International terrorist networks fueled by the support of nations such as Iran pose a significant threat of the security of the US homeland. The new US-Iran nuclear deal does not diminish the threat of these terror groups.
The House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee recently held a hearing regarding the immanency of the threat of Iranian terror proxy groups, and its resulting impact on the homeland security of the United States.
“At the outset, I want to express my strong opposition to the Iranian nuclear agreement,” said Subcommittee Chairman Peter King (R-NY). “It is a false deal that gave Iran $100 billion, access to global markets, and greater freedom of movement.”
King continued, “Since the deal was signed, the Administration has apologized to the regime and improperly altered US law to allow certain travelers that have been to Iran and other terror hot spots to come to the United States without getting a visa.”
Those in the intelligence community have been adamant that Iran continues to pose a threat to US national interests, despite reaching a nuclear deal. In fact, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper believes the deal will reward Iran with “billions of dollars and international standing.”
When speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, Clapper called Iran the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.” Clapper asserted that Iran and Hezbollah—which has been linked to terrorist plots around the world—remain a continuing terrorist threat to US interests and partners worldwide.
In light of the terrorist activities initiated and supported by Iran, DNI Clapped stated that, “Iran’s military and security services are keen to demonstrate that their regional power ambitions have not been altered by the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] deal.”
Testifying before the hearing were Tzvi Kahn, Senior Policy Analyst with the Foreign Policy Initiative and Bilal Y. Saab, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council.
During his testimony, Kahn reviewed the effect of the July 2015 JCPOA, especially concentrating on why the nuclear agreement was not only failing to provide a compromise on US and Iranian relations, but also enhancing the tensions that were already present.
“The JCPOA has not changed Iran’s long-time objectives in the Middle East: regional hegemony, the contraction of US forces and influence, and the subjugation of Sunni Islamic states beneath a dominant Shiite crescent,” Kahn said. “The nuclear deal in fact makes these ends more achievable, since it provides Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief.”
Kahn explained that the leadership in Tehran fears that the JCPOA is simply “a ruse to infiltrate its body politic and moderate its radical Islamist ideology.” As a result, Iran has increased its hostility against the United States and its allies to show that it remains committed to its vision off the Islamic Revolution.
Despite the nuclear deal, Iran has continued to provoke the US. According to Kahn, the agreement has essentially backfired, since Iran can use the JCPOA as a bargaining chip, considering Tehran has threatened to withdraw its agreement in hopes of discouraging the US from providing punishment based upon pastaggressions. Yet, all this has done is encourage radicalism to prevail.
“To reverse this dynamic,” Kahn said, “The United States must adopt a paradigm shift that treats Iran’s nuclear program and non-nuclear aggression as interrelated problems that require a comprehensive strategy.” Consequently, the US most impose “meaningful penalties for any type of Iranian misbehavior—nuclear or non-nuclear.”
Kahn believes Iran’s provocation of the US will continue to intensify, despite any gesture of American goodwill. Consequently, in addition to imposing meaningful punishments, the US must also stop treating Iran as a potential partner to assist in quelling regional instabilities.
“If the White House continues to hope, against overwhelming evidence, that Iran will reciprocate America’s goodwill gestures on its own accord, it should not be surprised if Iran concludes that it has little to lose by continuing to provoke the United States,” Kahn said.
On the issue of the influence of Hezbollah on US interests in the region, Saab testified that the biggest accomplishment of Iranian foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution is the creation and subsequent development of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite party, which the US has officially designated a terrorist organization.
Saab pointed out that Hezbollah, as a power wielding militant group, has grown its presence to encompass “intelligence, counterintelligence, and military capabilities that are more significant than many mid-sized European countries; and regional political clout that tops that of many Middle Eastern governments.”
Saab believes that Hezbollah will survive regardless of the outcome in the current Syrian conflict. If the rebels take Damascus, which is unlikely, Hezbollah will be weakened but will survive. If, on the other hand, the rebels are defeated, Hezbollah would further assert itself regionally and cement its control of Lebanon.
“So regardless of what happens in Syria, Hezbollah will most probably survive if it continues to effectively nurture and manage two critical relationships: its Shi’ite support base and its main patron, Iran,” said Saab.
With the lifting of international sanctions for Tehran, Hezbollah will most likely strengthen, and take on a larger and more powerful hold of the region.
“However, how the Iranian regime responds to changing dynamics in Syria will directly affect Hezbollah’s future. Iran could instruct Hezbollah to continue the fight in Syria to try to maintain supply routes and create new allies,” Saab said. “Hezbollah could also see itself assume a greater regional role in the service of Iranian interests, to compensate for the loss of Syria (Iraq is one obvious place where it might act given Hezbollah’s longstanding links to Shi’a groups there and Iran’s strong interests in Iraq).”
Saab concluded that the US must address its approach to Hezbollah carefully, and with careful planning and consideration of relations with Iran. As a designated terrorist organization, the US has a policy of not directly dealing with the group, but has no policy beyond that.
“As I wrote almost six years ago, the most effective strategic option the United States can and should pursue with regard to Hezbollah is containment,” Saab said. “At the end of the day, the party is a product of Lebanon’s internal weakness; Iran’s intervention in Lebanese domestic politics; and the ongoing conflict with Israel.”
Saab continued, “The United States has neither the desire nor the capacity to solve all these complex problems on its own. The best thing it can do is continue to help build state capacity in Lebanon and bolster the country’s internal strength by providing military assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces.”