There seems to be no end to the Iranian regime’s aggression and belligerence domestically, regionally and globally. The leaders of Iran are making it clear they will remain defiant as they insist on pursuing the regime’s dark hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East.
Just in the last few months, Tehran has been directly or indirectly involved in attacking ships in the Strait of Hormuz, striking Saudi Arabia’s oil plants, and taking hostages. In addition, both the hard-liners and the so-called moderates appear to be on the same page.
What options are available to effectively respond to the theocratic establishment? Some politicians and policy analysts may recommend appeasing Tehran in order to confront it. But any informed approach that aims to combat Iran’s regional ambitions should not to be anchored in pursuing appeasement policies toward the ruling mullahs. The appeasement route was tried for eight years by the Obama administration and it failed. We can see the consequences of this approach, with the Iranian-armed Houthis continuing to cause death and destruction in Yemen, and Hezbollah operating in large swaths of Syrian territory.
The appeasement route was tried for eight years by the Obama administration and it failed.
Instead of appeasing Iran, five policies must be carried out simultaneously. The first is to weaken the Iranian regime’s ability to carry out asymmetric warfare. Tehran mostly wields its power through its enhanced capabilities in conducting asymmetric warfare using its proxies, terror and militia groups. Therefore it follows that, if Iran’s proxies and militia groups are targeted and weakened, Tehran loses a significant amount of its geopolitical, strategic and military leverage.
In order to accomplish this objective, it is very important for the US to work with its regional allies, such as Israel. Tel Aviv has been steadily expanding its military campaign against Iranian-linked targets in the region. This included carrying out a series of airstrikes in Syria and northern Baghdad last month. In addition, the US can work more closely with Saudi Arabia to target the Houthis.
The second policy is for the US to broaden and step up its “maximum pressure” policy. One of the reasons that the Iranian leaders have been enraged is the fact that this campaign is working. The latest Iranian actions against shipping and Saudi Arabia are the desperate acts of a regime whose funding sources for regional destabilization are drying up.
The sanctions have imposed significant pressure on the ruling clerics, to such an extent that the Iranian leaders have been cutting funding to their proxies. For instance, Tehran has found it extremely difficult to ship oil to Syria in the last year, and many of Iran’s militants are not getting their salaries or benefits.
Additional economic sanctions must be more precise and targeted. In other words, the financial channels through which funds flow into the Islamic Republic’s treasury must be disrupted. This includes further squeezing the regime’s main revenue — oil exports — and detecting the fictitious and shell companies Iran uses to carry out its illicit financial activities.
The US and its allies can also target specific individuals and institutions that are engaged in supporting terror groups, advancing Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and committing crimes against humanity abroad. For instance, Washington could impose sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. In addition, governments can utilize the International Criminal Court, the UN, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations to hold the Iranian regime accountable.
Third, through its economic leverage, the US must persuade its Western allies to cut diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime. Tehran not only gains critical legitimacy by maintaining ties with world powers, but the regime has also been shown to use its embassies and consulates in foreign nations as an extended wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Ministry of Intelligence in order to carry out espionage or acts of terror. A series of assassination and terrorist plots across Europe and North America, some successful and others not, have been traced back to Tehran in recent years.
Fourth, the US and its allies need to more forcefully and publicly announce their support for the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people, who seek to set up a democratic system of governance in Iran. Domestic unrest has long lain beneath the surface as Iranians, enduring a sluggish economy and falling living standards, see billions of dollars go abroad to Tehran’s network of proxies.
Fifth, the Iranian regime should be made to understand that there is a powerful and united military force ready to deter and respond to its aggression. If Tehran believes that its destabilizing military adventurism will not trigger a military response, the ruling mullahs will more likely continue to increase their belligerent policies.