The nuclear deal plays directly into the Iranian way of war

The nuclear deal plays directly into the Iranian way of war
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Asking Congress to examine the Iran nuclear deal is a thoughtful means to get the United States to re-assess our greater Middle East policy in general and our relationship with Iran specifically.

President Trump’s October 13 request also included an outline of a new Iran policy, which is the culmination of executive orders issued early in the administration.

To change Iran policy intelligently, we must understand the nature of the Iranian regime now in power. Only then will we be able to adopt a sound counter Iranian policy rather being stuck with the current disjointed appeasement-like policy we inherited at the start of the year.   

What is the fundamental problem?

Supporters of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) appear to think that while we can sanction those Iranian elements involved in Iranian missile production, conventional arms modernization and terrorism, we can simultaneously “un-sanction” the country’s nuclear work.

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But the latter’s lack of sanctions makes it nearly impossible to enact effective sanctions on the former. And even worse, especially among our JCPOA partners, the assumption is by eliminating sanctions we can curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions now, as the JCPOA seeks to do (but won’t) even as we simultaneously largely ignore Tehran’s current growing conventional hegemonic role in the Middle East through its proxy wars, terror campaigns and growing conventional weapons development.

The fear of JCPOA supporters is quite explicit: if we push too hard against these threats, the former nuclear deal will unravel.

However, while we might make neat distinctions among Iran’s nuclear and conventional capabilities, Iran does not — all these capabilities are elements of the same Iranian power strategy.

Iran is using the end of sanctions on its nuclear program to improve the Iranian economy and with that enhance Tehran’s conventional military, missile and terror strengths, while waiting down the road for the phases of the JCPOA currently inhibiting Iranian nuclear ambitions to expire.

In short, Iran seeks to use a pause in their pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities to strengthen their conventional military while simultaneously using the JCPOA as a smokescreen to camouflage their continued aggression in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

And unfortunately, the other partners of the JCPOA are playing into the Iranian strategy. Iran curtails some of its nuclear programs, while simultaneously threatening to drop out of the deal if the U.S. and its allies try aggressively to curtail Iran’s other military adventures. The fear of the nuclear deal unraveling has become the all-encompassing excuse to simply look the other way as Iran commits serial “mayhem.”  

Important American media outlets, for example, give prominent space to the wildest Iranian propaganda. For example its foreign minister claims that Iran is a peaceful country, and justifiably worried about foreign interference in its affairs, seeking only to “responsibly patrol the Persian Gulf.” But the U.S. Navy says in 2016 alone Iran was involved in some 35 unsafe naval “instances” with American naval forces.

The key instrument the Iranians use is the IRGC — the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This group directs what Secretary Mattis accurately describes as “mayhem” across the Middle East, including attacking whole villages in Syria; mass shelling of civilian enclaves in Yemen; murdering political opponents in Lebanon; supplying thousands of rockets and missiles to terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah; and moving Iranian militias into Kirkuk in Iraq.

Iran’s history of attacking Americans and American interests also cannot be ignored. Iran is the country that blew up our embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983; bombed Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; blew up our embassies in Africa in 1998; and facilitated the training of the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Centers and our Pentagon on 9-11.

But there is more. Iran has killed and wounded American servicemen and women with IED’s supplied to their IRGC militias in Iraq even as they aid the Taliban in Afghanistan, vicious militias in Syria, and child-warrior recruiting terrorists in Yemen.

Let us be honest. This is the Iranian way of war.

And it will get worse as Iran enhances the reach of its ballistic missiles even as it supplies missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen as they launch attacks at key strategic military and energy assets in Saudi Arabia. This is all within the context of Iran’s financing and weapons supplies to the Youthi in Yemen, Shia-militia in Iraq, as well as the terror groups such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas that are proximate to Israel.

In Yemen, the Iranians and their Houthi rebel allies have become particularly gruesome. This includes massive forced recruitment of child soldiers, now some 70 percent of their forces. And a refusal to allow humanitarian assistance into the areas it controls — and as a result creating both zones of starvation and cholera outbreaks — even as the Houthi oppose peace talks to end the conflict.

The Yemen conflict is but one part of the Iranian campaign of war. And as Jonathan Spyer writes, the current Iran way of war “vividly demonstrates the currently unrivaled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as practiced by IRGC throughout the Arab world” as Iran establishes a dangerous Shia crescent from Iran to the Mediterranean.

Considering the foregoing, what should the United States do? 

Three near-term policy choices emerge:

First, the IRGC is the spear head of this violence. As such they should be totally sanctioned as a mini-state sponsor and financier of terrorism within of course the larger, maxi-state sponsor of terror, Iran.
Second, we should work to get Qatar — an ally of Iran — out of the terrorism business. Key problems are Qatar’s continued co-production of 1) Muslim brotherhood subversion, 2) financing both Hamas/Hezbollah terrorism and Al Jazeera’s jihad disinformation. Otherwise continuing to maintain a USAF base in Qatar may become increasingly untenable, however valuable it is.

And third, we should be bluntly honest — too many of our European allies are in financial bed with Iran. In 2016, EU imports from Iran increased by 344.8 percent. The increased income goes partly to the IRGC, a key part of the Iranian economy. Curtailing Iran’s nuclear program while simultaneously strengthening its conventional terror capability makes no sense.

We must thus coax our European allies to reconnect any nuclear agreement with Iran with a newly created coalition to curtail, reduce and then end its terror sponsoring ways.

In short, these three challenges can be met more easily in the context of a new American Middle East policy rather than done in isolation. Already the American administration has made substantial progress putting together a tacit coalition of allied countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to contain and confront Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.

A hopeful sign is the Saudi Press Agency report that King Salman called the U.S. president to offer his support for America's more "firm strategy" on Iran and commitment to fighting "Iranian aggression." And Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, offered similar praise for the new U.S. posture, saying in a statement that President Trump "has created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran's aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism."

One analyst said this was quite noteworthy, explaining “It is no secret that these two previously discordant states are now cooperating in unprecedented ways as they try to counter the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. When Israel and the Gulf States are on the same page, the world should listen.”

With the nuclear deal now before them, hopefully Congress will indeed listen. And begin the hard road of formulating a sound and effective policy that finally sees Iran for the threat it is and helps put together the appropriate United States security policy.

Peter Huessy is the director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies of the Air Force Association. He is also the president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm.