regimes. Barack Obama is keen to be remembered as the president who brokered peace with Iran as well as with Cuba. Notwithstanding George Osborne’s commitment to maintaining Britain’s military spending above 2 per cent of economic output, Britain has neither the capacity nor the stomach for yet more action in the Middle East. Everyone Iran has been dealing with desperately wants the agreement to work. Israel looks on appalled; at this rate, Saudi Arabia may end up being its best ally.

So there is no point in celebrating the Iran deal this week, or hailing it as historic. It does not represent the end of the cold war with Iran; it simply establishes a position from which the cold war with Iran may one day be concluded. At best, it may prove a model for dealing with rogue regimes that have nuclear ambitions. At worst, we will be back to where we were before Tuesday: with sanctions re-imposed on an uncooperative Iranian regime. But one that will have been made richer by a few years’ relief from the sanctions that had worked so effectively.

On balance, this is a gamble worth taking — but only if immediate penalties are applied should Iran start to back away from the promises it has just made. The most important stage in this long game is only just beginning.

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Show comments
  • Mow_the_Grass

    See that the lil Brit foreign secretary is rushing off to Tehran to re-open the embassy there.
    Can’t wait – like a busy little street hustler – cant wait to show her wares.

    • rtj1211

      The Americans will just send in Exxon Mobil with a private militia will they?!

  • Infidelissima

    Whoever thinks this is going to end well, is a retarded mutant, like O’brainless.

    • the word is prog-tard. P-R-O-G-T-A-R-D. This is a species of humans that see the world they wish to see not the world as it actually is.

  • Damaris Tighe

    The idea that ‘immediate penalties will apply’ if Iran reneges on its promises is laughable. Does no one remember how long it took for sanctions to be imposed in the first place? Iran knows that the west is weak & indecisive, all too ready to hesitate & equivocate. The mullahs must be sniggering into their turbans.

    • MahatmaFarage

      Are you ill? Shazza is only agreeing with you but not replying to you to push the message.

  • sidor

    There is a global religious war running within Islam in which there are only two sides. If the West decided to confront Iran, then, by implication, the opposite side is assumed to be an ally. That is the same side that committed September 11, London bombing and other acts of terrorism. Part of it is ISIS. If the latter option is realised as absurd, the only remaining option is to ally with Iran. This is logic. The rest is BS.

    • oh dear…Iran is a theorcracy that awaits the Mahdi (the 12th Imam would will establish Islam as the world’s dominant religion). Your ignorance is why the West is in the quagmire it is.

      The other option you fail to mention was to balls us, ally up with Russia and destroy this Jew hating, Christian hating, non-muslim hating barbarians.

      Another Western coward. How can you team up with a nation that sponsors terrorism around the world. Eeejiot

      • Bonkim

        You sound like a bigoted Sunni Muslim and agent of ISIS.

        • alexw

          He is a christian fundamentalist. He is as impartial as bob diamond is on banking.

          “I got up to speak on the train last Saturday…don’t ask why (I had a strong conviction to do so) though I was very nervous, I still spoke anyways. I spoke about our need to be right before God and salvation through Jesus Christ. No fire or Brimstone was mentioned (though that was conveyed to the more matured minds). I sat back down and put my headphones on.”

          • sidor

            A strange kind of Christian fundamentalist who supports the genocide of Syrian and Iraqi Christians by Isis. Probably we are dealing here with a case of propaganda paid by the Saudi billions.

          • Bonkim

            My suspicion too.

          • nothing will do my heart glad to be rid of those child rapists and their shia brothers…if you secularists take the time to read clearly, you will see that I said that the West needs to team up with Russia to destroy those Jew hating, Christian hating, non-Muslim hating barbarians. That includes Sunni and Shia terrorists.

            The fact I have to spell it out for you makes me wonder if you are not purposefully twisting my words because I am a Christian “fundamentalist”…the same way Jesus was a “fundamentalist”.

            Take off your tin-foil hats kooks. No Saudi sponsored ISIS member just your typical Christian fundamentalist or is it extremist…you know those people killing people with the love of Christ. Boom!

          • Bonkim

            Good luck – No problem for me.

        • Imran Hussain

          Hezbollah or HezbuShaytan terrorists like you are responsible for more murder than anything Sunnis have come up with.

          The blood of millions of Syrians is on Iranian terrorist hands.

          • Bonkim

            What an idiot!

    • alexw

      Yup. Most people don’t understand the Shia – Sunni split, not the differences between them or the various different flavours of each.

      The problems the west has with fanatical islamic terrorism derives from one specific branch of the sunni faith – Wahhabism – which has its roots in Saudi Arabia. Decades ago the US made what we now know to be a strategic error, in giving Saudi Arabia a free hand on religious matters in the region in return for the provision of cheap oil.

