The Biden administration's policy towards the expansionist regime of Iran has been anchored in appeasement policies, including handing over billions of dollars in a seeming effort to bribe Iran's mullahs not to cause even further trouble in the Middle East before the US presidential election on November 5, 2024.
Not surprisingly, billions from the West have enabled the Iranian regime to help plan, finance and support, among other aggressions, the invasion of Israel and genocidal massacre of Jews perpetrated by Hamas on October 7. Western money gifted to Iran is also helping the regime advance its nuclear weapons program to near-completion by "a few weeks or less, after which they can make as many bombs as they like.
The more money the Iranian regime is handed, the more trouble it causes.
The Iranian regime prefers to cause trouble by hiding behind their human-shield proxies such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. This system not only enables the mullahs to claim "plausible deniability;" it also enables others to get killed while the mullahs enjoy kebabs in Tehran.
Thanks to immense largesse from the West -- business from Europe, and massive payouts -- $150 billion from the Obama administration, and an additional $70 billion from Biden -- have enabled Iran's regime to:
- Enrich its uranium to 84%, near the nuclear-bomb level of 90%, and a "few weeks or less" from nuclear capability;
- Fund and help plot Hamas's genocidal October 7th invasion and to try to destroy Israel. Estimates are that Iranian funding of Hamas runs to $70 million-$100 million a year;
- Deliver drones to Russia to help it to destroy Ukraine;
- Launch 78 attacks on US forces in Syria and Iraq since October 17;
- Launch more than 151 attacks on US forces since the Biden presidency, trying to eject the US from the Middle East; meanwhile wounding scores of US service members, at least 20 seriously with traumatic brain injury; and
- Step up its plans eventually to confront the US mainland from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Perhaps the Biden administration might try something else?
Compared to the tens of billion the US delivers to Iran, the US government's annual $3.8 billion investment in Israel -- which invariably inspires extensive howling from some quarters -- is proportionately bus fare.
Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, history has shown that the only policies that have worked against Iran's regime are strong economic and strong military pressure.
Remember when Iran attacked a Kuwaiti tanker in 1987 during the Reagan administration? President Ronald Reagan did not hesitate; he immediately ordered the Operation Nimble Archer, in which the US Navy attacked two Iranian oil platforms. After that, for as long as the Reagan administration was in office, Iran did not attack or harass any other tanker in the Persian Gulf.
In the second operation during the Reagan administration, known as Operation Praying Mantis, the US Navy destroyed half of Iran's entire Navy fleet in eight hours, thereby sending such a strong message to the Iranian regime that Tehran stopped mining the Gulf and decided to put an end to the Iran-Iraq war. According to Robert B. Charles:
"Iran mined the Persian Gulf, which ended up blowing a hole in a US Navy ship, mercifully killing no one. Reagan moved swiftly.
"In Operation Praying Mantis, Reagan dispatched the US Navy to halt Iran's belligerence. The US Navy sank an Iranian frigate, gunboat, three speedboats, and two armed platforms, crippling another frigate and a fighter.
"Message received. Iran stopped mining the Gulf, stopped attacking foreign tankers, decided the time was right to end the Iran-Iraq war. Free Gulf passage resumed. These outcomes are directly attributable to Reagan's life-learned lessons, and pre-thought tactical actions by Reagan and the US Navy."
Targeting Iran's oil refineries and platforms would also send a strong message to the regime: Iran's major revenues come from oil and gas exports. Iran possesses the world's second-largest natural gas reserves and the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves. The sale of oil accounts for nearly 60% of the Iranian government's total revenues and more than 80% of their export revenues.
US Senator Lindsay Graham has suggested targeting Iran's oil refineries:
"What I would do is I would bomb Iran's oil infrastructure. The money financing terrorism comes from Iran. It's time for this terrorist state to pay a price for financing and supporting all this chaos."
Removing even just one oil refinery might also "send a message" and persuade Iran's ruling mullahs to rethink their plans.
Another military deterrent succeeded after the Trump administration killed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, and warned Iran that if it were to avenge Soleimani's death, 52 additional targets had been selected. That was the end of Iran acting up.
Another policy that worked was enforcing sanctions to the fullest extent, instead of looking the other way. When the Trump administration robustly enforced sanctions on Iran and adopted a policy of "maximum pressure," the sanctions did, in fact, impose significant pressure on Iran, and the country's rulers were forced to cut funding to their allies, militias and terror groups.
The Trump administration's enforcement of sanctions caused Iran to cut funds to its proxies in Syria. Seeing the pressure of sanctions on Iran, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iran's Lebanese terror proxy, Hezbollah, called on his group's fundraising arm "to provide the opportunity for jihad with money and also to help with this ongoing battle".
It is high-time for the Biden administration to learn from previous administrations -- inconveniently for them, Republican -- that only economic and military pressure work on rogue and predatory regimes such as Iran. Appeasement, regrettably -- as we have seen most recently from the Houthis, who were removed from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the first weeks of the Biden administration, and are now targeting American assets in the region -- just ignites conflict.
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