Category Archives: Iran

America’s exit from the Middle East – analysis

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division prepares before departure to Middle East
(photo credit: JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS)

Published in The Jerusalem Post.

Walter Meed Russell, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees the glass of America’s 20-year presence in the Middle East as half full. He believes we bolstered our interests, if not advancing democracy abroad. One of the most important accomplishments that we take for granted is that our presence has prevented any “major new international terrorist attacks” on American soil over the last two decades. In addition, he points out the unprecedented accomplishment of the Abraham Accords where today “neighboring Arab states now consider Israel an ally to be cultivated” instead of a pariah to be annihilated. 

But are these gains sustainable without a continued American presence in the region? What will be the consequences without an American security blanket? 

The American withdrawal from the region, promised by US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, now has a September target date in Afghanistan. In Iraq and Syria, the US presence is also on life support. The long-anticipated departure from the Middle East will end a fragile status quo for all the players in the region. 


The Sunni states, which have counted on the US as a final level of defense, are in uncharted territory. America is not only leaving the region but as a parting gift is returning to the Iran nuclear agreement, which will provide Iran with tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The Sunni states know this will encourage Iran to test the waters of how far it can push its influence before it suffers any repercussions. Consequently, all of the region’s nation-states are recalibrating their strategies and contemplating new alliances for their survival, even with their current enemy Iran.

So when Saudi Intelligence Chief Khalid al-Humaidan secretly met with Saeed Iravani, Iran’s deputy secretary of its Supreme National Security Council, it represented a possible tipping point between the Islamic world’s bitterest of rivals as a direct result of America’s retreat from the region. Kirsten Fontenrose of the Atlantic Council offered a positive spin, advancing the possibility of an Ishmael Track (Sunni-Shi’ite) between the bitter rivals to pursue détente. Pushing America’s longtime Saudi ally into the arms of the region’s most dangerous actor only serves Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests. 

The most dangerous consequence of the American turn from the region will be the nuclear arms race left in its wake. The Sunni world will play catch-up, knowing they or anyone else cannot count on UN nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who are not permitted to visit clandestine Iranian nuclear sites, the very places weaponization is likely to occur. If Iran continues to enrich uranium, develops more precise ballistic and cruise missiles and achieves the compartmentalization of a nuclear warhead, a nuclear Middle East is inevitable. The Saudis, Egyptians and the Emiratis will join the race for their own nuclear bomb as a counterweight to Iran’s adventurism and intimidation. The Saudis have already contracted with Pakistan for nuclear technology and possibly a completed weapon.

So what happens when the US leaves the Middle East? Here are 10 possible outcomes that American politicians, the military and intelligence services will have to grapple with in the coming years. 

1. Islamist terrorism will find both new and old havens from which to plot mayhem against the US and Israel.
2. Iran will increase its military activity at the region’s two strategic choke-hold points at the Straits of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, threatening international shipping lanes.
3. With America’s retreat, allies worldwide will know that American security commitments can be expected to have expiration dates.
4. Iran, Russia and China will be the new superpowers of the Middle East.
5. Israel will be more isolated if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states move toward Iran out of desperation. Still, Israel hopes they decide to continue normalization (Abraham Accords), seeing them as the better choice of ally.
6. Iran will feel less inhibited in risk-taking, knowing the US will not want to challenge the Islamic regime, lest it withdraw from the nuclear agreement.
7. Iran will set its sights on Jordan, the next domino to fall, after Iraq and Lebanon, under Iranian influence.
8. The Taliban will retake Afghanistan, making all the gains achieved for women and minorities disappear instantly.
9. The chance for regional conflicts will grow.
10. Nuclear proliferation will arrive sooner or later in the Sunni world, to nobody’s benefit. 

Are any of these outcomes in America’s national security interest? Will America be forced to return to the region as it did after Obama’s hasty retreat from Iraq in 2011, but under less favorable conditions? As former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren told Yaroslav Trofimov of the Journal in October 2019, “If you think the United States as a global power can pull out of the Middle East and not endanger itself, you are deluding yourselves.” 

Israel needs Russia, but it is not a marriage made in heaven

Published in The Hill

How did we reach a point where America’s most important ally in the Middle East is forced to deal with Russia if it wants to act against Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon and Syria? Today, all of the Middle East’s major players, from Iran to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel, know that Russia is the “go-to mediator” that has relations across the region’s ideological spectrum and can successfully navigate between opposing sides.  

As Jonathan Spyer wrote in the Jerusalem Post, Russia “maintains open channels …with the main players …which the United States has chosen through weariness or other priorities to keep absent. … [Russia is] comfortable in the environment of frozen conflicts and divided countries. … Under Biden [the U.S.] shows no signs of wanting to come roaring back to major commitments in the region.”  

America has outsourced its foreign policy in the Middle East to Russia, which has forced Israel to change its approach to its most imminent threat from its northern Iranian front in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. With American financial help for its anti-missile systems and Israel’s essential intelligence-gathering to advance American national security interests, the U.S. and Israel are indispensable allies. Beyond that, there is little America can do, or is willing to do, since it has decided not to be an active player in the Levant.

The relationship between Israel and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex cat-and-mouse game, in which Russia winks and allows Israel to strike its erstwhile allies — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Iranian-controlled militias. Yet, Russian interests demand that it also keeps those entities in control of Syria and Lebanon to solidify the crucial gains it attained by supporting the Syrian civil war’s winning side. Russia’s Syria victory allowed it to expand and upgrade its Tartus seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, a warm water port that expands its regional influence toward  Europe. Add to that its upgraded Khmeimim Air Base near the Syrian city of Latakia, and Russia is as much a victor as Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Source: JTA

According to the former head of research for the Israel Defense Force Military Intelligence Division, retired Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, “Everyone understands that Israel isn’t acting against the Syrian regime [as long as it is not] doing anything that jeopardizes Russian interests. Russia appears to be giving Israel a free hand against game-changing technology transfers from Iran, as long as it plays by its rules.”  

How did Russia become the most influential force in the region?

The die was cast nearly 10 years ago when former President Obama allowed his chemical weapons “red line” to be crossed, choosing not to militarily respond to Assad’s use of sarin gas that killed 1,400 civilians. Instead, Obama chose to abandon Syria and turn over the removal of chemical weapons to Putin, who was more than willing to accept the invitation as a path to becoming the dominant power in the Levant. The Obama administration apparently was convinced that turning Syria over to the Russians would be analogous to America’s experience with Vietnam. Russia thanked Obama and immediately proceeded to change the Syrian war in favor of Iran and Syria.

According to The Atlantic, “Obama’s failure to follow through on (his) threat … has continued to haunt America’s involvement in the Syrian tragedy. The subsequent U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal did not prevent the horror of April 4 [2017] when … Assad’s forces mounted a new sarin attack on civilians. … The agreement and its implementation mechanism were deeply flawed.”  

Israel’s long-term plan of playing Iranian Whac-a-Mole — hitting game-changing military targets as they emerge throughout Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — needs Putin’s consent. Israel’s continuing air campaign must be coordinated with the Russian military to avoid its accidentally targeting Israeli aircraft. Neither Israel nor Russia would like Russia’s advanced S-400 anti-aircraft system to shoot down an Israeli jet aircraft, or worse, to force Israel to target a Russian missile system in response. That would be a diplomatic disaster. Syrian anti-aircraft destroyed a Russian plane during an alleged Israeli missile strike in 2018.   

The unspoken “quid pro quo” between Israel and Russia is that Israel must settle for half a loaf. It can attack Iranian proxies and their advanced missile facilities, but it must accept a permanent Iranian presence and influence in Syria, just as it has in Lebanon with Hezbollah. In 2017, Russian promises to keep Iran and its proxies 53 miles away from the Israeli Golan evaporated almost from the moment they were uttered.  

Russian pronouncements regarding Israeli actions in Syria and Lebanon are decidedly hostile. According to Newsweek, Russian Ambassador Anatoly Viktorov said, “Israel is attacking Hezbollah; Hezbollah is not attacking Israel. … The problem is Israel, not the Iranians. … There is no way we are approving any Israeli strikes on Syria.” But so far, it’s more Russian bluster than any tangible action inhibiting Israeli actions in Lebanon and Syria. 

Israel knows the address is Moscow if it wants to advance its interests and attempt to minimize Iranian entrenchment in Syria. Watching Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Hezbollah’s Lebanese parliament leader Mohammad Raad be given equal access and respect in Moscow this month must have turned a few Israeli stomachs. Then again, Russia is no angel — it delights in any opportunity to diminish the United States. 

The status quo in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq won’t last forever. Iran could turn the screws on Israel at any time if it senses weakness or military advantage. With American willingness to return to the Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Israel could decide at some point to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, prompting a massive Iranian directed attack emanating from Syria or Lebanon. The likelihood that the situation on Israel’s northern border would spiral out of control over the next decade is high. However, Israel and Russia share an interest in not letting things escalate. Russia wants to solidify its gains, and Israel would like to avoid the costs of a major war with Iran.

If Israel’s northern Iranian border gets hot, some would argue that it is in American interests to actively engage in diplomacy to quiet the situation. The last time the U.S. worked with Russia on the northern border, the U.S. trusted Putin to keep Iran from permanently entrenching itself on Syria’s border with Israel. As with chemical weapons, Russia held the cards and did as it pleased, making America look impotent to its allies and enemies alike. With both Democrats and Republicans eager to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, Israel is left to deal with Russia for the foreseeable future.

Does the Biden administration believe Iran is behind most Shia militias?

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel

{Previously published in JNS}

A controversy that occurred during a recent question-and-answer session for reporters by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby may have revealed a troubling insight into the Biden administration’s approach in rebranding Iran’s problematic image. He claimed that Shia militias that are causing so much trouble in the Middle East are not Iranian-controlled. After criticism made its way into the public arena, Kirby partially walked back his statement in a subsequent press conference, agreeing that some Shia militias are Iranian-backed. Was this a Freudian slip, a trial balloon or a real insight into administration thinking?

There is a well-documented history of the Obama-Biden administration misleading the public about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Therefore, it is prudent to ask if Kirby’s first answer to a softball question that should not have flustered an experienced spokesperson was an accurate representation of the administration’s thinking. It’s all part of a strategy to create the illusion that the Islamic Republic is not responsible for supporting the majority of Shia militias throughout the Middle East in the hopes that in preparing the ground to rejoin JCPOA, Iran will be more palatable to the U.S. public.

So a primer on Iranian-controlled Shi’ite militias and what the administration is doing is in order.

What Kirby may have been attempting to do is frame the situation as an internal ethnic conflict between Shi’ite groups who are independent of Iranian influence. However, the overwhelming evidence is that Iran’s strategy is to create Iranian-controlled militias in the region’s crumbling nations to exert control and undermine U.S. interests while threatening American allies.

Statements like Kirby’s intensify Israel’s well-founded fears that America wants to pretend it doesn’t see Iran’s malign activity. Instead, the administration chooses to put all of its eggs in the JCPOA basket, focusing on the nuclear issue while ignoring Islamic imperialism. Almost no serious military or intelligence analyst believes the Islamic Republic of Iran does not control Shia militias, such as the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq or Syria (local militias). Iran’s hegemonic ambitions carried out through its proxy network are a threat to be taken seriously.

A not-so-subtle warning for Israel not to attack Iran was posted by the White House in its Interim National Security Guidelines. The administration stated, “We do not believe that military force is the answer. … We will not give our partners in the Middle East a blank check to pursue policies at odds with American interests.” Is that a warning not to attack Iran in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon?

As in Lebanon, Iran is slowly swallowing Syria and Iraq. Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah is the dominant military force while effectively controlling its parliament. Iranian symbols appear everywhere, as though you were walking in Tehran. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) martyr Gen. Qassem Soleimani was commemorated this year throughout the country with a massive statue placed in the center of the Lebanese capital Beirut. At rallies, Lebanese citizens under Hezbollah’s thumb wave the Iranian flag, not the Lebanese one.

What is groundbreaking in Syria is that Iran not only sent its IRGC troops with its Hezbollah proxy but has now recruited former Syrian rebels of local Sunni militias to create a permanent Iranian presence. The blueprint is the Hezbollah model in Lebanon. Iran’s goal is to surround Israel with its militias, proxies and allies, including Sunnis who are easily bought for money, bread or ammunition. Just think of the Sunni Arab Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip working with Persian Shi’ite Iran.

