Update from AIJAC
April 7, 2016
Number 04/16 #02
This Update features three pieces commenting on the status of efforts to implement the Iran nuclear deal, just a little over one year since the preliminary framework for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed on last April, and three months after the deal went into effect in January.
It leads off with a rundown of Iran’s problematic behaviour in the aftermath of the deal, written by Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE representative in Washington. He notes that despite hopes to the contrary, Iran’s international behaviour does not seem to have been altered by the deal and it remains “hostile, expansionist, violent” toward its neighbours, citing numerous examples. He argues that since carrots, in the form of the benefits to Iran provided by the JCPOA, aren’t working to change this behaviour, the international community will need to employ sticks, in the form of serious renewed sanctions. For this knowledgeable piece, which, interestingly given the source, sounds almost like it could have come from an Israeli government spokesperson, CLICK HERE.
Next up is veteran American journalist, commentator and think-tank head Cliff May, who discusses why the US Administration’s approach to Sunni Islamist terrorism and Shi’ite Islamist terrorism, led by Iran, is so different. May focuses especially on recent comments and leaks by US Treasury officials suggesting that the US Administration was moving toward doing something it promised the US Congress it would not do in the wake of the JCPOA – allowing Iran’s financial institutions to have access to dollar transactions and the American financial system. May says US President Obama seems to be considering this move because he believes commerce will moderate the Iranian regime, but May mounts a strong argument that the President is mistaken. For his complete argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Jonathan Tobin parses something President Obama said about Iran at the Nuclear Security Summit he convened last week – specifically concerning Iran’s tendency to follow the “letter” of the JCPOA, rather than its “spirit.” Tobin notes that in response to this Iranian tendency – something that seems to be a reality given the evidence cited by Al Otaiba and May – Obama’s main warning to Iran was that this might negatively impact the willingness of international companies to undertake foreign investment in Iran. Tobin argues that not only is the President probably incorrect about the reaction of foreign businesses to destructive Iranian behaviour, and not only does he appear to misunderstand what the Iranian regime wants, he was also signalling to Iran that he himself does not intend to try to impose any consequences for the matters he named – threats to wipe out Israel, shipping missiles to Hezbollah, or supporting terrorism – thus essentially giving Teheran a green light to continue. For this important critique of what the US President seems to be signalling to Iran, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- The US Navy seized a cargo of apparently Iranian arms being sent to Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier this week – the third such cargo seized over the last month.
- Jonathan Tobin had another follow-up comment on the US Administration and Iran in the wake of the weapons find.
- Washington Institute expert Patrick Clawson says Iran is complaining the US is locking Iran out of the international financial system – but actually Iran’s own poor regulations and financial practices are to blame.
- The US recently indicted 7 Iranians from the Revolutionary Guard Corps for cyber-attacks on US banks, as well as a dam.
- Isi Leibler writes about the biases of the UN, arguing it has essentially become an organisation which “incubates evil and provides legitimacy to tyrannies.”
- Meanwhile, a UN-funded agency – also funded by the Australian government – has reportedly been honouring Palestinian terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians, by holding a tree-planting ceremony in their names.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
Don’t be fooled. The Iran we have long known hostile, expansionist, violent is alive and well.
Saturday marked one year since the framework agreement for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actionthe nuclear deal with Iranwas announced. At the time, President Obama said this agreement would make the world safer. And perhaps it has, but only in the short term and only when it comes to Irans nuclear-weapons proliferation.
Sadly, behind all the talk of change, the Iran we have long knownhostile, expansionist, violentis alive and well, and as dangerous as ever. We wish it were otherwise. In the United Arab Emirates, we are seeking ways to coexist with Iran. Perhaps no country has more to gain from normalized relations with Tehran. Reducing tensions across the less than 100-mile-wide Arabian Gulf could help restore full trade ties, energy cooperation and cultural exchanges, and start a process to resolve a 45-year territorial dispute.
