General

More Scrutiny of Iranian Provocations after Iran Moderation Narrative is Undermined

By INU Staff
INU - On Thursday, the Daily Signal published an editorial that once again highlighted the fact that Iranian provocations toward the US have grown notably more frequent and more intense in the wake of last summer’s Iran nuclear deal. Naturally, the impetus for this article was the recent profile of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, which has been seized upon by many opponents of the nuclear agreement to support the notion that it was based on misrepresentations of the Iranian regime and its prospects for near-term reform.

The Daily Signal joined other critics in describing the Obama administration’s Iran policy as “appeasement,” adding that that administration “has somehow missed [the] point” that that strategy does not work. To support this conclusion, the editorial called attention to a number of instances of Iran’s hostile activity actually escalating within the context of the White House’s outreach. These include repeated challenges to US naval forces in the Persian Gulf.

Last week, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened to close off the Strait of Hormuz if Iran felt that the US had issued threats in the region. Subsequently, the Corps’ naval commander, Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi described American presence as an “absolute evil” and claimed that Iranian naval forces would be capable of destroying American warships to enforce a theoretical blockade.

Such claims are not generally taken seriously among military experts, but the provocative remarks reach a wide Iranian audience thanks to the dominance of state media. As Iran News Update previously pointed out, provocative broadcasts by that media network are almost certain to continue, in light of the fact that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei controls the state media narrative and has demonstrated personal commitment to severe criticism of the US over the past several months.

Meanwhile, accounts of previous IRGC and state media boasting are still trickling into the Western media. For instance, the Maritime Executive reported on Wednesday that Rear Admiral Fadavi had backed up his claims about the combat readiness of Iran’s naval forces by asserting that the country had developed missile boats capable of speeds up to 80 knots.

Iranian military officials have made repeated claims to be working on a domestic version of a British-made vessel known as the Bladerunner, which can achieve a maximum speed of 72 knots. But as with a number of Iran’s claimed advancements, there has been no sign of this domestic production actually taking place.

Nevertheless, Fadavi used his interviews with state media to suggest that Iranian forces were capable of drastically outpacing the most advanced navies in the world. “More than 35 knots is a dream for the world naval forces and the US vessels can cruise at a maximum speed of 31 knots,” he said.

The recent revelations about Ben Rhodes indicate that the Obama administration deliberately crafter a narrative about the supposed moderation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in order to justify the nuclear deal. To the credit of that narrative, it is apparently true that Rouhani has comparatively little support among the hardline Revolutionary Guards who are the originators of much of the recent anti-American rhetoric. However, this has not prevented the Rouhani administration from contributing to that rhetoric in its own ways, as when Rouhani himself ordered the dramatic expansion of the Iranian ballistic missile program in response to US sanctions on that program.

Furthermore, as some commentaries on the Ben Rhodes profile have been keen to emphasize, Rouhani’s authority is very much subordinate to that of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and his influence may be short-lived, regardless of how it compares to that of traditional hardliners.

Underscoring this latter issue, Reuters issued a report on Thursday describing a recent speech delivered by Rouhani’s firebrand predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is reportedly being regarded as the latest in a series of indications of his possible return to politics. If that comes to pass and he seeks to reclaim the presidency, he could be expected to enjoy the support of the Revolutionary Guards, and to further contribute to their anti-Western provocations in turn.

Many of those who have responded to the Ben Rhodes profile have suggested that the persistence of Ahmadinejad’s hardline policies is inevitable and that the US should be setting policy with this in mind. The Daily Signal takes it for granted that the Obama administration will not spearhead such a policy, but it advises the US Congress to “hold Iran accountable on nuclear, terrorism, ballistic missile, and human rights issues through oversight hearings and legislation.”

Of course, the majority of Congress has been opposed to the Obama administration’s Iran policy since the beginning of nuclear negotiations, although a Democratic minority has managed to prevent the rest of the legislative body from moving too strongly against it. But the Republican Party and some Democratic allies continue to push back against the White House’s policy in various respects.

On Thursday, Fox News reported that congressional leaders have expressed interest in summoning Rhodes to appear before the House Oversight Committee for questioning about the administration’s narrative on the nuclear deal and Iranian moderation. Some have even indicated the desire to use subpoena power to compel his testimony should he decline to offer it willingly.