Alma, Israel’s best source for independent research on its northern border, has documented Iran’s support and control of Hezbollah, Shia militias, and now Iranian-controlled former rebel Sunni militias. This is groundbreaking information. The militias receive orders and salaries from Iran in conjunction with a well-thought-out civilian investment to support a long-term Iranian military entrenchment. In this way, Iran effectively takes control of weak nation-states like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. For example, Iran is heavily involved in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, buying agricultural land, establishing community and educational centers to promote the Islamic Revolution’s values among the local Sunni population.

One should bear in mind that the IRGC’s Quds force’s raison d’être since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s is to spread the Iranian revolution throughout the Middle East while backing almost every terrorist Shia militia to further its goal. Thousands of IRCG soldiers and commanders operate beyond Iran’s borders, leading and strategizing on how to get the United States out of the Middle East and put Israel out of existence.

This is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih, or “guardianship of the jurist,” which gives absolute religious authority to the Iranian Supreme Leader, who is in charge of the world’s Shi’ites. Shias are thereby obligated to support the Islamic revolution everywhere in the world. The Biden administration should be cautious replacing radical Sunnis like ISIS and Al-Qaeda with extremist Iranian Shi’ism.

More than half of the pieces are in place to surround Israel. Next on the target list is the West Bank and Jordan to surround Israel with the threat of missiles and militias under Iranian control. All in preparation for a day when Islamist Iran unleashes its proxies to devastate Israeli civilians and destroy Israel’s infrastructure, with the hope that Israelis will abandon the Zionist experiment.

Going forward, U.S President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin should make clear the obvious. Iran is responsible for Shia militias’ creation and actions that threaten Middle East stability and American soldiers’ lives, and that rejoining the JCPOA should not obscure that fact.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Do America’s Iran experts understand today’s Iran and its goals?

Ken Pollack, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute said, “For many years, I have assured people that it is easy to be an expert on Iran because there are really only two answers to any question… ‘I don’t know’ and ‘It depends’… Someday we may learn Iran’s true rationale and it may have nothing to do with anything that the United States or the West believes.”

This lesson in humility is in short supply today, especially among those advocating for President-elect Joe Biden to immediately rejoin the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal).

According to Politico, “A bipartisan coalition of former defense secretaries and diplomats is calling on Biden to swiftly rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.”

In the House of Representatives, the incoming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Greg Meeks, spearheaded a letter urging Biden to “rejoin the agreement,” which would in effect end sanctions, with “subsequent follow-on negotiations” to address any flaws in the original agreement.

Voluntarily giving up all of the leverage of the punishing sanctions, saying you expect reciprocity and fair play in return, would be equivalent to diplomatic malpractice.

BEFORE WE go headfirst back into an agreement with such profound national security implications for both America and Israel, wouldn’t it be wise for all of the experts, diplomats and politicians to take a deep breath and ask themselves, how much do my political views influence my recommendations? Responsibility dictates that all who weigh in, take the time and ask themselves challenging questions before “swiftly” rejoining what even supporters of the JCPOA call an imperfect deal.

1. Do you believe that rejoining the JCPOA will decrease Iran’s hegemonic ambitions, improve its human rights record, curtail its missile development or decrease its clandestine nuclear work?

2. Do you believe offering carrots such as ending sanctions will be reciprocated, knowing their malevolent behavior accelerated immediately after the JCPOA went into effect in 2015?

3. Do you believe pausing some of their nuclear activity in exchange for an unregulated Iranian nuclear weapons program in the future is a fair trade?

4. Will you call on Biden to impose crippling sanctions for their non-nuclear activities?

5. Do you believe the US will have any leverage for further negotiations if it relieves sanctions before renegotiating?

TO ANSWER any of these questions, you need to ask one more question: Is Iran of 2021 fundamentally different from the vision of Ayatollah Khomeini and the ideals which motivated the 1979 Iranian Revolution?  

Transparency is often in short supply in Iran, so it is anyone’s guess what is happening or what they think. One fatal flaw experts should disabuse themselves of is to believe that anyone other than the supreme leader can make significant decisions independently.

Once Ayatollah Khamenei passes, the extremist Revolutionary Guards’ influence will grow and the next supreme leader will be even more reliant on and under the influence of the Guards’ leadership.

Front-runners for supreme leader include Ebrahim Raisi, whose resume consists of the “mass executions of political prisoners” and the current ayatollah’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, who was in charge of the crackdown of the Green Revolution in 2009 when millions took to the streets against the regime and were abandoned by President Obama in his hope for rapprochement with the regime.


Although the Iranian leadership’s priority is its survival, its core is revolutionary, which is often discounted by the experts. It views its Arab neighbors with condescension and believes that they should be subservient. The supreme leader’s decisions are based on religiosity and Shi’ite supremacy. Protracted negotiations are simply a tool used to mislead a gullible West and buy time, as they know the West is inpatient, while they strategize with a timeline in decades and centuries.

As Ken Pollack said, Iran’s goal is to dominate the region, promulgating a “philosophy of theocratic governance that he [Khamenei] believe[s] should be adopted by all Muslim nations, if not the entire world… to help them spark ‘Islamic’ revolutions of their own.”

According to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of the supreme leader, a “second phase of the Islamic Revolution” will transform all of humanity into “a new Islamic civilization.”

EVEN THOUGH Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria are now under Tehran’s sway, experts still underappreciate Iran’s expansionist vision. For a religious nation, its ethics are suspect. It claims that it is against Islam having a nuclear weapon but for decades it has clandestinely been building its infrastructure while supporting terrorists of all stripes, including Sunnis, in its quest for dominance in the region.

Add to this a good dose of paranoia, some justified, and one questions how experts on Iran are comfortable granting them a glide path to a nuclear weapon in exchange for a temporary pause in accumulating nuclear material, without an American inspector ever allowed to visit a military nuclear site.

Some recommendations for our experts who are advising Biden:

Veteran Washington Post journalist David Ignatius says, “Sometimes in life, the best thing to do about a problem is nothing, at least initially. As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office, that may be the best advice about the Middle East. Don’t hurry to restart nuclear negotiations with Iran. Setting that table will take a while, and our diplomacy should seek to stabilize the whole region – from Lebanon to Yemen – and not just revisit the Iranian nuclear file.”

WITH IRANIAN elections scheduled for 2021, the experts need to end the false distinction between Iranian good guys and bad guys, moderates vs. hardliners. President Hassan Rouhani was declared a moderate by the Obama administration and media, but in reality, he is the most moderate extremist in the Iranian leadership, as he is a true believer in the revolution’s goals.

He is an anti-American hardliner with a more moderate demeanor, who skillfully employs a foreign minister who hoodwinked an American secretary of state and his minions during the 2015 Iran negotiations.

Patience is the byword for the Biden Iran experts who are chomping at the bit to resurrect President Obama’s foreign policy legacy, blinded to the reality of Iranian leadership that will not fundamentally change and will continue to take advantage of Westerners who only see what they want to.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate and House of Representatives and their foreign policy advisers. He is senior editor for security at The Jerusalem Report/The Jerusalem Post. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward and Israel Hayom among others.

Kerry’s gift to Pompeo: The end of the Iran arms embargo this fall

In January 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had complied with all of its obligations under the JCPOA (nuclear deal). The Obama administration responded by saying, “That will ensure Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful.” At that time, the White House assured Congress and the American people that the deal would apply only to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, not to any of its other nefarious activities.

To reassure the majority of the American public who were against cutting a deal with the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the White House said, “Sanctions on conventional weapons, WILL REMAIN IN PLACE UNDER THE IRAN DEAL,” according to the official White House website whitehouse.gov. “UNDER THE IRAN DEAL, THE US WILL ONLY LIFT NUCLEAR-RELATION SANCTIONS,” again in bold letters for emphasis.

Yet last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was forced to start a process to extend the arms embargo on Iran that is scheduled to end this October. Didn’t president Obama promise that the nuclear agreement was only about nuclear issues?

In one of the great sleight of hands for any executive branch, especially for an administration that claimed it was the most transparent in history, the White House purposely obscured the fact that the JCPOA and the accompanying United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231 – which were supposed to enshrine the JCPOA in international law – were not the same document, allowing both the US and Iran to maintain a fiction on what the Iran deal really meant and what would be respected.

So it comes as a shock to the American people that any future administration would need to deal with Iranian conventional weapons purchases that Obama seemingly promised would not be part of the nuclear deal.

None of this should be a surprise.

Back in 2015, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi made it clear that they viewed the two documents as completely different.

A MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) translation of Araghchi’s comments said, “We told them [the Americans] explicitly [if you insist on including these articles on the arms and missile embargoes in the JCPOA], there is no agreement, and we will not accept an agreement in which embargoes on weapons and missiles continue.”

MEMRI commented at the time, “The Iranian perspective regarding UNSCR 2231 hinges entirely on its non-binding nature. Iran deems only the JCPOA to be binding… Iran insisted on relegating disputed issues [arms embargo, ballistic missiles] to UNSCR 2231.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said after the agreement, “There is nothing in the JCPOA about missiles, defense and weapons. Those that exist are in [UN Security Council] Resolution 2231…. In this new resolution, restrictions have been proposed instead of sanctions. The export and import of weapons have been converted from a permanent ban to a five-year restriction.”

Yet former secretary of state John Kerry and chief negotiator Wendy Sherman somehow spun losing out on a long-term ban and accepting a five-year restriction on conventional arms sales as a success. They said if they didn’t accept ending the ban in five years, the whole nuclear agreement would have fallen apart.

So they blinked and we are now dealing with a terrorist state being able to purchase sophisticated weapons systems in less than six months. They capitulated by moving anything objectionable to the Iranians to an obscure Annex B in UNSCR 2231.

That is how the Obama administration could technically say the JCPOA only dealt with nuclear-related activities, while transferring contested issues that were not respected by the ayatollah and the Revolutionary Guards to UNSCR 2231.

FAST FORWARD to May 2020, and we are only months away from Iran being able to buy any conventional weapons with full international approval. They will also be able buy ballistic missiles in just two more years.

So now Secretary Pompeo, for US security interests, is trying to extend the conventional arms embargo by a surprising tactic, claiming the US still remains part of the UNSCR 2231, even though it withdrew from the JCPOA. That is a fine line to walk.

The Obama administration created the fiction that the JCPOA and UNSC 2231 were the same, while using their differences when convenient. So you cannot cry foul when Pompeo is doing the same thing. This was the deck handed to him by Kerry.

According to David Sanger, writing in The New York Times, the Trump administration is developing a “strategy to pressure the UNSC to extend an arms embargo on Tehran, or see far more stringent sanctions reimposed.”

The strategy asserts that the US is still a participant of UNSCR 2231 but “only for the purpose of invoking a snapback of preexisting [sanctions].”

This will be an uphill battle, as Russia, China, Germany and France will claim that since Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, he also withdrew from UNSCR 2231. They would all like to sell arms to Iran (especially Russia, for a much-needed cash infusion in the post-COVID-19 era), while sticking a thumb in the eye of Donald Trump.

They ignore that the arms will strengthen Iranian hegemonic expansionism that has been crucial in supporting the Syrian genocide, or the reality that today the Iranian controlled militias have turned Iraq into an Iranian puppet. The proponents of the Iran nuclear deal can’t blame Trump for Iran’s ability to buy arms this fall; that is their work, and it would have happened on the watch of any president.

Germany, France and the UK were part of the Obama chorus that not only sold the JCPOA as a way to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but as a way to incentivize Iran to return to the family of nations. They all reassured skeptics that this would moderate Iranian behavior.

Considering that just 10 days after the JCPOA agreement Iran sent terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani to Russia to create a plan to carve up Syria, you would think that these democracies would be hesitant to sell weapons to Iran. The only thing that will stop Germany and France would be Trump sanctioning those countries’ industries for doing business with Iran. If they think they can get away with arms sales to Iran without financial penalty, they will. The UK under Boris Johnson may resist.

Pompeo’s strategy is to claim the US is still part of UNSCR 2231 and to use that leverage to either extend the arms embargo with a new UNSCR, or force the Security Council to institute snapback sanctions against Iran. No matter what one thinks about the Iran deal, the question remains: How can democracies, in good conscience, support selling arms to the Islamic Republic this fall?

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) who regularly briefs members of the Senate, House and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is senior security editor for The Jerusalem Report, and his work has appeared in The Hill, JNS, JTA, and Defense News.

Where Do We Go from Here with Iran?

