Iran: The Global Threat

 

By Griffin Judd
Source: Honest Reporting

 

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a global threat, synonymous with terror.  Not without reason did president George Bush Jr. famously label Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil” in 2003 and call it out as the “primary state sponsor of terror” in 2005.

Fourteen years later, Iran has only grown bolder and more troublesome. Once merely a regional threat, Iran’s influence and ambitions and dangers are now international. Tehran’s support for global terror and its nuclear program are Iran’s primary global threats, as explained below.

Support for Global Terror

Even before president Bush called out Iran as a global threat, the Islamic Republic was notorious for its terror activities.

Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the theocracy has used proxy groups and covert government groups to carry out bombings of Israeli targets, as well as Iranian dissidents and defectors. Iranian proxies which engage in terrorism include Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels of Yemen, as well as smaller sleeper cells across Europe, South Asia, and Northern and Latin America. These groups, which are estimated to have up to 200,000 total members, have struck in the past with deadly results.

Hezbollah
he explosion from Hezbollah’s 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing

The Lebanese group Hezbollah originated as a terrorist association, and even as it has transformed into the de facto army of Lebanon, it has maintained its terrorist roots. The group was responsible for the infamous 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, and has expanded its reach to the international level.

  • In Argentina, it has bombed the Israeli embassy and a prominent Jewish community center.
  • In Bulgaria, it bombed a tour bus filled with Israelis.
  • Similar attacks were foiled in Cyprus and Venezuela.
  • Other Hezbollah plots have been uncovered in Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Thailand, as well as throughout South America, Southeast Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Hezbollah also engages in other crimes; drug smuggling and money laundering in Colombia, drug and immigrant trafficking in Mexico, counterfeiting and arms trafficking in the US, and robberies and forging European documents around the world. The profits from all of these operations flow back to Hezbollah in Lebanon, where the money is used to fund its terror and militancy.

The Houthis
Strait of Bab el Mandeb

The Houthi rebels are a Shiite militia currently fighting a civil war against the internationally recognized Yemeni government, assisted by Iran. Their activity has mostly been directed against the Yemeni government, but others have been caught in the crossfire: the terrorist militia has targeted Jews specifically, forcing them out of cities and destroying their homes; even before the direct intervention of Saudi Arabia in the conflict, dozens of Saudi soldiers had been killed by the rebels; and in Houthi-controlled areas there have been accusations of kidnapping, torture, and extortion.

The Houthis have also targeted international parties on multiple occasions, launching several missiles (supplied by Iran) at US and UAE naval vessels off the coast of Yemen. The rebels have also attacked civilian ships such as oil tankers in the Bab el Mandeb Strait, causing huge damage to international commerce. These attacks, as well as a series of missile strikes against Saudi Arabia, which have killed hundreds, has all been facilitated by Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles and other heavy armaments.

The stakes are high: 4.7 million barrels of oil pass through this strait daily. Indirectly through the Houthis, Iran is now a threat to global trade.

Iranian Government

Apart from its proxies, Iran is itself a global terrorist actor through its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC has been known to plant agents in diplomatic missions, who then target rival countries’ diplomats and tourists, as well as prominent Iranian dissidents. The examples are limitless:

In June 2018, an investigation by Dutch intelligence led to the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats based at the Iranian embassy in Amsterdam from the Netherlands. This followed the assassination several months earlier of an Iranian Arab activist who was gunned down in the Dutch capital. In March 2018, Albanian authorities arrested two Iranian operatives on terrorism charges after being caught allegedly surveilling a location where Iranian New Year (Nowruz) celebrations were about to begin. In January 2018, after weeks of surveillance, German authorities raided several homes tied to Iranian operatives who reportedly were collecting information on possible Israeli and Jewish targets in Germany, including the Israeli embassy and a Jewish kindergarten.

All of that activity was in the span of only six months, and only in Europe; Iran’s global threat and history of terrorism goes back further, starting immediately after the Revolution with the assassination of defectors and dissidents, spreading internationally. But terrorism is not the only global threat Iran presents.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

Iran has become notorious on the world stage for its nuclear program, despite its frequent claims of “peaceful purposes.” Following a decade of intense international sanctions, in 2015 Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, UK, USA). Also known as the Iranian nuclear deal, it was theoretically designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons by increasing the oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for sanctions relief.

However, the deal sharply divided the American public and was a subject of major contention during the 2016 presidential campaign. In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement. The other European signatories have attempted to support the deal by evading US sanctions.

Origins
Iran’s Heavy water production plant in Arak. Photo by Nanking2012

Ironically, Iran’s nuclear program began under American auspices in the 1950s through the Atoms for Peace program. It sought to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by making technology for civilian nuclear power available to US allies (including, at the time, Iran).

