To Confront Syria, the U.S. Needs to Confront Iran

by Benjamin Weinthal

Michael Ramirez has a wonderful political cartoon today about the pressing need to pay attention to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s drive to become a nuclear-armed power. While the U.S. and France ratcheted up the momentum to strike Syria’s regime—a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran—for its use of chemical weapons, the mullah’s regime continues its work on a nuclear-weapons device.

Syrian president Bashar Assad’s determination to preserve his terror regime mirrors Iran’s commitment to developing nuclear missiles. The twin goals of the regimes are existential projects.

The election of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has lulled many Western countries and Middle East observers into a naïve sense of complacency. His cabinet is filled with dangerous Intelligence Ministry veterans. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in late August that Iran has installed a new round of 1,000 advanced uranium-enrichment centrifuges for its illicit nuclear program. Moreover, Iran’s regime launched the development of a new warship this week, prompting concerns about new volatility in a very fragile Middle East region.

On the human-rights front, Rouhani’s regime has refused to release three Americans, including the American-Iranian pastor Saeed Abedini, from its notorious prison system. During Rouhani’s short time in office, a popular member of the persecuted Baha’i community, Ataollah Rezvani, was killed in August.

Prior to Rezvani’s murder, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the main sponsor of Iranian domestic and global terrorism, issued a fatwa against the peaceful Baha’i community. According to the AP, Khamenei created “a possible prelude to further crackdowns on the minority.” The ominous fatwa likely caused the killing of Rezvani.

It is difficult to unravel the Obama administration’s long-term Middle East policy. Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama stated that the need to launch military strikes against Syria’s regime is a way to deter Iran’s dash to obtain weapons of mass destruction. In sharp contrast to calls for the dissolution of Assad’s regime, the Obama administration has not sought a transformation in Iran.

Iran has long violated international norms, including support for terrorist entities, such as the Lebanese-based Hezbollah, who kill Americans. Given that Iran’s regime is wedded to Syria’s Assad, the time is ripe for the U.S. to advocate regime change in the Islamic Republic. 

Many Western politicians and Middle East experts long viewed Assad as a “reformer” or “modernizer.” A similar vocabulary (“moderate”) is now mistakenly applied to Rouhani.

Broad swaths of Iran’s population seek a secular and non-mullah form of government. The 2009 protests against Iran’s authoritarian system showed the burning desire for change.

A combination of enhanced economic sanctions – a full-blown embargo — combined with announcements to Iran’s population from Obama and Kerry could very well set into motion a process to dislodge the radical Islamists in control of Iran.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on [email protected]



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