Make no mistake: Iran remains a powerful threat to the US

Make no mistake: Iran remains a powerful threat to the US
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Not long ago, Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani was traveling around the Middle East with a sense of invincibility. And for good reason. The years preceding his death gave Soleimani nearly full impunity to kill Americans. Over-confidence in U.S. inaction cost Iran its top general.

In a career full of death and destruction, Soleimani never will know that his last, fatal mistake was taking a single American life — that of Nawres Hamid, an American patriot who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our nation on Dec. 27. Hamid, an American-Muslim of Iraqi descent, was based at K1 air base near Kirkuk, Iraq. Kata’ib Hezbollah, the Iranian militia whose leader was killed alongside Soleimani, launched a rocket attack on Hamid’s base. At 33, Hamid left behind his wife and sons, ages 2 and 8, in California.

Until the U.S. drone strike on Soleimani, Iran believed America was a paper tiger. Despite complaints and warnings from the U.S. and our allies for years, Iran’s military and proxy forces acted with increasing hostility and lethality. Under Soleimani’s direction and influence, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies slaughtered thousands of civilians from Iraq to Afghanistan, Lebanon, Israel, Yemen and even inside Iran. All faiths and ethnicities were subject to the IRGC’s brutality, though Muslims were a frequent target. 

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At home, Iran recently killed approximately 1,500 civilians who took to the streets dreaming of a better future. Soleimani’s IRGC played a role in the crackdown. In Bandar Mahshahr, a city in Iran’s southwest, witness accounts describe the IRGC surrounding and killing 40 to 100 unarmed demonstrators in just one episode. These protestors received no three-day mourning period, as Soleimani did, no procession, no glorification. Nothing like the parade and theatrics following Soleimani’s death. 

Beyond crimes against civilians and tactical-level transgressions, Iran has become a strategic force for evil throughout the world. Iran is committed to undermining the United States by any means necessary around the globe. Soleimani promoted a transformation of the world that would normalize genocide, terrorism, indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians. Iran’s way of war seeks to place the law of armed conflict in history’s trash bin.  

Under Tehran’s direction, their proxy in Yemen engaged in a civil war that has resulted in one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in modern history. The Houthis in Yemen continue armed conflict and commit cross-border attacks into Saudi Arabia. The IRGC appears to turn Hamas and Hezbollah on and off like a light switch, directing the murder of civilians to set Iran’s desired pace of conflict and instability.

In Bahrain, Iran stokes instability to the east of its bitter rival, Saudi Arabia, using influence operations and political warfare, as it does in Afghanistan. Iran has been a key participant in Syria’s conflict, fighting on the side fully responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Iran supports and props up dictators; not just Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, but here in the Western Hemisphere. Iran has introduced Hezbollah operatives in Venezuela and joined with Russia, Cuba and China to keep Nicolas Maduro in power. In a potential future confrontation with any of these nations, Venezuela, located just a few hours from the U.S. on a commercial flight, could be used against us to great military advantage. 

Iran’s agents in and out of Afghanistan’s government push a political agenda while Iran supports the Taliban. Achieving a peace settlement in Afghanistan and bringing our troops home is a priority for the Trump administration. While incapable of responding to the United States in meaningful conventional military terms, Iran might see an opportunity to quietly torpedo the Afghanistan peace talks. Though Iran likely wants U.S. troops out of the region, it nonetheless continues to support groups that keep the United States engaged there. Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoIran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report To support Hong Kong's freedom, remember America's revolution Senate passes sanctions bill targeting China over Hong Kong law MORE has accused Iran of supporting the Taliban, stating Iran is “actively working to undermine the peace process.”

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The Taliban claimed responsibility for killing two U.S. service members over the weekend in Afghanistan. The administration’s targeting of Soleimani enforced a red line on attacking American citizens.  If Iran heeds that red line, it nonetheless may continue or increase support in other forms to the Taliban, short of directing or inducing the organization to attack American personnel. And Iran is engaged in broader destabilizing operations of terrain and governments worldwide. 

Killing Soleimani took him off of the globe’s geopolitical chessboard, not just a specific battlefield. The United States changed the Middle East and the world irreversibly, for the good. With an America that now has defined and enforced its red line, Soleimani’s death will cause the IRGC to reconsider activities and adapt. It is unlikely the new Quds Force commander will stroll through Baghdad any time soon.

Insecurities, embarrassment, ego, fear and vengefulness will motivate Iran’s leaders to tighten their grip of control where possible. We can expect Iran to exert more aggressive clandestine measures across the globe. Iran has made massive investments through Soleimani’s IRGC, and its leaders are not likely to disengage from their violent proxy terror groups. They may double down where they know they cannot play on the world stage — conventional military terms — so the U.S. should intensify its efforts to counter them.  

Iran still poses serious threats to the United States. It has nuclear ambitions and an aggressive intercontinental ballistic missile program. Its leaders carry out global terrorism and engage in asymmetric warfare. American citizens continue to be detained by the Iranian government.

America tried to address these issues with a line of reasoning that produced little progress. During the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, the U.S. could not curtail Iran’s true policies and intentions. Much of the rest of the world remained passive. For a continent that speaks often and passionately about human rights, European nations have been acquiescent, or even sought closer ties with Iran. Now the United States has made it clear that we will not de-link the threats named above, and other nations should support our efforts to seek a more stable world.

Omar Qudrat, an attorney based in California, is a reserve officer in the U.S. Army. As a Department of Defense civilian official, he spent 18 months in Afghanistan during the surge where he served as the coalition’s Deputy Chief of Rule of Law and political advisor to the NATO Ambassador. He subsequently became a counter-terrorism prosecutor.  The views expressed here are his and do not reflect the policy or position of the U.S. Army or Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @omarqudrat1.