April 6, 2009

The U.S., Israel, and the Iranian Threat

By Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

The best way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities is to impose a cost so high that it threatens the Iranian regime’s survival unless that regime changes course. U.S. sanctions have hindered Iran’s ability to attract capital, materials, and technical support, and have created extensive and growing financial difficulties for the regime. Yet although Congress has repeatedly passed sanctions legislation which has been signed into law, its implementation has been watered down or ignored by successive administrations.

The latest U.S. response has been to join the European Union’s efforts to bribe the mullahs into suspending uranium enrichment, while failing to apply U.S. sanctions aimed at denying the Iranian regime the political legitimacy and economic resources that it needs to continue engaging in its destructive policies.

We must impose immediate, comprehensive, tough economic sanctions, along with every other source of pressure that we can muster, in coordination with as many countries as we can persuade to do so. We should engage officials in friendly nations, international organizations, and financial institutions, and work to persuade them to cooperate with the United States in targeting the Iranian regime.

The United States should make a moral statement that we will not deal with pariah states and will not help such states to fortify themselves and thereby endanger our own national interests and the interests of our allies, such as Israel.

The Iranian regime’s expanding political and military involvement across the Middle East and South Asia is a force to be reckoned with. We need to wake up and understand the implications of this matter, not just for Israel but for the United States as well. History has taught us that failing to act when threatened by a deadly foe like Iran usually ends in an avoidable tragedy. We ignore Iran’s growing hegemony at our own peril.

In analyzing and addressing the threat posed by Iran, it is vital to act on the basis of facts, not myths.

Many tend to look upon the Middle East conflict as an Israeli-Palestinian dispute, even though the evidence indicates that the conflict is largely a symptom of Iran’s race for global supremacy. Many also believe that the principle of “land for peace” has been successful, no matter what the realities on the ground tell us. As a result, they think that if Israel can continue to be pushed to give up land, then all will be well.

In reality, a mishandled Israeli-Palestinian channel could encourage and facilitate the expansionist aims of Iran and its proxies.

Yet another myth under which many operate is that even though the United Nations has been proven time and time again to be a failure at its mission, we should still unquestioningly rely on the UN to solve growing threats to our security, including the Iranian nuclear crisis.

But in reality, the best way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities is to impose strong sanctions on the regime and to do so now.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. She has served in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1989, and is the first Hispanic woman and first Cuban-American elected to Congress.

The Obama Administration Reaches Out to Syria

David Schenker

In early March, two senior U.S. officials traveled to Damascus for the highest-level bilateral meeting in years, part of the new administration’s policy of “engagement.” Washington seeks to test Damascus’ intentions to distance itself from Iran. While a “strategic realignment” of Damascus is unlikely, in the short term the diplomatic opening is sure to alleviate international pressure on Damascus.

The Assad regime made no secret of its preference for Barack Obama last November. At the same time, Syrian regime spokesmen appear to be setting preconditions for an effective dialogue, saying Washington would first have to drop the Syria Accountability Act sanctions and remove Syria from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.

U.S. diplomatic engagement with Syria comes at a particularly sensitive time, just a few months before the Lebanese elections, where the “March 14” ruling coalition faces a stiff challenge from the Hizbullah-led “March 8” opposition, and Washington has taken steps to shore up support for its allies.

Should the U.S. dialogue with Damascus progress, Washington might consent to take on an enhanced role in resumed Israeli-Syrian negotiations. However, U.S. participation on the Syria track could conceivably result in additional pressure for Israeli concessions in advance of any discernible modifications in Syria’s posture toward Hizbullah and Hamas.

Based on Syria’s track record, there is little reason to be optimistic that the Obama administration will succeed where others have failed. Washington should not necessarily be faulted for trying, as long as the administration remains cognizant of the nature of the regime.

Damascus today remains a brutal dictatorship, which derives its regional influence almost exclusively through its support for terrorism in neighboring states and, by extension, through its 30-year strategic alliance with Tehran.

David Schenker is a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. From 2002 to 2006, he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as country director for Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.