Opinion

While the West Was Busy Fighting ISIS, Iran Took Hold of the Region

Destroying Islamic State became a primary target, while the consequences of a victory by the coalition against it were studiously ignored in Washington

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces walk past the ruins of destroyed buildings that was liberated from ISIS militants in Raqqa, Syria, October 17, 2017.
ERIK DE CASTRO/REUTERS

Keeping Iran from going nuclear was the primary objective of the United States, led by President Barack Obama, and the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. This, they felt, was achieved after the long negotiations that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in April 2015.

In fact, Iran was left with the know-how and the basic capability to put together a nuclear warhead. This can still be accomplished within a matter of months at a time of Tehran’s choosing, which might be at the expiration of the agreement or even earlier if the rulers were to decide to take that step.

The threat of a nuclear Iran was left hanging in the air, a threat real enough for the time being to back up Iran’s program of extending its control outside Iran’s borders in the Middle East.

Actually, there are two elements to an Iranian nuclear program – the nuclear warhead and the ballistic missiles that can deliver the warhead. The negotiators focused solely on the nuclear warhead, ignoring the ballistic missile program that is an essential part of a “nuclear Iran.”

In fact, the agreement, which involved the lifting of economic sanctions, left Iran with its basic nuclear capability intact and provided it with resources to proceed with the development of its ballistic missile program and its nefarious activities in the Middle East. No wonder that Israel and the region’s Sunni-majority Muslim states are not impressed. Nix it or fix it, they say.

It was not the only case of the secondary target being mistaken for the primary target, while the primary target was ignored. Islamic State, the “Islamic Caliphate,” was in the past year viewed by the U.S. and Western European countries as the primary enemy, and its defeat was vigorously pursued by an ad hoc coalition. Its forces included the U.S., Russia, the Kurdish peshmerga, Iran, Iraq, Syria’s Assad regime and European powers.

Islamic State terror attacks in European cities together with mass executions in areas under its control that were publicized in the media enraged the civilized world. Destroying the Islamic State became a primary target, while the consequences of a victory by the coalition against it were studiously ignored in Washington.

The Islamic State is by now essentially defeated. Outnumbered and outgunned, it didn’t have a chance. But the spoils of this victory belong primarily to Iran. Its hold on Iraq has been strengthened; its control of Syria goes almost unchallenged; its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah, has joined the ranks of the victors; and the hapless Kurds, the true allies of the U.S., have been deserted and seen their hopes of attaining independence dashed. Was this to be the price of defeating the Islamic State?

Little thought had seemingly been given to that outcome when the most unusual coalition was formed aimed at defeating Islamic State. Actually there was no need to include Iran in the coalition. Islamic State could have been easily defeated without the participation of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard. The Kurds need not to have been abandoned. The threat to America’s allies in the Middle East comes from Iran and its proxies. It is the primary target. The Islamic State should have been seen as the secondary target.

In Washington they are beginning to recognize that two serious mistakes were made in dealing with Iran. Late, but not too late.