The USA Today says that despite the Obama administration’s opposition to the congressional sanctions push, that more aggressive approach to the situation will actually help to strengthen the administration’s position in negotiations. “The Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act reminds Tehran that it cannot draw the diplomatic process out forever,” the column says before reminding readers that talks have already missed two previous deadlines and that Iran appears to be working to advance key aspects of its nuclear program at the same time that it is ostensibly negotiating over curtailing them.
The column praises Congress for attempting to bring discipline back to a negotiating process that has provided Iran with various incentives, but few if any consequences for deception or evasion. Although the current status of congressional action falls short of what was expected prior to this week’s Senate Banking Committee hearing, the USA Today points out that the new March timeline for a vote on the sanctions bill will have the positive effect of strengthening the impact of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to the US Congress on March 3.
The Israeli government has been among the strongest voices against the regime in Tehran in the midst of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China. For that reason and because the Jewish state stands to be most directly impacted by Iran’s attainment of nuclear weapons and expanded regional influence, Israel’s contributions to the dialogue have been particularly welcome by the majority of the US Congress, which has long been recognized as having a far more skeptical and critical view of Tehran than the Obama administration has.
Netanyahu’s forthcoming speech illustrates this, as it comes in response to an invitation extended by House Speaker John Boehner. The invitation was not preceded by consultation with President Obama – something that the White House has characterized as a breach of protocol. Many have interpreted this as exacerbating a supposed deterioration in relations between the Israeli government and the US executive. On Friday, the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu recognizes this potential negative impact, but has disregarded it because of the seriousness of the Iran nuclear issue and the extent of Israeli fears that the Obama administration is giving too much away in pursuit of a deal.
“We can resolve procedural issues with regard to my appearance in the US, but if Iran arms itself with nuclear weapons, it will be a lot harder to fix,” the Israeli Prime Minister said. Israeli officials and other hardline opponents of the Iranian regime appear quite certain that Iran’s acquisition of nuclear arms, or at least its retention of the ability to do so, will be the ultimate outcome of negotiations if they continue along their current path.
The Jerusalem Post says that unnamed Israeli officials recently told reporters that they believe Washington “has given the Iranians 80 percent of what they want,” including the ability to keep at least 7,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges operational after the conclusion of the talks. Meanwhile in the United States, Republican Senator Tom Cotton agreed with this sentiment, saying via a Wall Street Journal editorial that the Obama administration’s negotiations have “descended into a dangerous series of unending concessions.”
Cotton also emphasized Iran’s global support for terrorism, highlighting his own experience as a soldier in Iraq, where Iran provided the explosives and directed the militias that were responsible for some of the deadliest attacks on Americans. These issues of terrorism and foreign attacks reportedly contribute to the sense of urgency driving Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospective speech to Congress.
“We are under an ongoing attack organized by Iran,” said Netanyahu, who assumes Tehran to have been behind the Hezbollah attack that killed two Israeli soldiers on Wednesday. The growing tensions between Israel and the Lebanese paramilitary derive from Hezbollah’s apparent efforts to mass in Syria’s Golan Heights, and from Israel’s response in the form of a helicopter strike that killed six members of the terrorist group.
Reports indicate that three Iranian generals were also killed in that attack. Much focus has been given to the death of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Brigadier General Mohammad Allahdadi, who served as a liaison with Hezbollah. But according to FrontPage Mag, the IRGC commander in the Golan Heights and the probable commander of Iranian forces in Lebanon were also killed.
FrontPage Mag says, “The fact that the men were willing to risk exposure by traveling together along the border with Israel indicates how critical the front is for the regime in Tehran.” It adds that this Iranian presence may have also been indicative of pre-existing plans for an attack prior to the Israeli action that became the basis for explicit Iranian threats. The notion that Iran was behind the retaliatory Hezbollah strike is supported by the fact that IRGC head Qassem Suleimani was photographed in Beirut, Lebanon the week before, according to Business Insider.
In any event, FrontPage Mag points out that the Iranian presence in the Golan Heights was very likely part of a larger strategy largely aimed at encircling Israel. Control over Houthi rebels in Yemen and of course the forces operating in both Syria and Iran comprise other aspects of this strategy, which also poses a threat to US interests in the region.
And there is evidence that that strategy may come to extend beyond threats to US interests and into direct threats to actual US security. Indeed, many Iranian figures, particularly representatives of the IRGC, have in recent months made publicly aggressive statements toward the US, claiming to be prepared for war and capable of sinking ships in the Persian Gulf.
According to One News Now, Dore Gold, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States recently said in an interview that Iran will not remain a remote threat for long from a US perspective. “The trend in Iranian planning for long-range missiles that can eventually reach the Eastern Seaboard of the United States — that’s a given now,” he said.
Furthermore, Israeli satellites recently captured images of what appears to be a large intercontinental ballistic missile outside of Tehran, which may already be capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. On the other hand, Iran is known for making unsubstantiated and exaggerated military claims, and some of its prior boasts have involved replicas of US aircraft carriers and drones, each of which were suspected to only be mock-ups when revealed by IRGC forces. The supposed missile may be an example of the same but is in any event indicative of an Iranian goal of intimidation, if not outright attack against the West.
Outright attacks may however come in different forms. It has been widely reported that Iran has dramatically increased its cyber warfare capabilities in recent months. An attack last year against the Las Vegas Sands Corporation shows not only that Iranian hackers may pose a genuine threat to Western cyber security, but also that its attacks will tend to be motivated not only by foreign policy interests but also by radical ideology, according to an Information Week report on “why Iran hacks.”
“As with Iran’s desire to attain nuclear weapons, its history of bad cyber behavior is part of an Iranian strategic effort to establish a hegemon in the Middle East,” the article says. This involves not only taking steps to weaken its Western adversaries’ influence in the area, but also to destabilize the Sunni states with which it is competing for regional power and influence.
The religiously ideological nature of this conflict is widely cited as a reason for skepticism in dealing with Iran, and a reason to resist making concessions or relying on Tehran to negotiate based on rational global interests. A recent report in IranWire pointed out that powerful elements in Iran are virulently opposed to any Western influence on their country whatsoever, and possibly willing to resort to war to prevent it from accruing.
Mohammad Hossein Nejat, the IRGC’s cultural deputy, spoke at a festival of visual arts in Khorammabad and decried promotion of Western lifestyles, calling it the “wrong way” of using art. In addition to justifying the Iranian regime’s domestic crackdown on satellite television and other mechanisms of free expression, the official pointed to North Korea as a role model in fending off Western influence.
“North Korea was able to counteract this invasion [of Western lifestyles] by the art of resistance and war,” he said.