Perusing global media coverage of the skirmishes on our northern and southern borders this month, I am struck by the fact that few outlets focus on Iranian aggression. Instead, the story has played out as a clash between Israel and Syria or between Israel and Hamas.
This is a serious error in analysis that belies a deeper and more dangerous trend, which is the tendency of Western observers to ignore the root of so much evil in the region: The Islamic Republic of Iran.
In fact, it continually surprises me that public figures I meet who are visiting from North America and Europe truly are not aware of the scope of Iranian muckraking and troublemaking in the region. Generally, they know that there are bad actors at play out there, from Al Qaeda and ISIS to Hezbollah but they don’t have a comprehensive picture of Iranian belligerence and ambition or the transformative, tectonic threat of Iran to Mideast and even global stability.
If anything, they often think that the JCPOA (United States president Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran) is still in place, shunting concerns about Iran to the backburner and that the ayatollahs now are placidly focusing on rebuilding their society and economy.
But of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Iran is on an aggressive march across the Middle East, presenting significant security challenges to Israel, moderate Sunni Arab countries and Western interests. Iran does not hide its overarching revolutionary ambitions: to export its brand of radical Islamism globally, dominate the region and destroy Israel.
What should Iran be held accountable for?
SO, FOR the purposes of briefing those who have not been paying sufficient attention, here is a summary of the treacherous Iranian record.
- Iran is carving out a corridor of control – a Shi’ite land bridge – stretching from the Arabian (“Persian”) Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, including major parts of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force, various Shi’ite militias and the Hezbollah organization. This corridor gives Iran a broad strategic base for aggression across the region.
- Iran is establishing air and naval bases on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and especially in Syria to project regional power. It has also stepped up its harassment of international shipping and Western naval operations in the Persian Gulf. Iranian UAV attacks have claimed innocent lives, such as British and Romanian civilians killed in the attack on the Mercer Street oil tanker off the coast of Oman. Iranian UAVs and missiles endanger civilian flights across the region, too.
- Iran is inserting militia forces into many regional conflicts, including support for the Houthi rebels in the Yemeni civil war. It seeks control of the Horn of Africa and the entrance to the Red Sea – a critical strategic chokepoint on international shipping.
- Iran is fomenting subversion in Middle East counties that are Western allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. It remains to be seen whether the recent, tentative rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, brokered by China, will temper this. It is particularly focused on destabilizing the Hashemite regime in Jordan to gain access to Israel’s longest border (its border with Jordan) and from there to penetrate Israel’s heartland.
- Iran is threatening Israel with war and eventual destruction. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regularly refers to Israel as a cancerous tumor in the Middle East that must be removed and speaks of the complete liberation of Palestine (meaning the destruction of Israel) through holy jihad.
- Israel and Iran essentially have been in a war of stealth since the early 1980s (when Hezbollah was formed) but now Iranian generals and military forces have decamped on Israel’s border with Syria and moved to direct and open military confrontation with Israel. Israel’s defense establishment believes that Khamenei has issued direct orders to increase efforts to strike Israeli targets inside Israel and in the West Bank and to increase support for Palestinian terrorist organizations that do so.
- Indeed, Iran is arming guerrilla armies on Israel’s northern border (Hezbollah and most recently, Hamas in Lebanon), the southern border (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) and terrorist undergrounds in the West Bank. It has equipped Hezbollah with an arsenal of over 150,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israel and has supplied Hamas with the arms and rockets that fueled three significant military confrontations with Israel over the past decade.
- Iran has launched several surveillance and attack drones from Syria into Israel and commanded anti-aircraft batteries that fire on Israeli jets (and even felled a $50 million, NIS 182.6 m., F-16I, the first Israeli jet felled by enemy fire in 30 years).
- Iran is sponsoring terrorism against Western, Israeli and Jewish targets around the world, including through unambiguous funding, logistical support, planning and personnel for terrorist attacks that span the globe, from Buenos Aires to Burgas. Iran maintains an active terrorist network of proxies, agents and sleeper cells worldwide.
- IRAN IS building a long-term nuclear military option, with enrichment and armament facilities buried deep underground. According to the IAEA, Iran has enriched uranium to near-bomb-ready levels (84%, which is very close to the 90% level necessary for a nuclear weapon) and is accumulating such weapons-grade uranium for the production of an estimated five nuclear weapons within three months. According to intelligence assessments, this could be in place within two years.
- Like his predecessors, US President Joe Biden has pledged that he will never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. But his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, hinted to Congress last month of a dramatic shift in administration policy. He said that the US only “remains committed Iran will not have a fielded nuclear weapon.” This suggests that the Biden administration is now prepared to tolerate developed nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands, provided the weapon is not fielded, in other words, deployed.
- Iran is developing a formidable long-range missile arsenal of great technological variability, including solid and liquid propellant ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and ICBMs. The entire Iranian ballistic missile program is in violation of United Nations Security Council prohibitions.
- Three years ago, Tehran fired ballistic missiles with considerable accuracy at bases housing US troops in Iraq. More than 100 American service members suffered traumatic brain injuries and the consequences could have been even worse had the US not received an advance pinpoint warning from its closest regional ally, Israel.
Last January, Tehran’s proxies in Yemen apparently used similar missiles in an attempted strike against a base housing American military forces in the UAE. And at least twice last year, once in March and once in September, Iran launched ballistic missiles at targets in Iraqi Kurdistan, with the latter strike killing 13 people, including one US citizen. Most recently, on March 23 and April 11, Iranian proxies struck US forces in Syria.
- These attacks demonstrate the increasing willingness of Tehran and its terrorist proxies to use these weapons to punish and deter action against their regional terror networks. They are part of Iran’s effort to evict America from the Middle East and coerce US partners into accommodating the Islamic Republic.
- The latest Iranian ICBM, the Khorramshahr, seems to be based on the North Korean BM25 missile with a range of 3,500 km. (See “Arsenal: Assessing the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, January 2023.)
- Iran is providing Russia with armed attack drones for President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. Experts presume that in return Iran will be getting sophisticated Russian military technologies, such as aerial defense systems and fighter jets for its wars against Israel and pro-Western Arab regimes in the Middle East.
- Overall, Iran is strengthening its ties with Russia and China, toning down its conflict with Saudi Arabia and warming its relations with Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Armenia as part of a unified front against what it calls the Great Satan, America and the Small Satan, Israel.
As all this happens, the US is beset by political polarization, economic mismanagement and an apparent loss of will. US political and social coherence is in question and as a result, so is its deterrent power. At the moment, some would say the same about Israel.
“America shrugs (at challengers like China and Iran), so world leaders make other plans (like partnering with China and Iran).”Walter Russell Mead
As Prof. Walter Russell Mead writes, “America shrugs (at challengers like China and Iran), so world leaders make other plans (like partnering with China and Iran).”
What is sorely missing is a strategy to combat the malign influence and hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy and National Security. The views expressed here are his own. His diplomatic, defense, political and Jewish world columns over the past 26 years are archived at davidmweinberg.com.