The Growing Threat from Iran
Among the most serious challenges facing Donald Trump will be the growing threat from Iran.
After eight years of unrealistic hope on the part of the Obama Administration that Iran’s aggressiveness could be curbed, realism may make a return with his successor. On land, sea and air, in its alliance with Russia and China, its cooperation with North Korea in weapons of mass destruction development, and in its newly expanded role in the Middle East, Iran’s power and influence has expanded dramatically.
None of this should come as a surprise. In 2008, the Rand Corporation noted:
“Khamenei’s sense of strategic confidence, distrust of the United States, and focus on Iranian sovereignty results in an aversion to compromise. Some of Khamenei’s status quo orientation can be attributed to his reading of Iran’s recent gains in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the 2006 Lebanon war, and other regional events. His speeches and writings evince a sense of strategic triumphalism—that is, the belief that if there is a “new Middle East,” it is one that has tilted in favor of the Islamic Republic. U.S. policymakers should be cognizant of how this outlook informs Khamenei’s aversion to negotiations and compromise. The Leader harbors a deep-seated distrust of U.S. intentions—a sentiment that holds throughout Iran. Compromise, according to Khamenei, will only be seen as a sign of weakness, encouraging the United States to exert greater pressure on the Islamic Republic. For the Leader, justice, Islam, independence and self-sufficiency are paramount, and ultimately intertwined. For Iran to safeguard social justice and promote Islam, it must be politically independent; and it cannot be independent unless it is economically and technologically self-sufficient—hence the importance of an indigenous nuclear fuel cycle…”
Iran’s attitude and intentions can be discerned not just in the writings of western analysts, but in the direct statements of Iranian leaders. Consider these comments reported by Iran Intelligence:
“As long as America exists, we will not rest … We must raise public hate against the despotic powers and create the environment for the destruction of America.”
Basij Paramilitary Force Head Brig-Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi – March 15, 2012
“Today, the time for the fall of the satanic power of the United States has come, and the countdown to the annihilation of the emperor of power and wealth has started.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – June 2, 2008
“At the end of the day, we are an anti-American regime. America is our enemy, and we are the enemies of America … Just like [our] movement destroyed the monarchical regime here, it will definitely destroy the arrogant rule of hegemony of America, Israel, and their allies”
Chairman of Guardian Council Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati – June 1, 2007
Iran has managed to escape most public blame for the most serious terror attack on American soil, the 9/11/01 assault, but the links do exist. According to the Clarion Project,
“In December 2011, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels ruled “that Iran and Hezbollah materially and directly supported al Qaeda in the September 11, 2001 attacks.” The 9/11 Commission reported that 8 to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran between October 2000 and February 200l. They took advantage of an Iranian agreement to not stamp the passports of Al-Qaeda members going through the country. The travel of the hijackers appears to have been coordinated with Hezbollah, with one even boarding the same flight to Beirut as Hezbollah’s operations chief, Imad Mughniyah. The judge was also persuaded by testimony from three Iranian defectors, including a former intelligence officer named Hamid Reza Zakeri that defected in 2001 and claimed to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Zakeri provided alleged top-secret intelligence documents proving that Iran and Hezbollah helped orchestrate the attacks.”
Hezbollah receives all of its funding from Iran.
Iran’s aggressiveness has been, and will be, dangerous both in its progress towards acquiring weapons of mass destruction and in its expanding conventional military presence in the Middle East.
Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has reported that
“Iran’s current rulers see nuclear arms as central to their national ambitions. While the Rafsanjani and Khatami administrations looked at nuclear weapons as tools of deterrence, for the conservatives they are a critical means of solidifying Iran’s preeminence in the region. A hegemonic Iran requires a robust and extensive nuclear apparatus.”
Tehran continues to make progress both in its nuclear weapons program, and in the means to launch those weapons across vast distances.
The danger from Iran will soon extend far beyond the borders of the Middle East. It is progressing in its ability to project power, including weapons of mass destruction, worldwide.
According to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP)
“Iran has the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East. (Israel has more capable ballistic missiles, but fewer in number and type.) Most were acquired from foreign sources, notably North Korea. The Islamic Republic is the only country to develop a 2,000-km missile without first having a nuclear weapons capability.”
USIP believes that Iran will have the ability to strike Western Europe as early as this coming year, and the United States by 2020.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) notes that
“Iran is revealing a fact that was inherent in the JCPOA nuclear agreement negotiations, [On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union, and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)] and was openly revealed during their course. It was clear that the United States tried to put limits on Iran’s missile activities in the JCPOA and Iran refused. As a result, the United States and other members of the JCPOA chose to focus on an agreement that clearly forbade Iran from actually deploying a nuclear warhead, from getting the design and manufacturing capability to produce any nuclear weapon, and inspection provisions and controls on procurement that would prevent Iran – or at least limit it – from getting a reliable warhead…Iran never accepted the limits placed upon its missile programs by earlier UN resolutions like UNSC 1929. Iran did make it clear in accepting the JCPOA that it would proceed with its ballistic and nuclear missile developments and deployments regardless of the UN, and other interpretations of UNSC 2231, and there has not been any meaningful prospect that it will not continue to steadily improve its missile forces and ability to strike at long ranges.”
