By Amb. Adam Ereli (Former deputy State Department spokesman)
The Hill | November 14, 2017
On Oct. 13, President Trump outlined a global strategy to defeat Iran that focused not only on its nuclear program, but committed the United States to aggressively counter Iran’s destabilizing regional activity, funding of terror and ballistic missile program. The president also spoke compellingly about the suffering of the Iranian people at the hands of a brutal clerical regime. The President’s speech marked the first time since the 1979 Iranian Revolution that the United States has adopted a comprehensive approach to combating malign Iranian influence.
America’s challenge now is to translate the President’s statement of policy into concrete and effective action. Iran is waging a hybrid war that is both conventional and unconventional. It combines tactical flexibility with strategic consistency and includes cyber-attacks, political assassination and subversion, bribery and corruption, terrorism and proxy warfare.
If Trump’s policy is to be successful, the United States must wage a comprehensive, coordinated and sustained campaign on multiple fronts. There are unilateral actions that we can and are taking, such as sanctions, but while necessary, they alone are sufficient. Isolating the regime politically, confronting it militarily, supporting and empowering the Iranian people and bringing European powers on board are strategic objectives that should be pursued simultaneously and in an integrated fashion.
The building blocks of this campaign have begun to take shape. On Sept. 14, the Treasury Department designated 11 entities and individuals for engaging in activities in support of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) ballistic missile program and Iran-based networks responsible for malicious cyber-enabled attacks against the U.S. financial system. On Oct. 25, The House of Representatives approved legislation authorizing sanctions against Iranian and foreign companies, banks and individuals that support the Iranian regime’s illicit weapons programs. Congress is also working on fixes to the nuclear agreement with Iran (JCPOA) that will eliminate its troublesome sunset clauses and fill gaps in the weapons inspection regime.
More can and should be done. Europe is an important facilitator for Iran’s weapons programs and a source for business deals that put money in the pockets of the mullahs ruling the country. This funding and technological pipeline has to be shut down, but it won’t be easy. Iran’s economy is virtually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the IRGC, which controls a network of enterprises that produces nearly half of Iran’s GDP and funnels billions of dollars annually to Hezbollah and other proxy militias in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. (In a Feb. 15, 2010 report, The Guardian noted that the IRGC “has grown into a behemoth which dominates both Iran’s official and black economies. It is impossible to gauge its market share, but western estimates range from a third to nearly two-thirds of Iran’s GDP.”)
Neither the U.S. nor its allies should lose sight of the central role that the Iranian people play in determining the future of their nation. Missing from a global campaign to defeat Iran is a plan to weaken the hardliners and to empower the people of Iran. To the president’s credit, his recent speeches have referred to Iran’s people and their hatred of the government ruling over them. There are organized pro-democracy movements in Iran and among the Iranian expatriate community working to establish a pro-Western, democratic system. They are speaking out and Iran’s rulers fear their power.
Iran is ruled by a regime that is at war with its own people. It has the world’s highest per capita rate of capital punishment. Over a period of four months in 1988, officials of the Iranian government – many of whom are still in power – ordered and oversaw the summary executions of an estimated 30,000 political prisoners, as documented by Amnesty International and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. In August 2016, the son of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri released an audio recording from a meeting in 1988 in which his father, then Iran’s Deputy Supreme Leader, told a group of senior judicial and intelligence officials responsible for the massacre: “In my opinion, the greatest crime committed during the Islamic Republic, for which history will condemn us, has been committed by you,” he said.
Today, Iranian activists who call for an investigation and accountability for the massacre continue to be imprisoned and their families persecuted. It is imperative that we listen to the voices of these victims and support their quest for justice.
Adam Ereli (@Erelija) served as the U.S. ambassador to Bahrain and as deputy State Department spokesman under President George W. Bush.