Despite years of sanctions and payouts, Iran has made alarming strides in the pursuit of nuclear weaponry, presenting an existential threat not only to Israel but potentially to the entire Western world. A recent development in 2024 underscores this concern: Iran has solidified a 20-year cooperation agreement with Russia, mirroring a similar agreement it holds with China. Considering these developments, the question arises: Should the response be one of inaction, intensified sanctions, increased financial incentives, military action, or perhaps an alternative approach? The decision lies with you.
Obama’s Response to Iran: the JCPOA
In 2015, Western nations crafted an agreement called the JCPOA to restrict Iran’s growing nuclear arsenal:
In 2015, Iran, China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA required Iran to implement agreed-upon restrictions on its nuclear program and accept specific monitoring and reporting requirements in exchange for the gradual lifting of these sanctions. (Donovan et al, 2023)
Under Obama’s administration, Iran had been given “$150 billion [in] …. foreign assets that belonged to Iran and were frozen by sanctions imposed to impede its nuclear program” (Norton, 2023).
The deal was breached by Iran: “The limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal was set at 202.8kg of uranium, but that limit has been breached for many years by Iran” (Wintour, 2023).
Trump’s Response: Sanctions
Trump in 2018 ended the JCPOA deal and introduced new sanctions: “President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions and introduced new sanctions” (DeLuc & Williams, 2023).
According to a 2019 CBS News article, these sanctions were intended to prevent Iran’s development of weapons and support of terrorism networks:
The Trump administration is imposing new sanctions affecting Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors, as the U.S. continues to pressure the regime. The sanctions are aimed at denying Iran revenue that the administration says could be used to support the production of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks.
…. Iran announced this week that it would stop complying with parts of that deal. (Watson, 2019).
Trump’s sanctions led to Iran’s inflationary recession and the drop in the Iranian currency and oil exports:
Since 2017, the Trump administration has continuously tightened the noose of sanctions on Iran, targeting more than 80 per cent of the country’s economy. There can be little doubt that this “maximum pressure” policy is inflicting considerable economic harm on Iran. Economic growth that followed the lifting of sanctions in 2016 has given way to an inflationary recession. The Iranian currency has lost two-thirds of its value, and oil exports, which are a crucial source of government revenue, have dropped from 2.5 million barrels/day to less than 0.5 million barrels/day. (International Crisis Group, 2020)
Biden’s Response: Financing
Biden, on the other hand, has been criticized for granting Iran $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenue:
The Biden administration has faced criticism from Republicans in Washington over its past diplomatic efforts to try to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and its decision to grant Iran access to $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenue to secure the release of five Americans held prisoner in Tehran. (DeLuce & Williams, 2023)
Also, there is consideration of lifting the terrorism label on Iran, which could cause woes for the US’s Middle Eastern allies, such as Israel: “Now administration officials are debating how to proceed, knowing that lifting the terrorism label would spark a scathing reaction in Congress and among Middle East allies” (DeLuce, 2022).
The Inside on Terrorism Financing
Here is how terrorism is financed, along with its ramifications:
Terrorists yield destruction to economies, nations, and human lives using simple and fairly cheap technology. To successfully execute their attacks, terrorists need financial resources. Typically, they use different sources of money depending on what’s available, their motivations, and the barriers they face from law enforcement. The aim of terrorism is not funding but rather pursuing their ideological goals. Financing is only used as a means to an end. …
Terrorist financing is like transnational crime as it involves similar aspects including:
…. The use of extreme violence such as murder, blackmailing, kidnapping, and threats of retaliation;
What is terrorist financing? …. In most cases, terrorists engage in crime and cooperate with criminals to generate funds and procure weapons. It is also common for terrorists to participate in the drug trade, trade in arms, smuggling large amounts of cash and other illegal substances, trading in precious stones, or kidnapping to generate money. …
Besides focusing on the main attacks, funding is required for other activities including acquiring weapons, training new terrorists, paying bribes, forging documents, and seeking support through media in the form of propaganda. (Financial Crime Academy, 2023)
Iran’s support of Hamas terrorism helped propel the Hamas attack on Israel: “Tehran has been militarily and financially propping up Hamas for years, which ultimately advanced the terrorist group’s ability to launch the attack against Israel on October 7” (Donovan et al., 2023.
