The “Art” Of Nuclear Deproliferation

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Since before taking office, President Trump has been highly critical of the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran. He’s not the only one.The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has referred to the agreement as “morally absurd,” due to its limited protective scope.

In late April, in an attempt to salvage the deal, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a “new deal” with the aim of addressing Trump’s concerns. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was quick to dismiss these efforts in a statement, making it clear that Iran had no intention of abiding by a modified version of the agreement, “We will not add anything to the deal or remove anything from it, even one sentence,” he said.

On May 8th, President Trump followed through with his promise. He pulled out of the nuclear deal and vowed to restore U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. 

With the European Union overwhelmingly in support of the deal, Trump’s decision has put a strain on relationships between Washington and its European allies. During the next 90 to 180 days, when sanctions are expected to kick in, the administration must be remain vigilant to ensure Iran doesn’t take advantage of this strain. Otherwise, the FDD think tank warns that Iran may benefit. Mark Dubowitz is the CEO of FDD and you can learn more about him here.

The problem that Trump has before him is neither new, nor easy to conquer. Like the other recent presidents before him, he’s inherited two nuclear threats in the form of Iran and North Korea. Decades worth of past administrations have tried and failed to prevent escalation through diplomacy. President Trump’s tactics are different. Trump’s “art of the nuclear deal” calls for tough sanctions and unapologetic rhetoric, and for the time being it appears to be causing Kim Jong-Un to question whether or not his atomic ambitions are worth the risk of a U.S. military strike.

Since the May 8th announcement we’ve seen the beginning of an Iran strategy. Trump provided a clear military threat to Iranian leaders, saying “I would advise Iran not to start their nuclear program. If they do, there will be very severe consequences.”

Trump and members of his administration have spoken at great length about the urgent need to combat Iran’s dangerous activities beyond the nuclear sphere. In addition to never developing a nuclear weapon, the administration has called for the Iranian regime to cease it’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable missiles, to end all support for terrorists (e.g. Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Taliban), to stop its threats against Israel, end cyber attacks against the United States and our allies, and end human rights abuses (including the unlawful detention of foreigners).

Only time will tell how many of these goals the administration achieves, but one thing is clear:  President Trump aims to create a much more ambitious agreement with Iran than any President before him.

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Hezbollah and Global Finance

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Hezbollah was founded in 1985 in Lebanon, and trained by 1,500 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Their founding objectives included the expulsion of Americans, French, and their allies from Lebanon. Since its formation, Hezbollah’s military strength has grown to be even more powerful than the Lebanese Army. The extent of the group’s influence has led many to describe Hezbollah as “a state within a state.” The organization controls radio and TV stations, provides social services, and even has seats in the Lebanese government

Hezbollah’s record of terror attacks includes truck bombings against US and French forces, suicide attacks against Jewish communities in Argentina and Thailand, and a host of other plots targeting American, French, Israel, German, British, and other countries from Europe to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The terrorist organization has demonstrated an ability to act on a global scale and is equal to al Qaeda in size and financing.

 

Iran

Hezbollah claims to earn most of its income from donations, and through investments, however, Western intelligence agencies have found that Hezbollah receives the majority of its training, weapons, and financial aid directly from Iran. Some estimates suggest that Iran pays Hezbollah between $100 million and $200 million a year. Hezbollah acts as a proxy for Iran in the ongoing Iran–Israel conflict. The increase in financial assistance is likely due to Iran’s interest in preventing peace between Israel and Palestine.

Many cite Iran’s funding of Hezbollah as a reason to continue the economic sanctions that were lifted by the Iranian Nuclear deal. While the terms of that agreement strictly called for the disarmament of Iran’s nuclear program, many would like to see an end to Iran’s financial support of Hezbollah. Click here to read more about the Iranian deal in detail.

What’s more concerning is that the US made payments as high as $33.6 billion to the Iranian government that was referred to as economic relief. Mark Dubowitz, from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently spoke on Fox News about the nature of these payments and their potential consequences. Click here to watch Mark Dubowtiz on YouTube.

 

Donations

While Hezbollah relies a great deal on financial assistance from Iran they are by no means entirely dependent on it. The group has had a great deal of success raising financial support from private donors. Many of these contributions come from wealthy Lebanese expatriates living in Africa, and South America. Israeli intelligence detected the transfer of $2 million by a human courier comprised almost entirely of donations from Lebanese business groups, private persons, and individual businessmen. The local community claimed the smuggling operation was merely an attempt to evade Senegalese taxes. Western intelligence ranks Senegal as the second-highest center for Hezbollah’s fundraising activity in Africa behind the Ivory Coast.

 

Charities

Hezbollah uses various charities to conceal their fundraising activities. The al-Aqsa International Foundation, a terrorist financing scheme banned by the United States, Germany, and Great Britain primarily served as a Hamas front organization but also raised funds for Hezbollah.

The “Martyr’s Organization,” admits to supplying charitable funds for the family of suicide bombers. Many other charities that are not directly related to Hezbollah donate to the group out of ideological affinity. A declassified report cites four such charities in the Detroit area alone: The Islamic Resistance Support Association, the al-Shaid Fund, the Educational Development Association (EDA) and the Goodwill Charitable Organization (GCO).

 

Criminal Enterprises

Hezbollah utilizes its broad power and resources to operate various criminal enterprises, including diamond smuggling, money laundering, fraud, and drug production. These operations exist all over the world including North America, South America, Europe and the Middle East.

In the United States, various criminal groups have been investigated with ties to terror financing. The crimes of these groups range from stealing and reselling of baby formula, food stamp fraud, counterfeit grocery coupons, welfare claims, and credit card theft. A senior U.S. law enforcement official concluded, “There is a significant amount of money moved out of the United States attributed to fraud that goes to terrorism.” Estimates suggest as much as $20 million to $30 million annually is generated in by the illicit scam industry in America.

Iran in Syria: A Complicated Relationship

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The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Syrian Arab Republic are long-standing strategic allies. In recent years the relationship between these two nations has led Iran to provide significant support in the form of technical, financial, combat training and even some ground troops for the Syrian government during the civil war.

 

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations recently presented photographic evidence of an Iranian base outside Damascus that is likely being used to train tens of thousands of fighters for the militias it backs in Syria. Some estimates suggest that as many as 80,000 extremists operate under the control of the Iranian government in the country.

 

In addition to their long-standing allegiance, – Syria has been Iran’s most consistent ally since the 1979 Islamic revolution – Iran views Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government as a vital partner to its interests in the region. The like-mindedness of the governments and the country’s proximity to Israel are the two most likely reasons for Iranian’s active presence during the war.

 

The Syrian city of Zabadani has historically served as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s central station for supplying Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon. Before the Syrian civil war, Iran had as many as 3,000 IRGC officers based in Syria to train local troops, manage supply routes and provide financial support in Lebanon.

 

Since the beginning of the civil war, there were reports that Iran provided training for the National Defense Forces in Syria. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, led by Mark Dubowitz, has briefed members of Congress, and State Department officials on research suggesting Iran flew secret resupply flights to help Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. Click here for more info.

 

While many Western nations are concerned about the consequences of an Iranian backed Syria no one is more openly opposed to the idea than Syria’s Southwestern neighbor, Israel. Iran has made its hostile intentions against Israel clear for a long time, and there’s no doubt that the shared border between Syria and Israel gives the country cause for alarm. Enough so, that US satellites, surveillance aircraft, and drones have increased efforts to track suspected Iranian troops and ballistic missiles inside Syria due to the heightened threat that they might attempt a strike against Israel soon.

 

The Israeli government has made it clear that they will prevent Iran from establishing a military stronghold in Syria by force if need be. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned: “We will destroy every military site in Syria where we see an attempt by Iran to position itself militarily.” The US agrees that Iranian weapons inside Syria could threaten Israel directly, but many are concerned a preventive strike could result in a counter-strike by Iranian forces and send both countries down a path to war.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

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With the future of the Iran Deal being debated in Washington, it’s worth taking a look at Iran’s nuclear past to remind us why the fate of this deal is so critical to U.S. non-proliferation efforts as well as relations with Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran continually maintains its nuclear program is benign and for civilian use only.  However, an overview of their nuclear history and the fact that they had successfully kept most of their initial development efforts secret does not bode well for that argument.

Global Context

A post-WWII atomic reality brought about the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help nations peacefully cope with the new atomic era. Eisenhower’s 1953 Atoms for Peace speech served as a plea to the international community to move toward a positive resolution for nuclear development, particularly in reference to the arms race between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

In 1957, the U.S. and Iran were close partners.hey even signed a nuclear cooperation agreement under the aforementioned U.S. Atoms for Peace program. In 1967, the U.S. provided Iran its first research reactor, the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which is still active to this day.  Additionally, Iran was provided fuel for that reactor, enriched uranium. This naively optimistic mission included giving not just Iran, but other countries their own reactors and shares of fuel as a boon toward peaceful nuclear development for civilian technologies, and hopefully staving off the perceived need for nuclear military programs.

The 1970s was a turning point on many fronts. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was put into effect at the start of the decade, with Iran being one of the initial signatories. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi started ramping up Iran’s nuclear interests, with research programs active at TRR, and even sending Iranian students to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study nuclear physics.  

Though Iran maintains, to this day, that their nuclear interests were for the benefit of civilian use, they also made it known in the ‘70s that they wanted to develop their nuclear capacity to include building a bomb, should the need ever arise for its use.

Friends Til the Bitter End

The U.S. had good diplomatic relations with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, but in the end, it began to fuel further dissent among Iranian citizens. All of that was upended beginning in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution, then the ‘79-’81 Hostage Crisis, and the Iran-Iraq War lasting throughout ‘80s. The revolution was a crucial turning point in modern history of Iran, and subsequently its relationship with the rest of the world.

Iran in the Shadows

It was in 2002 that the extent of Iran’s deceit began to show, when previously undeclared nuclear facilities were exposed by a dissident group. A 2003 IAEA report  noted with concern Iran’s lack of timely breaches of its Safeguards Agreement.

In the 1980s, with Iran in the world’s “doghouse”, they had lost ties to nuclear suppliers and made clandestine efforts to seek other help in advancing their nuclear program. Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani admitted years later that he had attempted entry into Pakistan for the purpose of developing Iran’s nuclear program, but was denied.

However, it was rogue Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan who insidiously shared the designs for the P-1 centrifuge for the enrichment of uranium, a secret list of suppliers, and possibly designs for using uranium in a nuclear bomb. As a side note, Khan is also suspected of sharing nuclear technology with Korea and Libya. In the mid-90s, Iran acquired more components from the AQ Khan network for 500 centrifuges, and later designs for the P-2 centrifuge, the much more advanced model than its predecessor.

Though both the IAEA and the U.N. demanded starting in 2006 that Iran halt their uranium-enrichment programs, they didn’t. Iran continued to snub requests for more transparency in their nuclear and related activities as well as access to all their facilities for inspection.

A New Hope or Continued Deceit?

In 2013, the Interim Agreement signed in Geneva brought together the P5+1 nations (the U.S., France, China, Russia, the UK, plus Germany) and Iran to commence negotiations which would ultimately result in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement (JCPOA), or Iran Deal.  Though Iran agreed to the arrangements, which included eliminating its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, reducing the low-enriched uranium stockpile plus two-thirds of its gas centrifuges in exchange for lifting of economic sanctions, critics of the deal feel the stipulations were not strong enough. Mark Dubowitz of FDD articulates why he and other critics feel this deal falls short: despite the conditions of the agreement, it still allows Iran to essentially continue its nuclear program. Additionally, the deal is short-sighted, with a timeline of clauses staggered to end over the next two decades.

Analysts like Dubowitz are doubtful that the current structure of the Iran Deal will make lasting changes to Iran’s ethos on the nuclear front, in terms of working cooperatively with the international community. Decades of nuclear secrecy and staving off transparency with world powers can only lead us to believe that their participation in the Iran Deal is to mollify the West.

Can We Really Trust Iran to Change? What Their Human Rights Record Has to Say

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On January 10, 2018, Iran moved to scale back its death sentences for those incarcerated for drug-related crimes. Though in the works since 2016, the timing of this decision is a clear attempt to shift the international community’s focus away from Iran’s current tumultuous internal strife.

