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IRAN: Can We Make Peace with the Mullahs?

By Peter Huessy, Senior Consulting Analyst, Ravenna Associates and President, GeoStrategic Analysis

On Saturday, 19 September, after months of futile diplomatic efforts to extend the UN ban on Iran’s purchase of advanced weapons, the Trump administration implemented “snap back” sanctions as set forth in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That action was taken, said Secretary of State Pompeo, because “The Iranians are largely ignoring the most important components of the [nuclear deal] with respect to nuclear enrichment."

The sanctions were imposed despite the objections of China, Russia and members of the European Union who stated that the U.S. could not do so because President Trump had withdrawn from the JCPOA. To further complicate the issue, candidate Biden has promised that, if he wins the presidency, he would rejoin the nuclear deal and lift sanctions, diplomatic actions that he reckons will make peace with the mullahs and dissuade them from building nuclear weapons and ICBMs.

Questions now arise. What will Russia, China and the EU do about the new sanctions? Will Iran honor what is left of the JCPOA? Is it possible to make peace with Iran’s anti-Western theocracy in hopes it will moderate its disruptive actions in the Middle East and elsewhere?

For their part, with the UN arms embargo ending, Russia, China and the EU will now be tempted to sell Iran the advanced weapons it needs – including missile and nuclear technology. Should they do so, the US will harshly sanction all their companies that conduct such trade. Sanctions busting will also propel Washington to go after more Iranian banks.

As two analysts from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) explain, “at least 14 Iranian banks remain open for business with foreign customers. These banks are Tehran’s financial lifeline.” Continue Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg, “the American Financial Crimes Enforcement Network declared Iran’s entire financial industry a primary jurisdiction for money laundering… If these determinations have any meaning, all Iranian banks need to be banned from global finance” but also allowing Covid-19 related humanitarian assistance through a Swiss financial channel utilizing one bank.

Some in Congress want to do just that. A letter sent to President Trump by Senator Cotton (R-Ark.) and other senators urges the administration to "impose sanctions on the entirety of Iran's financial sector" that may still be connected to the global banking system known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT). “Iran's desperate economic circumstances provide a critical opportunity for the United States to force the regime to abandon its malign activities and return to the negotiating table on your terms," the senators wrote.

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With regard to the JCPOA itself, Iran’s serious and continuing violations of the nuclear enrichment terms of the existing agreement reflect the true intentions of the mullahs, and clearly indicate that a new nuclear deal could not be implemented with any confidence as it would also be violated by Iran. Secretary Pompeo has said Iran has shown no willingness to live in peace, in a statement posted on the Department of State’s website.

Iran’s belligerency is further exemplified by the threat made by General Salami, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to “hit” all Americans connected to the killing of his predecessor General Soleimani. His threat was couched in words used by a Mafia don and is underscored by intelligence reports of Iran’s intention to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa.

Like other criminal cartels, Iran has operational arms that do the dirty work, including the IRGC, Hezbollah and Hamas. In 2014-5, Iran’s terror proxy Hezbollah financed its terrorism through smuggling contraband cigarettes in the United States, and working with Venezuelan drug cartels to also smuggle drugs and traffic in women and children. Inexplicably, a nearly completed law enforcement effort to take down Hezbollah’s cigarette smuggling ring was shut down by the Obama administration just before the 2015 JCPOA was concluded.

Hezbollah’s partnership with Latin American cartels is further evidence that Iran has transformed itself into a criminal enterprise with tentacles in our hemisphere that cross our borders. Even worse, there is a real possibility that Iranian sponsored terrorism will also appear on United States soil.

When Al Qaeda decided to strike directly at America in the decade after the end of the Cold War, we suffered the horror of 9-11. Like Al Qaeda, Iran may now be planning to not only attack America and its allies in the Middle East but strike the American homeland. That was shown in reports by the FBI after 9-11 that detailed the widespread presence of terror cells in the United States, particularly those of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, all Iranian terrorist proxies. (see map below)

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Iran terror proxies could release a biological weapon like Covid-19, or they could destroy several of the 31 critical US infrastructure nodes, as was shown in the 1999-2004 Gilmore homeland security commission findings. Even if we are tempted to think that we are safe from “loose” nuclear weapons smuggled across our borders, or that our missile defenses can intercept missile fired from a ship close to our shores, we cannot sleep easy knowing of the threat posed by internal Iranian terrorists.

And if anyone thinks that diplomacy can resolve such threats, one need not do any more than remember the diplomatic success Prime Minister Chamberlain had in preventing Nazi Germany from attacking Poland.

Peter Huessy, Senior Consulting Analyst, Ravenna Associates and President, GeoStrategic Analysis