We know that Iran supports terrorist groups such as Hizballah with weapons:
In Iraq, Iran supported various Iran-aligned militia groups in 2021, including the U.S.-designated terrorist groups Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), Harakat al-Nujaba, and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, with sophisticated weapons — including increasingly accurate and lethal unmanned aerial systems (UAS) … . (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2021)
Iran has also supplied Hizballah with thousands of rockets, missiles, and small arms, a major concern especially for Israel:
Since the end of the 2006 Israeli-Hizballah conflict, Iran has supplied Hizballah in Lebanon with thousands of rockets, missiles, and small arms in violation of UNSCR 1701. Israeli security officials and politicians expressed concerns that Iran was supplying Hizballah with advanced weapons systems and technologies, as well as assisting the group in creating infrastructure that would permit it to indigenously produce rockets and missiles to threaten Israel from Lebanon and Syria. Iran has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Hizballah and trained thousands of its fighters at camps in Iran. (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2021)
We also know Iran supports terrorist groups in Gaza:
Designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 1984, Iran continued its support for terrorist-related activity in 2021, including support for Hizballah, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza, and various terrorist and militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, and elsewhere throughout the Middle East. (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2021)
Specifically, Iran provides weapons to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups:
In 2021, Iran continued providing weapons systems and other support to Hamas and other U.S.-designated Palestinian terrorist groups, including Palestine Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. These groups were behind numerous deadly attacks originating in Gaza and the West Bank. (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2021)
It has also aided terrorist attacks against Israelis:
Iran pursued or supported terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in 2021, including a thwarted January plot to attack an Israeli embassy in East Africa, a January bomb attack outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi for which the Indian government said the IRGC-QF was responsible, and a disrupted attempt to attack an Israeli businessman in Cyprus in October. (Bureau of Counterterrorism, 2021)
Iran’s Ties to Terrorism
Sanctions don’t stop Iran from funding terrorism; it’s estimated to give $700 million annually to terrorist groups and $100 million annually to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. Iran also supplies Palestinian groups with artillery and the knowledge to build rockets and missiles:
Despite being heavily sanctioned, Tehran [the capital of Iran] has continued to provide more than $700 million annually to support terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, and up to $100 million annually to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups. It has also transferred artillery rockets to Palestinian groups. More importantly, Iran has transferred the know-how and equipment to give Palestinian terrorist groups the capability to build rockets and missiles locally. (Donovan et al., 2023)
Iran uses shell companies for transactions to evade sanctions: “As a countermeasure to US, Western, and UN sanctions, the Iranian regime has set up an illicit global network of shell companies, banks, and exchange houses that facilitate transactions on its behalf …” (Donovan et al, 2023).
It is also aided by The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is a haven for sanction evasions for Iran:
A significant number of entities in Iran’s now-sanctioned “shadow banking network” are based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ….
The UAE’s favorable, low-tax business environment, vibrant gold trade, and strategic location attract investors from around the world. Unfortunately, the UAE also attracts nefarious Iranian, Russian, and other actors who are taking advantage of loopholes in its financial system to evade sanctions” (Donovan et al, 2023).
Iran’s Nuclear Proliferation
Iran is swiftly advancing toward nuclear weaponry, and so the west must not dismiss Iran’s potential to deploy it:
Iran’s nuclear program made headlines again on February 20 after Bloomberg reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) detected uranium particles enriched to 84 percent at an Iranian facility. Unsurprisingly, Iran denied that it has ratcheted up enrichment to that level, which is just short of the 90 percent generally considered weapons grade. …. Tehran [the capital of Iran] has recently threatened to pursue 90 percent enrichment to build leverage over the United States.
Iran’s brutal repression of protesters and its transfer of kamikaze drones to Russia for its illegal war in Ukraine have drawn US and European focus away from the JCPOA. …. [T]he United States and Europe cannot lose sight of the growing proliferation threat and how current geopolitics may drive Tehran [the capital of Iran] to decide nuclear weapons as necessary for its security. (Davenport, 2023)
Iran also has the potential to accelerate its development of nuclear weapons, meaning it could potentially make four nuclear weapons in less than a month without being detected by the international community:
More efficient centrifuges and a stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium will enable Iran to quickly ratchet up its enrichment to produce weapons-grade material, possibly before the inspectors could detect a change and the United States could respond.
… using 60 percent—or even 20 percent—enriched uranium as a starting point for enriching material to weapons-grade (90 percent) significantly reduces the time it would take to produce enough material for a bomb.
If Tehran started with 60 percent enriched uranium, for instance, it could produce enough 90 percent material for a bomb in less than a week—a timeframe referred to as “breakout.” This short window is quite worrying because Iran could try to achieve breakout between IAEA inspections, but it is not new. What is changing, however, is Iran’s breakout time to multiple weapons, which is largely due to the growing stockpiles of 60 and 20 percent material.
…. With stockpiles of this size and a growing enrichment capacity, Iran could likely produce enough material for four weapons in less than a month. As that timeframe shrinks, which is likely given that Iran shows no signs of rolling back its enrichment, the proliferation threat will continue to increase.
…. If Tehran can breakout to multiple nuclear weapons before the international community can detect and respond, the proliferation threat increases significantly. (Davenport, 2023)
Iran’s New 20-Year Alliance with Russia
Last month, Russia and Iran agreed to a 20-year cooperation deal. It complements the 25-year Iran-China deal.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, gave his official approval on 18 January to a new 20-year comprehensive cooperation deal between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia …. It will replace the 10-year-deal signed in March 2001 (extended twice by five years) and has been expanded not only in duration but also in scope and scale, particularly in the defense and energy sectors. In several respects, the new deal additionally complements key elements of the all-encompassing ‘Iran-China 25-Year Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement’ … . (Watkins, 2024)
Iran uses Iraq to side-step sanctions on oil and increase Iran and Russian weapon deliveries for attacking Israel:
The shared fields of Iran and Iraq have long allowed Tehran to side-step sanctions in place against its key oil sector, as it is impossible to tell what oil has come from the Iranian side or the Iraqi ….Another advantage of the shared fields is that they allow effectively free movement of personnel from the Iranian side to the Iraqi side, and the utilisation of key oil and gas developments across Iraq is a key part of Iran’s longstanding plan, fully supported by Russia, to build a ‘land bridge’ to the Mediterranean Sea coast of Syria. This would enable Iran and Russia to exponentially increase weapons delivery into southern Lebanon and the Golan Heights area of Syria to be used in attacks on Israel. The core aim of this policy is to provoke a broader conflict in the Middle East that would draw in the U.S. and its allies. (Watkins, 2024)
A senior E.U. security sector source claims that Iran will be given a license to manufacture Russian missiles; a selection of Islamic militants will be trained to use them:
“Selected IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] personnel will be trained on the latest Russian upgrades of several short- and long-range missiles …. before the plan to manufacture them under licence in Iran begins, with the aim being to have 30 percent of them stay in Iran, with the rest being sent back to Russia,” he said. (Watkins, 2024)
The 20-year Iran and Russian deal will mean Iran has a stronghold in the Middle East while the US is less able to protect its allies:
“What all of this means, is that the new 20 -year deal between Iran and Russia will change the landscape of the Middle East, southern Europe, and Asia as Iran will have a much-extended military reach that will give it much more leverage to make political demands across those regions …. This reach also means that countries in these areas will feel that continuing to rely on the U.S. for their protection is a lot more of a precarious option than it was before,” he concluded. (Watkins, 2024)
In January 2024, Iran launched missiles and drone attacks, capable of reaching Israel:
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps launched missile and drone strikes, targeting extremist groups and an alleged spy base in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. …
The strikes launched by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on January 15 and 16 made use of sophisticated missiles, violated the territorial sovereignty of Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, and were clearly intended to send a message.
