A Year of Iranian Lawlessness
Last January, then-President Barack Obama announced the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, crediting it to “strong American diplomacy” and assuring that “the region, the United States, and the world will be more secure.” Yet the events of the past year have raised questions about how secure the agreement actually makes the Middle East and the world.
One of the benefits of the accord, according to Obama, is that it “cut off every single path that Iran could have used to build a bomb.”
Over the past year, Iran has twice been found to possess heavy water–nuclear runoff that can be used to produce weaponizable material–in excess of the limit specified in the deal. In the first case, instead of taking any action against Iran, the Obama administration bought the excess heavy water. According to the Institute for Science and International Security, a leading non-proliferation think tank, this “arrangement has only encouraged Iran to overproduce heavy water for sale and seek legitimacy as a nuclear supplier.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. and its partners in the nuclear deal agreed to send Iran enough natural uranium to produce ten nuclear weapons. Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that this new stock of uranium raises questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, as it will “significantly exceed Iran’s needs for natural (that is, unenriched) uranium over the next 15 years.”
In December, a number of side agreements containing previously unpublished details of the nuclear deal were released. One of these side deals allows Iran to declare certain amounts of its low-enriched uranium “unrecoverable,” ensuring that it will not count against its LEU limit. According to David Albright, a former weapons inspector and current president of the Institute for Science and International Security, this provides Iran with a loophole. If Iran were to secretly build a facility to extract this LEU, its supply of the material would be higher than permitted under the nuclear accord and its breakout time for developing a nuclear weapon would be correspondingly lower.
While Obama hailed the deal for extending Iran’s breakout time to one year, that is only true if Iran’s stockpiles are strictly limited. These episodes show that they are not. (Notably, the deal won’t keep Iran’s breakout time to a year the whole time it’s in place. Obama acknowledged nearly two years ago that by the end of the deal, Iran’s breakout time would be “near zero.”)
Iran’s penchant for breaking rules isn’t limited to the nuclear deal.
The Islamic Republic is currently under a general arms embargo and is prohibited by United Nations Security Council resolution 1701 from transporting weapons to its terrorist proxy, Hezbollah. However, recent air strikes ascribed to Israel have hit sites in Syria where Iran is believed to be transferring weapons to Hezbollah. Military analyst Ron Ben Yishai wrote this week in Ynet that the most recent of these strikes may have been directed at missiles that “could reach central and even southern Israel and threaten most of the essential facilities and civilian and military airports in the State of Israel.”
Despite a recent finding by the UN that Iran may have violated the prohibition against arming Hezbollah, as well as an acknowledgment last June by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah that his terrorist group received “its income, its expenses, everything it eats and drinks, its weapons and rockets” from Iran, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s assurance during Senate testimony in 2015 that the U.S. must “make sure that we’re enforcing” resolution 1701, no international action against Iran has been forthcoming.
Israel has not been the only target of Iran’s contempt for the norms of international law.
Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah, have been accused of committing war crimes in Syria, especially in the battle for eastern Aleppo last month. In at least two incidents, Hezbollah was accused of killing refugees who were fleeing from the devastated city. A top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general boasted in September that Iran fed intelligence to Russia in order to guide its airstrikes on Aleppo, which sometimes targeted hospitals. In December, Hanin Ghaddar documented how Iran has overseen the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from strategic areas over the course of the civil war.
And while it doesn’t match the scope of his other crimes, IRGC-Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who is under a Security Council travel ban, was photographed in eastern Aleppo after it was seized by forces backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In an interview with NPR a little over two years ago, Obama shared a glimpse of his vision for the future of the Middle East, saying that he could see Iran becoming “a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules.” Yet since the implementation of the nuclear deal, Iran has been very successful at destabilizing the region, and it has been doing so in violation of “international norms and international rules.”
After Two Years, Could There Be Justice for Nisman?
Two years ago, Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor investigating the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head. He died the night before he was scheduled to testify in front of a closed session of Argentina’s Congress with his findings, including evidence gathered from wiretaps that then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner had agreed to cover up Iran’s involvement in the devastating attack.
Nisman documented Iran’s extensive terrorist network over the course of his investigation, including in a 500-page indictment issued in 2013 detailing Iran’s ties in Argentina and South America. Matthew Levitt, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s counter-terrorism program, praised the late prosecutor for his “dogged commitment to bringing the perpetrators of this horrific act of terrorism to justice.”
While Nisman’s death seemed to have initially derailed the AMIA investigation, recent developments suggest that the case may be pursued to its conclusion, with a new prosecutor taking over Nisman’s work in December.
In a parallel development, Peru is currently trying Mohammad Hamdar, who was arrested in 2014 and has admitted to aiding Hezbollah, on terrorism charges. Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, observed that if the Hamdar case helps Peruvian authorities crack down on Iran’s local terrorist network, it could send Tehran a message that “Latin America can no longer be considered cost-free.”
While Argentina and Peru seem to be moving in the right direction in the global fight against Iranian terrorism, not all developments in South America have been positive on this front.
Recently, embattled Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro appointed Tareck El Aissami to be his vice president. Joseph Humire, the founder of the Center for a Secure Free Society think tank, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2015 that El Aissami “developed a sophisticated, multi-layered financial network that functions as a criminal-terrorist pipeline bringing militant Islamists into Venezuela and surrounding countries, and send[s] illicit funds and drugs from Latin America to the Middle East.”
However, while many obstacles remain, the investigation in Argentina and trial in Peru could impair Iran’s designs on the Western Hemisphere.
Toby Dershowitz, vice president for government relations and strategy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called on the U.S. earlier this week to honor Nisman’s memory by supporting a transparent investigation into his death. A successful investigation into Nisman’s death that exposes the activities of Iranian agents in South America and punishes them for their crimes could bolster “a critical element of our national security,” Dershowitz argued.
Haley’s Statement Reflects Bipartisan Support for Israel
In her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to the UN, Gov. Nikki Haley (R – S.C.) echoed the bipartisan criticism leveled against Security Council resolution 2334.
Over the course of the hearing, Haley condemned the UN’s “outrageous bias against our close ally Israel,” as well as the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from the Security Council vote, ensuring the resolution’s passage. “I think that was the moment we should have told the world how we stand with Israel, and it’s a kick in the gut that we didn’t,” she told Sen. Marco Rubion (R – Fla.).
Haley’s stance on the anti-Israel resolution, which calls Israel’s presence in the Old City of Jerusalem a flagrant violation of international law, is consistent with reactions from leading members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan measure blasting the Security Council resolution, which “effectively lends legitimacy to efforts by the Palestinian Authority to impose its own solution through international organizations” and serves as “an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.” Parallel legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Rubio and Sen. Ben Cardin (D – Md.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Haley also observed during her hearing that in 2015, she became the first governor to sign legislation aimed at preventing taxpayer funds from being used to support economic attacks against Israel. Haley asserted that she “will not go to New York and abstain when the UN seeks to create an international environment that encourages boycotts of Israel.” This pledge is also consistent with the legislative response to resolution 2334.
While the Security Council has reportedly begun the process of initiating a boycott of Israel, this week the Senate introduced a bipartisan bill to fight economic warfare against its ally. The bill was co-sponsored by Rubio and Sen. Joe Manchin (D – W. Va.), who explained that it “gives state and local governments a legal way to combat the shameful boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. Israel has been our strongest ally in the Middle East and we need to send them a strong signal that we will do everything in our power to fight the BDS movement.”
Gilead Ini observed that in the past year, The New York Times used the term “disputed territory” to describe land conflicts in the Western Sahara between the Polisario Front and Morocco, “in Kashmir, claimed by India and Pakistan; the Scarborough Shoal, contested by China and the Philippines; the Spratly Islands, torn between a number of southeast Asian countries; the Yirga Triangle between Eritrea and Ethiopia; Nagorno-Karabakh, contested by Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists; Bartica, claimed by Venezuela and Guyana; and even territories in Syria and Iraq.”
Only in the case of the West Bank, Ini noted, has the Times seemingly adopted a “policy of avoiding the term ‘disputed territory,'” and actually insists “that this land rightfully belongs to the Palestinians.”
The policy is difficult to understand, especially considering the history of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, Ini wrote. Houses and farms were built in this bloc “during the pre-state period on vacant land purchased by Jews in a British-administered territory that the international community, through the League of Nations, had set aside for ‘close settlement’ by the Jewish people,” Ini explained. The land was designated to become part of an Arab state under the 1947 UN partition plan, which was forcefully rejected by Arab leaders.
During Israel’s War for Independence, the land was captured and occupied by Jordan, whose rule over the territory was not recognized by the international community. Nineteen years later, “Israel repulsed a Jordanian attack during the Six-Day War and took over the West Bank. Under Israeli control, with Jews again able to live in the region, the villages of Gush Etzion were rebuilt—though this too was rejected by the international community.”
Despite this history, Ini noted, the Times has been “telling readers in recent months that settlement land is, in fact, Palestinian territory. In other words, it avoids the word ‘disputed,’ an objective description that encompasses both sides’ point of view, because partisans see it as partisan. But then it freely uses language that is intrinsically, indisputably partisan.”
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Three Big Questions
Though both the Oslo Accords and Quartet Principles demand that Palestinians eschew terrorism and accept Israel’s right to exist in order to achieve a sustainable peace, why does it seem that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has an easier time negotiating with unrepentant terrorist groups with no preconditions than he does negotiating with Israel, despite Israeli incentives (i.e. a building freeze in 2009-2010, prisoner releases in 2013-2014)?
Abbas regularly glorifies terrorism, whether by paying killers and their families, praising them publicly, or posing with their pictures. Why don’t UN resolutions explicitly condemn his behavior (as opposed to criticizing incitement without identifying the perpetrator) as an obstacle to peace?
Do the recent unsanctioned protests in the Gaza Strip suggest that Hamas is losing its legitimacy among the population it harshly governs?
[Photo: Mehr News Agency]