Since the nuclear deal, however, Iran has only doubled down on its posturing and provocations. In October, November and again in early March, Iran conducted ballistic-missile tests in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
In December, Iran fired rockets dangerously close to a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz, just weeks before it detained a group of American sailors. In February, Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan visited Moscow for talks to purchase more than $8 billion in Russian fighter jets, planes and helicopters.
In Yemen, where peace talks now hold some real promise, Irans disruptive interference only grows worse. Last week, the French navy seized a large cache of weapons on its way from Iran to support the Houthis in their rebellion against the U.N.-backed legitimate Yemeni government. In late February, the Australian navy intercepted a ship off the coast of Oman with thousands of AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. And last month, a senior Iranian military official said Tehran was ready to send military advisers to assist the Houthis.
The interference doesnt stop there. Since the beginning of the year, Tehran and its proxies have increased their efforts to provide armor-piercing explosive devices to Shiite cells in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. A former Iranian general and close adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for Iran to annex all of Bahrain. And in Syria, Iran continues to deploy Hezbollah militias and its own Iranian Revolutionary Guard to prop up Syrias Bashar Assad.
These are all clear reminders that Iran remains the worlds leading state sponsor of terrorisma persistent threat not only to the region but to the U.S. as well. Death to America has always been more than an ugly catchphrase; it has been Iranian policy. Iran has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks against Americans: from the Marine barracks in Beirut to Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. During the Afghanistan war, Iran paid Taliban fighters $1,000 for each American they killed.
In Iraq, Iran supplied the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that killed or maimed thousands of U.S. soldiers. And in recent weeks seven Iranian hackers were indicted in a U.S. federal court for a cyberattack against U.S. banks and critical infrastructure.
As Henry Kissinger once said, Iran can be either a country or a cause. Today Iran the cause is showing little of the same kind of pragmatism and moderation in its regional policies and behavior as it did in the nuclear talks. Last week, Mr. Khamenei insisted ballistic missiles were key to the Islamic Republics future. Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors, he said.
It is now clear that one year since the framework for the deal was agreed upon, Iran sees it as an opportunity to increase hostilities in the region. But instead of accepting this as an unfortunate reality, the international community must intensify its actions to check Irans strategic ambitions.
It is time to shine a bright light on Irans hostile acts across the region. At the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh later this month, the U.S., the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman should reach an agreement on a common mechanism to monitor, expose and curb Irans aggression. This should include specific measures to block its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah units in Syria and Lebanon, and Iranian-linked terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
If the carrots of engagement arent working, we must not be afraid to bring back the sticks. Recent half measures against Irans violations of the ballistic-missile ban are not enough. If the aggression continues, the U.S. and the global community should make clear that Iran will face the full range of sanctions and other steps still available under U.N. resolutions and in the nuclear deal itself.
Irans destabilizing behavior in the region must stop. Until it does, our hope for a new Iran should not cloud the reality that the old Iran is very much still with usas dangerous and as disruptive as ever.
Mr. Otaiba is the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the U.S.
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Israel Hayom, April 6
U.S. President Barack Obama’s critics charge that he’s never developed a strategy to defeat terrorism, the weapon of choice for those waging what they call a global jihad. The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, the journalist whose ear Obama most likes to bend, says that’s wrong — that the president does have a strategy — “He is, after all, killing jihadists at a frenetic pace.”
First, it’s really not clear that Obama is engaged in anything more than a less-than-successful holding action against the Islamic State, al-Qaida, the Taliban and similar adversaries. Second, killing — at whatever pace — is a tactic, not a strategy. Third and perhaps most important: There are Sunni jihadists and Shiite jihadists and both utilize terrorism. What is Obama doing about the Shiite jihadists? He’s rewarding and enriching them.
To be fair, that may be a strategy, or at least part of one. It’s based on a set of assumptions, all of which I’d call dubious, e.g., that the Islamic Republic of Iran has “legitimate grievances” that deserve to be addressed; that Iran’s theocrats, like us, seek compromise; that they, like us, favor “conflict resolution” through diplomacy and regard violence as a last resort.
