Reshaping our Iran Policy

January 3, 2007 Topic: Security Regions: Persian GulfMiddle East Tags: DiplomacyPostmodernismSociology

Reshaping our Iran Policy

Mini Teaser: U.S. policy must ensure the price of Iranian aggression becomes unaffordable.

by Author(s): Jim Saxton

Finally, it should assist Gulf states in protecting their critical infrastructure. This would provide these states with the technical expertise to secure systems essential to the minimum operations of the economy and government. This includes energy, transportation, water systems and emergency services, both governmental and private. Providing critical infrastructure protection will increase stability and prevent attempts by Tehran to undermine, sabotage or debilitate the key arteries of the economies or security of the Gulf states.

Despite the fertile ground for a new Arab security framework, successful implementation requires the attention of the highest levels of our national security apparatus. Without presidential involvement and Oval Office diplomacy, Arab states will not "buy in"-this cannot be a Foggy Bottom idea that the Gulf states do not believe will be implemented. If the Gulf states and other Arab allies are not convinced that the United States will be there for the long haul, they may have no choice but to try and cut a deal with Tehran.

In addition to confronting Iran diplomatically and regionally, I believe we must begin preparing to confront Iranian terrorism. I refer to Iranian terrorism-without the adjective "supported" or "sponsored"-deliberately. Quite simply Iran engages in terrorism. The United States cannot continue to treat Iran, Hizballah and other Iranian-backed groups as separate problems or issues.

One need not look any further than Iraq, where Iran's Qods forces operate, or to Lebanon, where members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were embedded in Hizballah units fighting against Israel. One anecdote that conveys the point, which I heard from Israeli contacts, is that when the Israeli Defense Forces captured a Hizballah unit, they discovered that their training camps were in "Persia"-not in an Arab country.

The United States needs to be ready to fight Hizballah or any other version of Iranian terrorism. While at the moment Iranian terrorist groups have avoided direct confrontation with U.S. troops in Iraq or elsewhere, I do not believe this "strategic avoidance" will remain true going forward. Hizballah's ambitions clash with U.S. strategic interests in the region. It begins with establishing a Shi‘i theocracy in Lebanon, follows with destroying Israel and ultimately looks to undermining American-friendly regimes in the region, most notably Jordan. Hizballah has cells proliferating across the world. Their network reaches into Europe, the Sahel region of Africa (the boundary zone between the Mediterranean countries of North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa), increasingly in the strategic Horn of Africa and into South America as well.

It is in confronting this threat-Iranian-funded, trained and equipped terrorist organizations-that the United States is unprepared. Our strategy to combat terrorism is really only a strategy to combat Al-Qaeda. We are not prepared to deal-in the event hostilities occur-with terrorist organizations that are built differently, like Hizballah.

The National Security Strategy of 2006 focuses almost exclusively on Al-Qaeda as the dominant terrorist threat to our national security. Hizballah is only once indirectly referenced-and this mention focuses more on Hizballah's state sponsor, Iran, than the dangers the terrorist organization presents. Additionally, our National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism (NMSP-WOT)-the most comprehensive military strategy we have for combating terrorism-is tailored exclusively to Al-Qaeda and its "affiliated movements." Even the newly revised National Strategy for Combating Terrorism continues to focus primarily on Al-Qaeda. Assuming both a one-size-fits-all approach to radical terrorism, and that we can simply switch gears between terrorist organizations, belies fundamental differences between a Hizballah terrorist model and an Al-Qaeda model.

While Al-Qaeda and Hizballah are similar in that they exploit Islam and use terrorism for ideological ends, their ways and means are entirely different. Nowhere in the NMSP-WOT is there a strategy for confronting terrorist organizations of the Hizballah ilk: a terrorist organization with a strong state patron that exploits the democratic system of the host nation. Placing Hizballah on the State Department Foreign Terrorist Organization list does not constitute a strategy for confronting this terrorist organization, and a policy that downplays Iran-Hizballah links does not work either. We need a plan for confronting Hizballah acting as a proxy for Iran-at the moment none exists.

Let me offer an analogy: Though we are not at war with China, the military has and continues to refine a contingency plan for dealing with a crisis on the Taiwan Strait. Similarly, the military has a contingency plan for responding to an Iranian blockade on the Strait of Hormuz, even though there are no signs of a blockade. Are the chances of the United States being targeted by Hizballah so remote that a Hizballah Contingency Plan (CON PLAN) is not necessary?

In my opinion, when Hizballah terrorists chant "death to America" there is no reason to suspect it is said with less conviction, or represents less of a threat, than when members of Al-Qaeda utter the same ominous slogan. Do we have any reason not to take Hizballah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, seriously when he states: "Death to America was, is and will stay our slogan"?

We must be prepared to confront this Iranian proxy. The military has done a superb job completing CON PLANS to defeat Al-Qaeda, we now need to do the same for other types of terrorist organizations. Tehran has taken note of the gap in our terrorism strategy. As a result, as we have weakened Al-Qaeda, Hizballah has stealthily created a superior terrorist model. Tehran has learned that a disciplined organization that exploits Shi‘a politics and trains professional terrorists can affect regional and international politics at little cost to the sponsoring state-this summer's conflict in Lebanon only reinforced this lesson.

While everyone wants diplomacy to work, it is clear that when it is the only instrument of national power being used, it works against our interests. Diplomatic success, rather, will only emerge when we pursue initiatives outside the context of diplomacy. Strengthening our defense relationship with the Arab states and understanding how to deal with Hizballah are paramount to that success. As Ronald Reagan said, "History teaches that conflicts begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap." The price of Iranian aggression seems to be getting cheaper. U.S. policy towards Iran must ensure that the price Iran will pay for aggression-direct or indirect-will always be a price they cannot afford.

Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ) is chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats & Capabilities.

Essay Types: Essay