{Previously published in the JNS}

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post-Soleimani era.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the longtime commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has profoundly changed the playing field between the United States and Iran. For the first time since 1988—when U.S. President Ronald Reagan responded to Iranian provocations in the Straits of Hormuz by sinking Iranian warships and destroying two oil platforms—tangible consequences were imposed on the regime. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and the IRGC are now forced to revisit their decades-long assumption that America would not respond militarily to its nefarious behavior, and the United States needs to develop a strategy to take advantage of its newfound leverage.

As former Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman and former director at the National Security Council Franklin Miller wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “deterrence works only if the threats are credible … his death is the first time the regime has lost something of value in its conflict with the United States.”

We cannot let the proportional response of Iran fool us. The foundational core of the regime remains revolutionary and expansionistic: Their goal remains ejecting the United States from the region and acquiring nuclear-weapons capabilities to become immune to regime change and dominate the region.

What is still open for debate and in American hands is how to manage this unrepentant tiger going forward, especially with all Democratic candidates pledging to return to 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) and remove U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions, while the president might decide to remove all troops from Iraq.

Critics are focused on the constitutionality of the targeted assassination. Yet they seem to have forgotten that the recent Iranian attack on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad itself was an act of war, directed by Soleimani. It can be argued the killing was or wasn’t strategically wise, but that Trump was well within his rights to make that decision.

As international-law expert Alan Baker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs said, “at any given moment, Soleimani was heavily involved in the planning and execution of massive acts of terror,” making him a legitimate target under international law

Trump used his post-assassination speech to emphasize that the Iranian nuclear program is still foremost in his mind. With foreign policy now at the center of partisan debates, how we deal with that reality going forward moves to the top of the list.

Steve Rabinowitz and Aaron Keyak, consultants to President Barack Obama in support of the nuclear deal, write “Obama’s will to reach across divides and engage with Iran also emboldened its moderates.”

Was Soleimani, the chief architect of Iran’s expansionist ambitions, more or less aggressive after the JCPOA, or did he perceive the president’s sanctions relief as appeasement, something to be taken advantage of? Let’s look at the facts.

Start with the claim that the JCPOA “emboldened its moderates,” i.e., to be more moderate. What is the definition of a moderate in Iran?

It must be remembered that the “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani was one of only six hard-line candidates out of more than 600 presidential aspirants to be allowed by Khameini to run in the “election.” So the definition of a moderate for the last administration was a hardline Islamist who appointed a smooth-talking English-speaking foreign minister who manipulated and charmed his way into the heart of former Secretary of State John Kerry. Worse, the Obama administration never imposed any of the promised consequences after the nuclear deal in regard to its missile development, expansionism, human-rights abuses or terrorism.

Soleimani and Khameini looked at the deal as a pathway to remove America from the region, and solidify their control of the Shi’ite Crescent from Iraq to Syria to Lebanon. Just 10 days after the deal was agreed to, Soleimani was in Moscow meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where they agreed to save Syrian President Bashar Assad. One of the sad legacies of the Obama administration was indirectly funding the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Syria by empowering Soleimani with billions in new financial resources.

Most importantly, it must be remembered that the JCPOA gave Iran—a terror state—the right to enrich uranium, which was completely unnecessary and unprecedented if they only wanted nuclear energy. They could do what every other non-nuclear state that uses nuclear energy does: import low-enriched uranium from the United States, China or Russia, under strict controls.

Going forward with Iran requires a re-evaluation of what was conceded. A new agreement must fix the “no inspections at military sites” provision, the most likely place for clandestine nuclear R&D that, according to my sources, became even more relevant after the Israelis stole Iran’s nuclear archive in Tehran, documenting previously unknown nuclear military sites that are still being studied as possible future targets.

We need to look at the new possibilities and perils in the post Soleimani era. Trump’s seemingly red line—the death of American—may have boxed him in. What happens if Iran mines the Strait of Hormuz, but no Americans are killed? It remains to be seen what the rules are to be.

The way forward—short of regime change by the Iranian people, which should be an American goal—is to lower the flames of confrontation in Iraq. Iran won’t stop making trouble in Iraq, as it wants it to become a vassal like Lebanon. American interests require a presence in Iraq with a small footprint, while reassuring the Iraqi Kurds that they don’t have to make a deal with Iran for survival.

Israel will continue to hit Iranian precision-guided missiles in Iraq being transited to militias in Syria and Lebanon. Will Iran use Israeli strikes that kill Iranians in Iraq as a pretext to attack American interests in Iraq?

If Trump has a second term, will he be comfortable with a small but effective American presence in the Middle East? And if a Democrat is our next president, will that administration move beyond the campaign rhetoric, and realize the JCPOA is comatose and unrevivable in its current form? Will they come to realize that a new Iran nuclear agreement that forever ends their nuclear-weapons program and incorporates constraints on their nefarious activities throughout the region is the only realistic choice for American security interests?

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

It’s Time for Europe to Stand With the Iranian People

{Previously published in The JNS}

What will it take for the international community to realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on eradicating Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Mideast?

In Tehran, the mullahs have blamed the recent protests in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon not on their own repressive regimes and proxies, but on foreign and Zionist interference.

The Iranian Supreme Leader speaking to his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Basij henchmen, blamed the Iranian people’s protests on foreign interference, thanking the Iranian people for the “hard blow to global arrogance and Zionism, forcing them to retreat.”

How long will the Iranian scapegoating against the West and Zionists work, when their economy is in shambles and the people yearn for freedoms that are an anathema to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s revolutionary agenda?

Repressive regimes have long used scapegoating as the preferred method to blame anyone but themselves for their violence, lack of human rights and economic failures.

The revolutionary Islamist Iranian theocracy shares elements with every authoritarian regime that imprisons and kills its own people, deflecting attention with scapegoating, but unique to Iran is its religiously sanctioned dissimulation—i.e., taqiyya, a precautionary dissimulation or denial of religious belief and practice in the face of persecution.

You would think that Europeans who supposedly learned the lessons of fascism in the 20th century would be particularly sensitive to a vicious state-controlled secret police—in this case directly controlled by the Iranian Mullahs, the IRGC and the corrupt Iranian government.

Like the Nazis who diverted resources even during militarily challenging times in 1944 when they choose to ramp up their master plan to kill all the Jews of Europe, the Iranian regime today chooses to divert its resources to surround Israel and support its proxies for the destruction of the Jewish state, instead of economically helping their people. You can understand this only if you realize how central a foundational pillar of the Iranian revolution is the destruction of Israel.

