July 23, 2014 | National Post

Ending Iran’s Support of Hamas Must Be Part of Any Final P5+1 Nuclear Deal

European Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, July 19, 2014. AP Photo/Ronald Zak

On Monday, the so-called P5+1 — Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany — extended the deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran from July 20 (which was Sunday) to November 24. “There are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort,” declared a joint statement issued by the European Union Foreign Policy Chief and Iran’s Foreign Minister.

What “core issues” are we talking about here? How about the fact that Iran still refuses to part with its centrifuges — which are critical to any deal, because these are the devices that actually accomplish the technically difficult job of separating fissile Uranium-235 from its non-fissile chemical cousin, Uranium-238.

As of now, Iran has about 19,000 centrifuges and is working on producing new models that are more difficult for UN weapons inspectors to detect. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, says he wants Iran to expand its centrifuge stock by a factor of 10. And the country’s President, supposed moderate Hasan Rouhani, says that Iran won’t part with its precious nuclear blenders “under any circumstances.” Does this sound like a regime ready to embrace a verifiable nuclear-control deal with the world’s major powers?

Just as worrying is Iran’s interest in developing new missile technology — which, when combined with its nuclear program, could lead to the production of a nuclear-tipped Iranian missile, perhaps even eventually an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Iran is obsessed with claiming status on the world stage as a major power, and brandishing apocalyptic weapons no doubt is seen as a tempting shortcut to this goal. Iran’s Supreme Leader doesn’t even pretend that Iran will curtail its missile program under any deal signed with the P5+1: Back in May, he declared that Western demands in this area were “stupid and idiotic.”

Given all this, one may ask why the United States keeps tossing carrots at Iran just to get it to keep jawboning at the negotiating table. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced US$2.8-billion in new sanctions relief for Iran — on top of the US$4-billion to US$7-billion that already has been provided under the current process. All this has done little except help Iran’s economy rebound from the deadening effects of international isolation: A new study co-authored by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies estimates that about $11-billion has been restored to Iran’s economy over the last six months thanks to the effects of sanctions relief. “While the Iranian economy remains under pressure, its stabilization and improvement in key areas has enhanced Iranian negotiating leverage,” the authors write. “We fear that this has made it more difficult for Washington and its partners to reach a final agreement that peacefully prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.”

Much of Hamas’ missile stock also originates with Iran — or Iran’s Syrian client state

But even if Iran somehow could be brought around to a sensible, verifiable deal that prevents it from developing a nuclear weapon, the current fighting in Gaza shows another aspect of Tehran’s malign influence in the Middle East. Last week, Hamas surprised Israeli military officials by launching a drone into Israeli airspace — a perfect delivery mechanism for a strike against the heart of Tel Aviv. According to experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, “the drone was probably provided by Iran and assembled in the Gaza Strip.”

Much of Hamas’ missile stock also originates with Iran — or Iran’s Syrian client state. “The vast majority of the expertise and the basic materials arrive in Gaza from Iran via Sudan,” an Israeli intelligence official told The Daily Beast’s Eli Lake. “Most of the rockets coming from Gaza today are homemade, but utilize Iranian expertise.”

A former Israeli deputy minister of defense told the same reporter that Iranian specialists shipped [20km-range] grad missiles, “dividing them into four parts in order to smuggle [them] through the tunnels … then they sent to Gaza experts who helped them to develop the longer-range rockets.”

Iran’s efforts to supply Hamas with missiles and supporting technology has fuelled the current conflict — and it would be unconscionable for Western leaders to ignore the blood on Tehran’s hands to sign a (flawed) nuclear deal. Any final agreement with Iran should require that regime not only agree to stringent and verifiable controls on its nuclear development, but also end to its logistical support of terrorists in Gaza and elsewhere.

Iran is likely to balk at such conditions, of course. But better no deal than one that effectively gives an international imprimatur to Iran’s destructive role in the Middle East.

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