Well, here we go again. This issue with Iran seems to be a never-ending sitcom rerun that just keeps looping. Are we doomed to repeat history again, and again, and again? How many times have we been here before? Why are we here yet another time?
One could argue that we are here because Iran never intends on giving up on its ambitions to become a nuclear power and have a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Yes, many nations do, but few use proxy terrorist groups to serve their political will, as Iran has done and is doing still in the Middle East. A nuclear power nation-state giving nuclear weapons to a terrorist organization is indeed the “Sum of All Fears” a phrase Tom Clancy once penned.
Since the U.S. has exited the Iranian Nuclear Deal and put in harsh economic sanctions, the Iranians have decided to increase the number of high-tech centrifuges to enrich uranium faster towards weapons-grade. Some estimates now put the enrichment endeavors within 3-5 months of enough nuclear material to make a bomb. Other estimates put it at 10-months.
Iran has demonstrated its ballistic missile technology and all they need is a warhead detonation device, which they also have the technological know-how to make if they haven’t already created one or many.
Breakout Time and Uranium Enrichment
Breakout time is the amount of time it takes to go from your stockpile of uranium to weapons-grade uranium. Essentially, there are many factors involved such as how enriched your current uranium is, the number of and types of centrifuges you have or will employ, and your capability or nuclear expertise. Yes, there are other factors but in a nutshell that is the basic formula for Breakout Time for weapons-grade nuclear material.
The original JCPOA or The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iranian Nuclear Deal, is a 159-page agreement and roadmap. It tells us how much enriched uranium can be stored, the number and types of centrifuges, the types of nuclear power plants planned, and compliance of it all. The Iranian Regime did not honor its side of the agreement and had not declared all of its facilities, plans, or intentions according to researchers at the Atlantic.
One of the goals of the JCPOA was to make sure Iran’s breakout time was never shorter than one year. The JCPOA may never have accomplished that, and now that Iran has restarted its centrifuges it has blown past all the previous limits of the JCPOA.
Should the U.S. Have Stayed In the JCPOA?
President Trump told the American People that the Iran Nuclear Deal was the ‘most horrible deal ever made’ and although it may not be the worst in all of human history, one could argue that it certainly ranks high as being fairly worthless. The checks and balances and compliance have turned out to be less-than-favorable and Iran obviously never intended on complying with anything.
Thanks to harsh economic sanctions Iran is running out of options and will have to come to renegotiate soon says policy analysts at the leading policy think tank. Lately, they’ve gotten a bit of a reprieve from France and Germany who’ve invoked a clause in the JCPOA for dispute resolution, but unless that is extended or there is better compliance with the original agreement, it’s unlikely to be resolved.
Suffice it to say, getting out of the JCPOA may have caused some short-term crisis, but in the long-term, it was perhaps the best policy, explains leading foreign policy analysts at the FDD.
Will Iran Get the Bomb?
President Trump has drawn a red line in the sand on that issue stating that ‘Iran can never have nuclear weapons’ and we should take him at his word on that. The JCPOA is only paperwork, a 159-pages of nothing if Iran never intended on complying with it in the first place, and continues to stall inspectors from visiting its facilities and hiding its capabilities.
The JCPOA was an attempt to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for at least a decade, by keeping their breakout time over 1-year. Thus, giving a chance to diplomacy to deal with the problem if they reneged on the agreement explain experts on diplomacy and foreign policy.
Critics of Trump’s move to exit the agreement say; Iran is enriching uranium again and will have a nuclear weapon soon. But in reality, this has been Iran’s plan all along and without teeth in the agreement, they’d eventually have had a nuclear weapon anyway. Iran would have merely surprised the world one day with a nuclear weapon, perhaps given a nuclear weapon to a Middle East terrorist organization.
This current powerplay from the Trump Administration may in fact work and prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, indicate diplomatic researchers at the FDD. It looks like the Trump Administration may pull off another big win in a new Iranian deal in 2020. Time will tell, of course, everything is fluid at this point.
It's no secret that the nation you live in and governmental structure you live under affects the level of freedom, liberty, and quality of life you enjoy. For those of us that live in a first world nation with all the amenities and trappings of self-governance and freedom we often forget about the plight of those who live under rotten regimes. Once you've lived in a country with such liberties and freedom you never want anything less. Once you leave a repressive nation-state you become an instant and passionate advocate for human rights, freedom, liberty, and self-determination.
