What Iran talks critics get wrong

Story highlights

  • Talks are continuing over Iran's nuclear program
  • Jacqueline Shire: A nuclear deal is just the beginning

Jacqueline Shire served as a member of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Iran from November 2010 through 2014. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)There is plenty of noise surrounding the nuclear deal that is being negotiated with Iran. But for all the heat generated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress and an ill-conceived, panicky letter to Iran's leadership organized by Sen.Tom Cotton -- the latest debate is creating little light.

Indeed, it may actually be obscuring the fundamental issue of Iran's own foreign policies -- and whether Tehran's destabilizing activities abroad should preclude a deal at all.
Unfortunately, few in Congress have taken the time to consider the matter in a thoughtful, coherent manner.
    There are, of course, certain realities that should not be in dispute: Yes, Iran is a regional adversary to a number of its Gulf neighbors and Israel. And it does aim to provoke Sunni-led Gulf states and generally to sow seeds of sectarian Islam abroad.
    In addition, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp's Quds force is alleged to have provided training and weapons to a range of militants -- Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, Houthi rebels in Yemen, disenfranchised Shia Muslims in Bahrain, and even to militant groups in West Africa.
    Most recently, Iran has been directing military operations by U.S.-equipped Iraqi forces against ISIS militants in Iraq, forces that have been aided by U.S. airstrikes.
    Netanyahu grasped the irony, starkly warning "when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy." (Although Sen. Marco Rubio appears to be confused, insisting at a March 11 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iran must be unhappy with U.S. airstrikes against ISIS).
    Yet the question that Netanyahu did not answer, and w