CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Whatever its merits, the nuclear deal concluded two years ago this summer has done nothing to satisfy Iran’s appetite to establish regional hegemony in the Middle East.
This is unsurprising: one of the great flaws of European and US efforts was a willingness to overlook Iran’s destabilising influence, its support for terrorism and its appalling human rights record.
Little demonstrates more clearly Iran’s pernicious influence than its role in the Syrian civil war. Through its unstinting support for the Assad regime and Hezbollah, Iran bears much responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe and loss of civilian life which has unfolded since 2011, the likes of which we have not seen in over 70 years.
Iran’s actions in Syria – what Denis Ross has rightly described as its ‘preference for sectarian policies and politics’ – fuelled the rise of IS. Whatever the eventual fate of Daesh, Iran’s behaviour will continue to stoke violent Sunni movements and jihadism throughout the region.
Iran’s apparent belief that international norms do not apply to it extends far beyond its nuclear ambitions and its actions in Syria:
It continues to defy Security Council resolutions on conventional arms restrictions and ballistic missiles: testing missiles on a number of occasions since the implementation of the nuclear deal, most recently earlier this month.
It has increased its support for the Taliban and backed the Houthi effort to overthrow Yemen’s internationally recognised government, thus helping to provoke another vicious civil war in the region.
And, through its proxies in Hezbollah, it seeks to politically destabilise Lebanon and fulfil its long-held aspiration of turning the country into a client state.
Iran’s game plan is clear:
First, it is working to further its dominance by establishing a land corridor to the Mediterranean: one that cuts a swathe through Iraq, along the Syrian-Turkish border, and then south to Homs and north again to the port of Latakia.
Second, through Hezbollah, it aims to establish a second front in southern Syria with which to threaten Israel.
In recent days, we have seen Israel forced to take action against a number of targets near the Lebanon-Syria border.
Iran’s intentions towards Israel are utterly malign and unchanging:
A decade ago, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described it as a ‘disgraceful blot’ that should be ‘wiped off the face of the earth’.
His supposedly reformist successor, Hasan Rouhani, calls it ‘a wound on the body of the Islamic world [that] should be removed’.
The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vows that Israel ‘won’t live to see the end of these 25 years’.
Such repeated threats to annihilate a fellow member of the United Nations again show Iran’s refusal to live by the rules which govern international relations.
Nor are these mere ideal threats.
Just last week, one of the deputy heads of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard boasted that it had established underground rocket factories in Lebanon which are under the full control of Hezbollah.
Days before, Iran’s Defence Minister said Hezbollah is now capable of producing rockets that can hit any part of Israel.
Hezbollah is already estimated to have 100,000-120,000 rockets hidden among the civilian population of southern Lebanon.
And let’s not forget that this army of terror provoked a war with Israel in 2006 when it had 13,000 short and medium-range rockets.
But Iran’s belligerence and expansionism is not simply a threat to our friends in the region.
It is a direct threat to Europe too.
It is Europe that has had to deal with the refugee crisis caused by the oil which Iran poured on the flames of the Syrian civil war.
It is Europe which is threatened by both Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and the Sunni jihadism which its sectarian policies provoke.
And it is Europe which could in the future be menaced by Iranian missiles.
So Europe should stand up for itself and stand by Israel in ensuring:
First, that the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are strictly adhered to and rigorously enforced.
Second, that Iran is made to abide by UN Security Council resolutions and held responsible for its apparent violations of those resolutions, such as its supplying of arms to Hezbollah.
Third, that action is taken against those Iranian actors – such as Mahan Air – which aid and abet the Islamic Republic’s support for murder and terrorism. An airline which has been accused on ferrying fighters and weapons to Assad should not be flying in and out of Copenhagen, Paris and Milan.
Fourth, that Iran’s human rights violations are systematically exposed, condemned and those responsible for them subject to sanctions.
Finally, that international repudiation of Iran’s repeated threats against Israel is unequivocal and backed up by practical efforts to encourage and further Israel’s nascent dialogue with the Gulf states.