The lobby of the CIA Headquarters Building is pictured in Langley, Virginia, U.S., August 14, 2008..
(photo credit: LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)
With large-scale protests erupting in Iran again this week, ex-CIA and defense official Mary Beth Long told The Jerusalem Post that the Trump administration’s leaving the Iran nuclear deal had enabled a broader pressure campaign.
In multiple discussions both on Tuesday and during a recent visit to Israel, the 12-year CIA field operative, who also was a top official in the Department of Defense, sent out nuanced messages balancing overall optimism with caution.
On one hand, she said, the US exiting the Iran deal
was “part of a broader strategy to get stakeholders to move forward against Iran like they moved forward against ISIS. It is just that realizing there is a shared interest is much more complicated with this piece.”
“A perfect example is the pressure the US has and will continue to put on Iran related to its support to Houthi rebel’s in Yemen,” in which Iran is “keeping that conflict alive with Iranian enhanced arms, including rockets, UAVs and IEDs that endanger the civilian population as well as combatants,” she said. “The US will support the Saudi coalition in keeping key ports and waterways open, but will deny them to Iran” which seeks “to expand the conflict further.”
Long does not believe that “Iran will immediately openly test or grossly violate the nuclear agreement because right now, from the Iranian point of view, it is in a very good position. It allows itself to be portrayed as a victim of American duplicity. It has been the recipient of a number of European overtures to stay within the agreement.”
Yet sounding a cautionary note, she said: “I do not think the president realizes how lacking in bite secondary sanctions have been in the past. You cannot run an Iran policy post-JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] just on secondary sanctions. They can be one of the pieces, but not the centerpiece.”
In a sobering analysis, she said: “I am confident that the president understands that to the extent Russia and China don’t participate or are left out of primary and secondary sanctions, we are limited on the amount of pressure Iran feels through sanctions.”
“I think the Chinese have set up a financial relationship
...with Tehran that in many respects isolates them from a lot of the impacts” of sanctions.
What’s needed, Long said, was an “effective fully integrated Iran strategy of economic pressure, psychological pressure, a communications assault on Iran’s legitimacy...kinetic pressure...outreach to Russia and others to distance themselves from Iran’s behavior” all leading to “pressure on Iran domestically.”
Eventually, she said that Russia and China might come around to pressuring Iran to change as they also do not want it to have nuclear weapons or to be seen as irresponsible powers by supporting that. Until then, she said the US, Israel, the Arab world and Turkey need to team up to prevent Iran from turning Syria into another one of its full-fledged proxies.
Long also discussed a range of scenarios which she thought might be necessary to convince Iran to halt some of its hostile activities.
She said that Iran has strong influence in Iraq, that it had, “solidified itself in Lebanon, has had great gains in Syria and Yemen, and in many respects is increasing its pressure geographically – with pressure on Israel and the Saudis.”
She highlighted that things could reach the point where “the way to stop this [Iran’s expansion] will be if a missile or rocket is sent into Iranian territory.”
Not only might that get Iran’s attention, but if they were still holding out, it could lead Russia and China to finally pressure Iran to show greater flexibility on the major issues in dispute due to their “fear that…it could become a broader conflict.”
Long added: “Israel’s willingness to retaliate into Syria” in response to the presence of “Iranian-backed Syrian and other forces, have gotten Iran’s attention and the US will continue to support Israel’s retaliation.”
“At some point, if Iran or its surrogates continues to attack Israel, supply weaponry to Yemeni troops firing on Saudi Arabia’s capital and critical infrastructure, or engage US positions in Syria, the allies will have to seriously consider retaliating similarly on suitable targets within Iran,” she said.
But Long hoped that other pressures and merely the threat of Israeli or US retaliation directly with Iran would “motivate Russia to play a more constructive moderating role against Iran’s activity.”
“The only chance we have of changing Iran’s path toward regional hegemony – notice I didn’t say nuclear weapons as they are only a means to an end – they want nuclear weapons for regional hegemony... will need to come through regime change,” she said.
Through a pressure campaign leading to regime change, she hoped a new Iran would emerge that has a “productive responsible international role, which does not threaten its neighbors, does not participate in violence directly or through proxies and respects its own people giving them basic human rights – the world would embrace it.”
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