National Security & Defense

Five Likely Destinations for Iran’s Nuclear Cash

Hezbollah militants parade in Nabatiyeh, November 2012. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP/Getty)

On Saturday, Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah described Iran’s desire for a “happy ending” to its nuclear negotiations. Hassan also thanked Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, for giving “a special place” to Hezbollah in his own recent speech. Nasrallah’s overarching message: Iran will continue to stand with Hezbollah.

Unfortunately, he’s absolutely correct. In the days ahead, as Iran accesses its tens of billions in frozen cash, Iran’s allies will reap the rewards. Because whatever the White House might claim, Iran’s Supreme Leader, the ultimate master of Iran’s foreign policy, has one object: an ever-expanding, hyper-sectarian empire of Khomeinism. This durable absolutism explains why Iran in the 1980s used children as mine-clearance devices, and why in 2011 it greeted America’s “outstretched hand” by trying to blow up a Washington restaurant.

We can be confident Iranian money will flow to five destinations in particular.

The Lebanese Hezbollah

As Nasrallah explained in his speech, the Iran–Hezbollah alliance is centered in ideology rather than politics. But as I noted in January, pushed by Iran into fighting for Bashar Assad in Syria, Hezbollah finds its military power stretched and its cash running low. Always humorless, Hezbollah is now also lacking in confidence. In his speech, Nasrallah issued a paranoid warning that “Lebanese tools” of America were undermining his power. And now Nasrallah expects Iran to come to his aid. Iran will do so. Iran wants to support Hezbollah’s continuing efforts in Syria and Iraq, and it also wants to support Hezbollah’s effort to retain its stranglehold over Lebanon. These days Lebanon’s political situation is, quite literally, on the garbage heap. Not only does Islamic State pose a serious threat to eastern Lebanon; Iran wants to ensure that Hezbollah continues to call the shots in Beirut. This translates into Hezbollah’s renewed ability to terrorize opposition politicians and advance its mafia contract with Lebanese society: security for power.

Bashar Assad

Iran recently doubled down on Assad’s survival by granting the dictator a new credit line. The theocrats need Assad for his access to Lebanon. But Iran’s nuclear windfall allows them to increase their support and enable his ongoing evisceration of Syrian civilian lung matter. Morality is irrelevant to Iran, which is desperate to ensure that Syria’s Sunni-majority population remains subjugated to the Iranian imperial order.

Houthi rebel formations in Yemen

Following a long period of victories, Yemen’s Houthi rebels are coming under major pressure. This month, a Saudi-led alliance pushed back the Iran-supported rebels and captured the port of Aden. Keen to threaten Saudi Arabia by destabilizing its Yemeni southern neighbor, Iran will use its improved cash flow to try and reenergize its ally. Again, Iran’s commitment to the Houthis is attested by its repeated and flagrant breaches of a U.S. arms embargo.

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Palestinian terrorist groups

In a little-observed sign of displeasure with America, Saudi Arabia’s king recently met with Hamas leaders in Mecca. The Saudis insist that the meeting was insignificant. But the opposite is true. What’s happening here is a struggle between the Saudis and Iran over the future of Palestinian terrorist groups. Until recently, Hamas relations with Iran (its previous long-term sponsor) were frayed by Iran’s support for Assad’s war on Syria’s Sunni population. A Sunni organization, Hamas is unwilling to join Assad. Lacking faith in their U.S. alliance, the Saudis are changing tack and trying to anchor their power in proxies. They want to draw Hamas out of the Iranian orbit and under their own authority. Correspondingly, Iran will likely use its new funds to try to rebuild its relationship with Hamas. Like the Saudis, they know Hamas is desperate for money. But Hamas also offers Iran a pretense of supporting cross-sectarian (Sunni as well as Shiite) “resistance” in the Middle East. Ultimately, this tug of war between Iran and the House of Saud and Iran illustrates the region’s increasingly unrestrained power-politics struggles.

Quds Force elements

Iranian hardliners want to affirm that the nuclear deal hasn’t weakened their “revolutionary” power and zeal. This means that in the months ahead, supported with new funds, the Revolutionary Guards will probably escalate their brinkmanship efforts against U.S. and allied interests in the Middle East. As I’ve explained, President Obama should be deterring this threat by strengthening the U.S. Navy presence in the Persian Gulf.

It’s true. Iran will spend much of its new money on critical infrastructure improvements to its stagnating economy. But ultimately those investments seek to empower the Iranian revolution rather than improve the lives of Iran’s people. That revolution is what Susan Rice meant when she casually told CNN, “Iran may be able to send money, yes.”  

Her callous indifference will carry a heavy toll for America.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

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