- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

While a key Republican on foreign policy says Iran about to hit the “jackpot” of sanctions relief, a former top Obama administration counterterrorism official argues that Iran can be trusted to not use money for expanding its military proxy and terrorist-support operations in the Middle East, asserting that Tehran makes “rational calculations about advancing its interests.”

“The hypothesis that Tehran will use large sums derived from sanctions relief to support terror and subversion appears flawed,” said former State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Daniel Benjamin on Wednesday — pushing back against Republican lawmakers, who claim there is no question Iran will use the money to ramp up pro-Shiite Islamic terrorism activities.

Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican, said the Obama administration has “gambled” that the nuclear deal it reached with the Islamic Republic last summer would “lead to a responsible Iran.”

“Instead,” said Mr. Royce, the Iranian “regime is working harder than ever to export violence and terror to Syria, Yemen and beyond.”

Iran’s backing of Syria’s Assad regime has fed the rise of ISIS,” said Mr. Royce, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“Soon, sanctions will be lifted and the Iranian regime will hit a jackpot in the tens of billions. This money isn’t going to ordinary Iranians — it will be used to strengthen Iran’s murderous Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

Mr. Royce made the assertion at the start of a committee hearing Wednesday to examine the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Mr. Benjamin and other regional experts, including Scott Modell of the Washington consulting firm the Rapidan Group, and Ali Alfoneh of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, testified at the hearing.

Mr. Modell and Mr. Alfoneh appeared to agree with Mr. Royce.

Iran’s regional goals remain inimical to U.S. national interests and the security of U.S. allies,” according to Mr. Alfoneh, who said the nuclear deal, the emergence of seemingly moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the rise of the Islamic State — a Sunni Muslim extremist group and potentially common enemy of the U.S. and Iran — have created false hope in the West that a new strategic alliance may be afoot between Washington and Tehran.

The problem, he said, is that Mr. Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “command little influence over the Islamic Republic’s regional policies.”

“The IRGC owns this portfolio, and beyond a fleeting tactical convergence of interests, the Revolutionary Guards and Washington do not have aligning strategic goals,” Mr. Alfoneh said in prepared testimony. “Washington wants to resolve conflicts in the Middle East; the IRGC benefits most by seeing these conflicts continue.”

But Mr. Benjamin, who served in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012, argued the contrary.

Iran’s “primary goal” in negotiating the nuclear deal, he testified, was “to improve economic conditions at home that were eroding support for the regime.”

“It would follow, therefore, that the bulk of the money [from sanctions relief] will be used to ameliorate domestic concerns,” said Mr. Benjamin, now the director of Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

“Press reports indicate that the U.S. Intelligence Community has arrived at the same conclusion,” he said. “I would add here that Iran usually makes rational calculations about advancing its interests, and having invested the time, energy and political capital in the [nuclear deal], it undoubtedly is aware that a new and enhanced campaign of terrorism would risk scuttling the agreement.”

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