By Derek Bisaccio, Forecast International.
Ever since coming to office, United States President Barack Obama has maintained a “dual track policy of engagement and pressure”[i] toward Iran in the hopes of pressuring Iran through sanctions to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear ambitions. On July 14, the P5+1 – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany – reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. In the weeks since the July 14 announcement, President Obama has worked to reassure skeptics that the deal the negotiators reached is sufficient to stop Iran from having the ability to develop a bomb.
U.S. allies in the Middle East, in particular, are worried about Iran either subverting the terms of the JCPOA or using sanctions relief to fund terror groups and other armed non-State actors that are destabilizing the region. Some are concerned that the United States and other P5+1 countries are letting up the pressure too soon without receiving much in return. They note specifically that the deal is for the next 10 to 15 years, leaving ambiguous what Iran may do after the JCPOA’s expiration.
In response to the concerns of U.S. allies, President Obama has sought to guarantee to regional leaders that the deal is strong and will not affect the United States’ relationship with its allies. On the same day that the JCPOA was announced, President Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the agreement. According to a readout of President Obama’s phone call, he “underscored his Administration’s stalwart commitment to Israel’s security and noted that the JCPOA will remove the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran.”[ii]
On July 19, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter began a series of visits to the Middle East, traveling first to Israel and then later Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Following a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Secretary Carter told reporters, “Israel is a cornerstone of our strategy in the Middle East, and its security and qualitative military edge are a top priority for America, for our military and for me personally.”[iii] In Saudi Arabia, Secretary Carter discussed “Iranian destabilizing activities in the region” with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.[iv]
Alongside the diplomatic push is an effort to provide military reassurance. Israel’s long-awaited F-35I fighters are due to be delivered by December 2016,[v] and Israel has indicated recently its interest in acquiring more of the fifth-generation fighter from U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. In addition, Lockheed Martin announced on July 24 that it had received a $1.5 billion contract for production and delivery of Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC 3) missiles and PAC 3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles. Three of the five intended foreign recipients of the missile interceptors are located in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.[vi] These missile interceptors are designed to target and destroy incoming ballistic missiles, providing greater protection from Iranian missiles, such as Iran’s recently unveiled “Soumar” long-range cruise missile,[vii] or from Scuds fired by Iranian proxies.
Both the political and military guarantees are unlikely to completely convince skeptical U.S. allies that the JCPOA is strong, but the moves demonstrate to traditional allies that the United States is committed to their defense and aware of their interests. As current sanctions limiting Iranian imports and exports of conventional arms are relaxed, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, in particular, will likely continue to seek such reassurances from the United States.