The US must confront Tehran: achieving cooperation through coercion

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has consistently responded to American overtures of peace with brutal force. When Ayatollah Khomenei sensed weakness in president Jimmy Carter, he increased hostile actions toward the US.

Now, when Washington is downsizing the production of aircraft carriers, Tehran is conducting exercises to blow them up.

Iran’s militant Islamic creed promotes confrontation with the West. Immediately after 9/11, some in the policy community suggested the US and Iran shared a mutual interest in stabilizing the region. Only later, when it was irrefutably discovered that Iran was facilitating both sides of the conflict and funneling weapons to insurgent groups that killed US and allied troops, did the idea fall into disfavor. It should not be forgotten that Iranian-sponsored attacks killed an estimated 1,100 US soldiers in Iraq between 2003 and 2010.

Currently, the US is conducting air strikes in Iraq and Syria in effective cooperation with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to dislodge marauding Sunni militias.

Yet, depending on further US action in Iraq and Syria, Iran will likely resume proxy attacks against American troops.

Because Iranian foreign policy is driven by bellicosity toward the US, it is by definition impossible for Iranian leaders to abandon hostility against the West without undermining the raison d’etre of the Islamic regime.

America’s traditional Sunni Arab allies have cast doubt on whether or not Washington is serious when it comes to combating Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. They view US policies as accommodating, rather than confronting, Iranian behavior.

In Egypt, hitherto US support for the Muslim Brotherhood and its deposed leader, Mohammed Morsi, is perceived by moderate Sunni states as bad policy implemented for bad reasons. Current Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Sisi has expressed bewilderment over the lack of American support for his government’s battle against the Iranian-funded Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip and against radical Islamic groups taking up arms in the Sinai Peninsula.

In Iraq, the rapid growth of Islamic State (IS) is widely seen as the result of failed US policies in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring.” US support for the repressive regime of former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, despite his stoking of sectarian tensions against local Sunni populations, contributed to the creation of the IS.

Meanwhile, in Syria, US reluctance to support the relatively moderate opposition is considered to have paved the way for the IS’s entrance into that country’s civil war, which has now seen over 200,000 casualties and counting.

Across the Middle East, Muslims and Arabs alike perceive US influence in the region to be waning. Any deal that fails to consider regional developments in the context of nuclear negotiations, therefore, effectively shreds America’s security assurances to countries and allies in the Middle East.

Without vital security assurances, many Sunni Arab states in the Persian Gulf who deferred to the US for mitigating the Iranian threat will conclude that the US is simply unwilling to confront Iran. They will recalibrate their national interests accordingly.

Some states will seek cover and move closer toward the Iranian orbit. They will adopt a pro-Iran stance to safeguard their security. Yet, other regional powers – including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey – will take matters into their own hands and move to acquire nuclear weapons. They will not wait for Iran to break out toward weaponization; they will do so immediately, once they believe Iran will inevitability get the bomb.

Any deal that enables Iran to retain a nuclear infrastructure will likely trigger a cascade of nuclear proliferators across the region. But even before that happens, in such a scenario the US would see a further reduction in ties with traditional allies in the Middle East and acquiescence to Iran’s demands would deepen.

Peace must advance security, not undermine it. In his speech to Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid out three reasonable conditions for a deal that would enhance world peace.

Namely, Iran must stop exporting terrorism; stop destabilizing the Middle East; and stop threatening other countries with annihilation.

Without Iran’s full compliance with those terms, America should not contemplate a deal. Given that existing sanctions caused Iran to capitulate, as regime survival became an increasing concern, intensifying, not removing sanctions will ensure a much better deal.

The talking points being advanced by Obama administration officials – that additional sanctions will deter a deal – are leitmotifs of regime propaganda and should be discounted, unless the US is willing to simply surrender.

As a presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, Barack Obama visited the Israeli town of Sderot, where he toured the “Kassam Museum” containing the remains of hundreds of rockets fired at that city, courtesy of Iranian sponsorship. Today, in addition to Gaza, Iran effectively controls four Arab capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a.

An Iranian weapons pipeline into Gaza poses a tactical threat to America’s ally, Israel, as well as to Egypt.

However, the impending Iranian choke-hold on major trade routes in the Middle East underscores a strategic threat to the entire West. It would be a grave mistake to ignore these alarming developments in the context of nuclear negotiations.

Based on US experience battling Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan and beyond, it is clear Iran will respond to the absence of American pressure with increased aggression. The question lawmakers must ask themselves is whether America will push back now or be forced out of the region later. To prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the US must demonstrate strength, not flexibility.

Col. Kemp was commander of British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and headed the international terrorism team of the Joint Intelligence Committee at the British Cabinet Office from 2002 to 2006. Maj. Chris Driver-Williams spent the majority of his 25-year military career as a highthreat bomb disposal operator and strategic intelligence analyst. Mr. Raskas is a combat veteran of the Israel Defense Forces.