President Donald Trump announced his intention to decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in part, because of the range of malign activities perpetrated by the Islamic republic at home and in the Middle East. But if stopping Iran from destabilizing the region and continuing its development of nuclear-capable missiles were easy, it would have already been accomplished. Fulfilling the president’s objectives will take some heavy lifting.
Atop the president’s agenda was neutralizing the destabilizing activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the region — in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan — and countering its proxies. This is a huge task that needs to be broken into manageable parts.
Arguably, the least complicated is Yemen.
The IRGC is reportedly providing the Houthi rebels with anti-ship and explosive boats that have been used to hit Saudi and Emirati vessels and threaten Americans in a bid to control the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, per Reuters. The IRGC has also provided ballistic missiles and its technology to the Houthis, which threatens America's allies in the Arabian Peninsula.
As part of the strategy to counter the IRGC, we need to clearly communicate to the Iranians and the Houthis that the U.S. air and naval forces in the region, along with its Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners, will interdict the transfer of weapons from Iran to the Houthis and will dismantle its anti-ship and ballistic missile threats to its neighbors and the strategic waterways off the Yemeni coast.
These actions would change the balance of power in favor of our allies in their ground war against the Houthis. They would also achieve other objectives described by President Trump: They would stop the expansion of IRGC destabilizing activities in that part of the region and block the transfer of missiles to one of its key allies.
But the IRGC threat is not limited to Yemen.
In particular, IRGC activities in Syria pose a grave danger to our allies and our strategic interests. The IRGC is securing a strategically significant “land bridge” connecting Iran through Iraq to Syria and to the Israeli border, as well as to Lebanon and the Mediterranean. Such a transportation corridor would vastly improve Iran’s ability to move troops and materiel while cementing its influence across the region.
We need to communicate clearly to the Iranians, Russians, and Syrians that we and our allies are willing to take military action to stop the IRGC and its proxies from moving south of Deir al-Zour toward the Iraqi border to complete this land bridge.
In Iraq, the presence of the IRGC and its proxies on the Iraqi-Syrian border under the guise of an anti-ISIS campaign is an attempt to complete the land bridge through the predominantly Sunni regions of Iraq. The Iraqi army is the legitimate force to defend the border, and the IRGC and its proxies should be ordered by the Iraqi government to withdraw. The U.S. forces in Iraq can and would support the Iraqi military to implement the removal of IRGC proxies from the border areas.
The combination of these specific actions in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq will be our first serious attempt to counter the IRGC destabilizing activities in the region, which has gone generally unopposed in the past six years of civil wars and conflicts.
At the same time, the U.S. government and its allies will need to cut off the sources of the IRGC’s funding. The IRGC reportedly controls some 500 companies in Iran across various sectors, which support its destabilizing activities in the region. The president’s recent designation of the IRGC on terror-related issues should make Treasury’s efforts to build crucial alliances in the West against IRGC financing more easily attainable.
Stopping Iran from going nuclear not only requires imposing long-term limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium or plutonium but also preventing it from producing and stockpiling missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Washington should build a new 3+1 alliance (Britain, France, Germany plus the U.S.) to force Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which bans the development of such missiles.
In an ideal world, the Iranians would curtail their offensive activities and the U.S. and its allies would reward the Islamic republic by doubling down on trade and investment opportunities so vital for its development. But until then, operationalizing President Trump’s Iran policy is crucial, timely, and in the best interests of the U.S. and its allies.