Category Archives: Iran

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.

Is America ready for Iran’s plans in Jordan and Lebanon?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

America is safer and the world functions better when America is engaged throughout the world.

Every time America tries to pivot its foreign policy toward China and the Far East, the Middle East comes calling. If policy makers in Washington think it’s a binary choice between the challenges of China and North Korea vs. the recurring malignant variants of Shi’ite and Sunni Islamism undermining our national security interests, they are sadly mistaken.

America is safer and the world functions better when Americais engaged throughout the world, leading from strength and not from behind. Those who equate engagement with only military action mislead the conversation, as military strength leverages diplomacy, economic sanctions and other tools.

Predicting what’s next in the Middle East is a slippery slope. Who would have predicted the Khashoggi debacle or the 2011 Arab Winter? Yet, it is still imperative for the United States to invest the time and resources to analyze the likely possibilities of what’s coming next to create flexible strategies.

The US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute says, “One of the Department of Defense’s most important tools for strategy development under uncertainty is scenario planning… using alternative future scenarios to test prospective capabilities, concepts, and policies.”

We must therefore plan for how America will respond to the dangerous and inevitable situations brewing in both Lebanon and Jordan.

First, there is little doubt Israel will attack Iranian-controlled precision missile factories in Lebanon just as it did in Syria.

Second, the precarious Hashemite hold on Jordan due to the deteriorating economic conditions is being exploited by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which is trying to undermine King Abdullah’s government.

It shouldn’t have surprised analysts that Jordan decided to terminate an annex to the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Jordan’s Hashemite government is continually trying to placate opposition lawmakers and Islamists who rile up the disgruntled populace suffering from economic decline in part due to reduced subsidies imposed by the IMF (International Monetary Fund).

According to The Economist, “Bread prices nearly doubled and fuel taxes climbed 30%… with “just 3% of Jordanians pay(ing) income tax (and) the unemployment rate 18%.”

Add to that the Jordanian citizenry was raised on anti-Israel rhetoric for generations, not much different from the other Arab nation, Egypt, that has a peace treaty with Israel. It is not hard to find a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in your neighborhood Amman bookstore. The 2017 US State Department’s International Religious Freedom report documented profound Jordanian and Egyptian state-sponsored anti-semitism and anti-Israel bias.

Jordan has been fragile for years, a poor country inundated with refugees from Syria and Iraq, while its monarchy isconsidered illegitimate by many because it is a relic of a colonial past that is not indigenous to the area, while ruling over a resentful populace that is becoming more Islamist every year.

If Jordan appears to be in danger of collapsing, both Israel and America will put boots on the ground to save the Kingdom, which would be the third American war in the Middle East in 20 years.

Iran plans is to take advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s destabilization of Jordan and wait in the wings to undermine Jordan with the Iranian Popular Mobilization Units, Hezbollah and the Iranian Republican Guard ominously lurking on its borders as they create the architecture to invade Jordan from Iraq, Lebanon and Syria at a time of Iran’s choosing.

America must let King Abdullah know that if he wants to remain in power, placating the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood by distancing Jordan from Israel would more likely destabilize his regime first, opening the door for the Shi’ite Iranian threat from the north and east.

The King must be on guard as the reopening of the Nassib crossing between Syria and Jordan to bolster Jordan’s economy also opens it up to Iranian influence, as Iran today largely controls both Syria and Lebanon. King Abdullah should also remember his grandfather’s assassination as well as the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was by Islamists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

As for Lebanon, what comes next there isn’t likely to be pretty.

After successful Israeli attacks in Syria on Iran’s precision missile factories, Iran has decided to transfer them to Hezbollah control in Lebanon while continuing to transfer game-changing GPS guidance systems. This is a red line for Israel, which will be forced to repeatedly attack Lebanon with each new transfer of weapons and identification of missile factories, with the possibility that this can lead to a regional conflagration involving both Russia and America.

As former Israeli head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin told the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, “If Israel does not do anything… the price will be paid in war.”

America needs to be in close coordination with Israel on a daily basis about the ever-changing situation in Lebanon and see if Russia has any appetite to help avoid a war in Lebanon where instability could undermine Russian gains in advanced air and sea bases in Latakia province in Syria.

In the past, when Assad the father had designs on Jordan, the threat of Israeli or American intervention was enough to stop him. Now it is a totally different ballgame, with an Iran that may welcome a confrontation with Israel to destabilize the region and advance its hegemonic interests.

