How Trump and Congress can coordinate against Iran

In recent years, one of the most divisive foreign policy subjects in Washington has been none other than Iran.  The deal sealed by the Obama administration with other world powers aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program and altering the regime’s gross behavior, saw its way through Congress without a single Republican voting in favor.

President Donald Trump made it a hallmark of his campaign to adopt a tougher stance against Tehran.  Recent developments have once again brought Iran at the top of the congressional agenda with the weighing of new initiatives.

President Trump has not defined the exact nature of his approach against Iran, despite unprecedentedly placing the regime “on notice.”  The Obama administration went through intense Iran policy debates, and to this end, many members on Capitol Hill have become experts from the time they have spent on this matter, far beyond any other subject.  As White House officials continue to weigh their options, Congress can seize the initiative to present an assertive perspective able to gain the backing of both executive and legislative branches.

A slate of core components should be included in this congressional effort.

Lawmakers should begin their measures by expressing their view for the need to carefully oversee Iran’s strict compliance with the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  While disagreements have flared in the past in this regard, a consensus is being established in Congress and the White House that vigorously enforcing the deal is the best roadmap to holding Iran accountable for probable future violations.

A bipartisan congressional panel should be established to guarantee correct JCPOA implementation and holding hearings to maintain the subject high on the general foreign policy playbook.  Congress should also raise the costs of Iran’s potential violations, to force the regime to think twice about taking such a path.  This would involve sanctions far beyond those triggered if the deal collapses entirely.

Congress should also call for and support a new series of law enforcement activities, military and intelligence actions, sanctions, and weapons interdiction to blunt Iran procuring for its network of proxies scattered across the region.  This can include a variety of low-profile measures targeting the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its Quds Force, along with their proxies.  This would provide a major boost in the pushback against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.

Congress should support the Trump administration’s new effort to improve ties with Arab Gulf allies nearly broken under Obama’s watch for the sake of the Iran nuclear deal.  A variety of options, including weapons sales and different methods of cooperation, are available in this regard.  Establishing a broad multinational task force with its Gulf partners should be a major priority for the U.S.  Such a relationship would enhance exercises and training campaigns, intelligence-sharing, and joint operations.  Such an entity can employ attacks on different targets deemed necessary, such as Iran’s proxy groups and other terrorist networks across the region.

Do not be mistaken, however: there is no intention to promote a pro-war campaign against Iran, as launching such a campaign would play into the regime’s hands.  The silver bullet or the final nail in the coffin against Iran, at least for now, is for Congress to pass a bill designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.  This is the measure that will send the necessary signal to Tehran that neither America nor the international community will tolerate any longer their belligerence of any nature.

Such a move will prevent any further wars in the region, support the Iranian people against the very entity behind Iran’s domestic clampdown and human rights violations, and weaken the regime in its entirety prior to the crucial May 19 presidential election.  Congress can thus set the stage for the Iranian people to pour into the streets, similar to the 2009 episode, and express their true feelings about the mullahs’ hideous rule.

Trump’s strike against Assad in Syria: The message for Iran

The United States military took decisive action early Thursday morning through launching a total of 59 precision guided Tomahawk cruise missiles targeting a Syrian airbase north of Damascus.

This site was believed to be used by Bashar Assad to carry out a horrific chemical weapons attack last Tuesday, leaving more than 500 killed and injured in Idlib Province of northwest Syria. Entire families were devastated, such as Abdulhamid al-Yussof, who lost 25 members of his family, including his wife and 9-month twin babies, Ahmed and Aya.

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US President Donald Trump ordered the military strike, carried out by two US warships, the USS Porter and USS Ross, prior to his meeting with the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida, possibly also sending a message also to North Korea about its nuclear ambitions.

More importantly, however, this strike, signaling a major shift in US policy, will be viewed as a strong message to Iran, being the main supporter of Assad regime throughout span of this atrocious six-year carnage against innocent civilians. And this turn of events couldn’t have arrived at a more critical timing, only weeks prior to Iran’s presidential election. Tehran will need to carefully evaluate the road ahead.

