Tehran hijacks, kidnaps and threatens… the US prescribes more diplomacy
Tehran hijacks, kidnaps and threatens… the US prescribes more diplomacy
Just minutes after Tehran threatened to “take punitive action” against Greece for its involvement in the confiscation of a shipment of smuggled Iranian oil, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces seized two Greek oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
These egregious acts of piracy last week drew familiarly weak statements of “concern” and calls for restraint from Western governments, despite fitting a predictable pattern of Iranian behavior. In 2019, a vessel smuggling oil to the Assad regime in Syria was seized in Gibraltar. Iran reacted belligerently by seizing a British tanker, resulting in humiliating negotiations, after which the Iranian ship was obediently allowed to continue on its way.
The ayatollahs’ regime has frequently attacked Gulf ships and staged drone and missile strikes against regional oil infrastructure and civilian targets. The world shrugs lethargically.
Iran regularly abducts foreigners and dual nationals to use as lucrative bargaining chips. Until March this year, they included Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, detained since 2016 on bogus charges. Nazanin endured inhumane treatment throughout her abduction, and even after her release sadists from the Revolutionary Guards forced her to sign a ridiculous confession before she could board a flight back to the UK .
Meanwhile, you could be forgiven for wondering what’s going on with the proposed revival of the nuclear deal with Iran. Last week, US President Joe Biden’s envoy, Robert Malley, clarified that for us – the answer is, absolutely nothing.
After a year of winding negotiations in Vienna, Malley said he was “not particularly optimistic” about any deal. All the while, Iran has vigorously installed state-of-the-art equipment at nuclear sites and enriched uranium to ever-higher levels of purity.
Surprisingly, the United States has no plan B. Malley stubbornly insists that “the only option here is diplomacy.” The Biden administration claimed in February that without a deal ‘within weeks’, Iran’s nuclear advances would ‘make impossible’ a return to the 2015 accord. Yet here we are nearly four months later with diplomacy propelled by the endless momentum of delirious wishful thinking and strategic drift.
Western strategic paralysis has convinced the ayatollahs that they enjoy absolute impunity for the most flagrant violations of international law.
Israel stepped into the vacuum of US strategic failures. Iran’s Defense Ministry last week reported an “accident” at its top-secret Parchin site, apparently caused by Israeli suicide drones. Israel was also responsible for the killing – in central Tehran, in broad daylight – of a senior Revolutionary Guards officer responsible for assassinations abroad. Revolutionary Guards leader Hossein Salami vowed retaliation, warning: “None of the evil actions of the enemy will go unanswered.”
The ayatollahs exploited these Israeli pinpricks as a pretext to accelerate their military programs. When nuclear equipment was sabotaged, Tehran spent millions to replace it with faster, more advanced systems, accelerating the trajectory to nuclear zero hour.
Have so-called American “strategic planners” considered what will happen when a nuclearized Iran, armed to the teeth with ballistic missiles, engages in an aggressive tightrope strategy in the future? What happens when Iran’s proxies overthrow a regional government, then it points its nuclear weapons at Israel and challenges the world to intervene? Or when Tehran invades Bahrain, Azerbaijan or Kuwait? Or when proxies embark on genocidal campaigns of sectarian cleansing against Sunnis, Christians and minorities?
A nuclearized Iran would behave exactly as it sees fit, acting on an escalated version of the mafia playbook it already uses – abducting, attacking, hijacking, threatening and subverting regional governance.
If there is no prospect of a nuclear deal, Tehran will act even more belligerently. We must pay particular attention to Lebanon and Iraq, where Tehran’s proxies lost elections but refuse to concede defeat. Iraq has gone seven months with no progress toward forming a government. This is expected to continue until Iran-backed factions win cabinet seats. We should not expect Lebanon to turn out differently. Iran-backed factions willingly resort to violence to prevent the reduction of their enormous political, military and economic power bases.
Malley acknowledged that in addition to efforts toward nuclear supremacy, Iran continued its support for proxy militias, advanced its missile program, and attacked Western interests. Still, he claimed it was “much safer to negotiate” these issues “when we know the nuclear program is under control.”
But where does that leave us if there is a negligible prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough? No deal is perhaps better than a bad deal that frees up billions in Iranian funds but still does too little to curb Tehran’s push for the bomb. However, just like when Donald Trump tore up the 2015 deal, this is only viable if the US has a holistic strategy to deal with Iranian malfeasance. The Trump administration did not. The Biden administration certainly does not.
Meanwhile, a new avenue to pressure Iran could open up, with Tehran’s oil exports to China falling by nearly a third as Beijing seeks to cash in on war in Ukraine with purchases cheap Russian oil. Iran and Russia, both ravaged by sanctions, are discovering that the market for cut-price oil from pariah states is limited and that cutting prices to tempt unscrupulous buyers further reduces profits.
The West must set basic goals: Iran will never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon; he will not be permitted to threaten peaceful States with impunity; there must be constraints on Iran’s missile program and its ability to deliver missiles to terrorists and militants; it cannot control vast transnational paramilitary armies.
When I confronted Malley about how the world’s greatest superpower was humiliated by a mediocre state like Iran, he angrily retorted, “What do you want us to do? Go to war?”
“If that’s what it takes,” I replied. Unless America signals that it is prepared to use force against theocrats who only understand the language of force, diplomacy has no chance of success.
Just as America and its allies impressively awoke to the challenge of Ukraine and mobilized a decisive response to Russian aggression, there must also be urgent global mobilization against the equally vast and multifaceted Iranian threat. .
Western strategic paralysis has convinced the ayatollahs that they enjoy absolute impunity for the most flagrant violations of international law. America’s disastrous and short-sighted policies are perfectly calibrated to facilitate Iran’s nuclear escape, while assuring Tehran that it will not be punished when it hijacks ships, kidnaps foreign nationals and attacks loving states of peace.
Without a decisive shift in strategy, we risk witnessing the apocalyptic consequences of appeasing deranged theocrats who sincerely believe there is nothing they can’t get away with.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is the editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed many heads of state.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News