- - Thursday, June 7, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the weeks since President Trump made global headlines with his announcement that the U.S. would no longer participate in the Iran nuclear deal, international attention has shifted to new priorities. It is easy to miss the fact that the U.S. has started taking key steps to ramp up economic pressure on the Iranian regime, including imposing new sanctions just last week.

These developments are important signals not just to Iran, but to the entire Middle East and international community who are closely watching America’s approach. If this economic pressure is increased, the U.S. has the potential to more effectively combat the Iranian regime’s destabilization of the region.

While controversial, Mr. Trump was right to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Deal. In selling the deal, President Obama argued that a key to resolving Iran’s destabilizing actions regionally and globally was curbing its nuclear capability. However, since the conclusion of the deal two years ago, Iran used the economic benefits reaped from it to expand its support for military and terrorist activities across the Middle East.

Iran has been increasingly active in Syria, providing extensive support for President Assad. Iran has continued to support Hezbollah, a designated terrorist organization, which has now expanded from being a destabilizing force in Lebanon to also funding and supporting militias across Iraq that have attacked U.S. soldiers. In Yemen, Iranian-provided weapons and technologies are now being used for attacks on neighboring states. Even domestically, the Iranian leadership has not used the easing of sanctions to develop the national economy in any substantive way, resulting in widespread protests.

So what next? Since pulling out of the Iran deal, the Trump administration has already made several important moves. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed “unprecedented financial pressure in the form of the strongest sanctions in history” against Iran unless it renounces all its nuclear activities, its ballistic-missile program, and its support of regional proxies.

The Treasury Department followed by slapping sanctions on five senior Iranian officials for providing missile-related support to the Houthi rebels. And this week, new sanctions were imposed on six Iranians and three Iran-based entities, including the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, for committing serious human rights abuses and aiding “the Iranian regime’s repression of its own people and the suppression of their freedoms of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly”.

These are steps in the right direction, and critical signs that the U.S. is committed to pursuing not just global non-nuclear proliferation objectives, but also the wider objective of getting Iran to be a more cooperative actor in the region. The administration sees that political persuasion has proven ineffective, and direct military action is not a desired course of action. Instead, it is necessary to sever, as much as possible, Iran’s economic links with the wider world, to signal a clear message that destabilizing behavior in the region is not acceptable.

Iran’s funding and fueling of terrorist insurgency across the region has been expensive. Tight sanctions on Iran’s banking and transport links would cripple the regime’s access to hard currency and its ability to supply its proxies. Furthermore, it would result in greater dissatisfaction within the population against the regime, creating another form of pressure.

While the E.U. and other signatories of the Iran deal have said they would work to minimize the impact of increased U.S. sanctions, the reality is that any U.S. action in relation to Iran will have a serious impact upon any state or any private entity that is commercially associated with the Iranian regime, directly or indirectly. Already, two of the world’s biggest shipping companies have announced they are winding down shipments to Iran, French carmaker PSA has announced it is leaving Iran, and the country’s oil production will likely be reduced by at least 25 percent, or 1 million barrels per day.

The new sanctions must be enforced and expanded further across Iran’s financial, transport, and energy sectors. The U.S. can apply a range of increased sanctions in relation to Iran’s ballistic missiles program, support for terrorist groups, human rights violations, and for any U.S. interests that are threatened.

And it is essential that the White House stays focused on Iran. For instance, two days after announcing his JCPOA decision, President Trump declared his support for ZTE, the Chinese company sanctioned by the U.S. for providing technology and services to Iran and other rogue states against U.S. sanctions.

To keep the U.S. focused on Iran, the GCC states need to be part of the discussions. The GCC states, excluded from the JCPOA negotiations, are the ones who lie within range of Iranian missiles being fired by various proxies, and most feel the direct results of Iran’s destabilization. Their input is essential for any future deal to ensure effective action against Iran’s destabilizing activities.

Further, international cooperation and action is needed, including an effort to bring about a complete boycott of Iran from the GCC. This would have both symbolic and direct results on Iran’s ability to obtain global currency, and would limit exports and imports in key areas, as well as further limiting Iran’s transport links. The UAE has already proven active in enacting stronger sanctions against Iranian entities in recent weeks. Other GCC countries should be encouraged to do the same.

While U.S. leadership in shaping this new phase of global thinking and action on Iran is essential, it will nonetheless require working together with the international community, including in the GCC. Only through such engagement can we hope to achieve greater international peace and security in the region.

Ahmed Al Hamli is the president of TRENDS Research & Advisory, based in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.


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