The inherent flaw in the Iran nuclear deal is that a key party was wholly left out of the agreement. The Iranian pursuit of Intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons is, in substance, a joint endeavor with North Korea.
The Diplomat notes that
“Iran probably shared test data with the DPRK after its 1998 launch of the Shabab-3 missile and that Russian metallurgical assistance to Iran’s missile program indirectly benefited Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. This cooperation intensified after North Korea successfully tested a nuclear bomb in 2006. South Korean press reports revealed in 2011 that hundreds of DPRK scientists were working in Iranian nuclear facilities, assisting Tehran in computer technology development. Iranian scientists were also allegedly present during North Korea’s 2013 nuclear test. In the months leading up to the July 2015 nuclear deal, North Korea sent three delegations to assist Iran in developing nuclear warhead and ballistic missile systems… As North Korea continues to upgrade its missile and nuclear technologies in the face of crippling sanctions, a revival of its historic oil-for-weapons partnership with Iran could play a vital role in keeping its economy afloat…”
The National Interest reports that
“…over the past three decades, Iran and the Stalinist regime of the Kim dynasty in North Korea have erected a formidable alliance—the centerpiece of which is cooperation on nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities…North Korea’s arsenal is the inspiration behind most of Iran’s ballistic-missile capabilities—including the Shahab 3 and Shahab 4, now in service, and its longer-range Shahab 5 and 6 variants, currently in development. And the collaboration continues today; the two nations are believed to be jointly working on a nuclear-capable missile of intercontinental range.”
Iran’s missile technology is progressing rapidly. Vice Admiral J.D. Syring, the Director of the USN Missile Defense Agency testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces last April that
“Iran has successfully orbited satellites and announced plans to orbit a larger satellite using a space launch vehicle (the Simorgh) that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as such. Iran also has steadily increased its ballistic missile force, deploying next-generation short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) with increasing accuracy and new submunition payloads. Tehran’s overall defense strategy relies on a substantial inventory of theater ballistic missiles capable of striking targets in southeastern Europe and the Middle East, including Israel. Iran continues to develop more sophisticated missiles and improve the range and accuracy of current missile systems, and it has publicly demonstrated the ability to launch simultaneous salvos of multiple rockets and missiles.”
The Obama Administration’s response to Iranian missile development has exhibited strange flaws. The Free Beacon reports that
“The Obama administration misled journalists and lawmakers for more than nine months about a secret agreement to lift international sanctions on a critical funding node of Iran’s ballistic missile program, as part of a broader “ransom” package earlier this year that involved Iran freeing several U.S. hostages, according to U.S. officials and congressional sources apprised of the situation. The administration agreed to immediately lift global restrictions on Iran’s Bank Sepah—a bank the Treasury Department described in 2007 as the “linchpin of Iran’s missile procurement”–eight years before they were to be lifted under last summer’s comprehensive nuclear agreement. U.S. officials initially described the move as a “goodwill gesture” to Iran.”
Progress towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which could be launched by Iran’s growing missile technology, has not been halted by the Iran nuclear agreement. In addition to assistance from and joint efforts with North Korea, indigenous work continues thanks to loopholes in the JCPOA.
One example is cited by The Institute for Science and International Security, which writes that JCPOA agreement has a serious loophole, Tehran’s ability to
“store offshore in Oman heavy water it owns and controls in excess of the nuclear deal’s limits, awaiting its eventual sale. To date, if the stocks in Iran and Oman are counted together (a reasonable view since Iran owns and controls both stocks), Iran has far exceeded the nuclear deal’s stated limit of maintaining a stock of only 130 metric tons of heavy water. Yet, this loophole was sanctioned by the executive body of the Iran deal, the Joint Commission. Despite such generous treatment, Iran has even so twice violated the narrow limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water it can hold inside Iran since the deal started in January 2016. Iran should no longer be facilitated in its overproduction of nuclear-related heavy water. Oman would do the world a favor by halting its willingness to accept Iranian heavy water and send any back to Iran for downblending. The return of the heavy water and its blending down would dramatically signal to Iran that violations of the Iran deal are no longer going to be tolerated, or worse, facilitated. Moreover, any further overproduction should be seen by the United States as a violation of the deal. It should work to end the Oman loophole and mitigate damage caused by a U.S. purchase of Iranian heavy water.”
Originally published on New York Analysis of Policy and Government
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