The Answer to Iranian Aggression? Appeasement
Two of the United States’ vital interests in the Middle East are ensuring the security of oil supplies and the survival of Israel. The Europeans also have two vital interests — ensuring the security of oil supplies and expanding trade. Iran is now threatening all those interests, but rather than responding forcefully, there is a rush to appeasement.
Some Trump critics insist Iran’s misbehavior is his fault for pulling out of the nuclear deal (JCPOA). This is preposterous because it ignores Iran’s malevolent actions prior to Trump’s decision. Furthermore, rather than hold Iran accountable for those actions, they would like to reward the Iranians by offering them sanctions relief for the privilege of entering new talks and thereby undercut Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, which, to their surprise and consternation, is strangling Iran’s economy.
To try to escape the collapse, Iran wants to demonstrate that it can damage our economy as well. Hence, the attacks on oil tankers and now the Saudi oil facilities. The idea that these attacks should be ignored because no Americans were physically harmed overlooks the fact that Iran is targeting our vital interests. The unwillingness to make Iran pay a price reinforces the Iranian belief in the weakness of Judeo-Christian societies compared to the strength of the convictions of their Islamic Republic.
Trump’s “locked and loaded” comment followed by inaction was reminiscent of Obama’s red line in Syria. He is being applauded by critics who see war with Iran as the inevitable result of any military response. Similar fears were exaggerated to justify Obama’s unwillingness to credibly threaten Iran, which allowed the Iranians to negotiate a deal that only delayed their nuclear program, gave them a financial bonanza, and required no change in their behavior.
The feckless Europeans see US sanctions harming their vital interests because these efforts have prevented the trade windfall they expected from the nuclear deal. The attack on Saudi facilities also underlined their belief that Trump’s actions are threatening their oil supplies. That is why, even after verifying Iran’s responsibility (which Trump critics questioned), they have refrained from acting.
The Europeans’ financial interests have also led them to ignore Iranian violations of the nuclear agreement. We now know Iran has been cheating from day one, but IAEA reports claiming their compliance gave the Europeans an excuse to pursue commercial opportunities. The Iranians have openly breached the agreement in recent weeks, and yet the Europeans are still unwilling to act. Boris Johnson finally broke with the appeasers in Paris and Berlin this week and insisted that a new deal be negotiated (UK officials later backtracked and said the prime minister supports the JCPOA).
One of Obama’s selling points for the agreement was that violations would result in “snapback sanctions.” Rather than call for the Europeans to follow through, apologists, including several presidential candidates, prefer to blame Trump and insist on returning to the deal. They refuse to acknowledge that in addition to ignoring Iran’s sponsorship of terror, destabilizing actions in the region, and development of ballistic missiles, the deal did not do what it was intended to do — block Iran’s path to a bomb. For example, it took hours, not months or years, for Iran to ramp up its enrichment of certain kinds of uranium.
Iran is also threatening America’s interest in Israel’s survival. Unlike Saudi Arabia, however, Israel can defend itself — and, distinct from the United States and Europe, has been unafraid to use military force in response to Iranian provocations. Israel’s actions risk escalation that would target their home front, whereas Americans and Europeans live far from a potential war zone. Israel’s leaders have accepted the risk because they understand that weakness is exploited in the Middle East.
Speaking of powerlessness, the attack on Saudi Arabia was a vivid reminder of the folly of the United States arming the Saudis. Despite selling them more than $100 billion worth of some of our most sophisticated weapons, the Saudis cannot defend themselves against the Houthis in Yemen, let alone the Iranians. I remember when the Reagan administration justified the sale of AWACS radar planes by saying they would help the Saudis defend themselves against the Soviet Union.
The vulnerability of the Saudis highlighted their dependence on our military to keep their royal heads on their shoulders. The uselessness of their US-supplied weapons proved that the real reason for selling them is economic and political. The sales boost profits for our defense industry, reduce the cost of weapons for the Pentagon, bolster the economy, and help presidents create jobs in states where they need electoral votes.
Trump has already shown an aversion to using force and, other than the one missile strike on Syria, has only perpetuated the image of American impotence that began under Obama. The Iranians would not dare test us if they believed we would strike back. That is why a strong response to the attack on our ally and interests is needed. A proportional response might be to hit their oil facilities. No troops would be needed, for example, to destroy Kharg Island, from which Iran exports 90 percent of its oil and gas. The Iranians saw what happened to Iraq so, despite their bluster, they do not want a war that would result in their regime being destroyed.
Only when the Iranians are convinced we are prepared to use force when our interests are threatened will it make sense to enter negotiations. Trump or any successor must be in a position of strength to force the Iranians to accept a deal that verifiably blocks their path to a nuclear weapon, and requires them to stop their sponsorship of terrorism, missile development, and threats to their neighbors. Such a deal, ratified by Congress, would, unlike the JCPOA, serve the national interest.
Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and Jewish Virtual Library.