Concurrent Efforts to Confront Iran Over Regional, Domestic Behavior

Among those who have previously criticized Iran’s behavior at home and abroad, many appear to be responding to the new circumstances by urging the international community to push back against Tehran and compel it to halt some of its recent abuses.

Many of the same critics have expressed doubt over the past few months about whether the US and its allies will demonstrate the political will to take action in response to surges of bad behavior from the Islamic Republic.

These concerns have been credited with leading the Gulf Arab states to take more unilateral action in absence of US leadership, and to coordinate with one another. This trend was particularly visible in Arab intervention in Yemen, where Iran is backing Houthi rebels that currently hold the capital and are advancing on the crucial port city of Aden.

Now there are growing signs that Saudi Arabia and its regional allies may be looking to enlist some manner of foreign assistance from entities other than the US for their policy of open confrontation with Iran. This phenomenon was on display on Tuesday at the fourth summit of Arab and South American countries. Presiding over the event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman expressed the view that expanded cooperation among the nearly three dozen participants would help to further isolate Iran on the global stage.

The summit takes place every three years, and the latest gathering included the 22 members of the Arab League and 12 Latin American states. Delegates used the occasion to speak about Iran’s projection of power across the Middle East. Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa cited joint Arab action as the appropriate response to intrusions into places like Bahrain, according to NYSE Post. But the context of such statements suggests a more global strategy.

Iran has previously been recognized as having a global strategy for expanding its own power, especially in the 1980s and 90s when several Hezbollah terrorist attacks took place in South America. Many believe that the desire for a foothold in the Western hemisphere never diminished among the Iranian leadership, and the Arab-Latin American summit may present an opportunity to counterbalance Iran’s efforts to achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and its partners have evidently not given up on the prospect of assertive international policies with respect to Iran’s activities in the Middle East. To this end, Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Saudis had presented a draft resolution to the United Nations General Assembly urging it to condemn Iran’s and Russia’s actions in Syria. The document was co-sponsored by other Arab nations as well as by Western powers including the US, Britain, and France.

But critics of the Obama administration have expressed doubts about the current US government’s willingness to act in line with this condemnation, especially following its consent to allow Iran to participate in international discussions regarding a possible political solution to the Syrian crisis. International unity in condemning Iran’s activities may provide the US and others with more diplomatic cover for taking a more aggressive stance in response to Iran’s stated refusal to cooperate on such a solution.

However, while Obama’s critics await such developments in the UN, many are attempting to make the case for why serious opposition to Iran’s influence is necessary no matter what. For instance, a Business Insider editorial on Wednesday explained that Iran’s and Russia’s strategy in the Syrian Civil War is to effectively destroy moderate rebel groups including those that are backed by the US, thus turning the war into a bilateral conflict between the Assad government and the Islamic State.

This assessment of the situation is supported by the fact that 80 to 90 percent of Russian air strikes in Syria have been directed against rebel groups other than the Islamic State. Meanwhile, Iran has used international conferences to declare that it will not entertain the possibility of Assad relinquishing power. It is assumed that if the war was reduced to a conflict between the Syrian government and IS, the Western powers would back to former, thus giving in to Iran’s position.

At the same time that such reports speak to the strategic urgency of dislodging Iranian influence over Syria and over Russia’s participation in the fight, other recent statements have urged the West to return to a more aggressive stance against Iran largely as a matter of principle. For instance, Republican Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz used a subcommittee hearing last week to raise the issue of Iran’s past responsibility for the deaths of US servicemen, according to Christian Today.

Cruz stands alongside virtually the entirety of his party in opposing President Obama’s Iran strategy, including last July’s nuclear agreement. He notes that according to the US Central Command, at least 196 American soldiers were killed and another 861 wounded by Iranian-made weapons or Iranian operations during the US occupation of Iraq. Such statistics are often used to reiterate that Iran is a committed enemy of the US, and thus to suggest that long-term American security is damaged by any outreached that might enable more of Iran’s past behavior. Republicans and their allies have aggressively argued that much of Iran’s sanctions relief under the nuclear deal will be channeled into expansion of support for terrorism.

Others have focused on the ways in which permissive policies toward Iran betray Western values by allegedly ignoring human rights abuses that appear to be growing worse in the wake of the nuclear deal. For example, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed repeatedly called attention to a surge of Iranian executions, in turn calling on the UN and the Western powers to give due attention to this issue.

On Wednesday, Shaheed joined David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in condemning Iran’s aggressive arrests and prosecutions of journalists. The Tower pointed out that their statement linked the suppression of free speech to its effect on the equally basic Western value of democracy. “Public participation in any electoral process is virtually impossible if the media and civil society are so frequently affected by arrests and prosecution,” it said.

Still other critics of lax Western policies have emphasized that the evasion of democracy is Iran’s clear purpose in all this. Supporters of the Iranian resistance observe that this explains why Tehran has even more aggressively attacked those who specifically advocate for transformation of the country into a modern democracy. Such advocates include the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which has numerous advocates in Western governments, who have naturally been vocal about the mismatch of recent Western policies and Iranian abuses.

Ileana Ros-Lehtimen, the chair of the US’s House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, recently criticized both the US and Iraq for their failure to protect the PMOI refugee community of Camp Liberty, or to respond to recent Iran-sponsored attacks. With Camp Liberty as the focus, Ros-Lehtimen urged confrontation of a destructive Iranian influence in Iraq and the broader Middle East, of the sort also requested by the Gulf Arab states.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported upon the congresswoman’s remarks on Wednesday and also pointed in out in a separate report that Camp Liberty remains under pressure from an Iran-allied Iraqi government two weeks after a rocket attack killed 24 residents. Baghdad has reportedly blockaded the community against shipments of fuel, emergency generator supplies, and materials needed to repair trailers and structures damaged by 80 rockets in the October 29 attack.

European supporters of the PMOI and general opponents of the Iranian regime will be urging a more confrontational approach to that regime in the coming week when they stage protests against Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s scheduled visit to Paris on Saturday and Sunday.