Okay so, let's talk about a problematic country, one which once enjoyed the best civilization had to offer, a nation which was led astray by less-than-honorable men, a country whose leaders sought out power and wealth over the desires and needs of their people. We are talking about Iran and the current Iranian regime. To say that this regime is illegitimate, corrupt, and repressive is an understatement. The list of human rights violations is so long it's hard to say where to start.
The number of Iranian senior level government officials and bureaucrats committing these human rights atrocities is almost too numerous to be believed. There appears to be no end in sight as to how far the Iranian regime and its overbearing bureaucracy will go to hold power over the people, crushing dissenters for even the smallest negative comment or even social media posting. It's been an on-going and unrelenting repression of the people, often arresting activists, then brutally torturing to extract confessions of crimes they didn't commit, according to a leading non-partisan think tank. Then the Iranian regime uses those confessions to prosecute them sentencing them to long prison terms or even death.
One of the best reports we've seen on the evil that pervades the once Great Persian Empire is; "Profiles of Iranian Repression" put out by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. In that one report, you will begin to scratch the surface of the unfathomable atrocities and human rights violations now occurring in the Islamic Republic of Iran. All of this information has been previously reported by the foreign policy experts at the FDD.
The long-list of human rights abuses under the guise of weeding out subversion and traitors from the citizenry is inexcusable. The list of culprits in the research from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies reads as if one was perusing through the resumes of Hitler's henchmen. One could ask; how could this possibly happen in the present period? It happens because the world has turned a blind-eye to the despots of such regimes. And while Iran is hardly the only place in our world where such human rights abuses occur, these acts will go on until something is done about it.
It has become readily apparent that the Iranian Regime under their Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei has absolutely no intention of changing its domestic behavior, or for that matter, its international behavior as it wreaks havoc throughout the region serving its political will. It should give everyone pause for concern as the Islamic Republic's attempts to dominate its regional neighbors while ruling its own people with an iron fist.
Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions are nothing more than a manifestation of lust for power and control. Waiting for Iran to get nuclear weapons to possibly hand-off to its proxy terrorists is not an option, nor is allowing such an anti-human rights regime to get away with murder, literally. A nation that will murder its own people without regret is dangerous. Imagine what it might do to other people outside its current domain? Now imagine what it might do with a nuclear weapon, able to deliver upon a declared or non-declared enemy or people, yet remain in full denial it was involved? It doesn't take much to imagine the sum of all fears coming to a nation near you.
In February of 2019, world leaders from some 60 nations met in Warsaw, Poland. The main topic of conversation was what to do about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Islamic Republic's regional ambitions. Leaders were also concerned with Iran's continual funding of proxy terrorist organizations to serve its political will. Among the nations represented were ten Arab nations, the United States, and Israel. Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo were in attendance for the US, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there for Israel.
It was amazing how well all the leaders got along. The Arab contingency is happy to have an ally in Israel, once again proving the old adage 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'. The 'Sunni' Arab nations have been dealing with the Iranian threat for a long time. Up until now, very few nations have taken a hardline against Iran. Israel is steadfast in their resolve and the Arab nations realize the Jewish state's strength. At the conference in Warsaw, it became readily apparent that a coalition against Iran's advances was forming into a strong partnership.
There was some trepidation during the conference from Western Europe as France, Germany and the UK were attempting to straddle the fence not wanting to upset Tehran or cause conflict with the United States. Ever since the Obama Administration's 'nuclear weapons deal' with Tehran, Western Europe has done well in trade with the Islamic Republic. Obviously, the Europeans didn't want to upset the apple cart or backtrack on the gains made. But fast forward to today, after Britain has had two oil tankers seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, there is more reason for the UK to get on board. Such hostile action by Iran is now being viewed as unacceptable by France and Germany too.
Although it does seem strange to see Arab leaders and Israel working closely together, it hardly surprised The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, experts on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel has struck targets in Syria and also attacked an Iraqi base run under the directions of Iran according to Defense Blog Military Magazine. No other nation besides the U.S. has stood up so strongly against Iran or its proxies. Not only are sanctions taking their toll on Iran's leadership, but the regime is running out of friends and doesn’t appear to have any regional allies willing to back them up in a war. You can learn more about the daily events regarding Iran from the FDD here.
