Squeezed hard by U.S. sanctions, the Iranian regime is lashing out in every direction.
The convivial mask donned by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to allow Obama administration negotiators the cover they needed to pretend they were curbing Iranian nuclear and terror behavior has slipped badly.
The July 31, 2019, sanctions imposed on Zarif by the Trump administration seem to have touched a nerve with the duplicitous front man, who couldn’t restrain himself from a mocking tweet in response. At last met with an American president neither cowed nor wooed by their stratagems, the mullahs are fast abandoning all pretense of benign intent. A regime founded in violent revolution and dedicated to jihad is now reverting to type amidst a show of belligerence, bluster, and broken promises.
Attacks on shipping near the Strait of Hormuz and by Shi’ite terror proxies in both Iraq and Yemen against Saudi Arabia and shooting down a U.S. drone, coupled with carefully calibrated violations of the 2015 nuclear agreement, signal Tehran’s unhappiness with a U.S. president who finally has called its bluff. The most recent escalation came with the late July 2019 test-fire of a Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile that flew 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), far enough to hit Saudi Arabia. The first such missile test since December 2018, it marks another deliberate violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which bars Iran from testing any nuclear-capable ballistic missile.
In late July 2019, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), announced that Iran had breached JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) limits on production of enriched uranium. According to Salehi, Iran has enriched 24 tons of uranium since 2015, a massive increase over the 300 kilograms (about 600 pounds) limit the JCPOA holds it to stockpiling. Other statements claim that Iran exported everything but the smaller amount allowed to remain in country.
According to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), Iran also breached the 3.67% enrichment limit for uranium, admitting to enriching up to a level of 4.5% purity. An AEOI spokesman threatened to enrich up to the 20% level if the regime didn’t get the economic benefits and sanctions relief it demands. And finally, the AEOI’s Salehi announced on July 28, 2019, that Iran intends to restart activities at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, which could produce plutonium for nuclear warheads.
Given that Iran already in January 2019 openly admitted it had cheated on the JCPOA by purchasing spare parts for components at Arak that it had to destroy under the deal, it’s not clear how the regime has any credibility left, even with die-hard partners Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia which just met in Vienna to try to salvage the agreement.
Such behavior should leave no doubt that this regime ever had the slightest intention of curtailing its nuclear program; nor was its purpose ever benign, but rather always intended to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon. Increasingly, the revelations made by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in April 2018 about the Iranian nuclear weapons archive in Tehran are proving ominously relevant. The thousands of documents the Mossad managed to spirit out of the country showed that Tehran has pursued a clandestine nuclear weapons program for decades with the single-minded intent of producing nuclear bombs for delivery via its ballistic missiles.
After the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) opposition group first blew the lid off Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2002, the decision was taken at the highest levels of the Iranian regime to pursue the bomb along two separate tracks: an overt one that could be passed off as purely civilian in nature and a covert one where the real work would be done building warheads.
By the time the Obama administration and its European partners fell for Tehran’s scheme to legitimize its overt pathway to the bomb, the covert program was well along at sites like Parchin that remain off-limits to inspection. The November 2011 IAEA Board of Governors quarterly report on Iran made startlingly clear just how advanced that program really was, but on July 11, 2019, the IAEA further exposed Tehran’s deceit when it reported that soil samples taken from Turquzabad on the outskirts of Tehran contained traces of radioactive material.
Backed by China and Russia, the Iranians played the JCPOA game as long as possible, stringing along its willing European partners, but crunch time is coming. Tehran knows it cannot keep even the most gullible Europeans on board while attacking their oil tankers and violating nuclear deal provisions. It was always a kind of balancing act, to see how far belligerence could take it before they’d all jump ship. The regime won’t back down now but has nowhere to go except increased aggression—which could include the further unleashing of its terror proxies, including Iraqi Shi’ite militias, Hizballah, and Houthis.
The Trump administration and allies are discussing an international ship escort effort as well as increased intelligence and logistics sharing. Sooner or later, though, the face-off almost surely will become kinetic, with Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 the model when the U.S. navy sank Iranian ships. This time, strikes against Iranian air defenses and missile launch sites combined with offensive cyber operations could be involved, according to former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis.
At a time when the Tehran regime is under intense pressure both within — from its own people, in the streets by the thousands — and without, due to sanctions, there will be no better opportunity to stand with the Iranian people as well as shut down once and for all a dangerous nuclear weapons program aimed at both ourselves and our ally Israel that includes the possibility of an existential EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) strike.
Clare M. Lopez is VP for Research and Analysis at the Center for Security Policy. Previously a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and a member of Board of Advisors for Canadian Mackenzie Institute, she was named to Senator Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign national security advisory team in 2016. Lopez served with Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi and now its successor, Citizens’ Commission on National Security. Formerly VP of Intelligence Summit, she was a career operations officer with Central Intelligence Agency, professor at Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and Executive Director of the Iran Policy Committee from 2005-2006. Lopez received a B.A. in Communications and French from Notre Dame College of Ohio and an M.A. in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She completed Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, VA, before declining a military commission to join the CIA. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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