Iran’s Reign Continues as the Top Sponsor of Terror and Terrorist Activities

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For over three decades, the United States has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. In that time, Iran has done little to convince the Western world otherwise. In fact, their actions over the years have only further established their reputation as duplicitous, to say the least.

Though the U.S. and Iran have had particularly rough tensions in the past, Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, and even their own people, have not been any better. Though Iran’s leaders claim act on behalf of their nation, they have no interest in bettering conditions for the average citizen.

For example, behind claims of developing programs to bolster economic advancement and stability, Iran has notoriously fostered hidden nuclear proliferation activities for decades. Additionally, despite the terms of the current Iran Deal they continue to make incremental violations, which started mere months after the JCPOA was signed by Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia).

In the latest annual report to date published in July 2017, the State Department named Iran as the “planet’s foremost” state sponsor of terrorism in 2016.  The 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment by the U.S. Intelligence Community also listed Iran as the foremost sponsor in terrorism, and named Hezbollah in Lebanon as its primary accessory that continues to pose a threat to U.S. interests and partners worldwide. There are various criteria for being listed as a state sponsor of terror, and that designation remains in place until there’s adequate proof that the state has stepped away from their nefarious activities.  Until then, the designation is not to be rescinded.

To “qualify” as a state-sponsor of terror, the state in question must have demonstrated a deliberate use of terrorism or aid to a terrorist organization as a foreign policy tool against other countries or groups of people. Direct attacks or a funneling of resources in financial, weaponized, or intelligence forms count as participative efforts to support terrorist activities.

For years, Iran has been acting as a patron of terrorism in the region. They have actively trained and sent resources to Hezbollah, facilitated terrorist activities in Palestinian territories, and have even trained and provided Iraqi militants with bombs,and other weaponry. Since at least 2005, Iran has been actively supporting the Iraqi insurgency and influencing local politics. Iran aggressively threatened U.S. efforts in Iraq, directly resulted in the deaths of U.S. troops. For these and other reasons, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds-Force (IRGC-QF) was also added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. in 2007.

In fact, the IRGC-QFsupports terrorist organizations outside of Iran. They have been an active force in the Afghanistan insurgency and have supported the Taliban in western and central areas of the country.

In Iraq, Iran is positioning itself to gain more leverage in the region  by dominating local politics. Though Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, elected in 2014, initially seemed like just the pillar Iraq needed to stand up to Tehran influence, his recent move to join forces with Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) is making experts in the West uncomfortable, to say the least. Factions of this group (Asaib ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah, and Harakat al-Nujaba) have been involved in various sectarian attacks and human rights abuses including attacks on Americans and Iraqis, both civilian and military personnel, alike.

The Big Picture

Since the Hostage Crisis nearly four decades ago, the U.S. and the West have been at odds with Iran and their overt and clandestine activities in the region. Their nuclear proliferation activities had been surreptitiously developed over a few decades, and they continuously lied about their enrichment activities and their long-term nuclear intentions. Though the 2015 Iran Deal was meant to mitigate their nuclear activities, opponents of the deal in its current form say the restrictions are not enough. One analyst, Mark Dubowitz, has consistently outlined flaws in the Iran deal, mainly arguing that Iran sees no negative repercussions to their actions and thus will not change their behavior; the incentive is not yet good or strong enough.

Until we figure out a way to paralyze Iran’s power plays, we can only expect to see them continue their reign as a state sponsor of terror.

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JCPOA Unlikely to Produce an Honest Iran

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The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was a culmination of sorts for a marathon of nuclear negotiations with Iran. In broad terms, the agreement among six nations plus Iran would restrict key elements of Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting some economic sanctions.

Recently, incremental violations of the JCPOA by Iran have aggravated old wounds, and President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the deal on grounds that Iran is not held accountable to the extent that it should and continues to get more out of the deal than Washington does.

While those in favor of the JCPOA in its current form argue that it prevents the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear weapon for the next decade, it is important to keep in mind Iran’s past and present activities when considering the fate of the deal.

Why Are We So Concerned With Iran?

 While some may argue that all countries have legitimate nuclear interests, Iran has been singled out for good reason. Their long-standing violation of nuclear safeguards has left the West leery of trusting Iran’s activities and intentions. In the past, Iran has clearly shown itself as less than fully forthcoming with their nuclear activities. Worse, its program has received significant foreign assistance from Pakistan, Russia, China, and even North Korea. The first revelations were in 2002; proving that Iran had been scaling up its nuclear program throughout the ‘90s. Another major source of concern came in 2009 via a letter from Iran to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of an undisclosed enrichment plant at Fordow buried under a mountain (near the holy city of Qom). Analysts say that the reason Iran came forward with this admission was to get ahead of the Western disclosure; they knew U.S., British, and French officials had gathered enough evidence to bring forward an accusation. While initially non-operational, Iran was developing the Fordow plant parallel to Natanz. Soon after the revelation, Iran begun enriching uranium at Fordow, in contravention of multiple UNSC resolutions.

Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is only intended for peaceful purposes as a civilian energy program. However, a decade long game of cat and mouse with the IAEA and development of a vast arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles suggests otherwise.

Is the JCPOA Effective Enough?

In 2015, the JCPOA was adopted in an effort to better keep tabs on Iran’s nuclear program. It outlined an agreement that would allow the IAEA to regularly inspect Iran’s nuclear facilities, and limit their uranium-enrichment activities to a single facility for 10 years. Other facilities would be converted to avoid proliferation risks. In exchange for these stipulations, Iran would be granted certain relief from sanctions previously imposed upon them.

While the JCPOA may have opened up civil communications and dealings with Iran, critics of the deal feel the restrictions were not harsh enough. Mark Dubowitz of FDD says that the agreement allows Iran to continue nuclear development, albeit at a slower pace. He also adds that as the deal ages, “sunset clauses” come in to play that would ultimately allow Iran to engage in nuclear enrichment at near-zero breakout times. All the while, Iran thumbs its nose at the international community and skirts punishment (sanctions) since its violations of the deal aren’t deemed “egregious.” But what happens as these incremental violations build up over time? Mark Dubowitz of The Foundation for Defense for Democracies points out that Iran has not stopped their development and subsequent test launches of ballistic missiles. Though the UNSC resolution implementing the JCPOA does contain language limiting ballistic missile activity, critics have argued that a renegotiated, or “fixed,” deal should tighten these provisions.

When will Iran be held accountable not just for egregious violations, but incremental ones as well? We have yet to see an honest turn-around in Iranian behavior, and if the JCPOA continues in its current form, we should have no reason to expect otherwise.