The Iranian dictatorship may be losing its grip on power. Consequently, its historical strategy of continuous but low-level attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East may be changing into something more deadly.
The Iran regime may be so desperate that it’s planning a spectacular attack, an Iranian Pearl Harbor, to induce the United States to settle matters largely on Iranian terms, including re-embracing the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA) and ending economic sanctions on the regime’s economy.
As the head of U.S. Central Command recently explained, the mullahs and the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have historically engaged in acts of surreptitious terrorism to provoke the United States into military action directly against Iran. The mullahs then direct media attention to the “unprovoked” aggression by the “Great Satan” to deflect attention from Iran’s horrible human rights record, terrorist nature, and growing regime shakiness, all while Tehran claims to be innocent.
For example, in June 2019, Iran was suspected of attacking a U.S. drone in international airspace and interfering with international maritime shipping. Iran denied responsibility, and when those attacks failed to provoke retaliation or change U.S. sanctions policy, the Iranians then surreptitiously executed a missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities and used its proxy Hamas to launch missile attacks on Israel.
Nevertheless, the U.S. response was to refrain from directly using military power against Iran. Instead, the United States increased economic sanctions against more Iranian bad actors and enhanced the U.S. military presence in the region, particularly by augmenting U.S. and allied missile defenses.
That Iranian con game is no longer working. And contrary to what many critics of the current U.S. administration have held, that a “maximum pressure” policy would backfire and unite the Iranian people against the United States, the opposite has happened.
Internally, the Iranian regime is weak, and its end may be soon approaching.
In response to riots in more than 100 cities, the mullahs’ thuggish security forces have killed thousands of demonstrators and opponents of the regime, imprisoned thousands more, beating and raping many of them. Similar anti-regime demonstrations have erupted in Iraq and Lebanon, aimed specifically at local Iranian militia and security forces. The central demand by protesters in Iran is for the mullahs’ regime to step down, stop its terrorist adventures abroad, and end its massive corruption at home.
Despite these dangerous internal developments, the mullahs apparently still believe they can pull a diplomatic rabbit out of the hat of chaos and convince Europe to come to their rescue. In particular, the mullahs apparently think that by escalating threats, they will induce Europe to pressure the United States to back off its economic sanctions, or at least provide some sort of workaround system.
We must remember that though Iran proclaimed its innocence regarding the attacks on U.S. drones and the Saudi oil facility, Iran is now openly declaring its willingness to attack U.S. interests and allies in the Middle East, even to the point of publicly listing U.S. military infrastructure and bases in the region they have targeted.
Two respected former U.S. secretaries of defense, Leon Panetta and retired Gen. Jim Mattis, recently gave impetus to the idea of staying in the 2015 deal. Both former officials told the Reagan National Defense Forum on Dec. 7, 2019, that they would have stayed in the nuclear deal because, in Mattis’s words, “it worked.”
The former defense chiefs described the nuclear deal as “working,” based solely on the narrow assumption that as far as enriched fuel production goes, Iran has supposedly adhered to the nuclear deal’s limits. However, Panetta and Mattis admitted in further comments that the 2015 deal remained seriously deficient, in that it ignored Iran’s expanding missile production, financial and weapons support for rogue terror groups, massive human rights violations, serial attacks on international maritime shipping including oil tankers, and an attack on international economic stability through missile attacks on a Saudi oil production facility.
Additionally, informed critics of the JCPOA have clearly explained that the deal doesn’t “work.” As the Iranian dossier brought out of Iran by the Israelis revealed, Iran had no intention of signing up against nuclear proliferation but had adopted what the Israelis called a “glide path to nuclear weapons.”
Furthermore, despite the limits on enriched uranium in the deal, the Iranians never adopted any transparency for the entirety of their nuclear weapons activities. This is especially true of the renewed work at the research facility at the Fodrow fuel enrichment plant in Iran, which was suspected of nuclear weapons activity but long denied by the Iranians. It has now been determined by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that banned nuclear weapons work is indeed continuing at Fodrow.
Even more important than transparency was the immediate refusal by Iran, shortly after the JCPOA was signed, to abide by the central plank of the nuclear deal—to reveal all military-related nuclear weapons work it had undertaken, including activities begun after the brief 2003 pause.
Although the IAEA eventually gave Iran a pass, Washington shouldn’t engage in any wishful thinking that Iran’s previous nuclear weapons work can safely be ignored. After all, many members of Congress and a growing number of European allies now believe the nuclear deal is dead for that very reason.
In fact, a previous supporter of JCPOA, former head of NATO and retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Stavridis, echoed that view while recently addressing a European security conference, explaining that the Iran nuclear deal was indeed “dead” and not going to be revived.
So, two positive outcomes are possible. First, the United States and its European allies could negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran that ends Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Or second, the United States could work to change the regime, or perhaps see the regime taken down by its own people, millions of whom are now demonstrating in growing numbers, and so end Iranian nuclear ambitions once and for all.
In either case, we should turn the economic screws even tighter on the Iranian mullahs and their assets, while also assisting the protestors and opponents of the regime with needed communications equipment and strike funds to help them fight the panicking regime.
But there is also a new task we must undertake as the Iranian regime grows more and more desperate. We must take all necessary precautions beyond those already in place to protect against what historian Victor Davis Hanson recently described as a future Iranian version of “Pearl Harbor.” The fear is that a desperate Iran won’t only escalate its attacks as it has threatened to do, but will seek to spectacularly harm the United States to the extent that we will be coerced into caving to the Iranian regime’s demands.
We must remember that the head of the IRGC recently warned that he could strike any number of U.S. military facilities in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and some years ago, also claimed that he knew the exact location of critical infrastructure assets inside the United States (as identified by the 1999 Gilmore Commission terrorism report). If a number of these key assets were destroyed, the United States could fall into a massive economic depression.
For example, potential Iranian attacks could be aimed at infrastructure targets such as oil and gas pipelines, refineries, tankers, transportation hubs, or other sensitive energy facilities. The IRGC list could also include terror attacks on large public gathering places such as sports stadiums, subway systems, or large shopping centers.
Iran is reaching the end of its tether. It doesn’t know where to turn. The old formula of provoking Americans and then blaming the “Big Satan” for their problems no longer resonates. Europeans are becoming wobbly about their embrace of a weak and untenable JCPOA nuclear deal. And the Iranian people are clearly showing that they want to bring down the totalitarian Iranian regime. More than 65 percent of the population is too young to even remember the day the mullahs seized power!
In short, perhaps a “Pearl Harbor” attack is being planned in Tehran as I write this. Iran simply isn’t a country that can be considered a normal nation with which one can do normal business, including negotiating a new nuclear deal.
Without question, Iranian military and terror attacks have increased since the 2015 nuclear deal. The $150 billion of escrowed funds that were returned to the mullahs as part of the JCPOA were used to expand their regional “mayhem,” and weren’t used in any way to take care of the needs of their people.
As things now stand, supporters of the nuclear deal can’t credibly promise that the current state of affairs will suddenly change if we re-engage with the JCPOA. And few supporters of it could assure us that there is a reasonable chance—after any future deal that the mullahs would sign—that Iran wouldn’t remain on the same glide path to a nuclear weapons capability that the Israelis first warned us about.
At this juncture, the best strategy for the United States is to strengthen the policy of maximum pressure on Iran. And as they used to say in the old Western movies when an attack was imminent, “Keep your powder dry, boys.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.