With coordinated US action, Iran's expansionist strategy will backfire

With coordinated US action, Iran's expansionist strategy will backfire
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Important new Middle East developments give the United States and its allies a chance to push back on Iranian hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East.

Key will be congressional focus on not just the Iran nuclear deal, known as the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Program of Action, but on sanctions legislation to prevent Iranian missile proliferation.

Ironically, it was the administration’s refusal to certify that the Iran nuclear “deal” was in the national security interests of the United States that served as the vehicle for Congress to act. By sending a strong message to Congress to reconsider the nuclear deal, important attention has focused on Iran’s missile proliferation.

Surprisingly, a majority in Congress appear to agree that the 2015 was in error by letting Iran off the hook for its missile threats and Iran’s support for what Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico Trump needs a national security adviser who 'speaks softly' US could deploy 150 troops to Syria: report MORE calls terrorist “mayhem.”

Thus, House and Senate efforts have developed to add special sanctions against Iran for its export of missiles and missile technology, especially to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

And as part of a public diplomatic effort earlier this month, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyJuan Williams: Why does Trump fear GOP voters? Can Carl DeMaio save the California GOP? Treasury: US deficit tops trillion in 11 months MORE displayed recovered Iranian-made missile parts from Saudi Arabia in a presentation at Bolling Air Force base.

Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia focused attention on Iran’s role in the missiles launched by Houthi rebels at Saudi oil terminals, airports and most recently at the Royal Palace in Riyadh, by calling such attacks an “act of war.”

Finally, in a related matter, the split from the Houthi rebels of forces loyal to former Yemeni President Saleh give hope that the war in Yemen can be ended, and with it Iran’s quest for hegemonic control of a key geographic bridge to control two critical waterways — the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea — through which millions of barrels of oil move each day.

The Mullah’s Missiles

At a news conference at Bolling, hundreds of missiles launched against Saudi Arabia over the past two years were in the words of Haley, shown to be “Iranian made, Iranian sent and Iranian given” to the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Haley presented the components of two Scud-class 37-foot-long missiles as evidence that Iran is violating the terms of its nuclear agreement, especially UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

The Military Times reports:

“U.S. intelligence agencies said that manufacturing marks inside the missiles tied the systems to Iranian defense industries, and that welding on the missile parts showed that they had been taken apart to transport them inside Yemen.”

The Houthis are in a civil war with the Yemeni government and have been targeted by a Saudi-led and U.S.-supported air campaign. While the Iran nuclear agreement itself does not specify any limit on ballistic missiles, the supporting UN resolution called for Iran to halt its ballistic missile production.

“Ambassador Haley was revealing evidence — physical evidence, debris — that we got our hands on that shows (Iran has) been providing ballistic missiles to the Houthis,” Mattis said. “Everywhere you find turmoil, you find Iran’s hand in it.”

Until Haley’s news conference, no one really held Iran to account for the Houthi missile attacks against the Saudi nation. Under the previous administration, as Iran watcher Kenneth R. Timmerman explained, such attacks were attributed to the Houthis, even when they directly targeted U.S. warships:

“Ambassador Haley’s press conference, and the backup she received from the Pentagon, suggest a significant shift in policy from the Trump administration.”

Thus, the joint effort by the State and Defense Departments illustrates in real time the new strategy enunciated by the new National Security Strategy of the United States.

Congress Acts

Complimenting the administration’s campaign are parallel efforts in Congress to push back against Iran’s missile proliferation. There are now several bills in Congress to ramp up sanctions against Iran.

A bill from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' 2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft MORE (R-Ark.), will use the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to further go after Iran’s missile proliferation. It is the only oversight mechanism Congress has on the nuclear deal because the JCPOA was never submitted to Congress as a treaty.

Corker emphasized that he and Senator Cotton have “taken pains to ensure that we are in no way are altering the JCPOA.” But their bill would require a broader look at Iran’s missile and terror activities.

Congress is also contemplating legislation sponsored by Republican Reps. Elena Rose Lehtinen of Florida and Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSenate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 Cook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column MORE of Texas, senior members of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee, to sanction Iran for supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen and for sending weapons to the Houthis including ballistic  missiles. 

Another bill by Corker, would target Iranian individuals engaged in “destabilizing” or terrorist supporting activities including missile proliferation. It passed in the House on October 30 by a vote of 432-2. The bill directs the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury and the director of National Intelligence to submit a strategy every two years for deterring conventional and asymmetric Iranian activities that threaten the United States and key allies in the Middle East, North Africa, and beyond.

The bill also requires the president to impose asset blocking and U.S. exclusion sanctions against any person that materially contributes to: 1. Iran's ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs, or 2. the sale or transfer to Iran of specified military equipment or the provision of related technical or financial assistance.

The Wider Security Context

The Congressional sanctions effort hopes to help blunt Iran’s larger strategy. As Iran watcher Amir Basiri explains:

“For years, Iran has pursued a campaign aimed at taking full control over the strategically-located country of Yemen. … Realizing the devastating potential of such a defeat, Saudi Arabia led an Arab World assault, providing air power and ground forces in support of Yemen’s nationalist troops. Nearly three years later, the Saudi-led coalition has regained around 85 percent of Yemen.”

Iranian Mayhem and American Lives

Now, some Americans may acknowledge the Iranian role in what Mattis describes as Middle East “mayhem” but still believe our fight is not in Yemen but against more pressing problems here at home.

We need to remember that the Iranian Quds Force commander is Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who is responsible for the deaths or injuries of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq.

The bad guys in Iran have been at war with the United States for years. But we didn’t realize it. We now have a chance to wake up, and take additional important steps to seriously crack down on Iran and its war of “mayhem” against the United States. In that way, we can have the back of our soldiers even as we rollback Iranian hegemonic ambitions.

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.