The threats from the Iranian regime are becoming more amplified with each passing month. Iran has made several blatant attacks in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. Generally, Iran's method of operation is to use covert attacks and then deny any involvement. But this time they've been caught red-handed attacking oil tankers. That's not all, Iran also shot down a U.S. drone in broad daylight, and ship-jacked two British oil tankers.
The FDD, authorities on Iran and the Middle East note that time and money are running out for the Iranian regime. As long as we maintain a strong military presence, continue building a coalition and keep our resolve on sanctions, Iran will have to come to the negotiating table. If not, Iran’s rulers risk losing any remaining support. The FDD has been studying these rapidly developing events in real-time.
With the war in Afghanistan continuing into its 18th year, there is an atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding its progress, and a question of what constitutes its objectives. Over the past several years, the subject of the war has shifted more and more to the sidelines of public awareness. Just recently, there has been another change of policy regarding the level of transparency of the war’s status and goals. This shift in transparency reflects both a prudent decision to stop giving free intelligence to the enemy, as well as a desire to push public consciousness of the war further out of the picture - a sign that maybe the war is not going well.
The U.S. Military and NATO have decided to stop releasing a crucial security report to the public. This report provided the district security analysis for Afghanistan; illustrating the most comprehensive picture of the progress of NATO control versus Taliban encroachment and it was one of the “most widely cited Afghan security metrics.” Now, this assessment is no longer available to the public or to outside groups tasked with oversight.
For years the U.S. Military has released basic reporting to the public, summarizing how much of Afghanistan is under Afghan Government and NATO control versus the Taliban. According to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, experts on the war in Afghanistan, the canceling of this report is another attempt by the U.S. and NATO to downplay the Taliban’s strength and the stymied progress towards meeting NATO goals. Follow the FDD’s latest reports here.
With the report now canceled, there is no replacement source for providing public understanding about the conflict. The Washington Examiner wrote that “despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassified metric provided by Resolute Support [the name of the military mission in Afghanistan] that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground.” The public is now at a loss if they want a realistic and comprehensive picture of the security situation in Afghanistan.
There are reasonable grounds as to why this information is no longer being released to the public. As Defense One reports, in January President Trump explained his thoughts that this information was providing useful battlefield intelligence to the enemy. “What kind of stuff is this? The enemy reads those reports; they study every line of it...I don’t want it to happen anymore, Mr. Secretary...” Trump said. When considered on the grounds of denying enemy intelligence, President’s Trump’s point of view provides a reasonable justification.
However, this change in reporting signals more than just a strategy to sideline public awareness or limit the information available for enemy intelligence. General John Nicholson, a top commander in Afghanistan two years ago, stated that control of the population was “the critical mass necessary to drive the enemy to irrelevance.” The status of control of the population was the central theme of the report, and the central theme of the NATO strategy at the time.
But now things are different. Recently, the Defense Department told the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that the reports are not “indicative of the success of the strategy” toward security and stability for Afghanistan. The goal posts have shifted since the last two years. The Defense Department has explained that it is more important to “focus on the strategy of concluding the war in Afghanistan on terms favorable to Afghanistan and the United States.” NATO and Afghan forces are no longer aiming to secure the territory in Afghanistan as a whole.
The current goal of the United States and Afghanistan Government is to create conditions for U.S. withdrawal that will assure Afghanistan will not be used as a hub for future terrorist groups that would target the international community. The goal is no longer necessarily ‘control’ of Afghanistan by NATO and Afghan forces - the central theme to the previous and no longer publicly available metric for success. For the present goal to be achieved, it would require a working relationship with the Taliban - and a political agreement between the Afghanistan Government, the U.S., and the Taliban.
But as the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observed “the Taliban has lied about Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan since the 1990s,” and the evidence shows clearly that the two remain tied together to this day. Relying on a supposed agreement with the Taliban seems like a tenuous goal at best. On top of that, in order for the Taliban to be driven to the negotiating table, it would require the Taliban to believe that they are locked in an unwinnable stalemate with NATO forces - since both sides know a NATO victory with the original goal is no longer the objective.
