Iran Flouts One Rule. Why Not All?

By Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary Magazine

December 8, 2015


In October, we noted here that only weeks after the Iran nuclear deal had been rammed down the throats of a reluctant Congress and American people, Tehran had already begun violating it. As news spread of an Iranian long-range missile test in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution as well as the restrictions promised by the Obama administration, it soon became clear that Washington wasn’t interested in pursuing the matter. Though Samantha Powers, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN said America was “deeply concerned” about the matter, that’s as far as it went. Indeed, when President Obama was asked about the situation, he dismissed it by saying, “I think what we’ll be doing is we’ll review, as we have in the past, any violations of U.N. resolutions, and we’ll deal with them much as we have in the past.” Which is to say, he would forget about it and hope his Iranian negotiating partners wouldn’t embarrass him quite so blatantly again.

But the Iranians didn’t interpret Obama’s laconic response as a favor that should be rewarded with future good behavior. As Fox News reports, senior U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed a second major missile test was conducted by Iran on November 24 near its border with Pakistan. The missile was a Ghadr-110 and has a range of 1,200 miles and is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to an Israeli target. This missile is an improved version of the Emad, the type tested in October and also a technological step up from its existing arsenal.

This is a serious violation of two UNSC resolutions about Iranian missiles that were passed in the wake of the signing of the nuclear deal. Along with other resolutions that lifted the international sanctions placed on Iran, they formed a ratification package that was supposed to give Tehran what it wanted in exchange for the limits that were set on its nuclear and missile programs.

Yet when asked about the test yesterday, another senior administration official merely said that the White House was “aware” of the problem but had “no further comment at the time.”

What explains Iran’s determination to push ahead with these tests?

One interpretation is that they are racing against the clock to finish all ballistic tests this year before preparing to accept the UN restrictions. That might be one option for the Iranian leadership. But given the apathetic reaction from an Obama administration that spent the first half of 2015 pledging vigilant enforcement of the deals it was advocating, it is impossible to argue that they should feel afraid of the consequences of further violations.

The problem here isn’t so much these particular missiles, although they do pose a potentially lethal threat both to Israel and moderate Arab nations in the region. Rather, it is the precedent that has been set by an American refusal to take Iran’s violations of these agreements seriously.

All along critics of the Iran deal predicted that enforcement of the nuclear deal would not only hinge on inspections and transparency about Tehran’s nuclear program. Rather, the validity of the agreement would probably rest just as much on the willingness of the U.S. and its Western allies to come down on the Iranians like a ton of bricks at the least sign of a violation. If small rules were broken then big ones would follow as the Islamist regime tested U.S. forbearance for cheating.

But we don’t have to wait any longer to know what the results of that test will be. The Iranians already know that President Obama never had any intention of treating the deal and related restrictions on missiles as sacrosanct. The point of the exercise wasn’t so much to stop the Iranian nuclear program since the pact allows Tehran to continue its research and will expire in a decade anyway. What the president clearly wanted was a mechanism to affect a rapprochement with Iran that would allow him to end the long standoff between the two governments. Moreover, Obama sees Iran as an ally in the struggle against ISIS. That explains his reluctance to take action against Iran’s Syrian ally Bashar Assad.

But the reliance on Iran as an ally against ISIS is mistaken on two counts.

It commits the U.S. to a hands-off approach to Assad, guaranteeing that Syrians that hate the regime will never back a compromise that leaves him in power while also alienating the Arab governments that are needed to form a regional coalition aimed at ousting the Islamic State from power.

But it also misses the point about Iran’s role in the Middle East. As Ruthie Blum notes in Israel Hayom, the U.S. is forgetting that Iran remains the largest and most dangerous state sponsor of terrorism in the world. In that sense, though ISIS is dangerous in its own right, it also providing the perfect distraction for Iran as it continues it surreptitious efforts to create a nuclear weapon.

With the missile test violations under its belt and the U.S. uttering not a word in reply, Tehran is set to begin the period covered by the nuclear deal preparing to push the envelope on all of its restrictions. Their path to a bomb is assured by the fact that the deal expires, but Iran may not be satisfied with waiting for it to expire.

The attention of the public has moved on from the Iran deal as Americans wonder what their irresolute president will do to halt further ISIS depredations after Paris and now, apparently, in San Bernardino. That concern has now been overtaken by the debate over Donald Trump’s idiotic statements about banning Muslims. But looming above all of our worries about ISIS is the menace of a nuclear Iran. Obama may wish to ignore their violations just as he’d rather talk about Islamophobia rather than his refusal to rethink a failed anti-terror strategy that is dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of the terrorist regime in Tehran. But sooner or later, a reckoning will have to be made of the mess that this administration will bequeath to the nation abroad. When it happens, we will look back on this fall and understand that a refusal to enforce the already weak nuclear deal set in motion a series of events that can only end in tragedy.