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Only a Comprehensive Strategy of Pushback and Deterrence Can Curb Iran’s Ambitions

Jan. 18 2018

Over the past decade, the Islamic Republic has gained steadily in strength and influence, to the point where it now controls Lebanon and exerts considerable influence over Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. To reverse this trend, argues Michael Eisenstadt, the U.S., while avoiding war, must confront Iran economically, militarily, and politically. He lays out a plan for doing so, some elements of which are as follows:

Washington should abandon its default commitment to regional stability. Rather, it should seek stability when that serves U.S. interests, and exploit instability when playing the role of spoiler may harm its adversaries. In doing so, the United States will be turning the tables on adversaries like Iran and Russia that have often used this same tactic against it. Washington should likewise counter Tehran’s proxy strategy with a U.S. proxy strategy. . . . Wherever possible, Washington should tie down Iranian and proxy forces in low-level, open-ended conflicts that could limit their ability to engage in troublemaking elsewhere. This includes quietly encouraging domestic unrest in Iran to divert resources that might otherwise be spent on capabilities to engage in troublemaking abroad. . . .

Iraq is the geopolitical fulcrum of efforts to disrupt Iran’s so-called land bridge to the Levant; as long as Iraq remains contested terrain, Iran’s ability to project power into the Levant will be subject to a degree of uncertainty. The key for Washington is to remain engaged. Here, the United States will find willing partners. Most mainstream Iraqi politicians—such as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi—want the United States to remain in Iraq so that Iran does not become the uncontested foreign power there. . . .

The overwhelming imperative for the United States in the Levant is to prevent another Hizballah-Israel war. Yet U.S. policy in recent years may have made such a war more likely. . . . [To make the best of the situation], the United States should make clear that it will do the following: provide Israel the diplomatic and military cover needed to wage war successfully [against Hizballah and the Iranian presence in Syria]—even in the face of Russian opposition; augment Israel’s rocket and missile defenses with U.S. sea- and land-based systems; provide Israel with penetrator and other munitions required to deal with hardened underground bunkers and weapons factories; and provide Israel with the intelligence needed to interdict Shiite militias heading to the front from Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Finally, the United States should make clear that it will agree to end [a war between Israel and Hizballah] only when conditions for an enduring ceasefire have been met, and it should quietly warn Hizballah and the Assad regime that the damage inflicted by a war with Israel could reignite civil wars in Lebanon and Syria.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Iraq, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

 

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen