Iran is dedicated not only to the destruction of Israel but also to the elimination of US influence and presence in the greater Middle East. Photo: Iran's Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)
The Republican Study Committee (RSC) in the House of Representatives, proposed on June 10, 2020, an unprecedentedly strong new Iran policy. The package of proposed legislation would end all Iranian waivers, snap-back economic sanctions in place prior to the Iran nuclear deal, and set severe economic penalties on those seeking to sell advanced weaponry to Iran.
The new GOP plan also advocates that Congress impose further new sanctions on "Iran's petrochemical, shipping, financial, construction and automotive sectors." Legislation would also target "Iran's human rights violations and regional aggression, including in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. And it suggests sanctioning the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a European mechanism that the United States has criticized as a way to evade US sanctions on Iran."
It is true since the United States in 2018 ended its support for the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, (known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA)), it adopted a policy of "maximum economic pressure."
The hope was that such a policy would stop Iran from: (1) building nuclear weapons, (2) arming terrorists, (3) fielding ballistic missiles, and (4) expanding illicit business with Europe, Russia, China, Iraq and Venezuela. Illicit business would include both the purchase of advanced military weapons and the export of crude oil and electricity.
While the policy had some important aspects, there were, regrettably, extensive loopholes.
The diplomats at the State Department wanted training funds for Lebanon's military, so a waiver was granted, despite the circumstance that Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, now effectively controls much of the country.
The US Treasury Department, apparently hoping to secure European favor, waived sanctions to allow European nuclear reactor technology cooperative work with Iran.
The US Administration economists, evidently wishing to help Iraq, waived restrictions and gave the green light to Iran to sell $800 million in electricity to Iraq.
Unfortunately, even under existing sanctions, Iran was already expanding its nuclear weapons fuel project -- producing 400% of the allowable material -- supporting Hezbollah with new smuggling technologies, such as miniature submarines that can carry even more drugs more quickly in America's own South American backyard, selling crude oil to Venezuela, and arming and financing proxy terror groups.
Giving Iran waivers would hardly make things better.
If the UN arms embargo on Iran expires in October, the threat from Iran could worsen exponentially as Russia and China could sell Iran some most deadly new military weaponry.
What then are the prospects for the new strategy being adopted by Congress?
As Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon has explained, the Congress may indeed adopt the new strategy through passage of a series of bills. Even some senior Democrats may support the plan. These include Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), Rep. Ted Deutch (D., Fla.), and Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), all of whom had expressed concerns about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and Tehran's regional ambitions. Key to their thinking seems to be that Iran without question regularly cheats on the nuclear deal.
The real problem may not be in Congress but with the waiver enthusiasts within the administration: they may try to derail the new push to universally crackdown on Iran as outlined here, and however inadvertently, again let Iran off the hook for its illegal nuclear work and support for terrorism.
One can understand the brief for diplomacy and a negotiated deal with Iran, but as Israel has shown the world, one does not negotiate deals with Iran and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). They -- along with a number of other countries with which the US seems to wish it could negotiate – simply do not keep up their end of any bargain.
Israel has battled the IRGC in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, while having to bomb secretive Iraqi and Syrian nuclear reactors.
There are lessons here.
Iran is dedicated not only to the destruction of Israel but also to the elimination of US influence and presence in the greater Middle East.
Diplomacy will not stop Iran. Real pressure will.
The RSC policy proposal has learned such lessons and "includes more than 140 new initiatives." According to the RSC Chairman, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), and the Task Force Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the Iran proposals include "the toughest sanctions that have ever been proposed by Congress on Iran."
Given that Iran remains in wholesale violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, continues to support terror groups in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan and is building the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the entirety of the Middle East, one expert who welcomed the House effort told this author that Iran for too long has wriggled free of sanctions. The new strategy closes all the loopholes and augments the administration's maximum pressure campaign, giving the free world a real shot at ending Iran's threats to its interests.
In an unprecedented but welcome manner, the RSC bill would for the first time place "new sanctions on the arms industries of countries like Russia and China that return to selling weapons to Iran, the banks facilitating any sale of weapons to Iran, and the companies shipping weapons."
Finally, under the GOP's new plan, a key provision bars any administration from lifting sanctions without getting approval from Congress, which would help cement this sanctions law remaining in place as long as necessary.
With the new RSC strategy, the US and its allies have a real shot at taking down the regime in Iran. That would indeed signal the success of economic "maximum pressure."
Peter Huessy is Director of Strategic Deterrent Studies at the Mitchell Institute. He is also senior consulting analyst at Ravenna Associates, a strategic communications company.