By Majid Rafizadeh
April 5, 2019
The leaders of Iran remain defiant as they insist on pursuing the regime’s dark hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Based on policies, operations and recent comments by the senior cadre of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, there is no indication the Islamic Republic is willing to alter its revolutionary ideals and military adventurism in the region, or its hard-line domestic and foreign policy objectives.
The Iranian regime continues to ratchet up its interventions in several countries in the region, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The heightened interventions are carried out through various strategies, ranging from dispatching troops to illicitly transferring arms and missiles to militias, shipping advanced weaponry to its proxies — such as Hezbollah and the Houthis — that can turn unguided rockets into precision-guided missiles, and influencing elections through corruption and the use of money.
Some politicians and policy analysts may recommend appeasing Tehran in order to confront it. But any informed approach that aims to counter Iran’s regional ambitions ought not to be anchored in pursuing appeasement policies toward the ruling mullahs.
The latest developments buttress the argument that the appeasement of a fundamentalist and revolutionary regime is totally counterproductive. A prominent example is the case of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was reached almost four years ago. The world powers made significant concessions, such as lifting four rounds of UN economic sanctions on Iran, removing several individuals and organizations from the US sanctions list, increasing trade and business dealings with the Iranian government, and granting Tehran global legitimacy.
As the international community has witnessed, since these economic and political concessions were made, the Iranian leaders have been empowered and emboldened to further pursue their fundamentalist revolutionary principles.
One of the most effective strategies for confronting Iran’s ambitions at these critical times is to put pressure on several sectors within the theocratic establishment. First of all, economic sanctions must be precise and targeted. In other words, the financial venues through which funds flow into the Islamic Republic’s treasury must be disrupted. This includes squeezing the regime’s main revenue from oil exports, as well as detecting the front and shell companies Iran uses to carry out its illicit financial activities.
When the flow of money to the Iranian regime is interrupted, Tehran will have a difficult time funding its militia and terror groups in the region. Iran is hemorrhaging billions of dollars on its proxies. The IRGC and its elite branch, the Quds Force, will have to bear a significant part of this negative economic impact. In fact, the renewed US sanctions on Iran have already forced the country’s leaders to cut funding to some Syrian militia groups.
It is also important to point out that, when the regime’s economy is fragile and on the verge of collapsing, the Iranian people will be empowered to rise up against the theocratic establishment. As the world has witnessed, since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement and reimposed sanctions that were waived under the JCPOA, widespread protests and demonstrations have increased.
But Tehran will not feel the full effects of economic pressures as long as the US is acting by itself. That will not happen until other world powers, particularly the European countries, join Washington. The ruling mullahs would also be significantly pressured if a coalition of regional powers cut some of their major economic ties with Tehran. This would negatively affect Tehran’s legitimacy and put pressure on the European powers to halt their business dealings with Iran.
The second approach is to target individuals and institutions that are engaged in supporting terror groups, advancing Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and committing crimes against humanity abroad. Iran has been increasingly engaged in assassinations and bomb plots on foreign soil. Governments can utilize the International Criminal Court, the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations to hold the Iranian regime responsible and accountable. Additionally, the international community needs to draw more attention to human rights abuses in Iran.
Third is limiting or cutting diplomatic relationships with the Iranian regime. Tehran not only gains critical legitimacy by maintain diplomatic ties with world powers, but also the regime has been shown to use its embassies and consulates in foreign nations as an extended wing of the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence in order to carry out espionage or acts of terror.
Finally, if the world’s leaders desire to counter Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the region, they ought to express their support for the Iranian people and their resistance against the ruling mullahs.