This past September, the Israeli government unveiled evidence to the world of Tehran’s secret nuclear facilities. Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu presented photographs of the warehouse and included specifications about its design and capabilities including as much as 300 tons of equipment and material stored in fifteen shipping containers and up to 15 kilograms of nuclear material. In his presentation, the Israeli Prime Minister criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with their failure to inspect the site when Israel had previously given them classified intelligence about the locations’ function. To this day, the IAEA has still not inspected it, despite the pleas of subject matter experts to conduct a thorough investigation.
Many believe that the images of the site that have been released to the public reveal an attempt to transfer nuclear materials to a different location. Iran has vehemently denied the allegations of the warehouse’s function and stated that it was merely a carpet cleaning facility. They went as far as to release ground images from a carpet cleaning factory across the street and claim it to be from the nuclear facility.
However, photographic analysis confirmed the imagery provided by the Iranian government belongs to a different building than the photographs released by Israeli intelligence. The images that Tehran insist vindicate the warehouse in question, also only show exterior views. This is possible proof that the government hasn’t finished emptying the warehouse of all nuclear assets.
Israel also revealed that Iran disposed of radioactively contaminated material from this site near Tehran. Even though the material in question likely only has low-levels of radioactivity, the fact that the government disposed of it into the public domain proves a flagrant disregard for the safe handling of nuclear waste and the health and safety of their own people. It also speaks to the balance of power between military and civilian authorities in the country that the nuclear site can skirt around the government’s officially held policies regarding nuclear waste disposal without suffering consequences.
Satellite imagery suggests that nearly all material from the site has been removed as of now. Its exact location is unknown. If the IAEA had acted on Israeli intelligence when it was first given access to the information over the summer they would have had the chance to inspect the site while the storage containers were still present. Now the weapons equipment nuclear components are gone and unlikely to be found again soon. It is vital that IAEA explain its reasons for failing to act and the United States should demand an explanation. The United States has a responsibility, as a member state of the IAEA, to ensure that such inaction does not continue.
Currently, there is no evidence that Iran destroyed any documentation or equipment relating to the nuclear-weapon construction. That is why it is vital that their whereabouts be found as soon as possible. Analysts believe IAEA must conduct an investigation and inspect the warehouse for any remaining evidence. There are too many questions left unanswered to not follow through. Environmental samples can be taken to determine the radiation level and Iran should be forced to provide the shipping containers so they can be properly examined.
Many falsely believed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), would make it easier to conduct investigations when evidence called for it, however even after Israeli intelligence presented actionable, credible evidence to the IAEA no inspection was held. This failure of the regulatory body directly responsible for overseeing Iran’s nuclear research can’t go unnoticed and must be addressed if Western powers have any hope of preventing Iran from acquiring a bomb.
Iran has been extremely divided since the Shah left Iran for exile in 1979. The last Persian Monarch of the time, he left his duties to a regency council and the opposition prime minister, and in the decades that followed the country never fully stabilized. Rampant corruption and civil rights abuses have been frequently cited as a roadblock to economic equality. However, in recent years the already politically tumultuous climate may have reached a new low, thanks in large part to burgeoning economic and social discontent.
The causes of anger are all too similar to the other oil-rich countries in the region: corruption and financial inequality. Sanctions from the U.S. and other Western powers were lifted in 2016, until being reinstated by under Donald Trump’s orders. That two-year span of relief did little to improve factors such as youth unemployment, which is at an all-time high. The price of fuel, dairy and meat have skyrocketed and show no sign of letting up.
Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the present state of Iran, and how the current administration could learn something from Ronald Reagan. Dubowitz’ opinion on this: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is imperialist, repressive, and—unless we adopt a new strategy—[is] on its way toward possessing nuclear weapons.” The series of public Iranian protests, which lasted from December 2017 to January 2018, could suggest a threat to the stability of the government.
Details regarding the size of the demonstrations and specifics behind the groups present and their motivations are unclear due to the Iranian government’s strict control over news outlets. The Iranian Minister of the Interior went as far as to blame the stoked fears on social media and as a response, the government swore to clamp down on the technologies.
During the protests, many cities experienced widespread power outages. While the government takes no responsibility for the blackouts, many believe the timing is evidence at how far the Iranian administration will go to keep information from leaving the country’s borders. At its peak, the entire country experienced a drop as high as 50% in internet traffic. Since then, likely as a result of paranoia about web-activity monitoring, the country has seen a significant rise in the use of online masking software, such as the anonymous browser TOR.
