By Kasra Nejat
When the Iran nuclear deal was being sold to Western audiences in 2015, the predominant narrative was that sanctions relief would encourage a general trend toward moderation within the theocratic regime. The preamble of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action even declares that its signatories anticipated the agreement would contribute positively to peace and stability throughout the region.
Three years later, the reality is very different.
The fingerprints of the Islamic Republic are prominent on most every conflict that bars the region from achieving any meaningful stability. Thanks to persistent, hardline Iranian influence, the crises then defining the Middle East have continued unabated and in some cases have even accelerated.
In recent months, Iran’s malign influence has extended to western countries, where various plots and activities have been uncovered that demonstrate the ongoing hostility of the Iranian regime. At least two agents of the Islamic Republic have been indicted in an American court for spying on and apparently setting the stage for would-be attacks on Iranian Resistance activists living in the U.S.
Simultaneous with the prospective use of terrorism and asymmetrical warfare against the West, other activities point to Iran’s reliance on more traditional threats. The regime has continued to stockpile and test ballistic missiles, including those perhaps capable of carrying nuclear warheads — a major justification for President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA in May.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps has resumed its harassment of Western naval and commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf — an active policy throughout much of the time the nuclear deal was in full effect. Dozens of “dangerous and unprofessional” encounters were recorded during 2015 and 2016, with the IRGC sometimes refusing to break off from its fast approach until warning shots were fired into the water.
Last month, several IRGC fast-attack boats shadowed the USS Essex, coming within about 300 yards, while General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command, was on board.
Even as much of Europe is supposedly conspiring to help the Iranians avoid the effect of renewed sanctions, Iranian hostility has not been limited to the U.S. Shortly before the USS Essex incident, similar IRGC boats blocked the course of the UK destroyer HMS Dragon. Even more telling were the foiled terrorist attacks on European targets, including the Albanian residence of more than 2,500 members of the leading Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), in March; and the international rally near Paris of the MEK’s parent coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), in June. The second incident was so bold that a high-ranking Iranian diplomat provided two operatives with the explosives and instructions.
The Iranian regime’s behavior in the nearly three years it has been the beneficiary of widespread sanctions relief underscores the fact that regional interference, military build-up and confrontations with Iran’s “enemies” are its priorities, not improvements in its domestic policies or the lives of ordinary Iranians. The domestic unrest that has pervaded the Islamic Republic since a nationwide mass uprising erupted at the end of last year has underscored the public awareness that dire economic problems are the result of government neglect and mismanagement, not international sanctions. Protests have been defined by slogans like, “Forget about Syria; Think about us.”
The same conclusion can be drawn with regard to Tehran’s belligerence and its anti-Western activities. Proponents of sanctions relief can no longer defend the notion that such conciliation promotes moderation, nor can they adjust their narrative to reflect concern for the Iranian people. Clearly, a policy of maximum pressure on the Iranian regime is the right course, benefiting both Western interests and the Iranian people and their prospects for a free, democratic future.
The Iranian people have only one priority: freeing themselves from the grip of the clerical dictatorship. This priority should be shared by the international community when contemplating Iran policy in the days and months to come.
Kasra Nejat is a resident of St. Louis and president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities.
This article was first published by olumbiatribune