      Thus that nation has been the prime exporter of terrorism via the Wahhabi
      maddrassas (religious schools a.k.a indoctrination schools) it has set
      up around the world, which have been funded by all the oil the west has
      bought over the years from Saudi Arabia.

      http://annaqed.com/en/terrorism/saudi-arabia-wahhabism-and-the-spread-of-sunni-theofascism

      Iran by contrast should be our friend. It is much more modern and tolerant than Saudi Arabi and has a decidely pro-western majority. It is the hatred that the older generations have of the west, which is rooted in the historical actions the west has taken there (e.g. CIA/MI6 sponsored regime change) that we need to overcome. That is best done by being its friend. By contrast there is no chance of us ever befriending the Wahhabists. Their beliefs are anthema to us and us to theirs. We will have to stamp them out or contain them.

      • sidor

        To be exact. Here is the founding father of the Saudi Arabia:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John_Philby

      • Bonkim

        Spot on.

      • Malcolm Stevas

        Well, yes, but I’d say most in the West don’t actually give a to*s about the “Shia – Sunni split”: they are wholly indifferent to Islam, whatever the flavour, so long as it keeps to itself and does not impinge on their lives. Of course, it does impinge on our lives here, since unaccountably our leaders in their wisdom facilitated the growth of a huge Muslim diaspora. The chickens were always going to come home to roost over that one. Let’s hope it doesn’t get too nasty.

        • alexw

          They should.

          The UK’s muslim communities are practically all sunni, and are being radicalized by the same Saudi sponsored Wahabbist traditions that are radicalizing sunni muslims in asia.

          If they were modern cosmopolitan iran style shia’s we wouldn’t have a problem, and it is foolish to stigmatize those who we could use to help us fight against the intolerant radicals.

          • Malcolm Stevas

            No, most English people have better things to do, and the rights & wrongs of this or that sect of an alien religion matter far less than taking the dog for a walk. If they’re Muslims of whatever flavour, vanilla or pistachio, they simply have to abide by our rules and damn well behave themselves or they’ll get clobbered. As far as most of us are concerned (the political class excepted naturally) the diaspora is here on sufferance and no-one gives a bug*er about sunni, shi-ite, animist jungle dwellers, whatever.

  • GenJackRipper

    I’ll take Hezbollah any day over ISIS and the other sunni lot.

    Hezbollah dosen’t attack the west and is helping christians against ISIS. That’s good enough for me.

    • idiot…after they are done with the Jews who do you think is next…dhimmi? It was their books command them. Do you even know what Taquiyya is? It is lying for the furtherance of Islam. It is also justified in their book. Please do educate yourself some more

      • Bonkim

        You sound lke a Dhimmi – is that a robot?

    • Fioler

      Forgot the latest arrest of a Hezbollah terrorist in Cyprus, believd to have been planing attacks in Europe?

      • sidor

        Besides your beliefs, let’s see facts. Do you know of any case of Hezbollah terrorist action in Europe, or in the US?

        • Bonkim

          Hezbollah is preoccupied with its conflict with Israel – and has no time for terrorism in Europe.

          • Fioler

            It is suspected that the terrorist was planning on attacking jews or Israelis in Europe.

          • sidor

            Discuss facts instead of your interesting suspicions.

          • Fioler

            MY suspicions?

          • sidor

            We are still waiting for the facts of Hizbollah terrorism.

          • Fioler
          • sidor

            The reference says nothing about terrorism. We are still waiting for facts. If you don’t know of any, don’t hesitate to admit.

          • Fioler

            “says nothing about terrorism”

            What part of “terrorism”, whether planned or executed, do you find hard to grasp?

          • sidor

            Problems with language usage? Planning is a thought. Act of terrorism is a physical action.

            Is it correct to conclude that you are unable to present any facts?

          • Fioler

            Apparently I have to feed you with a tea spoon. When ISIS members or fans are arrested for planning terror attacks in Europe, your conclution is that ISIS doesn’t represent a threat to the West, because they mainly operate in the ME?

            When Hezbollah threatens Americans, or attacks American embassies, they represent no threat to the West? When they have terror cells spread all around the world, and a manifest that targets Israelis wherever they are, and Americans if they stand in the way of their interest – they represent no threat to the West? When their terrorists are arrested for planning attacks in European countries, they represent no threat to Europe?

          • sidor

            In summary: no facts. Just BS. Thanks for clarifying your point.

          • Fioler

            No IQ. Just BS. Thank you for making that very clear.

          • sidor

            Please accept my condolences.

          • Fioler

            Thanks, I will pass it to the families of the killed civilians.

          • Enigma

            Fioler named multiple sources for you, yet you still call his statements ‘BS’.

            It’s very obvious that you should spend less time telling others they’re wrong and more time reading about Iran’s history, because you do not know it. Afterwards, look up how to bow out of a discussion after having bit off more than you chew.