We know for certain that the national unrest was kicked off by a protest in Mashhad because of surging prices. It’s clear the feelings were shared across the country. Many experts say that protests against the Iranian regime were caused by the corruption of the government that ruined Iran's economy. Click here to read more about Mark Dubowitz.
In response to the events, President Rouhani gave an official statement condoning the citizens’ right to protest in a peaceful manner. His words, however, are in stark contrast to the actions his administration has taken since; going so far as to ban English language lessons because they were to blame for a “cultural invasion of Western Values.”
The government’s actions didn’t end there. Many watch-dog organizations have cited the country’s record-high arrests and use of torture as evidence that basic freedoms are not respected. Nearly thirty suspicious deaths were reported during the protests and US intelligence agencies received reports of inmates being treated inhumanely. In one instance a 15-year-old was given a five-year prison sentence because he removed a government flag from a city square.
If these kinds of human rights violations persist and the government continues to censor free press and individuals alike then Western alliances might be forced to heighten the sanctions already in place. However, China’s recent oil purchases have proved that not all countries are willing to honor US sanctions. What’s more, any ability for the current administration to negotiate a new Nuclear deal will be hampered by the corrupt government’s actions. As Iran’s financial inequality worsens, it’s likely more civil unrest will follow.
Understanding how terrorist organizations receive funding is an essential step in targeting them more effectively. While there are standard trends, it’s vital to look at the specifics of each organization to understand how they finance their activities and work with governments in the region to curb terrorists’ efforts whenever possible. To achieve this end and educate lawmakers the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, (FDD), created the Terror Finance Briefing Book which explains how individual terrorist groups fund their operations. Read more about the FDD CEO here.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is one of the best funded terrorist organizations in the world and they aren’t reliant on any outside income. Instead, they derive the majority of their finances from exploiting resources in the region they control, such as petroleum, taxes levied against the local population, extortion, illegal drug production, and money stolen directly from banks. In 2016 ISIL had revenue north of $500 million. The year before that, they likely earned between $1 and $2 billion. The majority of the organization’s expenses cover supplying and paying its large force, as well as maintaining a defense against the local governments and Western coalition forces. Due to the raging war and a severe loss of land-holdings ISIL members experienced a severe cut to wages. In the coming years, it is likely ISIL will become more dependent on external donors to finance its operations.
Mark Dubowitz of FDD has stated that Hezbollah spends a great deal of revenue on its fighting forces in Lebanon and Syria, and on dispensing social services in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah stays afloat thanks to ongoing support from Iran, which has contributed billions since the group’s formation. The group has a vast network of illegal businesses around the world. For this reason, it's often referred to as a cartel as much as a terrorist group. Hezbollah has laundered money and run front companies on six continents.
Al-Qaeda's Branch in Syria - HTS
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is the Al-Qaeda contingent in Syria and generates tens of millions of dollars per year. The group is reliant on maintaining its image as an alternative to ISIL. To meet this goal they pay for sharia courts, provide healthcare, electricity, water, and subsidized food. HTS also runs several charitable operations to appease to the locals and solicit donations. The biggest cost to the group, however, is soldiers’ salaries and military equipment, which is primarily financed through ransom, foreign donations, and the exploitation of resources from the land it controls. Recently HST lost a great deal of oil-rich land to ISIL and has been more dependent on kidnapping to make up for the lost revenue.
The Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA)
The Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), is not as well financed as many other organizations but has a significant advantage in its mobility and low-cost operations and largely operates in a poorly governed territory. By exploiting vulnerable populations for resources, the group generated at least $10 million a year until 2015. They have historically taken advantage of the region’s unpoliced borders to carry out raids against villages for food and livestock, but their funding has recently declined and as a result, they have struggled to pay their fighters’ salaries. A key strength of ISWA’s resilience is their lack of reliance on the banking sector. The group has managed to rely on the hawala system to move money and accept donations without being tracked.
Each organization is different and will require different solutions to stay ahead of. Whether it’s through sanctions of financial institutions or cracking down on the illicit operations that provide financing to terrorist organizations it’s important that policymakers have the tools necessary to tackle the job. To stay up to date, hear interviews, see news clips, and view other resources check out Mark Dubowitz of FDD on YouTube.
This past January, Iran moved to scale back its death sentences for those incarcerated for drug-related crimes seemingly as an attempt to shift the international community’s focus away from Iran’s deplorable human rights record. While the move was greeted with optimism at the time, many were skeptical about whether this signaled the beginning of changes to a country long-viewed as one of the worst on human rights or whether it was a cheap political stunt meant to gain positive public attention. This begs another question: since the new year, has Iran managed to continue making positive changes to its criminal justice system or have things remained the same as usual?
The Human Rights Watch recently stated that since May the Iranian courts have sentenced over 200 Dervishes, (members of an an Islamic minority group) to prison terms and other punishments in trials that violate their basic rights. The courts issued sentences that included prison terms up to 26 years, flogging, internal exile, travel bans, and a ban on membership in social and political groups. International human rights laws classify flogging as a form of torture.
The country’s use of Sharia law has garnered significant criticism from the international community. Under these rules, some behaviors that could result in execution include insulting the Prophet, atheism, homosexuality, adultery, and drug-related crimes. While executions have declined, nearly three decades ago, Iran had the highest rate in the world. Currently, Iran is second only to China in the number of executions per year.
What likely prompted Iran’s need to appease international pressure was the descent of public opinion surrounding its political and economic systems. In May 2017, President Rouhani was elected to a second term in office, however many questioned the legitimacy of his victory due to the undeniable discrimination against hundreds of candidates on the basis of gender, religious belief, and political opinion. Beyond the presidency, there was civil unrest over the appointments of other high-level officials who have been implicated in severe human rights violations.
While many Iranian human rights defenders served prison sentences for communicating with the EU and the UN, those agencies worked with Iran to renew an existing human rights agreement that Iran was in violation of. In addition, many individual governments including Australia, Sweden, and Switzerland began bilateral human rights talks with Iran.
By the end of 2017, thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest poverty, corruption, and political repression in the largest civil rights demonstration in Iran since 2009. The authorities suppressed freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and went so far as to jail peaceful protestors on the grounds of “national security” charges. Many of those targeted were political opponents of the party in power, journalists, social media influences, students, filmmakers, documentarians, musicians, writers and human rights activists ranging from women’s rights defenders to environmentalists. There is also evidence that there was a deliberate targeting of trade union leaders, anti-death penalty campaigners, civil rights lawyers and individuals demanding information on missing loved ones and suspicious disappearances from as far back as the 1980s. Many prisoners undertook hunger strikes to protest their unjust detainment.
Reports emerged that police and military personnel killed and injured unarmed protesters by using firearms and other excessive force. On December 31, the Minister of Information and Communications Technology blocked access to social media sites used by activists to coordinate demonstrations such as Instagram and the popular messaging application Telegram. Shortly after these events, the sentencing reforms to criminals of drug offenses was announced. The timing of the announcement was suspected to be intentional by many.
Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-partisan think tank, has highlighted Iran’s deplorable human rights record and has called for greater accountability by the U.S. and the international community. Despite the protests and jailing, most media attention related to Iran focuses on the regime’s nuclear ambitions. Dubowitz and FDD have long been championing the need to hold Iran accountable for its regional aggression and domestic repression.
According to the Iranian state news agency IRNA, a senior Defense Ministry official recently said that Iran plans to boost its ballistic and cruise missile capabilities as part of a surge in the countries’ defensive programs. The United States and Europe are currently seeking to craft a new deal with the Middle Eastern power regarding nuclear weapons development, but senior government officials vow to keep the ballistic missile program saying “it’s not negotiable and not linked to its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.”
In addition to the missiles, the country aims to acquire updated fighters and massive, long-range vessels and submarines with various weapons capabilities. Experts from The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, FDD, have stated international sanctions failed to hamper the development of Iran’s arms industry. The country already has the necessary infrastructure to accomplish its goals but needs to devote more resources to research and development. A job well suited for the tens of thousands of technical and engineering graduates that the country employs.
The implications of Iran’s ballistic missile program extend beyond the countries’ border. Recently reports came out that Tehran had moved ballistic missiles to some of its proxies in Iraq as part of a plan to shore up their defenses and maintain control in the region. Iran denied the report, but seven intelligence officials from three different countries corroborated the story. There is also evidence that Iran is helping some of those proxy groups construct their own weapons.
