By Arab News
By Dr. Majid Rafizadeh*
There are still some politicians, scholars and policy analysts who believe that imposing pressure and sanctions is not the answer to Iran’s aggressive policies and military adventurism in the Middle East.
It seems that they have forgotten recent history, where the policy of inaction and appeasement was tested during the eight years of the Obama administration. Five members of the UN Security Council lifted all four rounds of crippling sanctions that took decades to impose on the Islamic Republic. Former President Barack Obama revoked four previous executive orders against Iran — removing US unilateral sanctions and freeing up Iran’s assets, which were estimated to be worth between $50 billion to $150 billion.
The US Department of Treasury removed nearly 400 Iranian citizens from the blocked list, freed up their assets and permitted them to do business with the US. The US gave Iran the ability to re-enter the global financial system and export and import many commodities that were previously banned.
The rest of the Western world followed suit; the EU removed all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions against Tehran and it began doing business with the theocratic establishment. The ruling mullahs were appeased through secret deals, such as the agreement, details of which were obtained by the Associated Press, revealing the fact that more significant restraints on Iran’s nuclear program were lifted even before the expiration of the nuclear deal. This shockingly allowed the Iranian authorities to install more advanced nuclear components than it ever possessed before.
Thanks to the lifting of US, EU and the UN Security Council’s sanctions, which allowed the Iranian regime and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to sell oil and do business freely in the international market, Tehran became financially and economically more powerful.
Upon the JCPOA’s agreement, Barack Obama said that he was “confident” the deal would “meet the national security needs of the United States and our allies.” Less than a year after pursuing this course of appeasement with Tehran, he added that the nuclear deal had helped in “avoiding further conflict and making us safer.”
But did inaction and appeasement policies genuinely turn the Islamic Republic into a civilized, rational and moderate state member of the international community?
What the world came to observe was that Tehran began more forcefully advancing its ballistic missile program. Iran test-fired many ballistic missiles, capable of carrying multiple nuclear heads, an act in violation of United Nations resolutions 2231, which “calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology.”
But Iran’s actions were ignored and the expanding militaristic role of the Revolutionary Guard was taken lightly. Iran continued to be listed as the top state sponsor of terrorism — “providing a range of support, including financial, training, and equipment, to groups around the world.”
During the appeasement period, Iran also began detaining and arresting more citizens with dual nationality. Not only did the regime detain more Iranian-Americans, but also boasted about it and publicly asked for more money to release them. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) pointed out recently: “We should wait and see, the US will offer . . . many billions of dollars to release” (citizens).
As Iran ratcheted up anti-American sentiments, the State Department’s reaction was classic: Ignoring these developments and continuing with appeasement policies.
Iranian leaders became more emboldened and empowered, to the extent that they repeatedly harassed naval ships of the world’s superpower without fearing any repercussions. Regionally speaking, as Tehran became more heavily armed with additional revenues and weaponry, it increased its military interventions in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and intensified its advisory, financial, weapons and intelligence assistance to its Shiite proxies and Bashar Assad, bolstering the “Shiite axis.” Iran also increased its strategic and tactical cooperation with Russia to undermine US interests, strengthening the Russia-China-Iran axis.
At the end of the appeasement period, Iran reached an unprecedented level of breaking international laws, even ignoring the nuclear deal, as it was caught pursuing a “clandestine” path to obtain illicit nuclear technology and equipment from German companies “at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.” Even the German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Iran, but still no action was taken.
With billions of dollars of revenue pouring into the pockets of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the IRGC, Tehran did not become a rational and moderate state. Iran instead became more empowered and emboldened to pursue its revolutionary ideals and military adventurism in the region. None of these appeasement policies changed the political calculations of Iranian leaders. Combined with the Iranian regime’s funding of violent, terrorist extremists, it should be evident that the national security interests of the US and its allies in the region did not improve.
The bottom line is that inaction and appeasement policies only reinforce Iran’s aggressive and destabilizing policies.
- Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh