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.

ANALYSIS: Is Iran plunging the Middle East into another war?

The days of ISIS are numbered and voices are heard about the entire region being forced into a far more disastrous conflict. Various parties, mainly the US and Iran, have begun jostling, seeking to inject their influence onto what the future holds for Syria.

As Iran has also wreaked havoc in Iraq and Yemen, concerns are rallying on Tehran going the distance to pull the US full-scale into the Syria inferno. Such a mentality results from misunderstanding the nature of what is known as the Iranian regime.

Escalating tensions

After establishing a foothold in the strategic town of al-Tanf near the Iraq-Jordan-Syria border, US forces designated a buffer zone to provide protection for their own troops and resources, alongside their allies of anti-Assad opposition rebels.

1) On three different incidents Iran-backed militias have made advances into the buffer zone, only to receive warnings and eventually be attacked by US warplanes.

2) Raising the stakes, on two occasions Iran-made pro-Assad drones have been downed by US-led coalition forces.

3) And maybe the ultimate incident came when a US F/A-18 fighter jet shot down a Syrian Sukho-22 warplane after the latter dropped bombs on US-backed Kurdish forces north of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS.

An Iranian soldier stands guard in front of the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran February 1, 2016. (Reuters)

Tehran’s habit

Understanding its conventional and non-conventional forces stand no match against the classical armies of the US and the unity of its Arab allies, Iran has for the past 38 years resorted to tactics of its own.

Terrorist attacks across the region through proxy groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah have proven successful. The 1982 Beirut bombings of US and French barracks led to the American pullout of this highly fragile country. As a result, Tehran has used this method ever since to send its message. Following the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran yet again resorted to paramilitary and proxy methods to advance its interests in the region.

Seeing no strong response only emboldens Iran in its pursuit of wreaking havoc. Witnessing the disastrous and premature withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, and Obama’s refusal to live up to his own red line after Assad resorted to the extreme low of gassing his own people in 2013, Iran came to a conclusion such actions will continue unabated.

The language of force

There have been cases otherwise, however, including Operation Praying Mantis on April 18th, 1988 when the US Navy launched a campaign against Tehran’s naval fleet in retaliation for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq war and the subsequent damage to an American warship.

The attack came as a major wake-up call for Iran as the mullahs in Tehran only understand the language of force. The 59 cruise missiles the US used to target the Syrian regime airfield used to launch a chemical attack on Homs earlier this year also rose eyebrows not only in Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, but the world over.

The recent incidents in Syria are further serious signals for Iran that such belligerence no longer will go tolerated, especially considering a new US administration in Washington adopting a far different perspective and strategy than its predecessor.

Iranian air force’s US-made F-4 Phantom fighter jets perform during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP)

Solution

What needs grave understanding is the fact that Iran is the last party that seeks a full blown war in Syria, Yemen or any other region of the Middle East. The Iranian regime is seeking a win-win solution, enjoying an open hand in meddling across the region to such extent to prevent any major international community retaliatory action.

Has Iran been successful? To this day, mostly it has, unfortunately, thanks to the West’s highly flawed belief in adopting a policy of engagement with Iran to tame the mullahs and enjoy short-term economic gains.

The tides, however, are changing for the better. Iran’s Achilles Heel must be the main target as seen in the recent US Senate resolution imposing sanctions on the regime’s ballistic missile program, support of terrorism and human rights violations.

Tehran may kick, scream and threaten to abandon the Iran nuclear deal in retaliation. Yet rest assured the mullahs will not make such a grave mistake, triggering the automatic re-imposition of sanctions under six previous United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards lies at the heart of the mullahs’ illicit activities both inside the country and abroad. This entity also controls around 40 percent of the country’s already fragile and highly corrupt economy.

To this end, there is no need for another war in the region. Iran knows better that such an outcome would only accelerate developments against its interests. The US and Arab world can and should lead the international community by designating the Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization.

This will be a complementary measure to the abovementioned Senate resolution, and bring Tehran to its knees. Such an initiative will place the international community alongside the Iranian people in their struggle against the ruling mullahs’ regime.

This is especially true after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to Washington’s support for domestic forces seeking peaceful regime change in Iran.