By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
In order for the US to effectively confront the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior and military adventurism in the Middle East, a coherent, robust and informed policy, which is devoid of contradictions, ought to be enacted.
The Biden administration’s move last week to impose new sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program is a step in the right direction. In response to Iran’s missile attack on Irbil last month, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against the unit in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that is in charge of the research and development of ballistic missiles, as well as against Iran’s Parchin Chemical Industries.
Iran’s ballistic missile program has long been a threat to the security of the region. Tehran’s missile capability is one of the most critical pillars of its national security policy. Apart from managing Iran’s nuclear program and supporting the regime’s proxies, the IRGC’s third important responsibility is its ballistic missile program. Tehran’s missiles can hit any country in the Middle East. The US Treasury statement also noted that: “The Iranian-enabled Houthi missile attack against a Saudi Aramco facility on March 25, as well as other missile attacks by Iranian proxies against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are a reminder that Iran’s development and proliferation of ballistic missiles continues to pose a serious threat to international security.”
Not only has the Iranian regime been emboldened to the extent that it is violating the sovereignty of other states through its missile attacks, but the regime’s expanding program and frequent test-fires are also intended to create fear in the Middle East. This inevitably leads to further destabilization and militarization of the region. Instead of restraining their ballistic missile activities, the Iranian leaders are in fact proud of their advancements because they can project power and show their hard-line base, along with militia and terror groups, that the regime is a dominant power in the region.
For example, state-controlled Iranian newspaper Kayhan boasted in an article entitled “Gen. McKenzie: Iran’s Missile Capabilities ‘Remarkable’” that “US Central Command’s General Kenneth Franklin McKenzie told lawmakers that Iran now has about 3,000 ballistic missiles capable of hitting the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. McKenzie said over the last five to seven years, Iran has invested heavily in its ballistic missile program.”
But in order for the US sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program to be effective and send a strong message to the Iranian regime that its military adventurism and destabilizing behavior will not be tolerated, the Biden administration needs to show consistency. This means that it should not be lifting sanctions on other sectors or entities.
To illustrate, here are some of the inconsistencies in the Biden administration’s policy toward Iran. The White House last year told the Iranian leaders that not only is it willing to lift nuclear-related sanctions, but also that it is considering lifting other sanctions. This was followed by the first concession to Iran’s proxy militia group, the Houthis.
Even as the evidence — including a report by the UN — showed that the Iranian regime was delivering sophisticated weapons to the Houthis in Yemen, the Biden administration suspended some of the anti-terrorism sanctions that the Trump administration had imposed on the group. Soon after, the Biden administration revoked the Houthis’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
Additionally, last June, the Biden administration lifted sanctions on three former Iranian officials and several energy companies. Then, in a blow to the Iranian people and advocates of democracy and human rights — a few days after the Iranian regime had effectively hand-picked Ebrahim Raisi to be its next president — the US announced that it was also considering lifting sanctions against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The Biden administration is now even considering removing the IRGC from America’s terrorist list. How can the White House believe that it will impose pressure on Iran’s ballistic missile program if it is simultaneously appeasing the IRGC? In addition, no robust position has been taken toward the Iranian government’s expanding and destabilizing roles in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. Even Iran’s human rights violations have taken a back seat in the White House’s Iran agenda.
Another policy contradiction is that the Biden administration appears to have invested all its political capital in a renegotiated nuclear deal. The 2015 nuclear deal lifted all major economic sanctions against the Iranian regime. Returning to it now would boost Tehran’s ballistic missile program and enhance the regime’s legitimacy on the global stage. Subsequently, world powers would be less reluctant to hold the theocratic establishment accountable for its ballistic missile violations.
In summary, in order to address the Iranian regime’s threat, the US must show consistency in its pressuring of the Tehran government.
• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist.