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The Roman general Vegetius said, “If you want peace, prepare for war.” When looking at the recent actions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that lesson should be heeded very carefully.

(January 7, 2021)

On Tuesday, Iran took the brazen move of requesting that Interpol place US President Donald Trump, along with 48 American officials, on an Interpol list. This is the second time they have done this. They tried last June, but Interpol, which is based in France, rejected the Iranian request.

This came just one day after Iran seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker, the same day that it told the international community that Iran is ramping up their enrichment of uranium. This Thursday, the Iranians are practicing military drills in the Persian Gulf.

Iran  also announced  this week that it will start processing its uranium to 20 percent purity, a further breach of the JCPOA, the nuclear deal negotiated in 2015. Enrichment to 20 percent significantly decreases Iran’s breakout time.

Former Director of the CIA, James Woolsey, once explained to this author, “Getting to 20 percent means you have gotten 90 percent of the work done. From there it is an easy slide to weapons-grade enrichment.”

And they are enriching at Fordow, an underground plant that they clandestinely built and was not even covered by the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal of 2015.

Germany, France, and Great Britain are pressing Iran to reverse their decision to enrich to levels that are beyond the prescribed limits of the JCPOA. Saying that there is “no civil justification for this level of enrichment.”

All of this comes in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the killing of Qassam Solomeini, and less than two weeks before the end of the Trump administration. However, we have absolutely no reason to believe that once the Biden administration assumes office things will get any easier with Iran.

On December 30, Iranian political analyst Emad Abshenas said in an interview, “The Iranians are fully prepared. There are voices in Iran saying Iran now has the golden opportunity to enter into a confrontation with the US, and that Iran should not wait until its circumstances are similar to those of Iraq or Libya – until Iran is weak and then the Americans attack it. Today Iran has the military capability to attack the Americans.”

And as MEMRI has translated: “Some people are waiting for Biden to end these disagreements, whereas others believe that this will not be over even with the arrival of Biden, and that [Iran] should start a war with the U.S. and harm the Americans in order to enter into negotiations and stop the war in exchange for lifting the sanctions and ending the [anti-Iranian] American actions – just like what happened between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. These people say that Hezbollah did the same thing.”

As I write this, the news just broke that Esmail Ghani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) said, directing his wrath towards the United States, “You will no longer have peace in your house.”

When it comes to foreign policy, it is only prudent and responsible to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Incoming President Joe Biden will certainly have his hands full. Many observers of the Biden team have reported that they will not focus on the Middle East, so much, at least for the first few years. However, whether or not they want it, the Middle East might come to them.

The new administration has promised to return to the JCPOA or negotiate a better deal. They will have to deal with a recalcitrant negotiating partner.

None-the-less, if they do, here are some suggestions:

  1. First off, it must be said that in order to be respected and have our conditions adhered to, we must back up, together with our negotiating partners, our negotiations with Iran with the credible threat of force. Unfortunately, much of the world, including Iran, Beijing, and Pyongyang believe that America has assumed a posture of withdrawal, retrenchment, and retreat from the Middle East. That is an extremely dangerous message to be telegraphing to our enemies, particularly in a time such as this.
  2. They must create a stronger, air-tight deal with comprehensive international sanctions. Where any country who deals with Iran will have to ask themselves: which is better, to deal with Iran with an annual GDP of $460 billion, and a per capita GDP of $19,500, or to deal with the United States, whose economy is approximately $20.8 trillion, and a per capita income of $65,297.5.
  3. They should eliminate any sunset clauses (one of the many criticisms of the JCPOA). One of those JCPOA sunset clauses, the arms embargo, already expired on October 18th. Although the United States maintains their own sanctions regime against both Iran and Venezuela, many nations, including Venezuela, North Korea, and China have begun a robust arms trade with Iran.
  4. Another criticism is that the JCPOA allowed for the development of missile technology. Fortunately, the incoming national security advisor for the Biden administration has said, “Our view is that ballistic missiles and Iran’s ballistic missile program has to be on the table as part of the follow up negotiation.”

Good luck with that. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani clearly stated on December 14th, “The missiles program and regional issues have nothing to do with the nuclear issue,” adding, “There is one JCPOA that has been negotiated and agreed to. Either everyone commits to it, or they don’t.”

We, in the United States, have reason to be very concerned about Iran’s missile program. We see what Iran has developed in the Middle East, and we feel that the regime wants to replicate that in the Western hemisphere, in South and Central America, right in our own backyard.

Shortly before the arms embargo expired, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. There has been speculation that they had brokered an arrangement that North Korean missiles and technology would be exchanged for Iranian oil. This would include the Hwasong-12 mobile ballistic missiles that have a range of 4,500 kilometers, which almost triples the required distance from Iran to Tel Aviv, and almost doubles the distance between Caracas and Washington.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, Iran has sent arms, equipment, and paramilitary operatives to help President Nicolas Maduro maintain his grip on Venezuela. “We see a growing Iranian influence in there,” Admiral Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters, citing the “alarming and concerning presence of military personnel from the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Tehran has used the force to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other foreign allies and proxies.”

Additionally, the Iranian airline, Mahan Air, which has been sanctioned by the United States for transporting Hezbollah members, and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, has been seen operating between Iran and Caracas.

Further evidence of cooperation between Iran and Venezuela stem from the oil market. The “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions against Iran has made Iran an eager exporter of oil on the international market, and Venezuela, which is suffering from both American and international sanctions, has become an eager buyer. While Venezuela has their own oil reserves, corruption and ineptitude have served to deplete their reserves.

There is also a mounting concern that Iran might export its Hezbollah fighters to arm, train, and equip Venezuelan operatives against the United States, and there is a growing concern that Iran might use this as a Western hemisphere base to retaliate against the United States.

Furthermore, we should take an abject lesson from the state of Israel, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah has accumulated a massive arsenal of approximately 150,000 missiles, many of which have been converted into precision guided munitions, aimed at the state of Israel, under the watchful eye of UNIFIL (the UN’s International Force in Lebanon).

UNIFIL’s mission, according to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, was to make sure that no foreign force was on Lebanese soil. However, UNIFIL members have silently watched and enabled the increasing buildup of Hezbollah in Lebanon to such an extent that much of Lebanon has become a total Iranian proxy.

The same applies to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which the United States has given approximately $1.7 billion since the 2006 War in Lebanon. The rationale behind that was that it would exert some leverage against Hezbollah. However, by now, the LAF has become totally co-opted by Hezbollah, to such an extent that they even share uniforms, and LAF fighters pose for pictures with Hezbollah members, seen on the LAF’s website.

When it comes to Lebanon, the Israelis, since the 2006 War, have taken a hands-off position, and have relied too much on UNIFIL and the LAF to do what they were put there to do, and unfortunately these latter two entities have failed miserably.

Hezbollah has now become such a formidable force in Lebanon that the Israelis do not retaliate in Lebanon. This summer, on two separate occasions, several Hezbollah terrorists crossed the border into Israel proper, and the IDF simply ambushed them and quietly returned them to Lebanese territory.

Anyone who feels that the Iranian regime would not seriously contemplate replicating what they have done in the Middle East, would  be wise to look down, just below our border, to see how Iranian proxies are collaborating with the Maduro regime, right in our own backyard, and take a lesson from Israel’s painfully learned experiences.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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