There is a new alliance that can challenge Iran

There is a new alliance that can challenge Iran
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery MORE’s withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal has fueled angst in European capitals but new hopes in the Iranian periphery. Managing the latter and building on the former are the essence of what it will take to more effectively roll back Iranian armament and expansionism.

The angst in Europe stems in part from French, German, and British surprise that despite their concerted efforts to change President Trump’s mind, he maintained his long-held core belief about the deal: Wooing Iran with an abundance of carrots has been disastrous, whereas pressuring Iran with an abundance of sticks looks promising.

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From the vantage point of the present White House, the Iran deal amounted, at best, to a temporary deferral of nuclear activity in exchange for billions in funding for Iranian proxy warfare. The mass carnage that followed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in this reading, proved all over again that appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive.

 

The deal’s failings also spoke, conversely, to the virtue of a concerted economic, political, and military campaign to weaken the Tehran regime.

But such a campaign — which appears to be the new essence of White House policy toward Iran — only works if Europe shoulders its share of the economic burden. Administration officials over the past week have affirmed as much, warning that the U.S. may impose “secondary sanctions” on European companies that do business with Tehran.

This message has been echoing across the continent: In Germany, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser told CNN that as he understands it, he can no longer accept new business orders from Iran. UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson observed, “We have to be realistic about the electrified rail, the live wire of American extraterritoriality and how [it] can serve as a deterrent to business.”

Some EU officials have, in response, manifested a spirit of resistance to the potential American pressure on their private sector. Seeking to preserve the deal without the U.S., the three European signatories have pledged to maintain their oil trade with Iran. They have moved toward expanding Iranian access to the European Investment Bank.

They have also reportedly explored using European companies detached from the American economy as sanctions-free conduits to Iranian business. The U.S., in the face of such steps, may be forced to demonstrate its willingness to impose secondary sanctions, likely incurring some cost in trans-Atlantic relations.

It will be necessary for the U.S. to find creative ways to make amends: While a European company’s desire to do business with Iran and the U.S. Government’s desire to block it may be irreconcilable, one can envision solutions whereby the benefits of broader European-American economic partnership substantially outweigh any loss of revenue to Europe from Iran.

Pursuing such a win-win outcome should be the focus of global economic planning on both sides of the Atlantic. Only then can Europe and the United States block Iranian efforts to sow division between them.

I am referring to a mass of territory and peoples considerably larger than that of Europe. Iran, home to the only constitution in the world with expansionism as a founding tenet, maintains vassal states or proxy militias in four Arab countries and Gaza; terror cells in the Gulf and reservoirs of recruitment in central Asia; and a web of lethal alliances across the African continent.

For example, Morocco is more than four thousand miles west of Tehran. A few weeks ago the public awoke to revelations that Iran, via Hezbollah, has been smuggling advanced missiles to the Polisario, a separatist militia to the south which lays claim to half the country’s map.

To Moroccans, Iran is a faraway place. But for the mullahs of Tehran, Morocco is also part of the “Iranian periphery.” Libya is also and that is where Iranian agents have waged a radicalization campaign targeting local adherents to the Ibadi sect of Islam, and long funneled money to affiliates of al Qaeda.

So is Nigeria, where Iran’s “Quds Force Africa Corps” has backed the Shiite “Islamist Movement in Nigeria” and plotted terror attacks on locals as well as Israeli and Saudi visitors. All of this is to say that Iran, in its imperial aspirations, has overreached.

In addition to overextending itself materially, it has angered Asian and African majorities of every faith and ethnic denomination. For this large swath of the world’s population, Trump’s decision to stop turning a blind eye to Iranian aggression has sparked a new, hopeful debate over how at last to counter it.

Building on this new hope requires a holistic plan — and the time is ripe to devise one. Having committed to pushing back on Iran, President Trump enjoys an open line of credit among those leaderships in Iran’s periphery that have long been urging him to do so.

The president can call in indigenous military support for new encirclement strategies. He can pool intelligence capacities to sharpen American awareness of Iran’s weaknesses and tap Iranians opposed to the government of clerics to assist in challenging their grip. Meanwhile he can coordinate economically with some of the wealthiest oil-producing nations to put their own squeeze to Iran and to reward western powers that do the same.

Trump can also tap moderate Muslim powers to help roll back the legacy of sectarian incitement which Iran and its proxies have bequeathed to the region. Consider, for example, that while Iran has been sending missiles to North Africa in an attempt to wound Morocco, Moroccan King Mohammed VI has been presiding over a massive effort to train clerics from many Muslim countries to preach tolerance and civility to their flocks.

As scion of the Alawite ruling family — direct descendants of the prophet Mohammed — he enjoys a special kind of authority and credibility to do so. The Iranian Mullahs’ toxic Islamist indoctrination, by contrast, has torn the social fabric of the Muslim world. In addition to the range of tools that should be deployed to end their expansionist campaign, the time is ripe for America and its Arab and Muslim allies to begin healing the damage Iran has already caused.

Ahmed Charai is on the board directors at the Atlantic Council and an international counselor at the Center for the National Interest, which is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy think tank. Center for the National Interest, was established by former U.S. President Richard Nixon.