If the Middle East is not going to continually undermine America’s other priorities in the world, the US needs to have a strategy for the day after the Iranian Northern War begins and also figure out how to stabilize the weak Jordanian regime before it falls off the cliff.

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




Will Trump’s Iran Sanctions be Weaker than Obama’s?

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

The intelligence community’s rationale for allowing Iran to remain part of SWIFT is that it allows them to track Iran’s finances internationally.

Last spring President Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal (JCPOA). He re-imposed sanctions on the revolutionary Islamist regime that had previously been given tens of billions of dollars in economic relief and was reintegrated within the international banking community. The sanctions come into full effect on November 4.

President Trump has been unwavering in his criticism of the JCPOA, claiming the deal didn’t deliver any of its promised benefits – moderating Iran’s expansionist ambitions, restraining its missile development or terrorist sponsorship, improving its human rights record – while it continued threatening American allies in the region.

But is it possible that members of the president’s own administration could convince him to soften the impact of the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran? Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Much has to do with an internal fight within the administration between the intelligence community and Treasury on one side, and National Security Adviser John Bolton on the other.

The Treasury and the intelligence community are advocating for leniency on Iran and its European partners by allowing Iran to remain a part of the SWIFT international banking system, which allows Iranian banks to seamlessly exchange funds across the globe.

That the international community would even allow the world’s leading state sponsor of terror to be accepted in good standing in the world economic community is another story – one of naiveté, avarice and appeasement.

Bolstering Bolton on the other side are Trump’s years-long statements about imposing maximum economic pressure on Iran to create conditions for a better deal. Sixteen senators this summer warned Treasury about the dangers of excluding SWIFT sanctions.

Which brings us back to whether President Trump will re-impose a softer version of Obama-era sanctions on Iran by not incorporating SWIFT.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, “During the Obama era, SWIFT disconnected Iran due to sanctions threats… SWIFT leaders were in DC last week holding meetings with Trump administration officials to ensure that Iran retains access to the international banking system,” strengthening the Iranian economy and their European trading partners.

The intelligence community’s rationale for allowing Iran to remain part of SWIFT is that it allows them to track Iran’s finances internationally, providing vital intelligence, and if SWIFT is sanctioned it would weaken their ability to follow other bad international actors like Russian oligarchs.

This is not a strong argument, as Iran’s most egregious transactions will not enter the transparent SWIFT system. Iran and Hezbollah fuel the American opioid epidemic with a billion dollars a year of money-laundered profits that are outside the SWIFT system. In addition, as long as SWIFT only blocks transactions with Iran, the intelligence agencies can continue to monitor all other worldwide transactions.

WITH IRAN’S economy already reeling, some critics of re-imposing SWIFT sanctions fear Iran could become more dangerous and unpredictable, with claims that it could impede the flow of oil, gas and commerce in both Bab-el-Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, respectively.

Iranian-supported Yemeni Houthis have already attacked two Saudi tankers this year in Bab-el-Mandeb. However, China’s dependence on Iranian oil transported through the Strait of Hormuz, combined with Iran’s desire to strengthen relations with China, make that threat less likely.

But the most challenging threat against imposing SWIFT sanctions is from President Trump’s own Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin, which is working overtime to help Iran remain in SWIFT. Mr. Mnuchin’s perspective is shaped by his Wall Street background, which sees any interference in global trading systems as a threat to the worldwide economic order, especially with the Europeans not on board this time around. They argue that Iran’s economy is already in tatters and that SWIFT sanctions would cause more harm than good.

The reality is that if Iran is allowed to remain in SWIFT, the much-promised maximum economic sanctions of the Trump presidency will be a hollow threat. If the goal is to further starve the Iranian economy – making its support of worldwide terrorism, hidden nuclear activities, human rights abuses, and missile development more painful to continue – then the benefit of including SWIFT outweighs the arguments against including SWIFT transactions.

According to Josh Rogin in The Washington Post, “There’s another great argument for cutting Iranian banks off SWIFT: It would hamper Iran’s ability to finance the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas… SWIFT’s own bylaws require it to prevent illegal financial activities – such as funding terrorism.”

Before the Iran agreement was implemented there was bipartisan consensus on imposing sanctions on Iran for its clandestine nuclear program.
However, after the agreement went into effect in 2016, any new sanctions on Iran were treated as a direct threat to president Obama’s legacy achievement, despite the administration’s promise that all non-nuclear sanctions were on the table. The issue has unfortunately become a political one, not what it should be, a discussion of what is in America’s best interest.

This month America unveiled its first new counter-terrorism report in seven years. Tops on the list was the Iranian threat. America’s national security interest is to rein in Iran. Without including SWIFT, that interest is undermined.
As President Trump’s Iran envoy Brian Hook said, “If talking to Iran kindly worked, we wouldn’t be in this position… we need to restore deterrence.”

The writer is the director of the Middle East Political Information Network (MEPIN) and regularly briefs members of the Senate and House and their foreign policy advisers. 




Understanding American and Iranian Choices in the New Middle East

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Have the Iranians come to the same conclusion as their archenemy Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman?

Everything has changed in the Middle East. The combination of the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), American support for Israel to enforce its red lines against the growing Iranian military presence in Syria, and the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem have forced every player to reevaluate not only how to respond now, but how to prepare for the events that may follow.

Have the Iranians come to the same conclusion as their archenemy Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman? Namely that America doesn’t view the Middle East through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anymore, but now prioritizes thwarting Iran’s ambitions as America’s most important national security interest in the region? The three-year experiment that promised moderation of Iranian behavior in exchange for a limited suspension of some of its nuclear activity, retreating from the previous administration’s vow to stop Iran’s nuclear arms program forever, is now over.

How Iran will respond to this game-changing new reality that could threaten its regime, beyond the customary curses of defiance, remains to be seen. Critics of the withdrawal claim there is no strategy for what should come next, predicting catastrophe as the status quo has been upset.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the administration’s strategy “deemphasizes US military intervention, instead focusing on a series of moves to embolden an Iranian population that has increasingly grown angry at the ruling regime.”

America is now positioned to make some real progress, if our national security team has a clear vision of where we want to move the region while avoiding the temptation to reach too far, too quickly. The administration knows that the Iranian economy is in trouble, and that Iranians are not happy with their economic situation. Iran also knows that the perceived lifeline of continued trade with China, Russia and the EU cannot be sustained if America fully enforces sanctions on third parties.

The US Treasury did not waste time, addressing the long-standing but unchallenged problem of Iran’s central bank’s money laundering in the Gulf States to help finance the blacklisted Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ overseas Quds Force.

How Iran responds to the new economic levers the Trump administration can use will depend on how Iran thinks it can exploit the political division in America between supporters and detractors of the Iran agreement, and how much economic pain ordinary Iranians will withstand before taking to the streets again, potentially threatening the stability of the regime.

Iran knows that the Middle East has always been an area America has misunderstood.

They know Congress and Americans think in days and months, impatient for solutions when there are none, while Iran thinks in decades and centuries, willing to wait out American impatience.

Iran is a rational state actor whose primary goal is self-preservation. It may have learned that it underestimated its citizens’ disappointment when the $150 billion in sanctions relief was used for Iranian expansionism in Syria and Yemin, not for their benefit. Has it reassessed the potential pain of new sanctions, especially if the EU decreases trade because it, too, will feel the pain from doing business with Iran?

Could it force Iran to change course and even consider renegotiating the JCPOA? Will the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard respond with pragmatism to the new sanctions, or will they choose to escalate the situation as their best option, directly confronting Israel and pursuing Iran’s long-stated policy of erasing the Zionist entity from the earth?

Or do they now believe Israel’s stated intent not to allow an Iranian presence in Syria, and that any attack by one of its proxies will be considered an Iranian-orchestrated attack, making Iran itself vulnerable to retaliation.

Israel doesn’t have to touch a single Iranian nuclear facility to decimate Iran economically. According to Prof.

Hillel Frisch writing in The Jerusalem Post, Israel could just threaten to attack Iran’s Kharg Island, which handles 90% of Iran’s natural gas and oil.

This is well within Israel’s military capacity now, and with Trump allowing Israel greater latitude in military action, Iran must seriously decide if its expansionism is worth the risk.

David Goldman writing in The Asia Times said, “Two dozen Israeli missiles or bomber sorties could wipe out Iran’s economy in a matter of hours… fewer than a dozen power plants generate 60% of Iran’s electricity, and eight refineries produce 80% of its distillates.”

A more likely, lower risk scenario with some plausible deniability would be returning to terrorism outside the Middle East, targeting Israelis and Jews, as Iran did in Argentina and Bulgaria in the past. How would Israel respond? Most likely in a more restrained way, without targeting Iran directly. As of now, only restarting of their nuclear weapons program or an overwhelming Hezbollah war endangering major Israeli cities would elicit an Israeli attack on Iran proper.

