ANALYSIS: How to tackle Iran’s Middle East bellicosity

Thanks to years of Western appeasement in the face of Iran’s belligerence across the Middle East, evidence of Tehran’s dangerous footprints are now visible in several countries across the region, including even Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

The Trump administration, however, has made it quite vivid its adoption of a firm approach. This stance, signaled in the historic May conference in Riyadh, is long overdue and should be enhanced by Washington supporting the Iranian people’s desire for regime change.

A history of devastation

Iran has a long record of hostility against neighboring countries and US interests in the Middle East. The 1983 bombings targeting the US Embassy and barracks in Beirut, the Khobar Towers attack in 1996, all climaxed in the support Iran provided for Shiite proxies and the Sunni Taliban in their campaign against US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In parallel form, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas, two known terrorist groups, have for over 30 years enjoyed contributions from Tehran to fuel sectarianism throughout the Middle East and carry out terrorist attacks.

The Obama administration handed Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate through a strategic mistake of prematurely pulling out all US troops. This paved the path for Iran to further export its “revolution” through a convenient medium of extremist proxies.

The West can literally be accused of standing aside and watching Iran’s aggressive policy. This has rendered a slate of countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen feel threatened and/or left utterly devastated from Iran’s meddling on their soil.

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (top-R) attends President Hassan Rouhani’s swearing-in ceremony in Tehran, on August 5, 2017. (AFP)

Troubling activities

Of late, Iran has been reported to send further weapons and narcotics to Yemen’s Houthis. These drugs are sold to provide income for Iran’s supported militias on the ground in the flashpoint country south of Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s archenemy in the region.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) are present in Yemen also to instruct and guide the Houthis in assembling weapons smuggled into the country by Tehran.

“For the last six months the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has begun using waters further up the Gulf between Kuwait and Iran as it looks for new ways to beat an embargo on arms shipments to fellow Shi’ites in the Houthi movement,” Reuters cited Western and Iranian sources.

“Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transshipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said.”

The Iranians are also taking provocative measures against the US Navy in the same region recently, viewed by analysts as actions to learn the limits of US President Donald Trump. On July 26th an armed Iranian patrol boat closed within less than 150 meters of the USS Thunderbolt, yielding back only in response to warning shots fired by a US Navy ship.

Such developments are reasons why Trump contacted his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron “to explore how to increase cooperation in addressing the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq and countering Iranian malign influence,” according to a White House readout.

Positive steps forward

Despite the utterly wrong decision of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini visiting Tehran for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, the Trump administration is sending push-back signals and making Iran learn its aggressions will not go without cost.

This is a necessary and welcomed shift in Washington’s foreign policy.

President Trump has signed into law a strong bipartisan Congressional initiative imposing strict sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The IRGC is now considered a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. Considering the Guards’ control over at least 40 percent of Iran’s entire economy, this raises the stakes for companies considering doing business with Tehran.

It would be wise to reconsider investing in Iran’s $400 billion economy and ponder placing one’s bets in other regional countries, or say, the United States’ $19 trillion establishment.

And in news that most certainly raised eyebrows in Tehran, Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr visited Saudi Arabia recently and called for the controversial Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units in his country to be dissolved now that the Islamic State has been defeated.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, speaks in the official endorsement ceremony of President Hassan Rouhani, right, in Tehran, on Aug. 3, 2017. (AP)

The nuclear deal

High hopes were placed in the nuclear deal sealed between the P5+1 and Iran, which Obama hoped to leave behind as his foreign policy legacy.

Two years down this road it has become vivid that Iran’s behavior has not changed, to say the least. In fact, Tehran’s support for Hezbollah and other extremist entities have escalated. Iran’s role in the Middle East, namely Syria, Iraq and Yemen have been horrifically destructive.

The Trump administration can lead the international community in instituting the first real and effective initiative against the Iranian regime.

