The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that the Obama administration and its P5+1 partners struck with Iran Tuesday morning includes a long list of entities and individuals who will no longer be under the yoke of UN sanctions for nuclear-related issues. Some of them will enjoy immediate relief from sanctions while others will have to wait eight years.
Among the latter is Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guards expeditionary unit. Soleimani is responsible for exporting Iranian terrorism and Iranian-sponsored terrorism—like Hezbollah’s—abroad. His other duties include managing Iran’s war on behalf of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. When asked why the JCPOA was giving a get out of jail free card to a man responsible for so much violence, death and suffering, John Kerry contended that he wasn’t. It’s some other guy with a similar name, said Kerry, incorrectly. The State Department later backpedaled and confessed that while Soleimani was getting off the U.N. list, he was still under U.S. sanctions and would never get off that list.
Taking Soleimani off the UN list was non-negotiable, the administration said. Same with all the other entities and personages, many hundreds of them, including scores of IRGC officials, as well as various corporations the clerical regime used in order to purchase, steal, and transfer sensitive nuclear materials. If some of the names sound peculiarly non-Persian, that’s because the regime set up all sorts of front companies in order to avoid sanctions.
There’s a real celebrity on the list, too: Anis Naccache. For a time, he was lieutenant to Carlos the Jackal, a Venezuelan terrorist who is currently serving a life sentence in a French prison. Naccache was part of the 1975 Carlos the Jackal-led operation at OPEC headquarters at Vienna when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine killed three hostages, including the Libyan oil minister. (There’s even a Naccache character in the 2010 miniseries “Carlos.”)
In time, Naccache, a Lebanese national, found work with the Islamic Republic. He boasts that he trained the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Indeed, the IRGC was his idea, he says, established to defend against any possible counter-revolution. Thus, in 1980, he directed the plot to assassinate the last Iranian prime minister under the Shah, Shapour Bakhtiar, in Paris. Bakhtiar survived that attempt—the regime got to him in 1990—but Naccache’s group still managed to kill an old woman and a policeman. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the French released him ten years later in exchange for French hostages held by Hezbollah. After the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in 2008, Naccache was regularly described as Mughniyeh’s mentor. Naccache was an intermediary between the Khomeinist faction of the anti-Shah revolutionaries based in Lebanon and recruited Lebanese Shiites associated with the Palestinian factions there, like Fatah’s Force 17 unit, where Mughniyeh reportedly started as a teenager.
Naccache writes books now, like a volume on Islamic banking, The Banks of Sheikh Salamah, which includes a preface from Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy. Naccache says he’s retired from terrorism, but in 2008, the European Union listed him “as a person linked to Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or Iran’s development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.” Soon, he’ll be off the list along with friends and colleagues devoted to advancing the interests of the Islamic Republic.
Naccache is a historical figure, but in terms of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, he’s just one small part of a much larger entity. Indeed, that’s one way to read the list of individuals and entities who will be taken off the UN sanctions list. It’s like a big map of the regime, describing Tehran’s efforts over nearly three decades to acquire the bomb. The fact that hundreds of financial institutions, shipping companies, and shell corporations, were all involved is evidence of the regime’s extensive resources devoted to its nuclear weapons program.
The odd paradox is that the sanctions list shows that Iran’s effort to get the bomb was so all-consuming that it’s highly unlikely sanctions would have stopped Tehran from actually from getting one. If the regime was willing to spend nearly trillions of dollars over more than 25 years regardless of how it would affect the economy or the living standard of the ordinary Iranian, it’s unlikely that more sanctions would’ve made the regime change its mind. In that respect, Obama is certainly right—nothing short of military force was ever going to stop Iran from getting the bomb.
Of course, the other way to read the list of entities and individuals who will be taken off the UN sanctions list, is as the brain scan of an extremely damaged mind that wants more than anything else in the world the most destructive thing that mankind has ever made. And the best-case scenario, according to Obama, is that within a little more than a decade, it will get what it wants.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).