Other options Iran could choose are to move closer to the Syrian-Jordanian border trying to destabilize Jordan, indirectly threatening Israel, or increasing Iran’s already significant presence in South America, part of its longterm strategy to undermine America and project Shi’ite hegemony into the Western hemisphere.

If this administration has a plan and plays it right, Iran’s choices will be more limited and its regime could even be endangered, something not possible the day before president Trump withdrew from the JCPOA. As Dan Henninger of The Wall Street Journal wrote, “a year from now, the world may be safer without (the Iran agreement).’ 

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. He regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East. He is a contributor to The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, and The Forward.




The Importance of Secondary Sanctions to Rein in Iran

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

There is a lack of understanding of what secondary sanctions are, why they are an indispensable tool for advancing diplomacy in the Middle East and what the true nature of the Iran agreement is. 

As we approach President Trump’s self-imposed deadline to end secondary sanction waivers on Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it has become clear that amid all the hyper-partisan rhetoric, there is a lack of understanding of what secondary sanctions are, why they are an indispensable tool for advancing American diplomacy in the Middle East and what the true nature of the Iran agreement is.

Before we dive into sanctions, it is necessary to understand what the agreement actually entails. According to former secretary of state John Kerry, “We’ve been clear from the beginning: We’re not negotiating a ‘legally binding plan.’”

During a recent NPR interview, the State Department’s policy planning director, Brian Hook, disabused anyone from believing the agreement is a sacrosanct document. The “JCPOA is not a treaty… it’s not an executive agreement. It has no signatures. It has no legal status.”

Which brings us to sanctions. Sanctions are a non-military, diplomatic tool to put pressure on international entities, nations and persons which undermine American national security interests. They are targeted against nations and entities that participate in things like narco-terrorism, or undermine American interests by seeking to acquire nuclear, biologic or chemical weapons. America’s use of sanctions has been an integral part of its strategy to contain Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities, as well as other malign behaviors.

Primary sanctions target only American companies and individuals who would do business with sanctioned entities. Whereas the goal of secondary sanctions is to target non-American businesses and individuals who would otherwise trade with regimes that defy American national security interests. This is all the more important after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his inaugural Middle East trip this week called for new Iranian sanctions. Meanwhile, the European Union, led by Italy, refuses to reinstate or add any meaningful non-nuclear related sanctions. President Obama invited the Europeans to resume lucrative business with Iran, and they don’t want to stop.
The goal of secondary sanctions is to penalize non-US companies and persons who commercially transact with Iran by limiting their access to the American financial network and economy.

As Ole Moehr said, writing for the Atlantic Council, “Secondary sanctions amplify [the effect] of primary sanctions… [They] put pressure on third parties to stop their activities with the sanctioned country by threatening to cut off the third party’s access to the sanctioning country.” The JCPOA affected only secondary sanction waivers regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Since the summer of 2015 when the JCPOA was agreed to, there has been underwhelming enforcement of sanctions that were not waived as part of the agreement.

THIS IS in part because the international community and American supporters of the Iran deal have claimed that significant enforcement of non-nuclear secondary sanctions is really a subterfuge to scuttle the JCPOA. According to The Wall Street Journal, the State Department has been trying but has been unable to convince the international community to sanction even those entities that are obviously associated with Iran’s missile program.

During the Obama administration, the United States deferred to the United Nations and to members of the UN Security Council, in effect allowing China and Russia to undermine American interests by the power of their veto. President Obama’s Wilsonian view of the world turned a blind eye to the 21st-century reality of global Shi’ite Islamic hegemonic aspirations and to Iran’s religiously sanctioned deception (taqiyya). As a result, the chance for future Middle Eastern wars has only increased, the exact opposite of the international community’s goal for stability.

If America judges its foreign policy interests are being undermined by international organizations – particularly the UN and EU – it must act independently to take charge with its own targeted secondary sanctions. As the world’s economic leader, other nations will be forced to comply with the US or lose access to its financial system.

My conversations with former Treasury Department officials have clearly indicated that without the implementation and enforcement of secondary sanctions against foreign businesses and countries transacting with Iran, America will be spinning its wheels. This is true only in regard to nuclear proliferation, but also regarding the reining in of Iran’s organization, training and funding of terrorist proxies, missile development and human rights abuses.

