Words Not Enough to Deter Iran

Brazen actions by Quds Force commander Qassem Suleymani show he is not deterred.

In a dramatic press conference held at Andrews Air Force base on Thursday, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, accused Iran of violating its commitments under UN Security Council resolution 2231, the instrument that renders official the deadly “Iran deal” known as the JCPOA.

Standing in front of a giant section of fuselage from an Iranian Qiam missile shot down by Saudi Arabia as it was hurtling toward the Riyadh international airport recently, Haley said: “Just imagine if this missile had been launched at Dulles Airport or JFK, or the airports in Paris, London, or Berlin. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what Iran is actively supporting.”

In other words, acts of war. Let me make that very specific: Iran has declared war on Saudi Arabia, and is engaging in that war by attacking civilian targets in the Saudi capitol, Riyadh, and by targeting civilian facilities, such as the international airport and the Yanbu oil export terminal, where another Qiam missile was shot down.

“What is most revealing about this missile is what’s not here,” Haley said. “It is the large stabilizer fins that are typically present on these kinds of missiles. The Iranian Qiam missile is the only known short range ballistic missile in the world that lacks such stabilizer fins and includes nine valves that you will see running along the length of the missile. Those valves are essentially Iranian missile fingerprints.”

Haley revealed that Iran delivered those Qiam missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, who acted as Iranian surrogates by launching them against Saudi targets. She then invited reporters to walk around an array of parts from the Qiam missile, including pumps bearing the tell-tale stamp of Shahid Bagheri Industries, the Iranian manufacturer.

I first exposed the involvement of the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group in Iran’s ballistic missile programs in 1998 in Reader’s Digest, where I documented the active collaboration of Russia and China in Iran’s missile programs. That’s nineteen years ago. You can read that article here.

A Pentagon spokesperson, Laura Seal, provided additional detail this week to Ambassador Haley on three other Iranian weapons systems captured by the Saudis from Houthi rebels. These were an anti-tank guided missile, the Toophan; the Qasef-1 armed attack drone; and the Iranian Shark-33 boat, “an explosive-laden, unmanned boat used in an attack the Saudi Arabian frigate HMS al Madinah,” Seal said.

Until this press conference, no one has really held Iran accountable for the Houthi rebel attacks against Saudi civilian facilities. So this joint effort by State and Defense (and presumably our intelligence community) to expose Iran’s role in them deserves a shout-out.

Under Obama, such attacks were attributed to the Houthis, only, even when they directly targeted U.S. warships. So Ambassador Haley’s press conference, and the backup she received from the Pentagon, suggest a significant shift in policy from the Trump administration.

It’s time to call out Iran for its role in “fanning the flames” of conflict throughout the region, Haley said.

I would suggest, however, that words are not enough. And I base that suggestion on the recent behavior of Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleymani.

Before any of our career military readers object to his seemingly lowly rank, let me point out that the Iranian military has no higher rank than Major General in any of its branches, whether the regular army (known as the artesh) or the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the IRGC.

So Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleymani is a top dog. In fact, he outranks current Iranian defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatemi.

For wannabe jihadis and militiamen, Qassem Suleymani is the man.

He is the one who has directed Iran’s terrorist onslaught against the United States in Iraq for the past decade.

He is the one who has recruited Sunni jihadists in the Taliban and Hamas to join Iran’s ongoing war against the United States and Israel.

He is the one who succeed in recruiting al Qaeda in Iraq leaders to join with Iran in opposing U.S.-led governments in Baghdad, and who supplied explosives and technology for explosively-formed penetrators that killed some two thousand U.S. soldiers in Iraq, as seen in this video that I helped to produce for an Iranian pro-freedom group.

Qassem Suleymani has been acting with increasing brazenness in recent weeks, ever since he established a new command headquarters inside the Syrian border with Iraq at Abu Kamal. Earlier this month, he dispatched Iraqi Shiite militia chief Qais al-Khazali on a tour of Syria and Lebanon, to demonstrate the opening of Iran’s long-sought “land bridge” across Iraqi territory through Syria and Lebanon to Israel’s northern borders.

Khazali traveled in an armed convoy on open roads during daylight hours, accompanied by Lebanese Hezbollah troops. He visited Damascus, then Beirut, where he met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Then he accompanied Hezbollah militiamen to their positions along the Israeli border, even filming a portion of his tour and broadcasting it in Iraq.

Why didn’t the Israelis – or the US Air Force – take him out? I cannot answer that, and I find that disturbing.

According to the Israeli-based Debkafile, Suleymani envisioned Khazali’s trip as the first step toward sending some 15,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters to positions facing Israel’s northern borders.

Now that is truly scary.

It’s not as if we don’t know who this guy is. Khazali was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq in 2007 for his role in murdering American soldiers but was subsequently released by Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki at the insistence of Suleymani.

In a second brazen move, Quds Force commander Suleymani ordered Hamas military leader Marwan Issa on December 11 to begin a new wave of missile attacks against Israel, purposefully using an open phone line to deliver the message.

“The Iranians wanted the Israeli and Egyptian intelligence agencies eavesdropping on incoming and outgoing phone calls to and from Gaza to hear Suleymani pledge full Iranian support for any military action conducted against Israel,” the Debkafile reported.

Suleymani continues to travel outside of Iran in defiance of a UN travel ban, reaffirmed in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, that forbids him and other Quds Force leaders from leaving Iran.

My own modest proposal would be that Suleymani meet his maker thanks to a U.S.-launched Hellfire missile, or that we bankrupt him crippling multilateral economic and financial sanctions.

Congress is contemplating numerous Iran sanctions bills, including one that would sanction Iran for its role in supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

A version of a Senate bill that would target individuals engaged in “destabilizing” activities, inside Iran or abroad, passed in the House on October 30, but would require significant  heat-butting in both chambers to become law.

Yet another provision pending in the House, HR 3320,  would slap additional sanctions on Hezbollah.

While I certainly support any and all of these measures, at this juncture in the ongoing shooting war, they amount to words.

In my view, the Trump administration also needs to step up military pressure on the Iranian regime, to make sure they understand that their military adventurism will not go unchallenged or unpunished. And beyond that, we should make Tehran know that we have a really big – TRULY BIG – ace in the hole in our pocket. It’s called freedom.

Should the Trump administration choose to use this tool to its fullest, I wouldn’t give the Iranian mullahs half a day to pack their bags and decamp. Beyond that, they’d be dead.

 

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