Now that Iran and the U.S., United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany (P5+1) have reached an agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program, sanctions will be lifted. As a result, increased cash flow will allow Iran to have more options, and will likely choose to increase terrorism activity. There has been some contention as to whether Iran will use its unfrozen financial assets to improve its struggling economy or to increase its support of terrorism abroad. Last week, the Los Angeles Times stated that a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assessment predicts that Tehran will use most of its unfrozen financial assets to fix domestic problems. In contrast, the House Intelligence Committee does not believe the CIA report is accurate because it contradicts previously received information.
In theory, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor Iran on a real time basis and will provide Tehran with some sanction relief. Some experts are worried as to how Tehran will use the extra financial resources that will result from the lifting of sanctions. One concern is that Tehran will increase financial support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Houthi rebels have began fighting the Yemeni government in 2004. Since then, the Yemeni president has been forced out of office, over 3,200 people have died, and about 1.3 million people are displaced. Tehran has supplied Houthi rebels with surface-to-air missiles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank weapons, high explosive devices, small arms, training, and tactical support. American and Saudi Arabian officials have pointed out that the large territory in Northwest Yemen captured by the rebels may not have been attainable without Iranian government assistance.
Lifting the current sanctions on Iran’s oil alone will translate into hundreds of billions of dollars. While Iran should use the extra funds to fix domestic problems, Iran will likely increase its support to Houthi rebels in Yemen — Tehran has historically focused on terrorism to achieve policy goals. Iran has supported the following terrorist activities in the past: the 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombing, the 1994 AMIA Jewish community center bombing in Buenos Aires, the U.S. military housing complex Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, and an assassination attempt in 2011 of the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the U.S. It is no surprise that Iran has been on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984.
Iran is motivated to increase funding of the Houthi rebels because doing so will expand its sphere of influence and allow Tehran to continue its efforts to neighboring countries like Lebanon and Syria. It is important for Iran to have a friend south of Saudi Arabia to enhance Tehran’s power in the region because increased power translates into easier access to the Arabian Peninsula, Africa and the Red Sea.
While the West hopes to create a new relationship with Iran as a result of the nuclear agreement, countries in the Middle East have been put on edge. For instance, Saudi Arabia has led an offensive against the Houthi rebels without asking for Washington’s approval. Saudi Arabia does not depend on America’s support — it spent about $6.4 billion in defense purchases in 2014 on weapons from the U.S., Western Europe and Russia. This may be an indication of an ensuing arms race in order to combat Iran.
Not everyone agrees with getting rid of the sanctions on Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel opposes the nuclear deal, considering it a mistake of historic proportions. In contrast, President Obama believes preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon is more important than Tehran using additional funds to destabilize the region.
Iran will likely increase its support of terrorism in Yemen as its financial resources increase after sanctions are lifted. At first glance the conflict in Yemen may seem a cheap way for Iran to aggravate Saudi Arabia, but its strategic geographical significance is vital to Iran’s control over the region. While many experts are focused on halting Tehran’s nuclear program, more pundits should focus on future consequences of how sanction relief will empower Tehran to do more harm through terrorism as it has done in the past.
Find Archived Articles: