US must do more to confront the Iranian regime
The US airstrikes against Iran-backed militia groups in Syria last week were an informed and welcome move by the White House, but they are definitely not adequate when it comes to confronting the Iranian regime and its widespread militia network.
The airstrikes, which were authorized by President Joe Biden and destroyed several facilities in eastern Syria, were carried out in response to recent attacks by Iran-backed militias in Iraq. This military action will definitely send a signal to the Iranian regime that any attack on US bases or personnel will be swiftly dealt with.
When the Iranian leaders become cognizant of the fact there will be military consequences for their attacks on US entities, they will use more restraint. For example, when the theocratic establishment was extremely concerned that the Trump administration might launch an attack on Tehran in its final months in power, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei surprisingly ordered all factions of Iraqi armed groups to stop attacking US interests in Iraq. A senior commander of an Iranian-backed armed group involved in the attacks told Middle East Eye in October: “Khamenei’s orders were straightforward and clear. All attacks targeting US interests in Iraq must stop.”
In order to effectively confront the Iranian regime, the Biden administration should refrain from sending contradictory messages, such as mixing airstrikes on Iran-linked targets with advocating the revival of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which will lift sanctions against the regime and help billions of dollars flow into its treasury. Iran’s nuclear program must not be treated as separate from the regime’s malign behavior and support for terror groups in the Middle East.
Instead, the Biden administration must carry out a comprehensive policy toward the Iranian regime that includes, among other things, Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its regional interventions, assassinations and bomb plots in other countries, including in the West, its sponsorship of militia and terror groups across the region, and its egregious human rights violations. The ballistic missile program, which is a pillar of Iran’s foreign policy and is directly linked to the nuclear program, should be restricted and included as part of any new nuclear agreement.
This means that the White House should urge the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Tehran if it continues to test-fire ballistic missiles in violation of Resolution 2231. This resolution “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.” The regime has fired many ballistic missiles with impunity since signing the nuclear deal in 2015.
In addition, the US must impose political and economic sanctions on the Iranian officials responsible for human rights violations, just as the Trump administration did with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is still designated a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Biden and his administration have been silent in the wake of Iran’s recent shocking human rights violations, including the rising number of executions of those who oppose the theocratic establishment.
The Biden administration also needs to publicly announce its support for the Iranian people, particularly the youth, who want to have an inclusive and democratic government. Iran has a large youth population — at least 60 percent of its citizens are aged under 30 — and they are largely disaffected and dissatisfied with the current political establishment. The people want a democratic system of governance where the freedoms of speech, press and assembly are not suppressed. However, they feel they have been left alone, more than ever before, in their attempts to achieve their goal of self-determination. The White House needs to send a clear message that it stands with the Iranian people and supports their aspirations.
The White House needs to send a clear message that it stands with the Iranian people and supports their aspirations.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Siding with the Iranian population also means parting from rewarding the regime with the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, or having close political ties with Iranian leaders. The Biden administration cannot send a contradictory message to the Iranian people, just as the Obama administration did, by stating that it supports their cause while at the same time sitting at the table with Iran’s politicians, shaking hands and smiling. The Iranian people would view such an act as a betrayal. When the US befriends the Iranian regime and empowers it politically and economically, it is directly weakening the majority of the Iranian people.
Finally, standing with the Iranian people means supporting and facilitating their access to social media platforms. The Iranian government has become skilled at censoring social media, but the US can find ways to bypass this censorship.
Last week’s US military action against Iran-backed militias was a step in the right direction, but it is not enough: The Biden administration must do more to confront the predatory regime of Iran.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh