Nonproliferation
Commentary

The US Should Wield a Stiletto on Iran, not a Club

in Program

By Barry Blechman – The Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington
is indeed an outrage.  We should take a
moment to congratulate US intelligence and law enforcement agencies for their
great work – on this Iranian blunder, as well as on the many other terrorist
attacks on the US that have been foiled in recent years.   The FBI affidavit offered in support of the
indictment of Manssor Arbabsiar (the naturalized US citizen who contacted a supposed
Mexican hit man) and Gholan Shakuri (the puppet master in Iran’s Quds covert
operations unit) suggests that US authorities were on top of the clumsy caper
from its very beginning.

Many
questions remain about the poorly planned and ineptly executed plot.  Most importantly, was this a rogue operation
initiated by one element of the Quds in order to embarrass other elements of
Iran’s security apparatus, or perhaps Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei  himself, or was it okayed by the highest
authorities in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), of which Quds is
a part, and even by the Supreme Leader?   
To the degree the US can trace the origins of the operation beyond
Shakuri, it would help American intelligence understand relationships and
decision-making within Iran’s government. 
The answer, however, is not really important in determining what actions
the US should or should not take in response.

In the
hot aftermath of the plot’s revelation, some US legislators – terming the plan
“an act of war” – called for broad-based sanctions against Iran or even
military strikes.  Senator Mark Kirk
(R-IL), for example, used the occasion to renew his call for the US and the
European Union (EU) to ban all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank, thereby
crippling the value of Iran’s currency. 
Leaving aside the question of the degree to which such an action taken
solely by the US and EU might be counteracted by such other nations as China,
India, and even South Korea, who are major Iranian customers, imposition of
such broad-based economic sanctions would be counter-productive.

Today,
the vast majority of Iran’s population is alienated from their government.  They took to the streets by the millions two
years ago but were brutally suppressed by the IRGC and affiliated militias,
repressive actions which stopped overt protests but only inflamed smoldering
passions.   Iran’s one remaining
governmental ally  in the Middle East,
President Assad’s regime in Syria, is tottering on the brink as a result of
civil protests.  Iran’s rulers know that
if Assad goes, they are likely to be next.  

As the political, trade, and
financial sanctions on Iran already in place begin to bite, hindering progress
in its nuclear program, isolating the country from most other nations, and
stemming its economic growth, resentment of the corruption that permeates
Iranian society -with most of the ill-gotten gains falling into the hands of
the IRGC, the clerical establishment, and other parts of the ruling elite –
grows.  Any additional sanctions should
be targeted narrowly against those planning and executing Iran’s terrorist and
subversive actions.  Broad-based
sanctions that would harm the general population are not helpful in the cause
of internal change.  Sen. Kirk said,
“It’s okay to take the food out of the mouths of the citizens from a government
that is plotting an attack directly on American soil.”  Such callous actions and attitudes can only
set back chances for positive changes in Iran. 

Even worse would be military
action.  Fortunately, most Americans
understand the risks of a military strike, even if some of their
representatives like to beat their chests periodically.  The conflict is not likely to end with a US
air strike.  Iran would hit back at US
and allied forces and assets, with a high risk that the US armed forces would
for a third time become involved in a lengthy conflict in the Middle East.  The political and economic repercussions of
such a conflict would be severe; not least of which would be once again uniting
the Iranian people and their current rulers in hatred of the United
States. 

The Obama
Administration is correct to take time to muster global support for additional
measures to isolate and punish the “bad guys” in Iran.  Unilaterally wielding a club against Tehran
can only harm US interests in Iran and the Middle East more broadly.  A carefully aimed stiletto will do the job
very nicely, thank you.

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