US must keep punishing Iran for its indiscretions

US must keep punishing Iran for its indiscretions

Members of the Iranian Army march during a parade marking the anniversary of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, in Tehran. (Reuters)

This is what war with Iran looks like: A series of mostly unsuccessful Iranian provocations and attacks with the goal of receiving concessions from Europe, combined with European pressure on the US to lift sanctions. It’s not working.

Harassing operations in the Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman and Bab Al-Mandab Strait are now harder because of the increased capability the US and allies Bahrain, Britain and Australia have put in place. The US has an intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) capability that can show to the international community and the UN Security Council the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy and Quds Force committing illegal acts in near real-time. And, yes, Russia and China will abstain or veto.

Along with a technologically advanced ISR capability, this coalition has a military offensive capability in place as a deterrent, and it is making it hard for the IRGC Navy to seize ships. So hard, in fact, that the IRGC may now be seizingoil tankers that are part of its own smuggling network because it is too difficult to seize flagged vessels that are being protected by coalition naval assets.

Then there is the reflagged Adrian Darya 1, looking for a home and being sanctioned by the US Treasury, along with “some 16 entities and 10 individuals. (The Treasury) is also identifying 11 vessels as property in which blocked persons have an interest.” 

Nothing is working, so now Iran thinks it is time to further violate the nuclear deal by using advanced new centrifuges, all without consequence from the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran is cheating on the remaining parties in the JCPOA and the Europeans should do something about it.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s recent warnings about attacking Israel resulted in a face-saving gesture set up by Tel Aviv to allow him to claim an attack while ignoring the response. Hezbollah hit dummies left in vehicles and Israel fired 100 shells into an empty area — a short-lived exchange for now.

Both Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic are hoping to wait out the Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu administrations, and are also hoping for election outcomes that favor them. Trump and Netanyahu are too tough to deal with right now. Iran is hoping for a Democratic win in November 2020 and a simple re-entry into the JCPOA without new demands and with sanctions relief. Nasrallah believes Netanyahu will not risk Israeli casualties ahead of this month’s election so he will let these exchanges die down.

Hezbollah is not ready for a repeat of the 2006 war and Iran’s land bridge to the Mediterranean is being targeted in both Syria and now Iraq. So what can the Islamic Republic and Qassem Soleimani do? Well, they have to rely on Arab militias to do the dirty work for them, but these groups are quickly learning that Soleimani cannot protect them. Much like Daesh, the Iranians are learning the hard way that, unless they can shoot down aircraft, they are going to lose ground. In Soleimani’s case, his rockets, missiles and drones, which are stored in depots in Iraq and Syria, are being hit by Israeli airstrikes.

Soleimani thought Russia’s S-300 and S-400 air defense systems were going to protect his offensive capabilities in Syria and that the US would keep Israel (or whichever air force) from conducting airstrikes in Iraq — he was wrong in both cases.

Iraq is no longer a safe haven for Soleimani and his militias, which are being hit across the country. While most believe it is Israel behind these attacks — with the approval of the Americans — Iraqis are not rallying to the flag. They are not protesting these strikes, and that says a lot about the general population’s distaste for Iranian influence and Tehran’s militias in Iraq.

The status quo of the last 40 years was to reward Iran for its provocations, with the Islamic Republic redeploying the same tactics over and over again because it was rewarded over and over again. This time it is different.

The new status quo is Iran being punished for each provocation. Each provocation leads to new sanctions and more pressure from the US. Europe needs to do the same — and we may soon have the UK join the US in designating the IRGC as a terrorist group. The British recently designated Hezbollah in its entirety and Netanyahu asked London to do the same for the IRGC when he visited last week.

The US should do all it can to help its allies absorb Iran’s attacks and make them unsuccessful. And, with each failed attack, it should impose punishing new sanctions, targeting all entities and individuals that move funds to the IRGC and Quds Force.

America’s maximum pressure campaign is working and has Iran lashing out, while hoping Europe bails it out.

Michael Pregent

America’s maximum pressure campaign is working and has Iran lashing out, while hoping Europe bails it out. Tehran is particularly hopeful the French will offer concessions.

The US should now increase the pressure on the Islamic Republic, persuade France not to pay its $15 billion bribe, and hold Baghdad accountable for not acting to curb malign Iranian activity. It must also punish Iran for providinglethal aid to the Taliban while the latter kills Americans and negotiates with Washington in bad faith. The US must continue to pressure an Iranian regime that is now learning its successful tactics of the past are not working anymore — they are backfiring and they need to continue to do so.

  • Michael Pregent, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is a former intelligence officer with more than 28 years’ experience in security, terrorism, counter-insurgency, and policy issues in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. Twitter: @mppregent 
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