Iran’s civilian nuclear program expanded until 1979. Following the Revolution, the new Islamic Republic cut ties with the US and many Iranian-born nuclear scientists fled the country. However, in 1984, supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini reached out to international actors for help and secretly restarted Iran’s nuclear program.

With assistance from Russia, China, Pakistan, and Argentina, Iran was able to develop its program until, in 2002, it was revealed by Iranian dissidents that the regime was capable of making a nuclear weapon. Over a decade of negotiations and sanctions followed, characterized by Iranian deception and concealment as it announced compliance in public while continuing to develop in secret.

Then, in 2013, president Barack Obama’s administration began secret negotiations with the Iranian regime which concluded in 2015 with the JCPOA.

The JCPOA

Despite its complexities, the basic terms of the JCPOA centered on four key points:

  1. Before the deal, the amount of time Iran would need — working at maximum capacity — to create enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb (often referred to as “breakout time”) may have been down to weeks. Under the deal, presuming full compliance, Iran’s breakout time was lengthened to 6-8 months, which was thought to defang Iran’s global nuclear threat.
  2. In exchange for relief from crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy, the regime agreed to destroy most of its uranium and not create more weapons-grade material. Iran also agreed to restrict itself to no more than 5,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium, and stop creating weapons-grade plutonium.
  3. Iran agreed to give IAEA inspectors access to nuclear sites to ensure compliance.
  4. If Iran is confirmed to be violating the deal, any other party can file a complaint which if not resolved results in the snapback of all international sanctions which the deal lifted.

The parties to the deal are Iran on one side and the P5+1 on the other, and the deal was enshrined in international law by the unanimous vote of the UN Security Council on Resolution 2231. However, the JCPOA was never ratified by the US Senate or confirmed by an executive order. As a result, the JCPOA has no binding status in US law.

President Trump announcing the U.S.’s withdrawal from the JCPOA

The deal was heavily criticized for several reasons, primarily:

  1. The many restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would expire after 10-15 years (the sunset provisions). Tehran would then be free develop a nuclear weapon unimpeded by sanctions or limits, raising Iran’s global threat after the deal’s expiration.
  2. The IAEA’s ability to inspect Iranian nuclear sites was restricted to the point where, according to critics, Iran could still secretly develop a weapon while appearing to be compliant.
  3. The deal does nothing to address Iran’s support for global terror, interference in Middle East countries, human rights abuses, or its ballistic missile program. President Trump invoked this last point when he withdrew the US from the deal in May of 2018.

In hopes of getting a better deal addressing those issues, as well as following a report by Israel showing that Iran had continued to develop nuclear weapons after 2003 (contrary to its statements at the time), President Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions. America’s allies in the Mideast concerned about Iran’s global threat applauded this move, but in the US it remains a partisan issue.

This withdrawal, combined with Iran’s reaction, is what has created the tense situation in the Persian Gulf today.

Iran’s Global Threat: Ballistic Missiles
Created by CSIS Missile Defense Program

Iran’s development of ballistic missiles goes back to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, when Tehran launched more than 600 into Iraq. Since the end of that conflict, the regime’s arsenal has grown immensely both in size and diversity; Iran now has missiles capable of hitting the entire Middle East and parts of Europe.

Although Iran has denied it, the general consensus is that “Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East. Iran’s… desire to deter the United States and its allies… provides Tehran with the means and motivation to develop longer-range missiles, including ICBMs.”

Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolutions 1929 and 2231, Iran is explicitly forbidden from testing or developing ballistic missiles. However, this has not stopped it from steadily expanding the size and range of its missiles, with assistance from countries like North Korea and China. During the recent escalation between the Iran and the US and its allies, Tehran has tested missiles which are considered prime candidates for carrying nuclear weapons.

Iran claims that its missile program is defensive but the evidence belies that. In 2016, Iran fired two missiles with a range of over 2,000 km. Although the Iranians painted the words “Israel must be destroyed” on the side of the rockets, those missiles were also capable of reaching Europe and US military bases in the Mideast, increasing Iran’s global threat of escalation in any crisis.

Why You Should Care

This litany of Iranian threats to global peace and stability is enormous, and has not even mentioned, except in passing, two huge issues: the threat Iran poses to Israel and the regime’s many human rights abuses against its own people (these will be addressed on another occasion).

But even without these, it is clear that Iran is a global problem. Iran exports terror and destruction around the world, with proxies that undermine, intimidate and attack opponents. It oppresses its own people, crushing dissent while taking millions of dollars meant to help their future and instead throwing it away on foreign terror groups. The regime seeks to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them not only to their enemies in the region, but around the world. Is it any wonder Iran is considered a global threat?

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