Yet Western Europe, including France, England and Germany, which tout their humanitarian records, have supported and treated the Iranian regime as a legitimate government—not as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror—and have even enabled the world’s foremost Jew-haters a path to nuclear weapons.

The European Union recently rejected by vote a “Made in Israel” label for every Israeli good produced over the 1967 Green Line, much like Jewish products were labeled in the 1930s by Germany. The Irish are even in the process of criminalizing anyone who economically profits from goods made in Judea and Samaria (West Bank). Yet an additional six E.U. nations this week joined the INSTEX bartering system to bypass American sanctions on Iran.

When did it become the policy of European Western democracies to be on the side of suppression, jihadism and illiberalism, and against the yearning of a people for liberation from their authoritarian suppressors, or perversely favoring Iran economically over Israel, the only democracy in the region?

According to The New York Times, Iraqi protesters screaming “Out Iran” have burned the Iranian consulate in the holy city of Najaf Iraq “in an outburst of anger at Iran.”

The best way to support Iranian protesters is not only to support their legitimate protests, but also the protests of the Lebanese and Iraqi people against their governments, who are in large part controlled by Tehran. If the Lebanese and Iraqi people can effectively challenge their Iranian-controlled political parties and governments, then it would encourage the Iranian people to continue to demand a change of their government.

Now is the time to state the obvious: It would be in American and allied interests for the Iranian people to be in charge of their own destiny.

That will not happen until there is a change of regime in Tehran—something that is a dirty word in the international community. But regime change will come not from American boots on the ground, as the critics contend is the real goal, but from the Iranian people themselves, who need and deserve our public and vocal support to take control of their lives both for their benefit and ours.

Unlike Europe, the Trump administration has not taken the easy path of accommodation, appeasement and willful avoidance of facts, but has provided tangible consequences to the Iranian Republic. Not only has it withdrawn from the tragically flawed 2015 nuclear deal that guaranteed an Iranian pathway to nuclear weapons in the future, but has rhetorically stood side by side with today’s Iranian protesters in profound contra-distinction to the last administration’s policy of silence during the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, when the regime seemed vulnerable.

What will it take for Europe to wake up and realize that no amount of money, accommodation or deference will change the structural DNA of Iran’s leaders, who are bent on the eradication of Israel, and the ascendency of Shi’ism over Sunnis and minority populations living in the Middle East?

Since the 100,000-plus missiles of Iranian-controlled Hezbollah in Lebanon do not threaten Paris, Berlin or London, they rationalize away the true nature of the regime. It helps that they, too, habitually see Israel in a negative light.

Iran is not a rational state actor in the Western sense. It is, however, an Islamist rational actor with a well-thought-out hegemonic agenda to destroy the Jewish state and dominate the Middle East as in the long-ago days of Persian imperialism. Iran is a dangerous combination of longing for the glory days of Persian domination of its neighbors, married to a unique Twelver Shi’ite Jihadist desire to capture Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

Once the obvious conclusion is drawn that Iran cannot be changed or turned into a member of the international community in good standing, then strategies to deal with this reality can be created. The Iranian economy is on the ropes, and if only the Europeans would join the American sanction regime, the Iranian people could possibly take control of their destiny.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

America Needs to Impose Consequences for Working with Iran

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Seth J. Frantzman

{Previously published in the JNS}

Why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

Speaking at the summit of United Against Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not only outlined all of Iran’s malevolent behaviors—from “murdering and torturing their own people, to killing Americans from Lebanon to Iraq, to harboring Al-Qaeda” while “protecting, hiding and preserving their nuclear know-how”—more consequentially warned nations that we will “sanction every violation of sanctionable activity” when it comes to Iranian trespasses.

So why do we allow the Iraqi and Lebanese governments to have it both ways, receiving American taxpayer dollars while simultaneously working with Iranian-controlled militias?

President Donald Trump has touted his maximum economic pressure campaign against Iran and its main proxy Hezbollah, claiming that it is the best way to undermine Iran. He has also avoided a kinetic military response to Iran’s many provocations against international law, including their attacks against shipping in international waters, the high-jacking of a British oil tanker and the attack against two major Saudi oil facilities, which was called an “act of war” by Pompeo.

Yet when it comes to the Iraqi and Lebanese governments who work with Iranian-controlled militias, consequences are not imposed. The prevailing logic is that these nations are too weak, and if we put pressure on their fragile governments, we will push them into the arms of Iran.

The evidence suggests otherwise, being more akin to a failed strategy that must be re-evaluated if our goal is to create some distance between Iran and those nations for the long term, while making any headway into stopping Iran from completing its land corridor controlling Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while threatening Jordan, Israel and our Gulf allies. Iran views this American policy towards Iraq and Lebanon as a sign of weakness—something to take advantage of.

So when U.S. Assistant Secretary for Terrorism Financing Marshall Billingslea met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and told him that according to AFP, increased U.S. sanctions on Hezbollah “will not target groups who are only tied to Hezbollah politically,’ “easing concern that the groups political allies, including [Lebanese] President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Berri’s Anal Movement could be targeted,” it leaves you scratching your head to understand the logic.

David Schenker, Washington’s Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern Affairs, said “in the future, we will designate … individuals in Lebanon who are aiding and assisting Hezbollah, regardless of what their sect or religion is.”

So why do Aoun’s and Berri’s groups get a pass?

This policy is both contradictory and a counterproductive strategy for America’s stated goal of applying maximum pressure on Iran. It is based on the same failed logic European nations employ that allows Hezbollah’s “political” operatives to fundraise on European soil, knowing full well that the money ends up supporting terror in the treasury of Hezbollah’s military wing, a designated terrorist organization.

Ending this disingenuous legal fiction in Europe should be a priority of American policy. We should not use it to give cover to Lebanese or Iraqi political parties, ending the false distinction between the political and military wings of Hezbollah, or of Iraqi’s Shi’ite militias and Shi’ite political parties.

In Iraq, America has allowed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-controlled Shi’ite militias to be incorporated into the Iraqi military without any protest or consequences. We don’t know if American economic pressure with the threat of withholding aid for the Iraqi government would have worked, but what we do know with certainty is that the Iraqi government and military are dominated by Iran, with those Iranian Shi’ite militias controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria, connecting them to the strongest Iranian militia: Hezbollah in Lebanon.

