- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The chief of the hard-line Iranian military force that sees its mission as protecting the regime said Tuesday that Iran’s insertion into regional conflicts is helping Tehran spread its Islamic revolution around the world.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, who commands the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said in Tehran that “foreign military and security threats have all turned into an opportunity for Iran to spread the Islamic Revolution’s dialogue across the globe.”

Gen. Jafari’s stated goal is just the latest statement from a top Iranian figure about the country’s continued expansionist objectives and warlike rhetoric. The Obama administration has hoped for a softening of Iranian behavior in the wake of the nuclear deal in July hammered out by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and representatives from five other powers, but critics say there are signs that the agreement has emboldened Iran.

“The nuclear deal was a turning point,” said Michael Rubin, a Middle East analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who strongly opposed the accord.

“It convinced the Iranian government that they could act without consequence, and it ended any budgetary constraints the Revolutionary Guards might have had,” Mr. Rubin said. “The Iranians played Kerry like a fiddle. His ambition is only matched by his naivete.”

The Revolutionary Guard includes the Quds Force, a combined special operations-intelligence unit that has been deployed to disrupt unfriendly other states in the region. The Revolutionary Guard is now fighting in Iraq and Syria, menaces Israel from Lebanon and aided the Houthi rebels in Yemen who toppled a pro-U.S. government there.

In Iraq, Iran is working with the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Baghdad in the fight against the Sunni extremist Islamic State. In Syria, Iran is battling pro-Western rebels, as well as Islamic State and al Qaeda forces, to support its autocratic ally, President Bashar Assad.

Mr. Assad has committed atrocities against his own people with chemical and conventional weapons.

Iran is set to receive tens of billions of dollars in freed-up cash as a result of the lifting of international sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear programs. The Obama administration has conceded that there is no way to prevent some of that windfall from funding Iran’s overseas operations. The U.S. deems Iran the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism.

Gen. Jafari’s remarks at a ceremony in Tehran were reported in a brief dispatch by the semi-official FARS news agency.

Its headline: “IRGC Commander: Military Threats Turned into Opportunities for Iran.”

Bent on revolution?

Analysts say Iran seems determined, by actions and words, to signal that it remains a revolutionary regime bent on following through on threats to destroy Israel, bring “death to America” and one day raise an Islamic flag over the White House.

In a major provocation this month, Iran test-launched multiple ballistic missiles from ground silos capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Iran’s critics quickly responded by saying such tests violated a U.N. resolution calling for a halt, but not prohibition, on such tests. They said the launches were evidence that Iran would violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear accord is known.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a key figure in the nuclear talks, insisted this week that the missile tests were for defensive purposes only and did not violate U.N. resolutions.

In January, the Revolutionary Guard seized two U.S. Navy patrol boats and 10 American sailors who wandered into Iranian waters of the Persian Gulf after suffering mechanical trouble. In violation of international law, Iran exploited the detention by showing photos of surrendering Americans.

Said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee: “I’m not sure which is worse — the ayatollah pinning medals on the chest of IRGC henchmen who conducted this illegal and provocative action or the shameful and dangerous lack of condemnation by senior administration officials.”

Gen. Ali Razmjou, a top naval commander in the Revolutionary Guard, said Tuesday that Iran had obtained thousands of pages of information from devices used by the U.S. sailors who were briefly held, according to The Associated Press, after probing the sailors’ laptops, GPS devices and maps. Gen. Razmjou told Iranian state television that the collection of information was within Iran’s rights under international law.

But the U.S. Navy’s chief of operations swiftly rejected that claim.

“They should not have been seized,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

In another provocation, Iran in January fired a rocket within 1,500 yards of a U.S. Navy carrier in the Persian Gulf.

A year ago this month, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, chief of U.S. Central Command, told Mr. McCain’s committee that Iran “continues to act as a destabilizing force in the region, primarily through its Quds forces, and through support to proxy actors such as Lebanese Hezbollah.”

This month, eight months after the nuclear deal was reached, Gen. Austin told the same panel, “We’ve not yet seen any indication that they intend to pursue a different path. The fact remains that Iran today is a significant destabilizing force in the region.”

Iran’s next big event may be the first launch of its “Simorgh” two-stage rocket to place a satellite in space, the Union of Concerned Scientists reports.

It would underscore that Iran may one day have an arsenal of rockets capable of striking the U.S.

The Simorgh is designed to carry a heavier payload than existing expendable rockets and was supposed to be launched six years ago. There is speculation that international trade and banking sanctions left Tehran with insufficient funds to keep to that schedule. Iran no longer faces those financial restrictions.

Iran first launched a satellite in space in 2009.

The scientists group said Iran appears ready to put a relatively crude reconnaissance satellite into space.

Iran’s goal is presumably to learn and improve satellite construction, control and communications, and to systematically improve its launch capabilities,” the organization said in its blog All Things Nuclear, by scientist Laura Grego.

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