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Iran is flexing its muscles

Iran’s military adventurism and destabilizing behavior have reached an unprecedented level that could turn regional tensions into a conflagration. Tehran’s stepped-up interference in Yemen is a direct threat to the Bab Al-Mandab strait and the security of neighboring countries. US officials say Iran is now providing cruise missiles to Yemen’s Houthis.

In Iraq, Tehran is obstructing efforts by state and non-state actors to bridge Sunni-Shiite gaps. It seeks to control Iraq, and has started a widespread campaign to influence decision-making and secure a victory for Shiite groups in parliamentary elections.

“Iran has been interfering even in the decision of the Iraqi people,” said Iraqi Vice President Iyad Allawi. “We don’t want an election based on sectarianism. We want an inclusive political process... We hope that the Iraqis would choose themselves without any involvement by any foreign power.”

In other Arab nations, Iran is trying to increase its influence by inciting instability and conflict. For example, the Saudi navy recently captured a boat with three members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) near the Kingdom’s offshore Marjan oilfield.

“This was one of three vessels which were intercepted by Saudi forces. It was captured with the three men on board, the other two escaped,” said the Saudi Information Ministry. The captured IRGC members “are now being questioned by Saudi authorities.”

Regarding Syria, in an unprecedented move, Iran fired its first ballistic missile abroad in nearly two decades. This violates Syrian sovereignty and UN Resolution 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles.” Despite Tehran violating the resolution 11 times, the UN Security Council has not punished it.

The US and the international community should hold Iranian leaders accountable. This can be accomplished by a combination of political pressure, economic sanctions and force.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

Iran’s missile attack on Syria is a highly significant and perilous development, as it has repeatedly boasted that its ballistic missiles can reach any country in the region. They are also capable of carrying nuclear warheads; it is believed that this is Iran’s intention.

It has been so emboldened that it is openly boasting about the missile attack, and Iranian generals have admitted on state television that it was a warning to enemies. “The Saudis and Americans are especially receivers of this message,” said Gen. Ramazan Sharif of the IRGC.

Iran is beginning a new stage in its interventions in Arab countries via its ballistic missile capabilities. This will intensify sectarianism, radicalization and militarization of regional conflicts. If this is met with silence, Tehran will be further empowered and emboldened because it interprets silence as weakness.

The US and the international community should hold Iranian leaders accountable. This can be accomplished by a combination of political pressure, economic sanctions and force. The US should seek assistance from European allies and a united front with several Middle Eastern powers; this would be a powerful bulwark against Tehran. Sanctions from Muslim countries would be a significant blow to Tehran’s self-portrayal as a leader of the Muslim world.

• 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.