Category Archives: Iran

Just how dangerous is Iran to the world?

Source: Getty Images

In this article:

  • Using a Western mindset to understand Iran will be counterproductive
  • Former UK PM Tony Blair: Iran is a state with an ideology, but more accurately should be seen as an ideology with a state
  • Iran wants nuclear weapons to make them immune to attack
  • Iran’s revolutionary DNA demands Israel be destroyed

Read the rest from The Hill.

The real reason America has never found common ground with Iran

The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world.

Protesters burn an American flag.
Source: Times of Israel

Published in JNS.

Every American administration since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 has tried to find some way to accommodate and work with the Islamic Republic of Iran. More specifically, they have attempted to identify some working arrangement with the Supreme Leader, the regime’s ultimate authority and final word.

Carrots in the form of economic inducements and sticks in the shape of sanctions relief have not fundamentally moved the needle in dealing with Iran. Only the perceived threat of an American invasion of Iran after the United States went into Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s forced the Iranians to slow-walk some of their malign and nuclear activities.

But what is absent in the current administration’s thinking and strategizing is the willingness to look with fresh eyes at why 40 years of efforts have entirely failed. Those failures had real consequences in the death of more than 600 American servicemen killed in Iraq by Iranian-supplied improvised explosive devices, the hundreds of Americans killed by Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and the kidnapping of Americans who never again saw the light of day. This is not to mention the tens of millions of Iranians who are forced to live under a brutal regime that tortures, imprisons and kills its citizens for the crimes of homosexuality and speaking their minds.

The answer is right in front of the noses of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and President Joe Biden. The Iranian regime is a fundamentalist Twelver Shi’ite revolutionary movement of true believers whose mission is to spread their repressive understanding of Islam throughout the world, including among their Sunni brethren. They are as doctrinaire as ISIS in their beliefs, except the Iranians will soon have the capability to have nuclear weapons. Since 1979, many Republicans and most Democrats have not been able to deal with this complex reality.

The Achilles’ heel of American foreign policy is the false belief that all nations, including those that are horrifically repressive and sponsors of terrorists, can be induced to choose a more conciliatory and less confrontational posture to the U.S. and its allies by Western reason and economic inducement. This comes despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that our outreach has been interpreted as a weakness.

Administrations from both parties have chosen to ignore the obvious because of our Western conceit, that we know how to manipulate this regime if we only bend enough, give enough money and show respect. The manipulation masters are the Iranians. Religiously sanctioned dissimulation, also known as Taqiyya, permits deception of one’s enemy. The Iranians’ patsies are their naïve Western nuclear negotiation counterparts.

None of this is new. In 2006, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute wrote, “It is dangerous to assume that both Washington and Tehran operate from the same set of ground rules. [Former Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini] spoke of the Shi’ite concept of taqiyah…the necessity to engage in such religiously sanctioned lying…If the Islamic Republic perceives itself as under threat, its leaders may not only feel compelled to lie but may also feel justified in so doing. From a religious and political perspective, the ends justify the means.”

Iran is not capable of fundamental reform in any Western sense under this regime. The quicker we understand that, the more realistic will be our foreign policy. For President Biden and previous administrations from both parties, ignoring it is a prescription for national security nightmares.

As Bret Stephens, writing in The New York Times, said, “If Iran’s ambitions are fundamentally ideological – to spread the cause of its Islamic Revolution to every part of the Middle East and beyond – then negotiations are largely pointless. Iran will be bent on dominance and subversion, not stability. Those who thought that Iranian politics would ultimately move in a more moderate direction were wrong. The regime is doubling down on religion, repression, and revolution.”

Let us be clear: That does not mean America should put boots on the ground to overthrow the Iranian republic. That is the false accusation of Iranian regime apologists and isolationists in our government, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

It does mean we are hurting the Iranian people’s chance to throw off their yoke of repression when we appease Iran with economic relief, this time by wanting to return to a bad nuclear deal that economically strengthens an economy on the ropes.

American values and security interests demand that we not economically empower Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They have repeatedly proven that they cannot be trusted, especially in exchange for a nuclear agreement that doesn’t allow genuine inspections or end their nuclear program. We are giving them just what they want — to delay the weaponization of a nuclear device for a few years, in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in economic relief which will support the terrorism of Hezbollah, Hamas, South American tyrants, Iraqi and Syrian militias and the Houthis. This is not to mention handing a lifeline to their hate-mongering government while building missiles capable of hitting the U.S. Even if Iran chooses not to cross the nuclear weapons threshold, its neighbors know that it can turn on the nuclear weapons spigot at any time of its choosing.

One just needs an open mind to understand that projecting a Western perspective on a revolutionary Islamic regime is not only misguided but dangerous. This regime can’t abandon its extremist agenda without collapsing. There is no way that will happen when the revolutionary regime’s raison d’etre is a religiously motivated movement that cannot abandon its most fervently held beliefs.

The shortsightedness of the Biden administration and other powers extends to projecting Western timeframes on a Persian Islamist power. For example, the American maximum pressure campaign that has brought the Iranian regime to the edge of the economic cliff is claimed to be a failure by supporters of the Iran nuclear deal because Iran has advanced its nuclear enrichment since Trump withdrew from the agreement.

However, the timeframe of the revolutionaries in Iran is measured in decades and centuries, willing to wait out an impatient America. A nuclear agreement at this time guarantees Iran weapons capabilities in less than a decade. Thus, a continued and strengthened maximal economic pressure campaign may be the only thing that could change the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. But that requires more patience than the American democracy has, as it changes its executive branch every four or eight years.

A nuclear Iran may be inevitable. So, which is better for American interests: Strengthening the revolutionary regime with economic relief, or continuing to keep the Iranian government on financial life support under maximum pressure sanctions until one way or another Iran ceases to be one of the worst actors on the world’s stage?

Totalitarian regimes like the former Soviet Union need to collapse under the weight of their failed economies, whether they are communists or Islamist revolutionaries. Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, who is likely to be the next Supreme Leader, is another true believer, with a long history as a heartless butcher of those who stands in the way of the “revolution.” The only way to find common ground with this fundamentalist revolutionary regime is to let them have their way. If we rejoin a nuclear deal that is not truly longer and stronger, this administration will not have learned the lessons of why we have never found common ground with Iran.

Will Israel accept ‘half a loaf’ on Iran’s nuclear program?

Source: Getty

Despite the election of a zealot as Iran’s new president, Iran and the United States likely will return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known as the JCPOA or the Iran nuclear agreement, with only minimal changes. Iran needs to stabilize its government to prevent a popular uprising, in part because of the economic collapse fostered by stringent American sanctions. At the same time, America wants to kick the proverbial “nuclear can” down the road and take the Islamic Republic off its to-do list by claiming victory. 

Read the rest in The Hill.

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.”