The strike

The very nature of the US attack, taking place at 3:40 am local time when minimum activity at the Shayrat airbase was expected, the fact that Washington had at least to some extent informed Moscow of its intentions prior to the strike, and the effort put in at the United Nations Security Council to obtain international consensus shows the objective was to deliver a political message to Assad, Iran and all other parties involved in Syria.

Reports indicate many hardened hangers and fueling stations at the airbase were destroyed. A more important statistic was also reported indicating Assad lost 9 to 14 Sukhoi warplanes, an asset fortunately very difficult for this regime to replace. Additionally, General Khalil Ebrahim, one of Assad’s senior commanders, was killed in the strike along with a number of other Syrian regime troops involved in the horrific Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack.

International consensus

Following eight years of devastating inaction by the Obama administration, partly due to its seeking to seal a highly flawed deal supposedly intended to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the global community has made its position loud and clear by voicing support for this measure against Assad.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francoise Hollande issued a joint statement supporting the US missile strike. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said his country understands the reasoning behind this military move by the US, and British Defense Minister Michael Fallon described the action quite necessary.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry also fully approved the strike against Assad’s military targets. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley voiced strong words in the Security Council on Friday, saying Iran also bears heavy responsibility in Assad’s chemical attack after supporting the ruthless Syrian dictator for years.

“Getting Assad out is not the only priority,” Haley said in a Sunday interview with CNN. “What we are trying to do is obvious defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally, move towards a political solution.”

Representing a rare bipartisan measure, a significant number of Democrat and Republic senators in the US on Friday presented a bill to punish the Syrian regime for its war crimes.

Senators Bob Corker, Ben Cardin, Marco Rubio, Jeanne Shaheen, Robert Menendez and Todd Young introduced the “Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act”, instructing the US Secretary of State to “report on war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Syria, and authorize assistance for investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal, to hold Assad and his regime accountable for their heinous acts.”

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa backed the attack on Assad’s airbase, adding Thursday’s attack was a clear warning to Iran and all states supporting Assad in massacring innocent people.

Iran left terrified

Being caught completely off guard after enjoying 8 years of Obama’s unrestrained appeasement, Iran has found itself cornered after the recent US precision air strike against its Syrian puppet.

The road ahead for Tehran is now quite complex, to say the least. One so-called expert best depicted Iran’s utter fear in an interview with Iranian state TV saying, “I hope the US brings this to a halt and resolves this issue through diplomatic agreements.”

The semi-official Fars news agency, voicing the position of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), shed light on another aspect of Iran’s concerns. “The Syrian coalition… welcomed the strike and called for the continuation of such attacks,” the wire reads.

Ever since US President Donald Trump came to the White House, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan have called for the elimination of Assad and increasing sanctions against Iran, according to the Iran Online website. Turkey welcomed the military action against Assad and once again placed forward its plans to immediately impose a no-fly zone over Syria.

While reports indicate the presence of IRGC elements in Shayrat, the White House announced Trump is discussing with other world leaders the possibility of establishing a safe zone in Syria, according to Iran’s Entekhab website. Reports indicate the Pentagon is also providing Trump with plans on attacking Syria and setting Assad aside, the post continued.

Final thoughts

This attack couldn’t have come at a worse timing for Iran. To resolve the Syrian crisis the international community needs to expel Iran from the Levant and move forward by first designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Already concerned about the possibility of its powder keg society exploding into nationwide protest similar to that of 2009, Tehran has now suffered a major setback in Syria.

Evicting Iran from the Levant is “indispensable to bringing peace and tranquility to, and removing fundamentalism and terrorism from the region and the world,” according to a statement released by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Looking into the near future, Iran’s presidential election, read selection, is scheduled for May 19th. Knowing the Sharyat airbase strike by the US has sealed Washington’s change in policy and attitude, Tehran is left devastated and seeking desperate measures to maintain face, especially inside the country.

