The Iranians know about resistance, or so they say. They know that any occupying force will be faced with resistance. They’ve supported “resistance forces” in the region for decades. Today, they’re on the other side of the equation. Iran has become an occupying force in the region, according to statements by its own officials, and therefore, it will now face resistance—in this case, an aggressive and sectarian one.

But Iranians will not lose, simply because they won’t be fighting on the ground. What Iran is looking forward to is the following: a deal with the US that will see sanctions lifted (or at least a significant part of the sanctions), a blind eye to its growing influence in the region, and eventually a supremacy that allows it to make major changes to the current geopolitical map of the Middle East.

Any resistance to Iran in the region will not really stop it, because it simply will not be fighting with and losing Iranian lives. Iranian lives, it would seem, are too valuable to be wasted in sectarian clashes. These sacrifices are rather for Arab Shiites gathered from all over the Middle East and Asia to help Iran build its realm. Arab Sunnis will fight Arab Shiites until the whole region is destabilized. Why should Iran care? A destabilized Lebanon has always played to its advantage, and a destabilized region will pay dividends—Iran has nothing to lose.

If the Iranian economy recovers after the deal, the region will drown in yet more blood and state institutions will be further undermined and weakened. Iran will have the financial means to boost its militias in the region. The reality imposed by Iran on the ground contradicts all assurances given by the US to its regional allies. Iran is an occupying force by proxy, and will not abandon its ongoing pursuit of hegemony.

Earlier this week, Ali Younsi, advisor to President Hassan Rouhani on religious and minority affairs, stated that Iran is now an empire with Baghdad as its capital. This statement came while Iraqi forces, led publicly by Hadi al-Amiri but privately by Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani, appeared to make gains against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Tikrit.

The Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Younsi as saying that “[Baghdad is] the center of our civilization, culture and identity today as it was in the past,” in a reference to the Persian Sassanid Empire that ruled before Islam. “All of the area of the Middle East is Iran; we shall protect all of the nationalities in the area because we consider them to be a part of Iran.”

On Syria, Hossein Hamdani—the IRGC commander currently serving as advisor to the Syrian government and overseeing Quds Forces operations in Syria—revealed that his country has been indoctrinating youths in the war-torn country to fight under the IRGC. On Tuesday, Al-Arabiya cited Hussein Hamdani as saying: “The IRGC has begun to establish new religious groups in Syria called ‘Kashab’ among young Alawites, Sunnis, Christians and Ismailis.”

Iran’s militias in Iraq and Syria are not about to leave any time soon. Even if ISIS is defeated in Iraq and the FSA dissolves in Syria, Iran’s militias won’t leave. They are here to stay.

As such, every strategy to defeat ISIS is a bad strategy unless it takes the post-ISIS scenarios into consideration. And a regional strategy that includes Turkey is a must—if Sunni extremists are allowed to fight the Iranian occupation exclusively, the war will only proliferate. Without a long-term plan, extremist groups will find a way to survive—under ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or whatever banner they find suitable.

ISIS will probably be defeated, but the militants will morph into something new. It doesn’t matter: ongoing sectarian rifts will continue to make extremism tenable. So, the choice now is between Sunni militants aggressively trying to liberate Syria and Iraq from the Iranian occupation; and a regional, unified army structured by regional states with a clear and comprehensive strategy.

Iran’s strategy is to dominate by destroying state institutions and intensifying sectarian bloodshed. This domination, however, will have no capacity or will to rebuild, because it does not take into consideration the demography and historic sensitivities of the region.

Hezbollah was once described as a state within the Lebanese state. Today, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen have become small states within the Iranian empire. This isn’t just a choice of words used to make a point: this is reality, and it will get worse when Iran’s economic troubles are alleviated.

A deal that gives Iran such power will result in the following:

First, the perception of the US in the region is changing. The majority of Sunnis now see the US as taking sides in a sectarian fight; an Iranian ally. Obama, in this sense, is perceived as interventionist.

Secondly, democracies like Lebanon, or potential democracies in the region, will slowly deteriorate because Iran will not acknowledge state institutions or tolerate freedom of speech. This has been confirmed many times in Lebanon and in Iran itself.

Third, liberal and civil groups or individuals will lose legitimacy in the region and civil society will crumble amidst sectarian bloodshed.

Is this what the US really wants the region to look like? If the nuclear deal is really worth so much blood, death and madness, then all the values we thought we shared with the US are now inexplicable.

See, the question now is not whether there will be a deal to stop Iran’s nuclear program. The problem is more fundamental: values are being shattered and people are being betrayed.

Hanin Ghaddar is the Managing Editor of NOW. She tweets @haningdr