American strategists also know that if U.S. troops leave Iraq, the sectarian war is likely to be reignited sooner than later, which is part of the logic to not make waves with the Iranian entrenchment into the Iraqi military and government.

It should be remembered that Iran controls Hezbollah; they are for practical purposes one and the same. We should not differentiate the political world of the Supreme leader from the IRGC, and we shouldn’t play a game claiming that just because a terrorist organization like Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, you can separate its many tentacles. For a Western mind, separation of church and state is logical. In this part of the world, however, religion and state are intertwined, as are the military and political activates of the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah.

The AFP said the United States “encourage(s) Lebanon to take the necessary steps to maintain distance” from Hezbollah.

The worst way to help Lebanon create separation from Hezbollah is to facilitate the continued cooperation of Lebanese Sunni, Druze and Christian political leaders, while not penalizing them for working with Hezbollah.

It is certainly true that Hezbollah is in charge of Lebanon with veto power for all important military decisions, despite some members of Congress pretending that the LAF and other political groups are somehow independent of Hezbollah’s heavy hand.

America has a misguided strategy for the Middle East, thinking that if it puts consequences on nations or political organizations that work with Iran or Hezbollah, it will push them into the arms of the Shi’ite theocracy.

It’s time to tell Baghdad that America won’t support your actions if you continue to get in bed with Iran, and in Lebanon, it’s time to do the same—first, by stopping U.S. military aid to the LAF and converting it to humanitarian aid unless they commit to tangibly distance themselves from Hezbollah and Iran. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it must start on that path.

The challenges and risks of this strategy are real, but worth the risk. In Iraq, we should tell Mahdi that America needs a reliable ally, so we are going to independently send weapons to the Kurdistan Peshmegar, who have stood with the United States for more than 25 years, and hold the Iraqi government accountable for not sending money Baghdad is constitutionally obligated to send to the Kurdistan government. In Lebanon, we must lay down a clear marker that working with Iran and Hezbollah in any form crosses the line, and that consequences will follow.

Americans don’t want their taxpayer dollars supporting terror, even indirectly, and aid to Iraq and Lebanon that doesn’t aim to separate those nations from the world’s leading state sponsor of terror is an indirect form of helping Iran.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”

Seth J. Frantzman is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis. A former assistant professor of American Studies at Al-Quds University, he covers the Middle East for “The Jerusalem Post” and is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of “After ISIS: How Defeating the Caliphate Changed the Middle East Forever.”

IS IT TOO LATE TO STOP IRAN’S PERMANENT PRESENCE IN SYRIA?

{Previously published in the Jerusalem Post}

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure.

 The national security advisers of Russia, the United States, and Israel are scheduled to meet in Jerusalem later this month for what former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro called a potential “game changer on pushing Iran’s military out of Syria.”
 

Russia has, with Iranian assistance, gained everything it set out to accomplish in Syria. It expanded its naval and air bases and elevated its international status, while diminishing and marginalizing America.
 

However, Russia, Israel and the United States may now share some common interest in keeping the Iranian regime from getting what it wants – a permanent presence in Syria. Moving forward, Iran may be more a headache than an asset for Russian interests. This month Russia expelled Iranian allied militia from the Russian naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
 

Anyone who understands Iranian intentions and regime ideology knows Iran will not voluntarily leave Syria or Lebanon. Its desire to destroy Israel remains a foundational pillar of their version of Twelver Shi’ism, and their land bridge to the Mediterranean
accomplishes both their hegemonic ambitions and represents a major step in their strategy to threaten Israel from the north.

What would be the price Russia will demand to rein in or oust Iran from Syria, assuming they have enough leverage with Iran to do either?
 

According Yediot Aharonot, the Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat quoted “Western sources” claiming a quid pro quo is being discussed whereby the US and Israel would recognize the legitimacy of the Assad regime, and the US would remove some economic sanctions on Russia – and “in return, Russia will limit Iranian activity in Syria.”
 

The key word is “limit.” What does “limit” mean, and how enforceable would it be? And what would Russia expect in return?
 

Would they demand relaxation of the sanctions applied to Russia in response to their illegal occupation of Crimea and Ukraine, or would they require becoming a full partner in any new negotiations regarding Iran’s development of nuclear weapons? If it is the latter, then you may have the makings of a deal. In any case, Iran won’t be happy and will resist, and make the usual false promises and demands.
 

America should not consider waiving Russian sanctions unless every Iranian proxy is permanently removed from Syria. Last year the Russians promised to move Iran and its allies 50 miles from the Israeli border, and that Iran and its proxies would not be in the Quneitra and Daraa provinces bordering the Israeli side of the Golan. But as last week’s rocket attack on the Golan proves, the Russian promise was worthless.
 

Since at least 2017, Iran has helped Syria ethnically cleanse the country of its Sunnis, re-populating non-indigenous Shi’ites into southern Syria, providing them with Syrian citizenship and Syrian uniforms, and making them a stealth Iranian militia that may be impossible to remove.
 

According to Raja Abdulrahim and Benoit Faucon writing in the Wall Street Journal, for those Sunnis remaining in Syria, Iran is using “cash, food and public services in a hearts and minds campaign to cultivate loyalty, draw military recruits and win converts to the Shi’ite Muslim sect… to cement its influence in Syria.”
 

Iran has invested tens of billions of dollars in Syria, and is not about to readily abandon this investment to Russian pressure. Russia and Iran are not natural allies, and can easily become estranged as Iran’s Islamic fervor could encourage Muslims in the Caucuses to make problems for Russian rule.

AMERICA AND Israel should not fall for the deceptive maneuver of Iranian Revolutionary Guards withdrawing from Syria to Lebanon and Iraq. So long as the Shi’ite militias remain under the control of Iran, Hezbollah holds sway in Lebanon and Bashir Assad remains a puppet of the Iranians, Iran will effectively be in control on Israel’s doorstep to the north, with Iran eyeing when to destabilize Jordan and the territories.
 

Iran is clever and knows it can con the Europeans into believing that a token Syrian withdrawal is real. The Europeans eat up this nonsense of Iranian plausible deniability, just as they say with a straight face that they believe the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Agreement) will permanently end the Iranian nuclear program.
 

But is it realistic to aim to get Iran and all of its proxies completely out of Syria, short of a massive ground operation?

Probably not.
 

Should America and Israel take half a loaf and be happy if they can, with Russian help, remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from Syria, leaving the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) and Hezbollah untouched?
 

