Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's deplorable performance before the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 22 was not unexpected. His declaration that Iran would never recognize Israel's right to exist - even if statehood were granted to the Palestinian people - should put to rest the common liberal thesis that if only the Israeli-Palestinian problem were resolved, peace and stability would reign in the Middle East. Nonsense. Aside from the fact that we do not know the outcome of the Arab Spring uprising, that thesis has always been misguided. Further, it should be clear that the Islamic jihadists will always find another cause for promoting their agenda of a world dominated by Islam.
It also should put to rest President Obama's goal of engaging the Iranian theocracy and the illegitimate Mr. Ahmadinejad in resolving outstanding issues and convincing Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program. It should be clear by now that neither economic sanctions nor inducements will cause the fanatical Iranian theocracy to change course. We have to face up to the reality that Iran has been at war with the United States for more than 30 years. Its acts of war have been well documented in many judgments in U.S. federal courts and is beyond debate. Iran's history as the world's leader in state-sponsored terrorism using primarily proxies is also well documented. These acts include the takeover of our embassy in Tehran in November 1979, the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut on Oct. 23, 1983, and the truck bombing of Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996, which killed 19 U.S. military personnel and wounded about 500.
Iran has continued to sponsor multiple acts of terrorism throughout the world and has used the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) Qods Force in providing financing, training and material support - including the supply of improvised explosive devices to insurgents our military have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran's continuous, unchallenged acts of aggression against the United States have cost thousands of American lives, both military and civilian. Never in the course of this great nation's history have we not responded to such flagrant acts of aggression.
We have clear evidence how Iran played a key role in aiding and abetting the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attackers. Three former 9/11 Commission staff members have stated that the evidence is "clear and convincing" that Iran was involved in the attacks. Such evidence makes a mockery of Mr. Ahmadinejad's repeated claim that the United States staged the attacks.
In the Persian Gulf, Iran continues to threaten our naval forces with simulated attacks by IRGC-controlled high-speed patrol craft. It's conditioning our naval forces to allow Iranian naval craft and ships to get dangerously close, which is a clear formula for disaster. There have been a series of "near-misses" in the Gulf.
Calls for establishing a hotline between the U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain and the Iranian Naval Headquarters will not solve the problem. In addition to the headquarters level, the communications need to be between on-scene commanders to avoid an unintended confrontation. As a former commander, I think the rules of engagement (ROEs) need to be changed to prevent any Iranian patrol craft or ship from achieving a close-in attack position.
The latest Iranian challenge is that it just announced that it plans to deploy its naval forces off our coast. They most likely will operate out of Venezuela, where they have established close ties with the leftist anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Iranians also are constructing a missile base in Venezuela. With the fanatical mullahs and their apocalyptic mindset, this base cannot be permitted to become operational.
American officials have stated repeatedly that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Therefore, I believe the military option to destroy their nuclear infrastructure must remain on the table. At the end of the day, our issues with Iran can only be solved by regime change. From the Carter administration to the current Obama administration, we have shown that we lack the political will to take the necessary military action when we have been challenged repeatedly by Iran.
In 1998, when Saddam Hussein continued to ignore U.N. sanctions, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Iraqi Liberation Act, making regime change in Iraq the policy of the United States and approving $100 million for funding Iraqi opposition groups. That formula should be applied to Iran. Iran, like Iraq, has repeatedly ignored U.N. sanctions to halt its nuclear weapons program. Congress should enact and President Obama should sign into law an Iranian Liberation Act, making regime change in Iran U.S. policy. A $100 million fund should be provided to support the Iranian opposition group, thereby reviving the 2009 "Green Revolution." The same formula should be applied to bring about regime change in Syria, Iran's only ally. Such action would be consistent with Mr. Obama's new foreign-policy approach of "leading from behind."
Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.
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