Build a Wall of Sanctions Around Iran

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According to the WSJ, at least three Democratic presidential candidates have announced their intentions to return the U.S. to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if they win in the 2020 elections. Despite the controversy surrounding the U.S.’s departure from the Obama era treaty it would be a terrible mistake to end such sanctions in their entirety.

First and foremost, the Iranian government has demonstrated a willingness to skirt around the restrictive measures put in place by the JCPOA to prevent nuclear weapons development on numerous occasions. In addition the agreement has several measures scheduled to expire in the coming years that will make it easier for Iran to develop nuclear weapons if they so choose.

Beyond the nuclear weapon concerns, there are legitimate civil rights abuses going on in Iran that under normal circumstances would garner severe global outcries for condemnation and sanctions, yet have gone largely ignored by Western powers due to the blinding desire to have a nuclear deal in place.

There is still more Trump can do to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons program or advancing research in intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the FDD, experts on sanctions, stronger legislative sanctions would be harder for the next president to repeal. In addition the administration can continue to up the pressure on our allies by making the punishment for doing business with Iran more severe. Learn more about the FDD here.

President Trump could direct the Treasury to put the Central Bank of Iran on the list of terrorist funding organizations for its role in providing weapons and training to Hezbollah, a sworn enemy of Israel and ruthless terrorist organization. Sanctions are affecting groups like Hezbollah according to the New York Times. Now is not the time to restrict sanctions. The government could also specifically label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization and impose sanctions specific to their actions, according to Jonathan Schanzer, an expert on the Middle East.

In essence, it’s essential for the president to create a wall of sanctions tied to as many individual parts of the Iranian government as possible to prevent future administrations from repealing them all, according to Fox News, If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that removing restrictions on Iran would be a terrible mistake. Learn more about the leading experts at FDD.

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Iran May Opt for Cyber Attacks in Retaliation for New U.S. Sanctions

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This past May, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear weapons deal started under then-President Barack Obama. With the deal ended it was only a matter of time before U.S. sanctions would take effect with many experts speculating on what an economic war with the totalitarian regime would entail.

Unfortunately, much of the speculation has turned towards the possibility of retaliatory measures that Tehran might invoke. While the ultimate concern is in regards to Iran’s proliferation of nuclear weapons, a far more immediate threat is the risk of an aggressive cyber attack against regional enemies and the U.S., according to many experts.

History shows that Iran has turned to these tactics before. In response to U.S. sanctions, the Islamic regime orchestrated cyber attacks against the American financial industry. While the Obama administration negotiated with Iran for the original nuclear deal, the country minimized their overt computer breaches, however, the regime continued its attacks on U.S. allies.

Iran is uniquely capable of understanding the full effects of heavy U.S. economic sanctions, their recent past with such coercion techniques devastated their economy and undermined their military strength. Analysts from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) agree that Iran doesn’t have the strength to compete with the U.S. in conventional warfare methods, but cyber campaigns provide Iran with an equalizing force and they have already demonstrated a willingness and capability to execute such attacks on the U.S. and American allies.

The analysts went on to explain that Iran first became consumed with cyber-warfare after their own nuclear infrastructure fell victim to such a breach. In the aftermath, Tehran increased investments to its own cyber capabilities, both defensive and offensive, by enlisting the help of a hacker community within its own borders.

Nowadays, intelligence specialists believe that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) manages the majority of Iran’s cyber operations. The military branch monitors and delegates tasks to independent groups that provide an element of deniability to the government for the criminal actions taken by the hackers. These cyber specialists engage in regime-sponsored operations, criminal operations, and legitimate software development on behalf of Tehran.

Recently, Iran’s cyber unit carried out attacks against middle Eastern governments and businesses, globally accessed universities and foreign companies operating in the Middle East (predominantly U.S.). The high-profile Shamoon 2 Malware attack is believed to be the act of Iranian cybercriminals.

Going forward, cyber-security experts agree that the U.S. needs to do more to prepare for threats from Iran on the cyber-front. Some recommendations include organizing and carrying out wargames to test U.S. cyber defense capabilities, provide actionable intelligence to private sector companies that are most vulnerable to cyber-attack in order to strengthen all U.S. assets and be prepared to respond to any large-scale cyber attacks with proportionate retaliatory attacks of our own.

The Cause and Effect of Government Corruption in Iran

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Iran has been a severely divided nation since the fall of the Shah in 1979, but the already politically turbulent climate has been worsening lately due to economic and social discontent. The complaints are all too familiar to the other oil-powerhouses in the region:  corruption and financial inequality. Youth unemployment is at an all-time high, and the economy has been slow to recover since sanctions against the country were lifted in 2016. In recent years the price of fuel, dairy, and meat, have all skyrocketed, with little hope for a fall anytime soon.

 

Mark Dubowitz from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the state of Iran, and how the current administration could learn something from Ronald Reagan. In Dubowitz’ opinion “The Islamic Republic of Iran is imperialist, repressive, and—unless we adopt a new strategy—[is] on its way toward possessing nuclear weapons.” The series of public Iranian protests, which lasted from December 2017 to January 2018, could suggest a threat to the stability of the government.

 

Most information regarding the size of the demonstrations and more specifics about the motivations are unclear due to the government’s strict prohibitions on news coverage and social media. The Iranian Minister of the Interior blamed social media for causing unnecessary fear and violence, and in response the government has vowed to limit such technology. Things only grew more opaque after the Iranian State News Network was banned from covering the protest, and reports were restricted from private news organizations.

 

In retaliation for the the protests, many cities suffered internet outages. In several regions the internet providers are either wholly or partially owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and therefore report directly to the government. At the height of the unrest, the country showed a drop as high as 50% in internet traffic, and a massive surge in the use of online masking software, such as the anonymous browser TOR.

 

Some think the fast growth of the cause might have been sparked by an organized anti-government group operating covertly within the country. The US and Saudi Arabia might have reason to fund groups like the Iranian Kurds who disconnected from the central government, but there is no evidence that happened.

 

What we do know is that the demonstrations began with a protest in Mashhad against rising prices. Mashhad is a known haven for religious fundamentalists, so it’s possible the conservatives stoked the demonstrations in an attempt to undermine President Hassan Rouhani, who is considered a political moderate. However, even if the hardliners caused the protests, it’s evident that the sentiments are shared across the country.

 

President Rouhani and the rest of his administration have called for calm and reiterated that the citizens have a right to demonstrate so long as property isn’t destroyed. One of the government’s responses was to ban English language lessons in public schools because it paved the way for a “cultural invasion of Western Values.”

 

There is a great deal of criticism for the government’s excessive arrests and use of torture. Twenty-five total deaths during the movement have been reported, with many having suspicious circumstances. The White House referred to the reports of inmates being tortured as disturbing. Many arrests have been cited as clear human rights violations. In Malayer, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to five years in prison for pulling down a government flag in a city square.

 

The violent suppression of protests, the human rights violations, and government censorship all might force Western nations towards a more aggressive stance with Iran, which could severely cripple the nuclear deal. If sanctions are brought back, and the financial inequality worsens, then it’s likely there’s more civil unrest to come.