Massacre In Syria Is Why Iran Must Be Evicted

International media aired horrifying images of Bashar Assad’s most recent massacre through an atrocious chemical attack staged by his Sukhoi 22 warplanes targeting the city of Khan Sheikhoon in Idlib Province, in Syria’s north. At least 100 suffocated to death and more than 400 were left injured with symptoms similar to those caused by sarin gas. Most of the victims were women and children and even the hospital where the victims were being treated was bombed.

While the Syrian opposition delegation involved in the Geneva talks said this chemical attack has left future negotiations looking bleak, this horrific act of vicious barbarity should pinpoint the international community’s attention on the main element behind all this carnage: Iran’s involvement in Syria in a diehard effort to maintain the dictator Bashar Assad in power.

A wave of international condemnations followed this killing spree.

“Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people, including women and children, is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a statement.

“While we continue to monitor the terrible situation, it is clear that this is how Bashar al-Assad operates: with brutal, unabashed barbarism,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said through a statement, urging Russia and Iran to prevent Assad from the use of chemical attacks.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini held the Syrian regime responsible for this horrendous chemical attack.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called for accountability for those behind the dreadful Idlib attack and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault requested an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the world must not neglect Assad’s crimes and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu condemned the Idlib attack as an inhumane crime.

The scene on the ground is considered even too gruesome to describe. Physicians in Idlib have called on the international community for their support. Idlib’s White Helmets warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Khan Sheikhoun, adding Assad’s bombing campaign is targeting their sites and even known medical centers.

The Syrian Physicians Organization said the al-Rahme hospital in Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in six different bombing raids, leaving no doubt of Assad’s indifference between military and non-military targets.

Reports indicate all hospitals in Idlib Province are struggling to provide care for casualties from Khan Sheikhoun.

The Syrian crisis has recently been gaining increasing attention in the international stage, with the tide turning against Assad and his main supporter, Iran. As rebels staged surprising attacks in Damascus recently, social media activists campaigned through the hashtag #IranOutOfSyria to raise voice against Tehran’s deadly meddling in Syria.

Public opinion in the Arab World has been increasingly against the role played by Iran through its Revolutionary Guards – the entity behind Tehran’s human rights violations, nuclear program and ballistic missile drive – and a conglomerate of proxy groups in Syria. There no longer is any doubt in the Middle East that the main element behind the ongoing catastrophes caused by the war in Syria is none other than the regime in Iran. Over 500,000 people killed and 14 million displaced throughout the country or scattered across the globe has been the end result to date.

What has raised eyebrows recently is far more transparent positions taken by the West, especially the new U.S. administration on Syria. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has vividly underscored the necessity to confront Iran’s meddling in the region, evicting its forces from Syria and labeling Assad as a war criminal. A recent European Union Foreign Ministers session in Luxembourg emphasized on the necessity to support the Syrian opposition and guaranteeing Assad having no future in Syria.

Already riddled with a presidential elections crisis around the corner, these recent developments have left Tehran terrified, especially due to Washington’s major policy overhaul turning attention to the roots of this crisis, being the regime in Iran.

For years the Iranian opposition has been highlighting how Iran is the main reason for the continuation of the war in Syria and the main obstacle before peace.

Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, condemned the Idlib chemical bombing and the ruthless killing of civilians, describing the killing of such innocent children as a grave war crime. Khamenei and Assad, as in 2013, are responsible and must face justice, Rajavi continued, adding war and crisis will continue until Iran and the IRGC are evicted completely from Syria.

While the new Trump administration has only been at the helm in Washington for less than three months, a major change in guards has already been witnessed. There is bipartisan support on Capitol Hill on Syria to bring an end to Iran’s role and presence in this country. States across the Middle East and Turkey also agree action is necessary against Iran’s fueling of the Syrian crisis.