While this appears on the surface to be a solid step for Iran’s political ethos, recent protests beginning at the end of 2017 and spilling into the new calendar year underline a distinct domestic cynicism. First, we’ll take a look at Iran’s history of executions as it relates to its new policy; then we’ll delve into the ongoing protests. We’ll conclude with the global implications of Iran’s actions;  Mark Dubowitz is one expert who has written about this.

 

Iran’s Record(ed) Numbers

Iran’s use of Sharia law in governance has spurred endless criticism from the international community. Past conduct that warranted execution in Iran for “non-violent” crimes includes insulting the Prophet, apostasy, homosexuality, adultery, and drugs or drug-related crimes. Nearly three decades ago, Iran reportedly had the highest rate of executions in the world. Though numbers still ran high, they dipped until 2015, when it spiked to a reported 1,000, accounting for 55% of the world’s executions that year. Additionally, there are 73 known cases of juvenile offenders executed since 2005. Currently, Iran is second only to China in the number of executions per year.

The new changes exempting some drug-related crimes from the death penalty could reverse of the fate of approximately 5,000 people currently on Iran’s death row for that class of crime. According to Iran’s Parliament, those in line for execution can have their cases fully re-examined. However, the new amendment stipulates that those possessing or distributing more than 50 kg of narcotics will still face capital punishment. Previously, 5 kg of opium or 30 g of heroin was enough to warrant the death penalty.

 

Protests and The Price of Eggs

The reduction in qualifiers for execution is objectively good news, but tempered with the recent flare-up of protests, one must wonder if the impetus for the decision is a temporary measure to save face.

In late December of 2017, protests erupted across Iran. On the surface, the protests broke out over a 40% increase in the price of eggs. However, the bigger picture clearly shows that a stagnant and corrupt economy has enriched the mullahs while leaving the Iranian people struggling.

This most recent spark in protests began in Mashhad, known as Iran’s spiritual capital, with a population of conservatives who largely voted for Rouhani’s opponent, Ibrahim Raesi, in the last election. Because it is a 3-million-strong hub of pilgrimage and tourism, the drive to turn a dime (or rial) on those travelers is exacerbating the class divide. The effort to draw people with luxurious accommodations and entertaining places to stay contrasts with the city’s scanty infrastructure. Additionally, the rural poor and traditionally austere pilgrims have felt alienated in a city rooted in spirituality but lacking in affluence.

President Rouhani’s official reaction to the protests stated that Iranians do have a right to criticize the government, especially since the people have long experienced corrupt governments under the Islamic Republic. However, during his four-and-a-half years as president, Rouhani has failed to take any meaningful steps to strengthen Iran’s human rights. In this context, the protests mark a direct repudiation of Rouhani’s record.

However, as protests and clashes with police spread across the country, the government blocked access to Iran’s popular social media app, Telegram, and also restricted use of Instagram. Officials claimed the social media apps were being used to coordinate among protesters to spread violence. The protests as a whole have remained peaceful, while government officials and IRGC representatives issued sharp statements demonizing those protesting as enemies of the state.

Though full access has since been reinstated first to Instagram, then to Telegram, the latter was restored only after two full weeks of shuttered free speech and communication.

When Will Iran Be Held Accountable?

Mark Dubowitz, a financial and economic analyst who serves as CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a non-partisan think tank, has highlighted Iran’s deplorable human rights record and the lack of accountability enforced by the U.S. and the international community. Despite protests and unrest with Iran’s own people, the global spotlight more often focuses on Iran when the topic turns to their nuclear interests.

The JCPOA has been a hotly debated topic in the United States since its finalization in 2015, particularly in light of President Trump’s reluctance to sign off on Iran’s compliance. Mark Dubowitz (www.markdubowitz.org) has warned that Iran’s compliance is merely a means to regain access to their financial assets. He argues that Iran’s financial gains would not got towards the betterment of its own people, but rather for more sinister reasons. Dubowitz and FDD have long been fighting for stricter sanctions against Iran for its history of stirring up  instability, and the threat it poses to America,  its allies, and the well-being of its own people.

Dubowitz has been championing the need to hold Iran accountable for its regional aggression and domestic repression. These are lessons that we should learn from to keep America and its allies safe.