Pursuant to this thinking, Obama concluded — without congressional consent — what he considers a good deal with Tehran. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action obligates Iran’s rulers to delay a nuclear weapons program they do not acknowledge exists. In exchange, the U.S. and its European allies have agreed to release over $100 billion in frozen assets and lift those sanctions imposed in response to Iran’s illicit nuclear activities.
Other sanctions — such as those imposed because Iran, according to the U.S. government, continues to sponsor terrorism, develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and conduct illicit financial activities — were meant to stay in place.
Obama and his deputies were adamant about this when they were attempting to persuade Congress to go along with the JCPOA. There was one specific and enormous concession that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew specifically assured Congress would not be granted: access to dollar transactions and the American financial system. “Iranian banks will not be able to clear U.S. dollars through New York, hold correspondent account relationships with US financial institutions, or enter into financing arrangements with U.S. banks,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Iran, in other words, will continue to be denied access to the world’s largest financial and commercial market.”
In recent days, however, Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer, colleagues at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, have assembled evidence leading to the conclusion that Obama has indeed been planning to grant this concession.
He has asked Iran’s rulers for nothing in return. On the contrary, since the conclusion of the JCPOA, they have been “testing” ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, aiding and abetting the slaughter in Syria, supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen, and threatening Israelis with genocide. They have seized and humiliated American sailors. Recently, for the first time ever, the U.S. Justice Department charged state-sponsored individuals — seven Iranians — with hacking to disrupt critical American infrastructure.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains as anti-American and bellicose as ever. “Those who say the future is in negotiations, not in missiles, are either ignorant or traitors,” he said last week. So why give him a prize?
It could be because Obama sees the Iran deal as an important part of his legacy. It could be because he fears that Ayatollah Khamenei will walk away from the deal as soon as the stream of benefits stops flowing. It could be because Obama wants to bolster Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whom he regards — incorrectly, I’d argue — as a moderate. It could be all of the above.
Whatever the explanation, many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are furious over having been deceived. “I do not support granting Iran any new relief without a corresponding concession,” Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said in a statement.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas Republican who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said either Congress has been “intentionally misled” or “the Obama administration and the Iranians are changing the terms of the nuclear deal months after it was finalized. Either scenario is unacceptable.”
Responding to this pushback, Obama said it is “not necessary that we take the approach of [Iranians] going through dollar-denominated transactions. It is possible for them to work through European financial institutions as well.” Translated into English, this appears to endorse some kind of work-around involving off-shore dollar clearing, a less direct way of giving Iran’s rulers what they want, thereby allowing, as Obama put it, “deal flows to begin.”
If you’re puzzled as to why he’d be eager to facilitate Iran’s “deal flows,” consider this possibility: He believes in the power of commerce to transform the regime, to convert its theocrats into tycoons more eager to make money than war, more focused on building nest eggs than spreading the Islamic Revolution.
In other words, that could be Obama’s strategy to combat Shiite jihadism/terrorism. Its most obvious flaw: Iran’s theocrats are already filthy rich — and they’ve never been overly concerned about the deprivations suffered by the average Iranian. “This revolution was not about the price of watermelons,” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, famously stated. Not a shred of evidence suggests that his heirs see things differently.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.
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At the conclusion of a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Friday, President Obama made headlines for his criticisms of Donald Trumps abysmal ignorance of foreign policy. The president is right about that, especially concerning Trumps senseless willingness to abandon NATO or to goad Japan and South Korea into going nuclear or even to precipitating a war against North Korea with incalculable consequences. What got less notice, however, was the presidents own egregious comments about Iran. In discussing what he considered to be the spirit of the Iran nuclear deal, the consequences of Irans post-deal provocations, and by comparing critics of his Iran policy to Islamist hardliners, the president revealed that, for all of his sophistication, he can be just as clueless and as blind to foreign policy reality as the GOP frontrunner.
