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A defiant Iran pokes the world in the eye

It has become an alarming and dangerous pattern: Provocations by Iran against many nations in the region, as well as the UK, the US and its allies. On March 4, US officials said several Iranian assault crafts came dangerously close to a US Navy ship, within 150 meters. A similar incident occurred two days earlier.

These swift assault vessels operate under Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has been empowered and emboldened by continuing sanctions relief, and by the lack of a robust reaction against Tehran from the international community. These incidents clearly highlight that Iran is trying to showcase its military power and regional preeminence to the US.

Some of Iran’s Persian-language newspapers boasted about its military capacity to counter the US Navy and dominate the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all oil traded by sea passes. Iran has frequently exploited the strait’s strategic location by threatening to shut it down or conducting military exercises that are meant to intimidate.

Tehran has been openly boasting about its power in a very dangerous way. Despite Iran’s intentional provocations, the US Navy and military have been trying to avoid escalation because this could lead to direct regional confrontation.

Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said due to “a combination of unsafe or unprofessional behavior” by Iran’s Navy, a US ship altered course to avoid a collision. “It’s concerning because it can result in a miscalculation or an accidental provocation that we don’t want.”

Iran is also trying to send a message to its proxies and hard-line supporters that neither the international community nor the Trump administration can take any serious action against its ambitions.

Tehran believes all talk about countering its actions is simply rhetoric. When Navy Commander Habibollah Sayyari was asked by journalists what Iran would do if the US, UK and France took a “counter-measure against Iran,” he said those countries’ officials “talk a lot.”

Tehran is clearly not changing the core religious and revolutionary pillars of its foreign policy, which includes pursuing regional hegemony and encouraging anti-Americanism. For it to take the international community seriously, robust and concrete measures should be taken immediately.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Further demonstrating its defiance, Tehran insists on continuing to feel out and test the Trump administration. Their goal is to discover whether President Donald Trump genuinely means what he has said about his policy on Iran. In September 2016, Trump famously said if it tried to harass the US Navy while he was in office, he would order Iranian boats “shot out of the water.”

These provocations are not limited to harassing the US or UK navies. Last weekend, Iran test-fired a pair of ballistic missiles, said US officials. According to Fox News: “One of Iran’s ballistic missile tests was successful, destroying a floating barge approximately 155 miles away, two US officials with knowledge of the launch told Fox News. The launches of the Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles were the first tests of the missile in two years, one official said.”

This would be Iran’s 14th ballistic missile tested since the nuclear deal. It is blatantly breaching UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.” In a destabilizing and defiant move, Iran also held a military excise in the Strait of Hormuz on Feb. 26.

It is clearly not changing the core religious and revolutionary pillars of its foreign policy, which includes pursuing regional hegemony and encouraging anti-Americanism. Iran has ratcheted up its provocations and interventionist policies. For it to take the international community seriously, robust and concrete measures should be taken immediately.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. He can be reached on Twitter @Dr_Rafizadeh.