Scrap the nuclear deal to make sure Iran sanctions work
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Since the Iranian regime has been the main source of conflict in the Middle East, countering Iran’s destabilizing interventions should be the top priority of the U.S. Middle East policy. The recent act passed by Congress and signed by President Trump takes the first step in that direction.

However, the primary reason for accelerated Iranian meddling in the region has been the security guarantees provided by the 2015 nuclear deal. Therefore, to successfully counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, the U.S. needs to deprive Iran of those undeserved security guarantees by ending the nuclear deal.

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President Trump signed the “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017” after both the House and the Senate passed it with an overwhelming majority. The Iranian regime continues its support for terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the brutal regime of Assad in Syria.

 

To be successful in keeping Iran in check, we need to understand the dynamics of the three main threats originating from the Iranian regime: its nuclear program and the joint missile development; its destabilizing regional activities and its violation of human rights at home.

Tehran is standing on shaky ground. The Iranian regime started its regional interventions shortly after taking power in 1979. It's interventionist approach stemmed from a lack of popular support at home, which was clear during the first presidential election in 1980 when the candidate of the Islamic Republic Party — followers of Khomeini who are now ruling the country — achieved less than 5 percent of the popular vote.

To compensate for its domestic weakness, the regime needed to find or create allies like Hezbollah in the region.

Brutal suppression of dissidents and flagrant violation of human rights is another indication that the regime has a mostly nonexistent popular base. It was less than a month after the establishment of the regime in 1979 that the Iranian people started their anti-regime resistance movement via the demonstration of Iranian women against compulsory veiling or hijab instituted by reactionary mullahs.

Since then, ongoing rule of the regime has been made possible only by the ruthless suppression of all dissident groups by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliate bodies, like Basij.

Deprived of legitimacy at home, the Iranian regime sought to forcibly gain recognition by seeking weapons of mass destruction. It poured tens of billions of dollars into its nuclear and ballistic missile programs instead of investing in the economy, education and the Iranian people's long-term demands. The mullahs want the nuclear capability to dishearten the dissident majority at home and deter foreign actors.

There is, therefore, a clear link between Iran’s destabilizing activities and its nuclear program. Since, for the mullahs, the nuclear program is vital, and due to their lack of legitimacy at home, the mullahs perceive the threat of military action and sanctions against their nuclear facilities as an existential threat.

In fact, credible threat of military action and the harm done by sanctions were the main reasons for Iran’s temporary retreat on the nuclear issue and its return to negotiations in 2011. Accordingly, when Iran achieved the nuclear deal with the U.S. and its allies and was reassured of the practical improbability of military action, the mullahs intensified their destabilizing regional interventions.

One might object that the nuclear deal is working, and scrapping the deal might not be in America’s interest. However, the problem is that most of Iran's nuclear facilities are located in military bases to which the IAEA inspectors do not have any access. Against this backdrop, how can one definitively claim that Iran is not cheating?

Worse yet, who would be able to conclude that Iran is in fact cheating? Under the deal, it is not surprising that Iran "remains in compliance with the deal," as the proponents of the deal claim.

Iran’s destabilizing regional interventions cannot be addressed with the current security reassurances Iran enjoys as a result of the nuclear deal.

In the end, the regime's greatest security vulnerability is at home. That is why any U.S. policy on Iran must include the indigenous forces within Iran, including the organized opposition, as the primary actors for confronting the threat of the mullahs once and for all.

Ultimately, it is up to the Iranian people to produce fundamental and long-lasting change. The international community should support them by ending the policy of engagement toward Tehran.

Dr. Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran, MA, Ph.D., teaches at the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics, Saint Louis University. He has participated in international policy forums, including the Policy Studies Organization's 2016 Middle East Dialogue, and has written for multiple Iranian news outlets. 


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.