Iran made public a new underground missile depot run by its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Tuesday, the second one to be unveiled since October, just days after the U.S. backed away from implementing sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program. In response, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran’s ballistic missile program to be accelerated. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued a statement on Monday condemning the move to not impose sanctions. The statement read: “A continued failure of the administration to impose consequences on Tehran for its ballistic missile tests, which represent a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, will confirm the dangerous perception of the regime in Iran that it can ignore its obligations with impunity and the Obama administration will do nothing.” Matthew Levitt, a terror finance expert formerly at the Treasury Department, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that retreating on sanctions “could send a dangerous signal, effectively inviting Tehran to test the boundaries of what violations it can get away with.”Since the nuclear deal was reached in July, Iran has increased its aggression, including launching two ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The nuclear deal reached in July places restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program for eight years. In addition, UN Security Council Resolution 1929 already places restrictions on its program. Despite the restrictions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a ceremony unveiling a new missile in August, said, "We will buy, sell and develop any weapons we need and we will not ask for permission or abide by any resolution for that.”
In the wake of this weekend’s escalation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Washington seems to be increasingly favoring Tehran over Riyadh, Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported for Bloomberg View on Monday.
After Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr was executed in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges on Saturday, Rogin and Lake wrote that the State Department expressed concern that the Saudis were “exacerbating sectarian tensions.” Secretary of State John Kerry called Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif soon afterwards– before contacting his Saudi counterpart– and asked him to help calm things down. Later, State Department spokesman John Kirby seemed to contest the Saudis’ claims that the Iranian regime was culpable for the embassy attack by saying that Iran had arrested some of those involved. (The Saudis claim that after being informed of the threat of assault on the embassy, Iran waited more than 12 hours before sending security to protect the besieged diplomats.)
While the State Department insisted that it was not taking a side in the feud, Rogin and Lake reported that diplomats from the United States and the Arab world say that America’s Gulf allies see a decided tilt towards Iran.
According to Rogin and Lake, the American response to the heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran has aggravated a perception that the Obama administration is aligning with Tehran, which is fueled by Washington’s treatment of the Islamic Republic under the nuclear deal. They wrote:
At the root of the problem for Sunni Arab states is the nuclear deal reached last summer by Iran and Western nations. When the White House sold the pact to Congress and Middle Eastern allies, its message was clear: Nothing in the deal would prevent the U.S. from sanctioning Iran for non-nuclear issues. Yet that has not been the case.
To illustrate this concern, Rogin and Lake noted that when Tehran complained at the end of last year that it was excluded from a visa waiver program, Kerry personally wrote Zarif a letter assuring him that the administration was prepared to issue waivers to anyone who had visited Iran, which would allow them to enter the U.S. without restrictions. After the administration planned to impose new sanctions on Iran for its illicit ballistic missile test in October, which a United Nations panel found had violated a U.N. Security Council resolution, it backed off from implementing them indefinitely in response to pressure from Iran.
In addition, Iran’s sentencing of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and arrest of Siamak Namazi, an American-Iranian dual national, led to no greater public friction between Washington and Tehran. The White House also pushed for closing the International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into Iran’s past illicit nuclear research, even though the agency had found that the Islamic Republic was working on developing a nuclear weapon more recently than previously thought.
In explaining the administration’s tilt towards Tehran, Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator and current vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told Rogin and Lake that the White House sees Iran as a stabilizing force in the Middle East. Thus, according to Miller, “the Iranians hold the Obama legacy in their hands.” He added, “We are constrained and we are acquiescing to a certain degree to ensure we maintain a functional relationship with the Iranians.”
Rogin and Lake observed that without Washington acting to confront Iran’s aggression, Saudi Arabia feels the need to do so itself, as “if Obama won’t punish Iran, Saudi Arabia will.”
In April, Miller wrote about the dynamic currently being played out:
It clearly makes sense to try to use diplomacy as a way to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. But we should have no illusions about two things. First, we won’t end Teheran’s nuclear weapons pretensions, and two, we are and will be enabling its rise in the region because of this nuclear diplomacy, not constraining it. (via TheTower.org)
Israeli aid volunteers were welcomed with open arms upon arrival in the UK on Monday to assist flood victims, according to an IsraAID statement. Heavy rain and high winds continue to batter England, Ireland and Scotland, causing devastating damage to many communities. “The first team were greeted by locals with open hands and are now mapping the workloads which would include distribution of goods and gutting houses helping people repair their homes,” said Shachar Zahavi, founding director of IsraAid. A team of four IsraAID volunteers arrived in Leeds on Monday to survey the damage there and help residents with home repairs. The Israeli relief team is also distributing food and warm blankets to those in need. IsraAID has extensive expertise at gutting flood-damaged homes and helping to rebuild them. In July 2015, an Israeli volunteer team helped gut and fix some of the 375 homes in need of repair in Illinois in the wake of an EF3 tornado that ripped through the state. The Israel-based humanitarian relief agency has also partaken in US disaster relief following floods in Denver, Wimberley (Texas), and Detroit, hurricanes in Oklahoma, New York and New Orleans, and wild fires in Washington, among other sites. “We have responded to 10 floods and tornado disasters in the US and when we saw what was happening to the UK in the news it looked worse than ever before. We wanted to show the community we would be there for them,” Zahavi told the Jewish Chronicle. (via Israel21c)