To this end, and after six years of utter carnage, it is high time to completely root out and eradicate any and all Iranian related presence in Syria, and the first step in such a roadmap to reach peace in the Levant is to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.

ANALYSIS: New revelations call for US blacklisting Iran’s IRGC

The slate of sanctions slapped on Iran by the new Trump White House in response to Tehran’s January 29th ballistic missile test is a welcome development. There are hopes such a move will signal to the mullahs to begin curbing, and eventually ending, their support for global terror, testing of ballistic missiles and the ongoing domestic crackdown.

While the Trump administration’s actions to this day may be considered lacking the necessary might to make Iran’s regime truly feel the pain, they represent a key U-turn from his predecessor’s appeasement drive. And now, while long overdue, there is serious talk of labelling Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

This necessity has become more vital following a press conference held Tuesday by Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Washington.

Citing based on information obtained by the social network of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) inside Iran, NCRI US Representative Office Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh revealed with details and specific locations how the IRGC Quds Force has assigned a major branch to increase the number militia members trained to take part in Tehran’s proxy wars already threatening Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Afghanistan and beyond.

“Daesh (ISIS) and the Tehran regime armed with its Revolutionary Guards are two sides of the same coin, with the distinction that the Revolutionary Guards has at its disposal a nation state with all its strategic resources,” Jafarzadeh said.

The IRGC’s role in fomenting crises across the region and terrorism on a global scale is undeniable. This includes provocative meddling in Saudi Arabia, and goes in line with the necessity to designate this entity as an organization focused on global terrorism.

Long history

Iran has a long history of aggravating instability and shedding blood. The 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Lebanon that left over 240 dead and the 1994 Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, resulting in 85 deaths and hundreds injured, are two hallmarks of the Iranian regime’s terrorist nature.

Iran’s mullahs are the godfathers of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the force behind many of its international terrorist attacks, and it is only a logical conclusion that the entity providing the arms, training and finances would be none other than the IRGC.

As we entered the new millennium, and the presence of international troops led by the United States became ever more present in the Middle East, the IRGC launched intensified countermeasures by resorting to organizing and dispatching Shiite militias on a mission to wreak havoc.

Iran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon are different fronts coordinated by the IRGC as unconventional means to tilt the region’s balance of power in its favor, boosted by a failed appeasement policy during the Obama presidency.

The IRGC was also able to take advantage of the Obama doctrine to advance Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile drive, emboldening the mullahs into testing the new Trump administration with a medium-range ballistic missile test.

By taking advantage of loopholes in the Obama administration’s ironically cherished nuclear accord with Iran, the IRGC has pursued the nuclear program – now claiming to have tested new centrifuge designs – and their troubling ballistic missile aspiration threatening US interests and strategic allies across the Middle East.

Parallel to all these troubling activities, and not of any less importance, has been the IRGC’s leading role in the mullahs’ domestic crackdown. The main IRGC entity in implementing this policy is the paramilitary Basij militias that roam the streets to enforce a climate of fear and oppression, leading to an array of violations of human rights in Iran.

Top executioner

Iran continues to top the list in executions per capita, and such a trend has intensified during the tenure of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani. Iran’s jails are also known as dungeons where many such executions are performed, and the IRGC enjoys specific wards used to torture inmates for coerced confessions.

Iran as a regime is designated as the leading state sponsor of terrorism by the US State Department, and also described most recently by Defense Secretary James Mattis. The IRGC, known as the main entity pursuing the mullahs’ policies, meets the necessary legal index of a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) designation.
a) A foreign organization
b) Involved in terrorism or terrorist engagement, or retaining the ability and intention to engage in terrorism or launch terrorist activities
c) US nationals and/or national security is threatened through the organization’s terrorism or terrorist engagements.

Initiatives have also been instigated in both chambers of Congress, as the “The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Terrorist Designation Act” underscores how the IRGC meets the designation criteria of an FTO.