What if the Russians could really enforce the 50-mile zone on the border, as they originally promised?
 

These half-measures would kick the can down the road, the easiest option for any politician and the most likely, but that would almost guarantee that Iran would never leave Syria under the current regime. That is why the ultimate answer short of a massive ground assault is regime change, preferably peaceful, by supporting the Iranian people’s inevitable next insurrection.
 

Israel has been mowing the grass in Syria for the last few years, targeting transfers of game-changing weaponry to Hezbollah, and more recently attacking Iranian weapons and drone factories. But just as in Gaza, it is unlikely to dislodge Iran and its proxies from the region unless one considers a massive ground operation and occupying territory for the long haul.
 

Israelis think of the Second Lebanon War and the divisive 18-year occupation of Lebanon and pause, just as Israelis have no desire to reoccupy Gaza again.
 

So, what are Israel’s options?
 

The easiest option is to just keep hitting Iranian targets while keeping the Russians in the loop. But this falls far short of the Israeli stated goal of having no Iranian or Iranian proxy presence in Syria.
 

With Israel in electoral chaos, putting off any significant action unless a critical mass of missiles starts flying from Syria is what is most likely to happen. Israel with the full support of its populace and the United States will strike Iran again and again in Syria, hoping that the unprecedented trilateral meeting of the United States, Russia, and Israel can at least rein in some Iranian gains, and buy more time.
 

Except that time is on Iran’s side.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), and is a regular contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post’ and i24 TV. MEPIN is a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, journalists, and organizational leaders.

Is Peaceful Regime Change in Iran Possible?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

According to the research of Harvard’s Erica Chenoweth, more than half of nonviolent revolutions are successful, as long as more than 3.5% of the population participates to ensure regime change, whereas less than 25% of violent uprisings succeed.

Is the hostile behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran just a mild thorn in the United States’ side, or is it a direct and growing danger to American and allied security interests?

With the exception of those married to preserving the Iran nuclear agreement at any cost, the idea of a nonviolent regime change in Iran is a very appealing notion. In theory, it would serve American interests by removing a dangerous nemesis with American blood on its hands, and it could also create the possibility of turning a malignant enemy into a potential ally in the Muslim world, while freeing the Iranian people from 40 years of terror, repression and hardship.

But does regime change always mean kinetic military action, or is it possible to change a malevolent regime without force?

According to the research of Harvard’s Erica Chenoweth, more than half of nonviolent revolutions are successful, as long as more than 3.5% of the population participates to ensure regime change, whereas less than 25% of violent uprisings succeed.

So why not Iran?

Just think about how many nations challenged their authoritarian rulers, without violence, successfully overthrowing their governments. 

From the nonviolent overthrow of Communist governments in Poland, East Germany, the Baltic states and Czechoslovakia, to the peaceful overthrow of apartheid South Africa, Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, the 1986 People Power Movement in the Philippines and the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, regime change without violence is possible.

Even in the Muslim world, peaceful change occurred in Tunisia after the Arab Winter – and this year, authoritarian leaders in Sudan and Algeria were removed in peaceful movements.

We missed the boat in 2009 when, in the name of pursuing the Iranian nuclear deal, our last administration chose to side with Ayatollah Khamenei, abandoning the Iranian people’s Green Revolution when millions of Iranians went into the streets to protest against their authoritarian government.

As Eli Lake wrote in a 2006 Bloomberg article titled “Why Obama Let Iran’s Green Revolution Fail,” the president “wanted a nuclear deal, not regime change.”

Since the US reimposed and increased sanctions, anti-regime protests have increased due to rising unemployment, a collapse of the Iranian currency, pervasive regime corruption and a dramatic decrease in the average Iranian’s quality of life.

Sanctions have hurt the average Iranian, but they have also motivated their desire for political action and change. Is there anything else America can do to support the Iranian protester?
Are there risks in supporting nonviolent regime change in Iran?

Critics of sanctions and regime change like New York magazine and The Intelligencer said “Iranians may want change, but the collapse of their economy, society and state is surely not the kind of change they have in mind… there is no better way to discredit a legitimate protest movement than by linking it to a nefarious foreign enemy.”

What might start off nonviolently could spiral out of control, dragging America and its allies into a war without clear goals – other than replacing the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. They point to America’s recent failures in Iraq and its unpreparedness for nation-building in the aftermath of the Iraq victory in 2003.

The recent escalating tensions and rhetoric between Tehran and Washington have highlighted these choices and the dangers that might lie ahead. 

What 21st-century Westerners never seem to have learned is that military strength combined with diplomacy is the best way to avoid war in the Middle East. As evidence, when President Donald Trump indicated his intention to withdraw troops from Syria, this was perceived as weakness, which emboldened America’s enemies.

Let’s be clear: The Iranian regime is indeed an enemy of America. Too many pundits and politicians cannot differentiate between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. The Iranian people are not the same as the Islamist revolutionary mullahcracy. In fact, only 55% of the Iranian population is Persian. The overall population is widely believed to be, given the chance, the most Westernized and potentially politically West-aligned populace in the Muslim Middle East.

However, the nature of this regime has not changed since day one, and its goal is still to export, with its proxies, its Islamist revolution throughout the world. In the Western hemisphere, they have engaged in money laundering, drugs, terrorism and support for like-minded regimes in Venezuela and Cuba. 

Iran does not want war now, hoping that the next presidential election will bring a Democratic candidate pledging to rejoin the JCPOA and offering Iran hundreds of billions of dollars in potential sanctions relief without ever having to change their spots or actions.

There is plenty of regret and blame about US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the formula of robust diplomacy backed by credible military force remains the best way to avoid wars in the volatile Middle East. A strong US stance is also to be seen as tacit support for Iranians who crave change and want to politically challenge the regime in the streets.

Which brings us back to the question: can regime change in Iran be encouraged without starting a kinetic war? 

Nobody knows for sure. But if Iran were a medical patient, then the benefit is greater than the risk to American interests in supporting the Iranian protests that are bound to come. Once we accept this choice, the next question is how to hasten the journey of this repressive, fanatical, violent, anti-American regime to – as Ronald Reagan put it – the “ash heap of history.”

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the Senate and House, and their foreign policy advisers. A regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post and i24TV international, he is a contributor to The Hill, JTA, JNS and The Forward.