The Islamic Republic of Iran is a criminal enterprise. The button men for ayatollahs are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC), the Quds Force, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi mountain bandits in Yemen. Venezuela, Iran's ally, has made clear its intention to buy Iranian missiles that can reach American cities. Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (left) greets Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Tehran on January 10, 2015. (Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)
"Iran has to take a decision whether it wants to be a nation or a cause," Henry Kissinger, former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, told The Washington Post in 2006. He was referring to the tension between Iran's national interests and the religious ideology that took over the country after Iran's 1979 revolution.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, however, is neither a nation nor a cause: it is a criminal enterprise. The button men for ayatollahs are the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC), the Quds Force, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi mountain bandits in Yemen.
Like the Salvadoran MS-13 and Mexican Sinaloa cartel, Iran specializes in regional aggression and "death to America" — and has used specially made improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to kill more than 600 American soldiers serving in the Middle East. But killing is not Iran's only criminal activity. The Tehran thugs are the ones who make the deals with drug dealers, cigarette smugglers and human traffickers in the Middle East and in the Western hemisphere.
To rein in the mullahs' criminality, the US had implemented tough economic sanctions on Iran. On January 3, 2020, the US also took out Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC who had ordered the killing of more than 600 Americans. While the death of Soleimani was welcome news, it did not end Iran's criminal empire any more than did the imprisonment of the head of the powerful Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel. The cartel remains in business today, smuggling tons of drugs into America.
If the US wants to stop the Iranians from killing, it must use every economic and diplomatic tool to crush the cash pipeline that sustains Iran's criminal enterprise. Even though current sanctions have cut Iranian support for its terrorist allies, more needs to be done -- such as ending Iran's practice of paying the Taliban a bounty to kill Americans.
The resolution of two major debates at the UN could also help, but only if decisions are made to reimpose sanctions and an arms embargo on Iran. The first debate was caused by the US desire to renew the UN arms embargo on Iran that automatically expires October 1, 2020. The second was caused by the US seeking to "snap back" the UN sanctions against Iran that were lifted as part of the 2015 "nuclear deal" with Iran -- and resulting in another substantial negative impact on Iran's cash pipeline.
Even though Secretary of State Pompeo had "every expectation that every country in the world will live up to its obligations, including every member of the P5," he may also have been right to fear that it is may be too much to ask the members of the UN to take seriously "the international commitments to which they have signed up for" and extend the arms embargo.
Some analysts argue that the UN members are not obligated to do anything. They say when the US pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). which is what the "nuclear deal" is called, the US supposedly lost the legal standing to snap back sanctions or extend the embargo.
Those critics are wrong. Even if the US relies solely on the UN's authority, UN Security Council Resolution 2231 gives the US the right, as an original participant of the JCPOA, to invoke the snapback of sanctions that would, of course, include maintaining the arms embargo. Senator Ted Cruz explains:
"When the Iran nuclear deal was being negotiated, Congress demanded that, as a final failsafe, the Obama administration had to ensure that the United States could, at any time, unilaterally determine that Iran had violated the deal and force a restoration of the six previous resolutions and their sanctions, including the arms embargo. Indeed, this so-called 'snapback mechanism' was incorporated into UN Security Council Resolution 2231 (UNSCR)."
The initial supporters of the JCPOA, which incidentally, Iran never signed, promised that Iran would stop seeking nuclear weapons and assured the world that Iran's criminal activities and terrorism would certainly moderate. However, as Cruz reminded Americans recently, precisely the opposite took place:
"The Iranian regime is brutal, oppressive and tyrannical. It finances and exports terror, and openly threatens all-out war while seeking weapons that could incinerate American cities with a single flash of light. When the ayatollah says 'death to America' and 'death to Israel,' he means it."
As importantly, Tehran has never adhered to a key term of the JCPOA that requires Iran to come clean about its past nuclear weapons activity. Even the UN's International Atomic Energy Administration, (IAEA), charged with monitoring the JCPOA, concluded that Iran has not been in compliance with that requirement.
In addition, the ability to buy advanced weapons means that Iran will better arm its terror proxies. Those will certainly include the Houthis in Yemen, whose actions, as the US State Department explains, have "led to years of prolonged regional armed conflict and suffering," and caused what many term the greatest humanitarian disaster in the world today. Venezuela, Iran's ally, has also made clear its intention to buy Iranian missiles that can reach American cities.
Unfortunately, the UN decided last week not to extend the arms embargo, after Russia and China threatened to veto a US resolution. That vote prompted the US representative to the UN, Ambassador Kelly Craft, to declare:
"The United States stands sickened — but not surprised — as the clear majority of council members gave the green light to Iran to buy and sell all manner of conventional weapons."
As a result, President Trump on his own authority has ordered a snapback of all sanctions on Iran, and has asked his UN Ambassador to inform the UN Security Council of the decision.
As for Iran, desperate for cash and weapons and pummeled by US-led sanctions, the mullahs are contemplating signing on as a partner of the Communist Party of China (CCP). In return for sending China cheap oil and giving the CCP military bases in the region, Iran will get billions in cash.
The wedding of two criminal enterprises -- China as the Godfather and Iran as the "made man" -- was not a surprise. To see America's European allies unwilling to support the embargo or sanctions and signing up as wedding guests? That was a surprise.
It is not as if China's criminal track record is not well known. The CCP deliberately let the Covid-19 virus spread around the world. It has directed the theft of trillions worth of intellectual property from the United States and Europe. It has hollowed out some eight million US manufacturing jobs, and it is illegally sending tons of the opioid fentanyl across US borders in partnership with the Mexican drug cartels.
The US, therefore, has no choice. The US must cut off the money and weapons openly dedicated to "Death to America." That, the mullahs will understand.
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.