The report is consistent with Iran’s recent track record. In Yemen, the country equipped Houthi allies with short and medium-range ballistic missiles and provided extensive training on how to use them. The Houthis are responsible for nearly 200 missile strikes in Saudi cities and towns as well as attacks in Yemeni population centers.
Since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran has built a formidable military presence in Iraq. It has used its influence to further drive a wedge between different religious sects and exploited anti-American sentiments among Iraqis. Iran’s act is another piece of evidence of its confrontation with the US and poses a threat to US troops in Iraq and Syria, who are within range of any ballistic missile in the hands of Iran’s proxies.
The presence of Iranian-controlled ballistic missiles severely undermines European cooperation with Iran and embarrasses France, Germany, and Britain who have tried to preserve the nuclear agreement despite strong opposition from the US. Mark Dubowitz of FDD is an expert on the situation and has explained in depth why the US administration opposes the existing deal.
As a result, France is trying to broaden the scope of the agreement to include ballistic missiles; French President Emmanuel Macron called for a revisiting of the deal after 2025 to cover the ballistic program and the country's influence in the wider Middle East region.
The missiles’ presence threatens Iraq’s neighbors: Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, who will undoubtedly respond by deploying missile defenses of their own. Major population hubs in these countries are within reach of even short-range missiles. Iran’s new ballistic missile deployment, to militias in Iraq, is a drastic step of aggression in securing power over the country. Regionally, it causes new dangers to Iraq’s neighbors and threatens international peace and security.
Mark Dubowitz states the US and Europe should take notice, as the new weapons also threaten their own troops in the region. Furthermore, Iran’s actions are a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions and should compel the EU to reassess its position.
On August 7th, 1998, three years before the September 11th attacks in and against the United States, al Qaeda carried out its most destructive terrorist act to that point in the form of twin truck bombings on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. 224 people died that day, with thousands more seriously injured. However, the al Qaeda operatives didn’t orchestrate the attack alone. Iran showed them how to do it.
For years, officials honed in on this allegation against one of the most powerful countries in the region. As the trial of those responsible for the embassy bombings went on, two key witnesses explained the relationship between al Qaeda and Hezbollah (Iran’s terrorist proxy). One of the witnesses, Jamal al-Fadl, told the courts that his comrades traveled to Lebanon to receive training directly from Hezbollah operatives in explosives handling.
Another terrorist, Ali Mohamed, admitted that he conducted several missions on behalf of Osama bin Laden. He said of the relationship, “I arranged security for a meeting in Sudan between Mughniyah, (Hezbollah’s chief at the time) and Bin Laden.” One expert, Mark Dubowitz, concluded Iran used Hezbollah as an intermediary to supply explosives to the terrorist groups.
Mughniyah was responsible for a 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, of the U.S. Marines barracks, and of the headquarters of French service members. The al Qaeda founder was attempting to reenact these events with the 1998 bombings to force the United States to retreat from the broader Middle East.
The 9/11 Commission report explained that the meeting between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives in the early 1990s led to an agreement to cooperate and provide training to facilitate al Qaeda’s objectives. A U.S. district court issued a judgment against Iran for their role in these attacks.
A declassified passage from the 1997 report states: “The primary goal of this collaboration was to confront Israel and the United States, while the secondary goal was to undermine Arab regimes which supported them. [The idea was that] Experience from Hezbollah and Iran should be transferred to new extremist groups who lack this expertise.”
Evidence suggests the relationship between the two entities hasn’t ended, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO. Between 2011 and 2016, the Obama administration’s Treasury and State Departments indicated that there is a standing agreement between the Iranian regime and al Qaeda to allow al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline” on Iranian soil.
However, there is also a fair amount of animosity between the two groups. Al Qaeda’s branches have fought Iranian proxies, including Hezbollah fighters in Syria and Yemen, for years. After the 9/11 hijackings, a senior al Qaeda leader named al-Adel fled to Iran where he continued to operate in his command position.
Mark Dubowitz on Facebook states that the exact information of al-Adel’s time in Iran has always been unclear. Testimony from a New York court in early 2001 named al-Adel as one of the al Qaeda operatives who attended both Iran and Hezbollah terrorist training camps in the early 1990s. For that very reason, he has long been wanted by the FBI for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings. Now, twenty years after the attacks, he still hasn’t been brought to justice despite Iran’s knowledge of his whereabouts.