Observers might have taken heart from the presidents comments, in which he sought to pour cold water on the idea of the U.S. further loosening enforcement of the remaining sanctions against Iran. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew had signaled last week that the U.S. would soon allow Iran to conduct business transactions in dollars. But whether that latest concession is put off for a while or not, the presidents comments about the problem of re-integrating Iran into the international economy revealed that his misconceptions about Irans goals are as deeply entrenched in his mind as are Trumps foolish assumptions about NATO and non-proliferation.
In explaining the current situation vis-à-vis Iran, the president sought to make a distinction between what he saw as Irans following the letter of the agreement and his doubts about whether it would follow its spirit. In doing so, he framed the question as one that would decide whether Western firms would be willing to do business with a nation that engaged in provocative actions. He hopes the nuclear agreement will give Iran a chance to re-enter the international community. But he appears to think the worst that will happen if it doesnt is that the deal will not prove as profitable as it might have been for both sides.
The presidents assumption was that if Iran continued doing things like violating United Nations bans by testing missiles inscribed with threats to wipe out Israel, shipping missiles to Hezbollah, or supporting terrorism, the Iranians would pay a price in terms of lower amounts of foreign investment.
But this gets the issue completely wrong both in terms of consequences and Western behavior.
In theory, what the president says about Iranian actions demonstrating that it is not a healthy climate for doing business is right. A nation without the rule of law and where terrorist entities such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps hold sway over much of the nations economy is a place where an investment could be lost in the blink of an eye. While politics does exist there in that factions within the clique of theocratic rulers compete with each other for power, there is no security for any foreign firm looking to establish a presence there.
But as has been the case with a host of other tyrannical governments, none of that has or will deter European companies or states from seeking to profit from the Tehran gold rush that followed the end of sanctions. Nor, I might add, has it stopped Boeing the one U.S. corporation that has government permission to seek Iranian contracts from getting its share of the wealth that is available for those willing to work in Iran. Such companies will all take their chances that their assets or their employees will be subject to Iranian pressure or worse so long as it brings with it the chance of profit.
But the real problem here isnt whether Iran will get as rich as it might if it was prepared to behave. The real danger from regime missile tests, Hezbollah missiles, and terror funding isnt to the volume of trade with the presidents negotiating partners. Its the very threat that such measures pose to Western security as well as to that of the state of Israel, which remains under sentence of extermination from Irans supreme leader.
Having concluded a deal that, at best, postpones the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon for a decade, the president seems to actually believe that the Islamist regimes actions are mere theatrics intended for domestic consumption rather than actual threats. He sees Iran as divided between moderates, like President Hassan Rouhani, and hardliners who are only eager to spoil the fun. His view of Irans theocrats is so benign that he believes it is just a noisy faction. Obama even appears to see American critics of the nuclear deal as their moral equivalent, though, admittedly, for Obama to compare anyone to a Republican is certainly in his view a grave insult.
The ironic part of this is that the Iranians have not been silent about their intentions, as the missile test illustrated. They want Western money and plenty of it because that helps keep their regime afloat after a period when the international sanctions that Obama discarded in pursuit of his nuclear deal created real problems for Irans economy. But their determination to keep funding terrorists and working for Israels elimination isnt a gesture intended for domestic consumption; its part of the regimes raison dêtre as they seek regional hegemony in a way that scares Arab states as much as the Israelis.
Moreover, their nuclear goal, which the president continues to speak about as if he assumes that the pact has rendered it null and void for the foreseeable future, remains unchanged and very much within Irans reach. Even if they comply with its loose terms, that doesnt stop them from continuing research and keeping the most advanced elements of their program running, now with Western approval. Once the deal expires, even a wiser president than Obama will be hard-pressed to re-assemble the coalition and the sanctions to pressure them that the president discarded, let alone unite the world behind a military campaign to deal with the threat.
Though the president seemed to back off on dollars for Iran now, his refusal to see Iran as it is rather than as hed like it to be isnt merely wrong; it is seen in Tehran as a green light for further provocations, since they know he wont lift a finger to stop them. Seen in that light, the presidents remarks about the spirit of the nuclear deal illustrate a view about Iranian actions and intentions that is every bit as disconnected from reality as Trumps rants about NATO or a nuclear Japan.