ISSN 2330-717X

Iran Hijacks, Abducts And Threatens: The US Prescribes More Diplomacy – OpEd

By

By Baria Alamuddin *

Advertisement

Just minutes after Tehran threatened “punitive action” against Greece for its involvement in the confiscation of a cargo of smuggled Iranian oil, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces seized two Greek tankers in the Arabian Gulf.

These flagrant acts of piracy last week elicited familiarly feeble statements of “concern” and calls for restraint from Western governments, although they fit a predictable template of Iranian behavior. In 2019 a ship smuggling oil to the Assad regime in Syria was seized in Gibraltar. Iran responded belligerently by seizing a British oil tanker, giving rise to humiliating negotiations, after which the Iranian ship was meekly permitted to go on its way.

The ayatollahs’ regime has frequently attacked Gulf shipping and staged drone and missile strikes against regional oil infrastructure and civilian targets. The world lethargically shrugs.

Iran routinely abducts foreigners and dual nationals to be used as lucrative bargaining chips. Until March this year they included Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, held since 2016 on trumped-up charges. Nazanin endured inhuman treatment for the duration of her abduction, and even after her release from detention Revolutionary Guard sadists forced her to sign a ridiculous confession before she could board a flight home to the UK.

Meanwhile, you could be forgiven for wondering what was happening with the proposed revival of the nuclear deal with Iran. Last week US President Joe Biden’s envoy Robert Malley clarified this for us — the answer is, absolutely nothing.

Advertisement

After a year of meandering negotiations in Vienna, Malley declared himself “not particularly optimistic” about any deal. All the while, Iran has been vigorously installing advanced equipment at nuclear sites and enriching uranium to ever-higher levels of purity.

Astonishingly, the US has no Plan B. Malley doggedly insists that “the only option here is the diplomatic one.” Biden’s administration asserted in February that without a deal “within the next few weeks” Iranian nuclear advances would “make it impossible” to return to the 2015 agreement. Yet here we are nearly four months later with diplomacy powered along by the endless momentum of delusional wishful thinking and strategic drift.

Israel has stepped into the vacuum of American strategic failures. Iran’s Defense Ministry reported an “accident” last week at its top-secret Parchin site, apparently due to Israeli suicide drones. Israel was also responsible for the killing — in central Tehran, in broad daylight — of a senior Revolutionary Guard officer responsible for overseas assassinations. Revolutionary Guard leader Hossein Salami pledged retaliation, warning: “None of the enemy’s evil actions will go unanswered.”

The ayatollahs have exploited such Israeli pinprick attacks as a pretext for accelerating their military programs. When nuclear equipment was sabotaged, Tehran spent millions replacing it with faster, more advanced systems, accelerating the trajectory toward nuclear zero hour.

Have American so-called “strategic planners” considered what happens when a nuclearized Iran, armed to the teeth with ballistic missiles, engages in aggressive brinkmanship in the future?  What happens when Iran’s proxies topple a regional government, then it points its nukes at Israel and dares the world to intervene? Or when Tehran invades Bahrain, Azerbaijan or Kuwait? Or when proxies embark on genocidal sectarian cleansing campaigns against Sunnis, Christians and minorities?

A nuclearized Iran would behave exactly as it chooses, acting upon an escalated version of the mafioso playbook it’s already using — abducting, attacking, hijacking, threatening, and subverting regional governance.

If there is no prospect of a nuclear deal, Tehran will act still more belligerently. We should pay close attention to Lebanon and Iraq, where Tehran’s proxies lost elections but refuse to acknowledge defeat. Iraq has gone seven months without progress toward forming a government. This is likely to continue until Iran-backed factions are granted Cabinet seats. We shouldn’t expect Lebanon to play out any differently. Iran-backed factions readily resort to violence to prevent the curbing of their massive political, military and economic power bases.

Malley acknowledged that, in addition to efforts toward nuclear supremacy, Iran was continuing its support for proxy militias, advancing its ballistic program, and attacking Western interests. Yet he claimed that it was “much safer to negotiate” those issues “when we know the nuclear program is under control.”

But where does that leave us if there is negligible prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough? No deal may be better than a bad deal that unfreezes billions in Iranian funds but still does too little to curb Tehran’s drive toward a bomb. However, just as when Donald Trump tore up the 2015 deal, this is only viable if the US possesses a holistic strategy for confronting Iranian malfeasance. The Trump administration didn’t. The Biden administration certainly doesn’t.

Meanwhile, a new avenue for pressuring Iran may be opening up, with Tehran’s oil exports to China falling by nearly a third as Beijing looks to cash in on the Ukraine war with bargain-basement purchases of Russian oil. Iran and Russia, both wracked by sanctions, are discovering that the market for discounted oil from pariah states is limited, and that slashing prices to tempt unprincipled buyers simply reduces profits even more.

The West must set out baseline objectives: Iran will never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon; it will not be allowed to threaten peaceful states with impunity; there must be constraints on Iran’s ballistic program and its ability to distribute missiles to terrorists and militants; it cannot control vast transnational paramilitary armies.

When I confronted Malley about how the world’s greatest superpower was being humiliated by a mediocre basket-case state like Iran, he angrily retorted: “What do you want us to do? Go to war?”

“If that’s what it takes,” I replied. Unless America signals its readiness to use force against theocrats who understand only the language of force, diplomacy has zero prospect of success.

Just as America and its allies impressively awoke to the Ukraine challenge and mobilized a decisive response to Russian aggression, there must also be an urgent worldwide mobilization against the equally far-reaching and multifaceted Iranian threat.

Western strategic paralysis has convinced the ayatollahs that they enjoy absolute impunity for the most egregious violations of international law. America’s disastrously gutless, short-sighted policies are perfectly calibrated to facilitate Iranian nuclear breakout, while reassuring Tehran that it will not be punished when it hijacks ships, abducts foreign nationals and attacks peace-loving states.

Without a decisive change in strategy, we risk witnessing the apocalyptic consequences of appeasing deranged theocrats who genuinely believe there’s nothing they can’t get away with.

• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.