Any trade with Tehran should hinge on:

– the regime halting all executions and human rights violations,
– withdrawing their forces from Syria and Iraq, and severing any ties and support for terrorist groups,
– completely stopping missile activities, especially ballistic missile production and tests,
– ending all nuclear initiatives and providing true “anytime, anywhere” access to all suspected sites, including military facilities.

Moreover and parallel to recent sanctions, which must be executed immediately and without any loopholes, the Iranian people’s organized opposition, resembled in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, should be recognized. This will pave the path for regime change by this coalition without war or military intervention.

Failure in this regard is tantamount to aiding Tehran’s regime.

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Iran lobby gets excited over nothing

The State Department officially notified Congress on Wednesday that Iran has met all its commitments under the Obama-negotiated nuclear agreement. The certification is required every 90 days and the previous administration dutifully rubberstamped it each time.

What was unusual is that this approval was the first under the Trump administration and was being closely watched by regime supporters and foes alike. The decision to provide the approval was being loudly hailed and trumpeted by the Iran lobby, especially the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a known pro-Iran lobby, as a sign that the nuclear deal was working and even U.S. President Donald Trump had to admit so.

In the immortal words of ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the nuclear deal has failed to squash Iran’s ability and determination to develop atomic weapons, arguing that the country’s ambitions still threaten international peace and security, according to The Washington Post.

“An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson said in remarks to reporters in the formal setting of the State Department’s Treaty Room. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”

The White House has decided to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its Iran policy, including an evaluation of the deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. To this end, the granting of approval was a pro forma act and means relatively little moving forward.

“With this certification, President Trump must now uphold the United States’ obligations and renew the sanctions waivers,” said NIAC president Trita Parsi. “If not, Trump will place the U.S. in violation of its commitments and be responsible for unilaterally killing the nuclear deal.”

Parsi is correct in saying President Trump can effectively kill the Iran nuclear deal in a heartbeat by not renewing sanction waivers granted by the Obama administration. He, however, misses the entire point of the Trump administration’s review, aimed at finally tying together all of Iran’s actions in areas such as human rights, support for terrorism, and active military campaigns against its neighbors.

This was the crucial missing link in the Obama administration’s approach to Iran, willing to excuse Iran on a number of issues and delink the regime from the agreement.

Support the Assad regime as it drops chemical weapons on civilians? Not a problem.

Busy executing thousands of Iranian citizens and political dissidents? Go for it.

Allowing the beating and mistreatment of Iranian women for violations of moral codes and denying them education and job opportunities? Okay by us.

The effort to appease the regime only enabled and emboldened the mullahs, and now the Trump administration has to do the heavy lifting and hard work the Obama administration couldn’t and wouldn’t do, which is why this review will be so critical.

In a slap at the Obama administration that negotiated alongside the P5+1 for the deal, Tillerson said, “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran.”

Congress has introduced bills extending U.S. sanctions against Iran related to its alleged support of terrorism, human rights violations and missile tests. Lawmakers have put the legislation on pause, however, because of the impact the bills could have in Iran’s presidential election scheduled for next month.

  •   Should the U.S. confront Iran directly by using military force against proxies such as the Lebanese Hizb’allah and Afghan mercenaries in Syria?
  •   Should Washington re-impose a broad swath of sanctions on Iran and target the commercial enterprises of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)?
  •   Should the Trump administration affirmatively embrace and recognize Iranian dissident groups, such as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and focus efforts on their inclusion back into Iran?

All these questions and more will have to be part of the White House review.

The administration is inclined to adopt a “more rigorous application of the tools at its disposal,” a senior White House official told Foreign Policy, referring to sanctions policy. Among the options under consideration: broadening U.S. sanctions to include much larger chunks of the Iranian economy linked to the IRGC.

In his remarks, Tillerson focused not only on the nuclear deal, but also on what he called Iran’s “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence.”

He specifically cited Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as hostility to Israel, the harassment of U.S. naval vessels plying the Persian Gulf and cyberattacks targeting the United States and its Gulf allies.

“Iran spends its treasure and time disrupting peace,” he said.

Time is of the essence considering the upcoming April 25th meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna for a quarterly review of the accord.

But President Trump doesn’t have to tear up the deal to tighten the screws on Iran. The agreement, which is not a treaty, provides broad leeway to signatory governments in interpreting its terms, and the Trump White House is mulling taking a much more forceful stance on enforcing the deal to the letter.

There are already signs that the Trump administration is using existing legal authorities in a more forceful manner than its predecessor. Last Thursday, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sohrab Soleimani, the brother of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani, for his role in abuses in Iran’s prisons. And in February, the Treasury Department also blacklisted eight IRGC-linked organizations, including an official based in Lebanon.

At the end of the review, the question of whether or not to keep the nuclear agreement may not exactly be centered on the agreement itself, but rather on whether or not the cost of keeping the pact intact in place is too high compared to the cost of not containing Iran as it expands into Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, along with new threats to Bahrain and other Gulf states.

ANALYSIS: Iran feeling US policy shift after Obama

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, known to lead a regime based on a mantra of “Death to America,” has been cautiously silent ever since US President Donald Trump took the helm in the White House.

With a recent medium-range ballistic missile test launch backfiring severely, both politically and substantially–the vessel exploded during reentry into Earth’s orbit–the regime leader, who has the final word on all national security and foreign affairs, is maintaining a low profile.

The new White House lashed back with a series of measures Tehran has not been used to, especially after enjoying eight years of the Obama administration’s highly flawed appeasement policy.

Tensions escalated last week following Iran’s missile test confirmation, triggering US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn using his first public appearance to lash back a staunch warning, placing Tehran “on notice.” Trump has been very active, to say the least, taking to Twitter and warning Iran about the high contrast between he and his predecessor. “Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

Iran is playing with fire – they don’t appreciate how “kind” President Obama was to them. Not me!

And his administration wasted no time before the weekend by slapping a new slate of economic sanctions targeting 25 Iranian individuals and entities involved in Iran’s missile program, while suggesting the possibility of more to come. “President Donald Trump’s press secretary suggested Friday afternoon that more sanctions, and even military action, could be on the way,” reports indicate.

Khamenei’s silence

And to add insult to injury, US Defense Secretary James Mattis, in his first foreign visit, labelled Iran as the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism.”

Despite Fridays traditionally providing a platform for senior Iranian officials to voice positions over foreign affairs and pump back the spirit lost among their dwindling social base, Khamenei remained silent. And this is a time where his Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary Basijis are in most need of his so-called guidance.

These are all signs of the Iranian regime establishment being caught off guard after trekking into uncharted Trump waters. With its ballistic missile Tehran was actually testing the new Trump administration. The mullahs are now highly regretting such a poorly calculated measure.

Interesting is the fact that the pro-appeasement camp is continuing their old tactics of warning how Iran may do this and that. “…terrorist attacks against Americans, attacks by Shiite militias against the thousands of American troops in Iraq, or pressure on the Iraqi government to deny the United States access to the bases where it trains Iraqi security forces,” wrote Philip Gordon in The New York Times. Gordon was Obama’s White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region from 2013 to 2015.

After leaving the entire region in mayhem by handing Iraq over to Iran in a silver plate and cowardly failing to take any meaningful measure against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad after declaring a so-called chemical attack “red line”, any individual in any way even merely affiliated to the Obama Doctrine is not in any position to make any comment about how the new White House should blueprint its Middle East policy.

The golden era

Iran understands very well that the Obama “golden era”, as one figure close to former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani put it, is over. And the recent saga, from Tehran’s January 29th missile test to the sanctions imposed by the Trump White House on February 3rd, forecasts stormy weather conditions for the mullahs.

As the Trump administration weighs various measures vis-à-vis Iran, there are a few issues worth keeping in mind. The past 16 years have proven that foreign military intervention and an appeasement/engagement/rapprochement approach have failed miserably. And yet, there is a third option for the US to consider: standing alongside the Iranian people in their struggle to establish freedom and democracy in their country.

Considering its significant role in domestic crackdown, foreign military intervention and most significantly the involvement in Syria, and Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile drive, the first and very effective step forward in this roadmap is to blacklist Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

To this end, all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies will be banned, as proposed by Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Welcoming the new US sanctions on Iran, the NCRI is an alliance of dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), best known for first blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

After Obama turned its back on the Iranian people back in 2009 and sold them out to the mullahs’, the Trump administration placing the IRGC in its crosshairs sends a message to the Iranian people that this new administration stands shoulder to shoulder in their efforts to be free.

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

What to learn from Iran’s unconventional naval tactics

irgc_naval_execise-2015_4

Tehran took advantage of Obama’s appeasement to increase its Middle East influence. An alternative is available, and it’s not war.

 

Once again Iran resorted to its desperate and unprofessional tactic of dispatching fast-attack boats in the Persian Gulf to harass U.S. Navy ships, this time leading to warning shots fired by the USS Mahan destroyer.

 

This latest incident, taking place on Monday, January 9th, was the first such case recorded in 2017 and can be a prelude to what lies ahead. A weak Obama administration policy vis-à-vis Iran, based on appeasement, allowed Tehran take advantage especially for domestic purposes.

 

Iran understands perfectly it stands no match against the U.S. in conventional military warfare, including naval combat. The Iranian navy suffered devastating blows by the U.S. Navy throughout the 1980s through the course of the Iran-Iraq War.

 

Following a year of significant tension in the Gulf and Strait of Hormuz–through which a significant amount of the world’s oil exports passes–Iran is bracing for a new administration in Washington.

 

After Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei succumbed to the humiliation of signing a nuclear accord with the international community, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he desperately needs to continue boasting the anti-American mantra through such measures and provocative marital encounters.

 

Despite the U.S. designating Iran as the leading state sponsor of terrorism, the mullahs understood fully how former U.S. president Barack Obama sought to hallmark the Iran deal as his foreign policy legacy. As a dismal consequence, amongst many others, Tehran was able to pursue its lethal policies in Syria to maintain Bashar Assad in power, knowing the Obama administration would refrain from any action threatening the nuclear talks.

 

Betting on the notion Obama would avoid any confrontation potentially endangering the JCPOA, Iran escalated its use of unconventional military methods to maintain a satisfactory image and reputation for its already dwindling and dismal social base.

 

Back in January of 2016 Iran’s Revolutionary Guards members apprehended a number of U.S. Navy sailors, launching a wave of criticism in the U.S. against Obama and his Iran doctrine. It is believed the general political atmosphere established by the Obama administration twisted the U.S. Navy’s arm from taking any measures even authorized by the books.

 

Parallel to naval aggravations, Iran has invested in a dangerous ballistic missile program, threatening not only U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, but also capitals in Eastern Europe. This must be evaluated through Khamenei’s perspective, how ballistic missile launches allows him to canvas a somewhat reputable image against the “Great Satan” and other Iran ill-wishers.

 

This need increased significantly following the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. While considered a staunch rival of Khamenei and seeking his throne, Rafsanjani was nonetheless the balancing element for the regime in its entirety. His absence has left a void, and Khamenei and the regime against dangerous times ahead.

 

“The death of Rafsanjani, one of the pillars of the religious fascism ruling Iran and its balance factor collapsed, and the regime in its entirety is closer now to its overthrow,” explained Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella group of dissident entities including People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

 

The new U.S. administration has the opportunity to remedy the highly flawed Middle East doctrine adopted by Team Obama, most importantly its Iran policy dossier.

 

Supporting the NCRI is one serious option in this regard.

“Nearly two dozen former top U.S. government officials have urged President-elect Donald Trump to work with Iran’s opposition once in office,” based on a letter obtained by Fox News, signed by former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani; former Sen. Joe Lieberman; and retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bill Clinton, to name a few.