Tag Archives: Iran

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.

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.

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.