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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

For many months, the debate over U.S. policy on Iran has been dominated by fears that we are standing on the edge of war. America is weary of Middle East conflicts and justifiably concerned about the prospect of yet another war. 

The fears are understandable. There’s only one problem. We are already at war.


Iran started this war some time ago in reaction to President’s Trump’s reimposition of sanctions and termination of the ruinous Iran nuclear deal. It is a war being waged in the shadows, on Iran’s terms, against the United States and against our closest allies. And it just took a very ugly turn.

On Saturday, coordinated drone strikes on the heart of the Saudi oil industry caused massive damage to the Saudi oil infrastructure. As a result, Saudi Arabia has been forced to cut its crude production in half. That equals 5 percent of the entire world’s crude oil output. 

Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attacks, although there is speculation they were launched from Iraq by Shia militia who are minions of Tehran. But the real culprit is Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism that bankrolls, trains and equips the Houthis, the Iraqi Shia militia and a host of other violent groups in the Middle East.

The recent drone attacks are the most damaging ever launched. They come, however, after a long series of other drone and missile attacks on Saudi targets. As noted by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” referring to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Mr. Pompeo added. 

All these attacks are part of a larger shadow war being waged by the Iranians. That war has included limpet mine attacks on vessels in the Persian Gulf, the seizure of merchant vessels at sea, the movement of advanced weapons systems into Syria and increasingly aggressive actions aimed at the state of Israel.

That is how the Iranians will proceed. They will not confront us on the high seas or in open battle. They will leverage the capabilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iranian intelligence, Hezbollah, the Houthis and the host of other proxy forces that Iran has created worldwide. They will hit us and our allies without warning and without acknowledging that they are responsible. 

Targets will expand from oil tankers to refineries to port facilities and to embassies of those nations that support U.S. sanctions. The objective will be to inflict pain and to make those who stand with us pay a price for their support.

People will die. The price of oil will rise. The Iranians will bet that sooner or later there will be cracks in the newly assembled coalition supporting the Trump administration and that the weak-kneed will begin to demand new negotiations and new concessions.

In response we must be resolute. We must stay the course in regard to sanctions. Maintain the pressure. We must stand with our allies. 

The recent drone attack was launched a mere three days after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and the Secretary-General of the Arab League issued a statement condemning Iran’s aggression against Arab states. That timing is no accident. Iran is determined to make our Arab allies pay a price for supporting us, but we must not waiver. 

We must energize our intelligence organizations and out diplomatic and special operations capabilities and begin to dismantle the terror network Iran has built across the Middle East and around the world. Whether or not Iraq served as a launching pad for the drone strikes, there is no doubt that Iraqi Shia militia do Tehran’s bidding. That must end.

Similarly, Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives anywhere in the world should be apprehended and imprisoned. Washington must make it a priority of American intelligence organizations to hunt down and destroy Hezbollah cells and their Quds force partners wherever they are on the planet.

In concert with those steps, we must continue to exert maximum pressure on the radical Islamist regime in Tehran. We control the seas, and it should be impossible for any Iranian vessel to sail anywhere without our knowledge and consent. We control the skies. 

No Iranian aircraft should fly without our approval. Where possible, we should unilaterally intercept and force down Iranian planes we know are involved in illegal activities. We should work with allied governments to close airspace, seize aircraft and render Iran’s “airlines” that support its terror network incapable of moving outside Iran.

The ayatollahs profess faith and purity. But they are getting rich off the backs of the enslaved Iranian people. Vast sums of money belonging to this kleptocracy are stored in financial institutions around the world, and many of Iran’s state enterprises are criminal cash machines for the IRGC and the mullahs.

Tear this criminal network apart wherever it exists. Bankrupt the regime. Let the mullahs live on the faith they so loudly profess.

Iran started this war. Stop allowing them to wage it without response. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has the right idea. He said, “Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real.” Holding Iran’s oil infrastructure hostage to American missiles should there be further attacks by the Houthis or other proxies would be a good start.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps Aerospace Force, said on Sunday, “Everybody should know that all American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000km around Iran are within the range of our missiles. We have always prepared ourselves for a full-fledged war … everyone should know that all American bases and their vessels in a 2,000km range can be targeted by our missiles.”

That threat is less about a real Iranian desire for a conventional war and more about the arrogance of a group of fanatics who believe they will continue to get away with murder and set the Middle East on fire without consequences. It is long past time to demonstrate that they are wrong and to show them that we too know how to wage a shadow war.

• Sam Faddis is a former CIA operations officer with 30 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe.


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