Tuesday’s revelations by the NCRI in Washington according to MEK-obtained information highlight the major role the IRGC enjoys in Iran’s vast terrorism apparatus, and the utmost necessity for the Trump administration to issue an FTO designation for the IRGC as it rightfully deserves.

Such a move will have the new US administration stand along its allies in the Middle East and signal to the Iranian people the true support they now enjoy in America.

Originally published Al Arabiya English

BLACKLIST IRAN’S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS

The right signal to Tehran’s mullahs.

It is a known historical fact that actions speak louder than words. Iran is beginning to understand this loud and clear with a new administration in Washington.

U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, in his first public appearance, issued a stark warning Wednesday in response to Tehran’s latest ballistic missile test and continued support for Shiite Houthi proxies in Yemen.

The main apparatus behind Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling across the Middle East, suspicious nuclear drive and horrendous domestic crackdown is none other than the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Shiite militias trained, financed and armed by the IRGC have also killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.

Supplementary reports indicate U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, intended to send a firm message to the mullahs: you may have enjoyed such leeway during Barack Obama’s tenure. But no more.

As Flynn condemned Iran’s recent medium-range ballistic missile test–which ended in failure–he went on to warn Tehran over instigating instability across the region.

Such a reaction marks a serious, and long due, tonal difference necessary in Washington vis-à-vis Iran. For too long the mullahs’ took advantage of the Obama “golden era” as they viewed it, furthering their reach across the region with their involvement in Syria and Iraq, both leading to unspeakable atrocities.

Iran has resorted to its old tactic of testing the new Trump administration and risking a bold move to win points domestically amongst a small, and depleting, social base. Yet this new measure is beginning to backfire significantly, unlike what Iran enjoyed during the past eight years.

President Trump is also considering how to approach the Iran nuclear deal, which he threatened to tear up during the elections campaign.

As heated discussions continue in this regard, the Trump administration should begin “vigorously enforcing” the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan of Arkansas.

For example, there should be no more toleration of Iran violating already excessive limits set on sensitive heavy water production.

While Washington is preparing to slap new sanctions and ratchet up further punishment measures against Iran by possibly beefing up military presence in the flashpoint Persian Gulf region, one silver-bullet-type measure is available with the potential of inflicting damning results on the mullahs.

The IRGC, considering its role in spearheading Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nuclear drive and meddling across the Middle East, should be blacklisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctioned appropriately.

Such an initiative enjoys support in Congress.

U.S. lawmakers have called on the new administration to support designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. They cited its ongoing support of the Assad regime, where hundreds of thousands have been killed during the civil war,” reports show.

Iran’s “missile program is against the Iranian people’s interest and must be stopped,” Maryam Rajavi, President of the main Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said recently.

“Banning all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies” are further necessary measures proposed by Rajavi.

The NCRI is a coalition dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), enjoying a history of consistently unveiling various aspects of Iran’s nuclear programballistic missile initiativesmeddling across the region and human rights violations.

The IRGC has become a vast political and economic empire in Iran, enjoying an iron grip and “network of companies that came to dominate Iranian industries from energy to telecommunications,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The IRGC is also known to broker deals with China, as the country’s oil-hungry economy seeks to increase crude imports.

Other measures include enforcing travel bans already imposed on IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the man who visited Moscow and begged the Russians to rush to Bashar Assad’s support in Syria, and who has been roaming the streets of FallujahMosul and Aleppo.

Iran is also vehemently seeking a United Nations blessing to begin executing a $10 billion purchase of Russian conventional weapons. While the Obama administration turned a blind-eye to Russia’s delivery of the S-300 anti-air missile system to Iran, Washington can make it clear to Moscow that any further arms deals with Iran will significantly damage bilateral relations.

To this end, the Trump administration has before it a variety of measures that can effectively teach Iran’s mullahs a dire lesson. The IRGC is the entity the mullahs consider most dear, and should be the focus of Trump’s crosshairs.

Originally published in FrontPage Magazine