Congress was promised that the US waivers of secondary sanctions in the JCPOA were to be related only to the Iranian nuclear program. In reality what happened is we have allowed the JCPOA to hold hostage the imposition of legitimate and promised sanctions for Iran’s other offensive in-our-face hostile acts.

The Trump administration now has the opportunity to fix the JCPOA, using the leverage of non-nuclear secondary sanctions. The “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” signed last August by President Trump was a good start, but it is not enough.

The Iranian economy is on the ropes. Enforced secondary sanctions on companies doing business with Iran can have a real impact on Iran’s footprint in Syria; affect its support of Hezbollah and Hamas; curtail its missile development; and bring it back to the table to fix the flaws in the JCPOA. Among those flaws are getting rid of the agreement’s sunset provisions and obtaining effective access to Iran’s weapons development sites.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™ who regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East and a contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ The Hill and ‘The Forward.’




When Interests and Values Collide in Middle East Policy

{Previously published in The Hill}

Advancing a country’s foreign policy interests usually means coming to terms with the inherent contradictions between national values and strategic interests. Translation: sometimes you must consort with unsavory characters. Just as the United States did during World War II, when it allied with the Soviet Union in the name of the greater good to defeat Nazi Germany, sometimes you have to temporarily align with a nation that commits despicable deeds to advance broader goals.

Europe soon will be asked to decide whether to support new U.S.-initiated, non-nuclear sanctions against Iran. Will the Europeans choose economic interests over their proclaimed liberal values?

To advance their national interests for trade, Europeans have turned a blind eye to Iran’s misdeeds: its direct support of Syria, a government that commits genocide; its attempts to eliminate Israel, a member state of the United Nations; its continued use of the slogan “Death to America!”; and its use of proxies such as Hezbollah to target civilians in terrorist attacks. Have European nations crossed a line by rationalizing their economic interests while enriching a regime that is a leading state sponsor of terror?

Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, has pointed out that Europeans aim to convince skeptics that “renewed economic activity in Iran (will) ultimately strengthen Iranian civil society.” But Iran has undermined this argument by using the billions of dollars in economic relief from the 2015 nuclear agreement not to improve quality of life for its citizens but instead to inflame conflicts in Yemen and Syria and to advance its expansionist goals.

European governments — and too many Americans — allow themselves to believe the protestations of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini that nuclear weapons conflict with Islam and that “the Iranian leadership’s aversion to developing chemical and nuclear weapons is deep-rooted and sincere.” Yet Iran unconditionally supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his use of chemical weapons on civilians.

After concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reaffirmed: “Iran’s commitment to not seek nuclear weapons is permanent.” But this month, the head of Iran’s atomic agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, became the latest official to contradict Iran’s policy against acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities, saying, “If senior Islamic Republic officials issue an order to resume the 20 percent enrichment, we can do it in (the) Fordo (nuclear facility) within 4 days.” (As a reminder, there is no need to enrich uranium beyond 5 percent if your desire is a peaceful nuclear program.)

Mark Dubowitz, of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, notes that Iran’s threats “confirm that the Iranian regime never gave up on its atomic weapon ambitions. … Iran has pathways to dozens of nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking U.S. forces, U.S. allies, and eventually the U.S. homeland.”

The JCPOA has allowed Iran to continue unfettered research and development for advanced centrifuges. That means the Obama administration and Europeans claimed a Pyrrhic victory, mothballing obsolete Iranian IR-1 centrifuges while acquiescing to the Iranian demand for the development of the next generation of ultrafast centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

Iran is not the only nation whose despicable behavior and anti-Western rhetoric have been met with a hands-off response by the United States and its European allies. Iran’s ally, Turkey, has shown its hypocrisy this month. Before the U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized the West for not doing anything about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and the Syrian government’s genocide. But because Turkey is allied with Assad’s patrons, Iran and Russia, Erdoğan refused to criticize Moscow for saying there was no evidence of a chemical weapons attack in Douma.

Gen. Joseph Votel in late February warned Congress about rising tensions among all these parties in Syria, and said that Russia and Iran will try to erode the strategic partnership between the United States and Turkey, a member of NATO.

Yes, sometimes it is indeed difficult to balance national values and strategic interests. But going forward, the Western allies need to draw a firm line with extremist, revolutionary and theocratic regimes that try to undermine our long-term security interests. Otherwise, we risk dangerous repercussions for emphasizing economic interests when security is paramount.

Eric R. Mandel is director of the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and policy groups on the Middle East, and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post.