Iran is responsible for current crises and must be treated accordingly

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Patiently Squeezing Iran

Don’t underestimate Iran’s geopolitical resources

Now that Iran has officially begun violating the 2015 nuclear deal, it is more important than ever to remember who bears the bulk of the responsibility for the escalating tensions.  Many apologists for the regime and advocates for a return to the status quo would have you believe that Iran is the victim in all this.  They will argue that by pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year, the Trump administration set in motion a chain of events that made Iran's own withdrawal inevitable. But the root of the problem stretches back much further, and the Islamic Republic has chosen to avoid reconciliation at every turn.

Anti-aircraft guns guard Iran's Natanz nuclear facility (photo credit: Hamed Saber).

This comes as no surprise, but Tehran's predictably malign behavior does not justify conciliation or appeasement on the part of the U.S. or its allies.  President Trump was correct to describe Iran as being in violation of the spirit of the JCPOA in May of last year, and the administration was correct to say, in recent weeks, that the resulting withdrawal did not constitute a license for Iran to renew its higher-level nuclear enrichment.  Now that outright violations have strengthened the administration's case against Iran, the only appropriate response from the international community is to contribute to the strategy of "maximum pressure" in order to bring the regime back into compliance and ultimately facilitate even farther-reaching changes.

The stated goal of the multilateral agreement was to promote global peace and stability, yet Tehran immediately took advantage of its implementation in 2016 to expand financing for terrorism, ballistic missile development, and other threats to regional neighbors and Western interests.  This became especially evident over the past two months, as the Iranian regime leveraged its terrorist and paramilitary infrastructure to sabotage six tankers in the waters of the Middle East, shoot down an American drone, and contribute to attacks on Saudi Arabia by the Houthi militias in Yemen.

But that infrastructure had been built up over decades and received a substantial boost as a result of relief from U.S.-led sanctions.  In the year leading up to the latest round of provocations, the effects had already become apparent to those who were monitoring the situation most closely.  Throughout 2018, Iranian operatives were found to be plotting at least half a dozen terrorist acts in Europe and the United States.  Two individuals were indicted for spying on Iranian expatriates in the U.S., where their information was intended to set the stage for attacks on those targets.  Outside Paris in June of last year, a gathering organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by dozens of Western political dignitaries was almost bombed by two persons acting under the direction of a high-ranking Iranian diplomat.

These and other incidents were conclusively traced to the highest levels of the Iranian regime, leaving little doubt about the proactive nature of Iran's terrorism and political violence.  Up to that point and even now, France has remained committed to upholding the JCPOA.  Its government had not victimized Iran in any way but had even sought to discourage the U.S. from taking actions to ramp up pressure on the regime.  And yet, if the would-be bombers of the NCRI gathering had not been captured at the Belgian border, officials from France and any number of other European nations would have surely been killed or wounded without cause.

This would not have been particularly surprising.  It would only be in keeping with the regime's firmly established reputation as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.  Many hundreds of Western nationals have been killed at the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and its militant proxies since the 1980s.  And while Iran-backed terrorist incidents outside of war zones have been less common in recent years, this is not a testament to "moderation" within the regime, and it is certainly not the effect of the appeasement policies that have been championed by so many Western policymakers in spite of prior killings.  Rather, it is largely the result of more effective counterterrorism, as well as the regime re-focusing upon targets in its own neighborhood.

Similarly, the recent surge of provocative incidents is not really Iran's reaction to the newfound pressure coming from Washington.  It is merely an extension of the strategy Tehran has been pursuing all along: the strategy that the Trump administration sought to counter when it rightly identified the regime as violating the spirit of the nuclear deal.  If any single factor has contributed to the latest outpouring of aggression, it is the regime's growing anxiety over threats to its hold on power.  Western economic pressure supplements and supports these threats, but their ultimate source is within Iranian society itself.

On June 29, NCRI president Maryam Rajavi delivered a speech at the Albanian headquarters of the organization's main constituent group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).  In it she highlighted Iran's longstanding aggression, embraced the still emerging U.S. sanctions, urged the European Union to follow suit, and called attention to the growing domestic efforts to established democracy in Iran.  "Today, we are facing a volatile society where the people have risen up and are poised to overthrow the ruling religious fascism," she said in reference to protests that have been ongoing since a nationwide uprising at the beginning of last year.

Participants in that movement understand something that far too many Western policymakers still do not: responsibility for the crises rocking Iran and the broader Middle East rests squarely on the shoulders of Iran's mullahs.  Now more than ever, it is important for the international community to recognize this fact and to respond appropriately to recent and forthcoming violations of the JCPOA, not to mention all the other malign actions Tehran has directed against its neighbors, the West, and its own people throughout the years.