          • sidor

            The sources present no facts of terrorist acts committed by Hisbollah. In plain language this is called demagoguery.

            Tell me something about Iran’s history I don’t know. Thanks in advance.

          • Fioler

            Hezbollah has, as I’m sure you know, also been responsible for several anti US attacks, killing Americans.

          • Fioler
          • sidor

            Two very clever Israelis explained me in private discussion that the Begin’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was an unnecessary disaster: before that Israel never had any problems with Shia. Idiotic political leadership seem to be a permanent problem of Israel. Right now Israel have to ally with Hizbollah against ISIS.

          • Bonkim

            Many clever Israelis there, also many bigots with one track mind. Shabra and Shatila although not direct action by the Israelis compounded the situation as also their meaningless invasion. Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.

          • Imran Hussain

            The fact the Shia are out to exterminate the Sunnis and are willing to lie and act as if they represent the Muslim world and then say things like you have just said now, is proof enough that they can’t be trusted.

            After the Shias are done with the Sunnis, you think they will leave the Jews alone? The Shias are well versed in taqiyya and violence. Israel needs to ally with the Free Syrian Army and the Lebanese state against Hezbollah, ISIS and Assad.

      • Bonkim

        Cyprus is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean traffic – and many there that profit from both sides – Cyprus profited from the Crusades too and ethnically more Maghreb than Italian.

    • Imran Hussain

      Hezbollah is going for Israel and its terrorist activities are one and the same with ISIS. I take the actual Lebanese State and the Free Syrian Army over your terrorist groups any day (both of which are Iranian products anyway).

  • Bonkim

    Iranians are an eminently civilized and cultured people and better minds than at the Spectator have considered the risks and benefits of the deal. The need is to now make the most of the situation. Business and cultural ties with Iran and travel should open up Iran to the outside world and also help remove the considerable prejudice against Iran that exists in many western minds.

    • Shazza

      Got to admit how civilised they are when they hang gay people from cranes.

      What a culture to admire!

      • sidor

        Iranian poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam who lived in the 11th century was able to solve cubic equations while the contemporary Europeans didn’t know arithmetics.

        Can you solve cubic equations?

        • Infidelissima

          wow – and yet in 2015, gays dangle from cranes, by their necks in public, for families to enjoy, on a nice day out…

          and in 2014 a law was passed in Iran, that women who walk small dogs, can be arrested and even lashed

          and in 2013 this ‘forward’ country sent a monkey into space, and acted as if this was some incredible scientific achievement

          and in 2012, Iran blamed earthquakes on morally lose women, droughts on homosexuals, and found zionist spies in eagles, clouds and rocks

          you know how long ago the 11th century was?
          If you have to go back that far, to find something remarkable about Iran, then clearly you’re the one on the losing side of this argument.

          • sidor

            Could you please explain the connection between lashing and the level of civilisation?

          • alexw

            Come off it. It was only a few decades ago that homosexuality was a crime in the UK. It’s true they are not as tolerant as us but they are leaps and bounds better than pakistan and saudi arabia. Moreover given their demographics and societal trends, it is exceedingly likely they will become more westernized and tolerant over the next few decades – that is unless we do something really really stupid like bomb them.

        • Malcolm Stevas

          Oh Christ another one who thinks that sort of thing makes a difference now. The Arabs used to be a whiz at maths, astronomy when we lived in wattle & daub hovels…? Terrific. They just don’t seem to have achieved much in the past 1000 years… Persians similarly.

          • Bonkim

            Lifecycle my boy! Everything in nature goes up and down and often snuffs out.

        • Imran Hussain

          He was Sunni, not Shia. Shia Iran is essentially full of violent barbarians like Ismail Safavi and their terrorist groups like Hezbollah do not want peace.

      • Bonkim

        Gay people were/are still considered perverts and a danger to society in many parts of the world, are imprisoned or mistreated/discriminated against – and those locations do not get UN or US sanctions or any other negative labels.

  • sidor

    A crucial point that the West needs to understand. Iranian nationalism and Islam are two different things. The Arab (Saudi) nationalism and the Wahhabi Islam – one and the same thing.

    • Imran Hussain

      Iranian nationalism and Shia Islam (i.e Hezbollah and Assad’s terrorism) are one and the same.

      • Arthur Rusdell-Wilson

        Iran is not a solely Shia muslim country. They are, to some degree, tolerant of other faiths, unlike Wahhabi, sunni islam. It is of course more compley that]n that. It is the urban elite that is more tolerant. the Ayotollahs and their village followers are not tolerant.

        • sidor

          Iran has been strongly supporting Christian Armenia the last two decades, and trying to protects Syrian and Iraqi Christians from the Saudi-funded Isis bastards.

      • sidor

        Do you mean that Iraqi and Yemeni Shia arabs are Iranian nationalists?

  • Fioler

    There’s a lot to be said about the deal, but the fact that other countries in the region are’nt too happy about it, is in itself a problem. Could trigger a nuclear race.

  • Dr. Heath

    Putin sussed Obambi for the gormless milksop he is and the mullahs, who are no less perceptive than their pal in the Kremlin, have capitalised on Obozo’s imbecility. The mullahs real war is in fact between themselves and their uppity serfs, few of whom want to serve as cannon fodder in a civil war between two tribes that most of them detest [Shi’a and Sunni Arabs]. There is, sane people have to continue to hope, a second and ultimately successful Green Revolution looming. The alternative is a gore-fest.

  • jim

    Of course they can’t be trusted.Name one moslem country you do trust.How about our stalwart allies in PakSaudi A….Do you trust them ?. In any case,when it comes to the middle-east I don’t even trust the Israelis.

  • Augustus

    It’s not surprising that Israel looks on appalled. The Islamic Republic of Iran regularly threatens Israel: “The reason that this region is so unsafe is because of the Zionist regime. America’s chained dog.” Said Iran’s leader recently. As for Saudi Arabia, no doubt they believe that the money that will be released will be partly used to support terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, and to help Assad in Syria, who supports the Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. In the eyes of the Saudis the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran is tantamount to a betrayal by America. Yet still Obama believes the deal is good for the region, and that the obvious danger that Iran poses can be contained. But he doesn’t have to live in the same region as Iran, Israel and the Gulf States do.

    The world has not become a safer place because of this deal, because Khamenei is working on his own Hudaybiyyah Treaty (the treaty which led eventually to the conquest of Mecca).

    • James David Lockhart Nelson

      I efy anyone to make any sense of any of this especially as political correctness will not permit the mention of the matters in play according to their true nature. They are a bunch of religious blood thirsty fanatical nuts,

  • James David Lockhart Nelson

    Who can be trusted ?

  • Fioler

    “In Europe, worried Iranian expats warn mullahs can’t be trusted”

    http://www.jta.org/2015/07/16/news-opinion/world/worried-iranians-in-europe-warn-ayatollahs-cant-be-trusted

  • Norm246

    The notion that Iran sponsors terrorism is highly debatable. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. If you are a Palestinian, then Hezbollah is a perfectly legitimate freedom fighting organisation. The word ‘terrorist’ is unhelpful propaganda terminology, and does nothing to clarify the complexities of the Middle East.

  • Charles Hatvani

    Before Islam, Iran was a much better country….

  • Callipygian

    These people are NUTS. If the West were run by grownups instead of the likes of Obama, who is barely qualified to be president of a college or perhaps partner in a small law firm, Iran would be put fairly and squarely in its place.

    We have the power to do it: why NOT?

  • Callipygian

    The Arabs. Thousands more years of history than Europe’s … and what do they have to show for it? Delirious blood-lust, unspeakable irrationality, disordered societies and uncharted oceans of human misery. Well done, mates. Well done.

  • WFB56

    There’s no reason to believe that this is better than the status quo regime of sanctions. So there is another option and the only thing driving this is the lifespan of the current US administration.

  • AverageGuyInTheStreet

    But everything’s good because Obama isn’t one of those awful white people.

  • haywardsward

    May I suggest for further reading “Buda’s Wagon : a brief history of the car bomb” by Mike Davis.
    In particular Chapter 13 entitled “Car Bomb University” This “institution” based in Pakistan was mainly funded by the Saudi GDI run by Prince Turki bin Faisal, with some funding and much “expertise” from the CIA. The Pakistani ISI was responsible for the overall “mujahadeen programme” At “Car Bomb U” they were trained by CIA operatives whose experience came from their work in Viet Nam and other parts of Indo China, Central and South America and Europe. They were instructed in the construction and use of pipe bombs, IED, VIED and even camel bombs! The “institution” was never part of the Usama bin Laden/al Q’aida network and was still running in the mid 1990s.
    These devices were then employed to attack the USSR Forces in Afghanistan. The USA was determined to create, for the USSR with its military adventure in Afghanistan, a situation anomalous to that of the USA with its own military adventure in Viet Nam.
    What happened with the Iraq Fiasco, following the illegal invasion and occupation of that country, is known as blowback in the lexicon of intelligence, espionage and strategic studies. Chalmers Johnson wrote about this with “Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000, rev. 2004”).
    For Reagan’s “brave freedom fighters” are suddenly the Sunni Wahabi-Salafi “terr’ist” who brought their skills and training to the Iraq Fiasco. They were only too happy to attack the Coalition invaders as well as the majority Shi’i, whom they regarded as heretics.
    What is now happening in Afghan Imbroglio is just a continuation of “Blowback

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