New sanctions on Iran, now it's time for a new US policy too

On the second anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal, some argue that the agreement succeeded in slowing Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon. However, the restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program are only limited, as is the international inspectors’ access to the country’s illicit facilities.

In addition, in areas unrelated to the nuclear agreement, the Iranian regime’s behavior has only gotten worse over the past two years. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has escalated its nefarious activities in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, has deliberately sought out close encounters with American warships, and has boasted of new Iranian military equipment.

The White House’s efforts to enforce a harder line on Iran policy is well justified and the president’s signing into law of H.R. 3364, which included a title, “Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017” is a step in the right direction.

In June, the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed details of the escalation of the Iranian missile program, proving the nuclear threat to be real. The opposition coalition identified more than 40 sites for missile development, manufacturing, and testing, all of which were under the control of the IRGC. What’s more, at least one of those sites was known to be collaborating with the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Farsi acronym SPND, the institution tasked with weaponization activities related to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. SPND activities have continued since the JDPOA.

The Iranian regime must be more isolated and financially handicapped by the United States. It must also be subject to pressure not just over its nuclear program but also over a range of current and past crimes.

Such revelations clarified what should already be common knowledge: Iran’s nuclear weapons activities have continued. Even worse, myopic focus on the nuclear issues has distracted attention from the Iranian regime’s terrorism sponsorship, regional intervention, and human rights abuses.

If the IRGC continues to acquire more wealth through its large-scale control of the de-sanctioned Iranian economy, combined with continued lack of access to the nuclear sites of SPND, Iran will undoubtedly deliver a nuclear weapon.

To its credit, the US. has taken steps toward addressing the underlying problem of the IRGC’s expanding control over Iranian affairs. Soon after taking office, Mr. Trump urged the administration to review designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization. With the new Iran sanctions bill now signed into law, the administration should expand all anti-terror sanctions to the whole of the IRGC, including its affiliate entities and associated financial and economic arms.

This is a meaningful start to a new Iran policy that is comprehensive in its aims and in its enforcement. Toward that end, the US should work with the UN and EU to evict the IRCG from the combat zones in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. This will help protect the West and its allies, as well as empower the Iranian people, who are seeking regime change and are more than capable of bringing it about on their own.

Without serious sacrifice, Western powers must do their part. The Iranian regime must be more isolated and financially handicapped by the United States. It must also be subject to pressure not just over its nuclear program but also over a range of current and past crimes, including illicit missile testing, escalating regional and sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, and the 1988 massacre of political prisoners. The United States should subject all major human rights violators of the Iranian regime, including dozens involved in the horrific 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners. Many of the perpetrators of this crime currently hold key positions in the Iranian regime.

These pressures will make a profound difference in the future of Iran, if coupled with reaching out to the people of Iran and their organized opposition. They will succeed in diminishing the power and influence of the IRGC; bolster the Iranian people and the prospect of the emergence of a truly democratic Iranian government. 

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.