The statement was issued a week after Haley had given a presentation in Washington on the topic of those two strike attempts by the Iran-backed militants, as well as other instances of Iran supplying weapons and logistical support to regional proxies. The presentation showcased equipment that was recovered after the missiles were intercepted, and it represented an apparent extension of the White House’s effort to generate international consensus about the need to confront a growing Iranian threat to the security and stability of the Middle East.
Haley pointedly reiterated that goal in her statement on Thursday, calling the latest missile launch a “flashing red siren” for the UN Security Council. “It is only a matter of time before one of these missiles hits the target,” she said according to UPI. “If we don’t do something, we will miss the opportunity to prevent further violence from Iran.”
Potential for Clashes
While these remarks underscore the persistent threat to America’s regional allies at a time of escalating tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a Fox News report was published on Friday that highlighted the potential danger that Iranian influence poses directly to US interests and American servicemen. The report points to the continued entrenchment of Iran-backed militants in Iraq, organized under the banner of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and it suggests that with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant now effectively defeated, many of those militants will now turn their attention toward driving the US out of the area.
Fox News recalled that CIA Director Mike Pompeo reportedly wrote a letter earlier this month to Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The letter expressed concern about the possibility of attacks on US personnel by Iranian forces and their regional proxies, and it declared that Soleimani and the government of Iran would be held accountable for any such attacks.
Earlier reports have highlighted that in addition to leaving some military stationed in Iraq, the US government has no immediate plans to withdraw 2,000 soldiers from Syria, where they are tasked with helping to prevent the reemergence of ISIL. Some of these reports have identified this situation as a possible flash point for hostilities between Iranian and American forces, especially as Iran activates the overland route that is expected to directly link Tehran to Damascus.
Some Iraqi military personnel have already reported seeing IRGC fighters and members of Iran-backed militias using that route to cross from Iraq into Syria, presumably in order to contribute to Iran’s support of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Fox report on threats to US personnel also called attention to this possible phenomenon, noting that many of the militant groups operating in Iraq have demonstrated willingness to defy Baghdad while advancing the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
One way they have done this is by de-prioritizing their supposed defense of their Iraqi homeland, in order to shift their focus onto Syria, an apparent lynchpin in Iran’s strategy to extend its own national defense into foreign territory. And it is possible that the PMF’s willingness to operate on Iran’s behalf will only grow as that coalition continues to accumulate power within Iranian government and society. The Fox News report indicates that some of its representatives are expected to challenge Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in upcoming Iraqi national elections, after which point them may be in a position to contravene Abadi’s efforts to limit the extent of Iranian influence.
A Public Relations War
Meanwhile, the United States is making concerted efforts to encourage multilateral actions to constrain this Iranian influence, not only in Iraq but throughout the region. Haley’s presentation last week and her statement this week are both indicative of this trend, against which the Iranian regime is recognizably pushing back.
The above-mentioned UPI report indicated that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was planning to file a formal complaint with the UN about the accusations regarding Iran’s missile activities and weapons transfers. At the same time, the IRGC-linked Iranian media outlet Tasnim News Agency published a story praising Iran’s own ambassador to the UN for “lashing out” against the US over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo’s comments on the topic came within an emergency session of the UN General Assembly, which led to a 128-9 vote in favor of a non-binding resolution declaring Trump’s move to be “null and void”. The issue has naturally created tension between the US and much of the world, including longstanding allies such as Saudi Arabia. In this sense, it arguably provides Iran with an opportunity to strike back at the US after the Trump administration has enjoyed some successes in creating a unified front against the Islamic Republic.
In fact, the Washington Examiner published an editorial on Thursday that specifically said “Tehran is using every tool at its disposal to prevent a unified global front from taking shape.” The article called attention, for instance, to threats by the Iranian foreign ministry regarding the possible resumption of nuclear activities in response to emerging US pressures on the Iranian ballistic missile program.
Of course, threats to scrap the 2015 nuclear agreement have already been familiar for a long time, as they relate to the White House’s stance on the agreement itself. Since Trump took office, there has been a considerable risk of the US pulling out of the deal, although Congress declined to trigger the renewal of sanctions within the 60-day review period that started when the president refused to certify Iran’s compliance in October. Iran has repeatedly indicated that it will also cease to abide by the terms of the seven-party agreement if the US pulls out, but it has also suggested it would do the same for lesser reasons, including the imposition of unrelated sanctions.
On Friday, Iran’s Mehr News Agency helped to couch these threats in particularly belligerent terms, quoting one spokesman for the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran as saying that Iran reserves the right to “retaliate” as soon as it detects “signs” that the US is planning to undermine the nuclear deal.
But the belligerent tone of this message may serve to undermine Iran’s efforts to create a one-sided picture of the existing threats to the agreement. In this way, it may also lend credence to Nikki Haley’s speculation that a new resolution might soon emerge from the UN to punish Iran for the continuation of its malign behavior. Fox News reported upon this statement, delivered on Tuesday at a briefing on Security Council Resolution 2231, which coincided with the nuclear agreement and called upon the Islamic Republic to avoid the development and testing of ballistic missiles and other weapons that are capable of carrying a nuclear payload.
The Role of Human Rights
On the same day as that briefing, the UN General Assembly did pass a resolution regarding Iran, this one focused on the country’s well-known record of human rights violations. Sponsored by Canada and passed by a margin of 81-30, the resolution urges Iran to “uphold, in law and in practice procedural guarantees to ensure fair trial standards, including timely access to legal representation of one’s choice from the time of arrest through all stages of trial and all appeals, the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and consideration of bail and other reasonable terms for release from custody pending trial.”
Two days after the passage of that resolution, Iran’s morality policy arrested 230 young men and women for the crime of attending mixed-gender parties, according to Radio Free Europe. Over the past year, hundreds of people have been arrested and summarily sentenced to flogging on this same charge. The persistence of such crackdowns arguably underscores the observation made by the National Council of Resistance of Iran in its reporting on the human rights resolution. The opposition movement noted that Iran rejected that resolution as a “politicized document” and refused to address the concerns named therein, suggesting that it will continue to avoid cooperating with the UN on human rights issues.
As well as providing a humanitarian justification for the unified front that the White House is striving to develop, these human rights issues also highlight another dimension of the Iranian threat to the West. That is to say, Tehran’s human rights abuses occasionally affect Western nationals, including the several who are currently imprisoned and arguably held as hostages in Iranian jails.
On Friday, Reuters reported that Gholamhossein Esmaili, the head of Tehran’s justice department, pointedly refused to confirm any recent Western reporting on the cases of these prisoners. He did, however, confirm that the Iranian-British charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was still facing a second round of charges, which could extend her sentence from give years to more than 20.
Esmaili’s commentary casts doubt upon hopes that the woman’s case might have been nearing a resolution, and it points to the Washington Examiner’s conclusion that human rights abuses and hostage-taking constitute a “different tactic” for the regime to pursue its political goals, namely preventing the development of a unified front against Iranian belligerence and expansionism.