By Teymour Nsouli
New York City, New York
As talks between Iran and the United States continue, it is clear that a potential deal between the two adversaries would not involve curbing Iran’s ballistic missile program as well as its proxies throughout the Middle East. Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran Nuclear deal in 2018 and slapped crippling sanctions on every sector of the Islamic Republic's economy. The new Biden administration took a less hostile approach and engaged in what some like to call “maximum diplomacy” with Iran. The Iranians made it clear from the beginning that negotiations with the U.S. would strictly be regarding its nuclear ambitions and would not extend to other concerns that Washington may have such as Iran’s proxy militias.
On June 27, its proxies in Iraq were targeted by U.S. airstrikes after conducting multiple drone attacks against U.S. forces. Attacks by Iranian-backed militias are part of Iran's strategy of putting pressure on the U.S. to revive the JCPOA, which was an agreement reached in 2015 between Iran and six other world powers. Currently, over 2000 American troops are stationed in Iraq and are under threat of attacks by powerful militias with sophisticated weaponry. A multitude of attacks occurred against U.S. forces after they struck Iran-backed proxies. Assuming that Iran and the United States could reach an agreement soon, the Islamic republic’s leadership may direct its Iraqi proxies to halt its aggressions against US forces or at least scale back on them for the time being.
While Iraqi soil is being used for Iran and the US to continue their shadow war, Iran’s most valuable proxy, Hezbollah in Lebanon, has not conducted any major operations against Israel recently besides a few minor border flare-ups. Hezbollah is overwhelmingly dependent on Iran for cash and weapons, and with both countries struggling economically, a deal between Iran and the US can help ease financial pressure on Hezbollah. The militia seems to have reigned in their attacks against Israel and are more focused on Lebanon’s political, economic, and social crisis. However, unlike their allied proxies in Iraq, it is possible that if a deal is reached between the US and Iran, then Hezbollah may feel more at liberty to initiate attacks against Israel. An agreement with the US would allow Iran to provide Hezbollah with more money and financial security, thus permitting it to launch small-scale battles on the border with Israel. The Iranians are not looking for Hezbollah to be aggressive with Israel at the moment, as it doesn’t want the militia to be of concern to the US as well as potentially jeopardize negotiations. The Iranians are making calculated moves in order to prevent its proxies from being included in a deal where they would be forced to curtail their activities.
While nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers are vital to regional security, Iran’s proxies are not only an issue for America but also for the countries and people they undermine. For example, Iraqis are living under the control of militias who parade their weapons from Iran in the street and cause increased instability in a country that has been through horrendous wars. Activists in Iraq fear being assassinated by Iran-backed militias and are growing more afraid to speak out. Meanwhile, Hezbollah in Lebanon is often blamed for being the causation of the dire economic situation. Lebanon is unable to unlock desperately needed foreign aid, since Hezbollah is deemed as a terrorist organization by many countries and world powers are reluctant to provide money that could end up in the hands of Iran’s proxy. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, recently demonstrated the party’s closeness with the Islamic republic when he proposed to import fuel from Iran to ease the situation if the gas crisis continues. This caught the attention of many as there is no doubt that global powers would oppose such a proposition and that sanctions could be slapped on Lebanon if Hezbollah chooses to go down this route.
Although it may let the Lebanese fill their car with gas, it does not help the overall situation, and it has the potential to isolate Lebanon even more from the international community. Surely, it will be interesting to see how the region reacts if a deal is reached between Iran and the US. Will Iran’s proxies be more at ease and receive increased funding to continue their agenda? Will Hezbollah continue to take advantage of the instability in Lebanon? Will a deal with Iran bring peace to the middle east?...... Probably not.