“We are a missile power in the world,” Iranian state media quoted Defense Minister Reza Ashtiani as proclaiming. “Wherever [enemies] want to threaten the Islamic republic, we will react, and this reaction will definitely be proportionate, tough, and decisive.” (RFE/RL Staff, 2024)
Iran and Israel tensions have escalated during the present Gaza strip war, leading to multiple Iranian partners and extremist groups, which it supports, aligning against Israel
Tensions between Iran and Israel have soared amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. Multiple Iranian proxies and partners have entered the fray against Israel in support of the Palestinian cause and the Iranian-backed Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union.
Iran openly supports the so-called “axis of resistance” — Tehran’s term for the extremist groups and even state actors it guides to varying degrees in opposition of Israel. Many in the axis are now in possession of Iranian or Iranian-derived missiles. (RFE/RL Staff, 2024)
The missiles fired showed that Iran could launch them all the way to Israel:
In what Tehran called Iran’s longest-ever missile strike, sophisticated Kheibar Shekan ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel were used on January 15 to attack the “terrorist bases” of the Islamic State (IS) and other extremist groups in northwestern Syria. (RFE/RL Staff, 2024)
Dealing with Iran’s Existential Threat to Israel and World
A new strategy needs to happen to stop nuclear bomb proliferation in Iran or the possibility of war. Some possible solutions for dealing with Iran:
Speaking in Berlin, Israel’s visiting foreign minister, Eli Cohen, claimed there were only two options to deal with Iran: using a so-called “snapback” mechanism to reinstate wider UN sanctions on Iran; and “to have a credible military option on the table as well” (Wintour, 2023).
However, some additional solutions to Iran’s nuclear bomb potential have been suggested by CSIS:
Redouble U.S. and allied intelligence collection on Iran’s nuclear program ….
Keep the diplomatic door open [despite Iran’s funding of terrorism and breaching of agreements].
The option of last resort: a military strike. (Brewer, 2021)
UN Stops Restrictions on Iran’s trade of missile technology
On October 18, 2023, the UN ban on Iran’s trade of missile technology expired, despite Iran’s nuclear development outside of the terms of the JCPOA:
Further, despite Iran’s nuclear development outside of the terms of the JCPOA, UN restrictions on Iran’s trade of missile-related technology expired on October 18, 2023. This could allow for supplies and ballistic missile components to move more freely to and from Iran and no longer require approval by the UN Security Council. The United States, United Kingdom, EU, and others have issued new sanctions on Iran to continue the prohibitions on missile and UAV technology, but without the UN restrictions in place it will remain to be seen how countries like China and Russia respond. (Donovan et al, 2023)
Lapsing UN penalties on Iran’s missile tests likely embolden Iran on its terror and arms proliferation:
“Lapsing U.N. penalties on Iran’s ballistic missile tests, transfers and other activities will be yet another sign of the international community’s irresolution to say and do the right thing on Iran. It will, therefore, embolden Iran to double down on its terror proxies and arms proliferation,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies” (DeLuce & Williams, 2023).
Iran and US Are Now in Combat
On Friday, February 2, 2024, Iran provoked the US into combat:
[T]he US conducted major airstrikes on 85 targets across seven locations in Iraq and Syria … the start of what will likely be a series of larger-scale US strikes on Iranian-backed militants who have carried out attacks on US troops in the Middle East. The retaliatory strikes … came in response to a drone strike by Iran-backed militants on a US military outpost in Jordan on Sunday, which killed three US service members and wounded more than 40 others. (Bertrand et al, 2024)
Final Commentary: God’s solution
On a personal note, a friend of mine had four near-death experiences. She claims she went into heaven, where she was exposed to the future of Earth’s catastrophes, and revealed that many of these visions have come true. But what strikes me as most profound about her experience is the solution God gave her: love.
So, what would the above situation look like if every one of us chose a path of unconditional love for all others? There would be no terrorism financing, mainly as ideological divides wouldn’t exist. That’s because when we love all others unconditionally, divisions don’t occur. There would be no need for sanctions and no citizens suffering from hyperinflation and low living standards. There would be no bomb threats, no initiating attacks on neighboring countries, and no need to retaliate. There would be no existential crisis, weapons manufacturing, and weapons sales profiteering. There would be no extreme wealth, particularly through ill-gotten gains, pushing ideological dominion. There would be no dying and suffering nor the provocation of global war. There would only be harmony and love.
Is this possible? I believe it is.