Monday, December 14, 2015

Sleeping Through the Shiite Wakeup Call - Sarah N. Stern

by Sarah N. Stern

When Iran launched its recent missile tests, it should have been a wakeup call to the international community.

This week, while all of us were still reeling over the events of San Bernardino, word got out on Tuesday that Iran had launched yet another missile test. The missile, a Gahdr-110, a medium-range ballistic missile that has a range of 1800 to 2000 kilometers, or 1800 miles, was launched on November 21st is the second test since agreeing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, (JCPOA). The first was launched October 21st.

This is in violation of two United Nations Security Council Resolutions, UNSCR 1929, passed in 2010 and UNSCR 2231, passed just one day after the JCPOA was agreed to by the six world powers, (the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China plus Germany).

We all remember when President Obama held his triumphant press conference after the deal was agreed to on July 14th, Although the term “agreed to” is a bit of a stretch, as it was never even signed by any of the parties, and, according to MEMRI, the Farsi version that was voted on in their parliament, the Majlis, is an entirely different document than the one we have seen in English. For starters, it is over 1,000 pages long, while the JCPOA that we have been given in English is only 159 pages.

At his July 15th press conference, President Obama stated, “With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences. Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place. Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel, with little ability to reimpose them. “He later added that, “even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran -- its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East. Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years.”

 So where are the “real consequences”? Where are the “snap back sanctions”?

Well, here is the sum total of Obama’s “tough talk” towards Iran. In a press conference the president conceded that he was “aware” of the missile launch. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations actually went so far as to say that “the United States is conducting a serious review of the incident.”

While trying to convince the American people and their elected representatives to support the deal and endorse it in Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry had said that the nuclear deal would “modify Iran’s behavior” and that there is “no question, it will make the region a safer place.”

The record since July 14th, however, speaks otherwise. On almost every possible occasion, the Islamic Republic has simply spat in the eye of the United States. Since July 14th, Tehran has only increased its aggressive posture in the region, its human rights abuses, its nefarious behavior, and its incitement against the United States and Israel.

On the human rights level, Iran just convicted Jason Rezaian, an American-Iranian Washington Post reporter, under false charges of espionage, and in a closed door trial. Jason has been imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison for over a year now. Iran also has been holding another three Americans, Iranian-American, Amir Heklmati, a former U.S. marine from Flint, Michigan, Saed Abedini, a Christian pastor, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, who seems to be mysteriously “missing”.

Iran has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world, and it has not diminished since the treaty. If anything, the hangings have increased. Iran will have carried out nearly 1000 executions by the end of 2015.

Despite the fact that Qassem Soleimani, the notorious leader of the elite Quds Force, has been subject to an international travel ban for the next 5 years under the JCPOA, as well as under prior UN resolutions, he has already travelled to Russia to purchase the sophisticated S-300 missile system.

Iran has also been flexing its military muscles more in the region. According to a Pentagon official, US naval forces operating in and around the Strait of Hormuz are “routinely approached by Iranian warships and aircraft on an almost daily basis

And[SS1]  according to Defense Department analysts, and leading experts, in Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has been operating as “Russia’s ground force”, while it is “engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign” providing support to the Assad regime.

There has also been a surge of Iranian cyberespionage against the United States, targeting State Department officials who specialize in Iran and the Middle East.

And despite the fact that President Obama had so desperately wanted to turn over a new leaf with the Muslim world, Iran, the slogan “Death to America” is still chanted every week, before Friday prayers. In November, a majority of members of the Majlis voted not to abandon the slogan. The vote occurred two days before the annual November 4th “Death to America Holiday”, commemorating the date in 1979 when the American Embassy was seized and more than 60 American embassy officials were taken hostage for 444 days.

During the vote, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated that “America is the main part of the problem in the region, not part of the solution”, and that “American policies differ 180 per cent from Iranian policies.” He has also banned the idea of any further negotiations with the United States.

No one on Capitol Hill or in the major think tanks that I have spoken with actually has a firm date for “Implementation Day”, the official date that the Iranian sanctions will be lifted. This is dependent on Iran’s compliance to the terms of the JCPOA.

What is extremely troubling, however, is that Obama had said that the verification of Iran’s compliance to the JCPOA should be left up to the International Atomic Energy Administration, (IAEA). Their report of Possible Military Dimensions, “PMD” is critical in terms of setting a baseline.

On the April 8 PBS NewsHour, Secretary of State John Kerry had said that this is a firm prerequisite that Iran must comply with, stating “They have to do it. It will be done. If there is going to be a deal, it will be done.”

The IAEA had sent Iran a set of investigative questions, and although many were delighted that Iran did answer the questionnaire, three of the most critical questions relating to PMD remain unanswered. As Yukiya Amano, the Director of the IAEA had said “We are not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.” Further adding, “It is not black or white”.

On October 17th, more than a month before the IAEA report had been issued, a key State Department official had said, “the U.S. government has already made its assessment on Iran’s past nuclear program.”

Unfortunately, just as the Obama administration is prepared to ignore Tehran’s increasing inhuman rights violations, its bold military aggressions in the region, and the uptake in bellicose rhetoric towards the United States and her allies, it will probably ignore the insufficient answers to the IAEA investigation.

At this point, it looks as though the IAEA will vote on whether or not the questions about PMD have been answered sufficiently; and there is probably going to be a good deal of pressure to simply close the chapter on this issue.

When Iran launched its missile tests, it should have been a wakeup call to the international community; but we prefer to sleep through it. We ignore Iran’s nefarious behavior at our own peril. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Those who appease the crocodile are only eaten last.”

Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, an unabashedly pro-American and pro-Israeli think tank in Washington, DC


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