Iran-backed militias recently launched approximately eighteen Katyusha rockets into Camp Taji, Iraq, killing two American soldiers and one British soldier. Pictured: US soldiers supervise a training session at the Camp Taji, Iraq on March 6, 2017. (Photo by Sabah Arar/AFP via Getty Images)
While the US administration is expanding its maximum pressure policy on Iran, some people, such as US Senator Bernie Sanders, are calling for immediate relief for the Iranian regime. "As a caring nation," Sanders recently posted on Twitter, "we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran's ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions."
Lifting sanctions on the aggressive regime of Iran would be an extremely wrong move.
What politicians such Sanders seem not to recognize is that the Islamic Republic prioritizes its military adventurism over its nation's health crisis. In other words, Iran's regime will almost certainly use the extra revenues to arm its militias across the region that attack the US and its allies' forces, as it has a pattern of doing in the past.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, for example, Iran-backed militias have been ratcheting up their rockets attacks in Iraq. A rocket attack killed several members of the US-led Coalition at Iraq's Camp Taji on March 11. Approximately eighteen 107mm Katyusha rockets slammed into Camp Taji, killing two American soldiers and one British soldier in recent weeks.
In Syria, the Iranian regime has recently ratcheted up its efforts to recruit young Shia fighters. Iranian forces and its militia in Syria such as "Saraya Al-Areen" have recently recruited around 9,000 young fighters from Shia communities in Sayda, Da'el, and Izraa, and have sent them for military training, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). Mass recruitment can also be witnessed in the north-east around the Euphrates River in the north-east and near Deir Ez-Zor province.
Iran is also exploiting the economic crisis by offering financial incentives to the fighters. "Those young people hurry to join the ranks of Iranian-backed militias because of the deteriorating living conditions and lack of job opportunities" according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).
Iran's modus operandi appears to be anchored in exploiting instability and crises in order to gain more influence in other countries and further the regime's anti-American and antisemitic policies. In addition, Hezbollah has been assisting Iran in recruiting more militants. As the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) added:
"While in Al-Quneitra, near the border with the Occupied Golan, the Lebanese Hezbollah continues entrenching their presence by attracting young people who have defaulted the reserve and mandatory service and fled regime security pursuit. Those young people hurry to join the ranks of Iranian-backed militias because of the deteriorating living conditions and lack of job opportunities. Conversions to Shiite and recruitment operations in Al-Quneitra province are concentrated in Al-Baath city and Khan Arnabah."
A new Shia militia group was also recently established in Iraq. It calls itself the Islamic resistance of Usbat al-Thayireen, or League of Revolutionaries. These Iraqi Shia militias are mainly sponsored and armed by the Iranian regime. In a recent video, a masked man holding a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle warns that the attacks on Taji and Basmaya military camps were only the beginning of a much larger offensive. In another statement, the group declares its plan:
"The Islamic resistance of Usbat al-Thayireen vows to strike the occupation forces' bases and [US] embassy in the coming days and will continue striking the occupation until it exits the country, and the matter will be taken further if the occupier does not leave. We say to the hypocrites who are collaborators at the evil embassy: Your days are numbered and you will face your fate very soon."
In another video the Shia militia group announces its anti-American mission as a "martyrdom project whose mission is striking the American occupation forces, striking its bases, striking the occupations' embassy and avenging the martyred leaders and their companions." In a direct address to US President Donald Trump and the friends of the two U.S. personnel who were killed alongside a U.K. service member by Katyusha rocket fire at Camp Taji, the group ordered them "to leave vertically before we force them to leave horizontally." The Shia militia group has also threatened Israel by warning of its "victorious, blooming, prideful and dignified arsenal which has far longer-range weapons that can kill you in the land of your spoiled child, Israel."
The idea that the ruling mullahs of Iran and the top state sponsor of terrorism will use the extra revenues from the of sanctions for humanitarian purposes is totally irrational. Easing sanctions will enable, embolden and empower the Iranian regime to damage the US and its allies' national security interests still further and kill more Americans. The US President's Iran policy of maximum pressure, which should probably be even more maximum, is headed in the right direction.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a business strategist and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US foreign policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu