On Friday the Treasury Department added 13 persons and 12 entities to their Specially Designated Nationals list for supporting “Iranian destabilizing activity.” According to National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the sanctions communicate the end of “turning a blind eye to Iran’s hostile and belligerent actions toward the United States and the world community.”
The designations come in response to Tehran’s recent flight-testing of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, as well as the ongoing cultivation by the Quds Force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ external arm, of assets and allies throughout the Middle East.
Former Obama administration officials have likened the move to an “escalation,” but it is Iran that has been ratcheting up tension over ballistic missiles and support for terrorism since the nuclear deal was reached in mid-2015.
The designations merely represent an attempt to catch up with Iranian ballistic missile launches and to target the IRGC and Quds Force. Whereas the previous administration dragged its feet on responding to Iran’s provocations, the Trump administration appears to be building on a bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress in favor of targeting Tehran for its missile activities and other malign activities.
According to James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, Iran already has the Middle East’s largest arsenal of ballistic missiles. Missile tests, even failed ones, permit Iran to improve the readiness of these weapons, as well as account for any technical shortcomings.
Since inking the nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – Iran has tested at least 12 ballistic missiles, according to our assessment of English and Persian-language open-source reporting.
Tehran’s ballistic missile tests continue to transgress both the spirit and letter of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which codifies the nuclear deal. In July 2016, the UN secretary general said Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles was “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA.
Tehran appears adamant in pressing ahead with its missile program, and will likely aim to reconstitute or alter the front companies and hubs targeted by Friday’s designations. The Treasury Department said that key missile technology procurement networks targeted include the Rostamian and Asgharzadeh networks, both of which apparently support entities owned or controlled by Iran’s Ministry of Defense.
Unfortunately, the European Union intends to de-designate those entities by 2023 or earlier, pursuant to the JCPOA implementation timeline. While presenting a challenge, any such de-designations would not erode Washington’s policy options to counter Tehran.
However, should Iran opt for escalation by testing the administration with another launch, the White House can use Friday’s sanctions as a predicate to for additional measures.
These should include broadening the target package for a new batch of designations aimed at stifling Iranian illicit procurement.
The administration could also accelerate the process, both technical and diplomatic, of getting America’s Middle East partners and allies to integrate existing ballistic missile defense systems. But most important, the U.S. can respond against future missile tests by targeting sectors of the Iranian economy that underwrite, procure, produce, develop, and house those capabilities.
By doing so, the new administration can signal to the Islamic Republic that it remains committed to enforcement of the deal, and to preventing Tehran from expanding its conventional and unconventional ballistic missile capacities.
The onus is now on Iran to prevent further escalation, and to prove its commitment to the nuclear accord to which it is a party.
Mark Dubowitz is the CEO of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior Iran analyst.
The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.