Various sources have confirmed that Iran has been clandestinely exporting its oil through the Syrian port of Baniyas, using tankers with false registrations to circumvent American sanctions on both Syria and Iran. Once offloaded in Syria, the oil is either sold to China or used to prop up Hezbollah—Iran’s terrorist proxy in Lebanon—and the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. Both Hezbollah and Assad prioritize their armed forces when allocating the oil.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that there have been at least 17 such deliveries in the past six months, amounting to over a billion dollars in value. Iran uses the proceeds from the oil sales to fund its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the United States has designated an international terrorist organization.
Even while Iran enriches itself by flaunting American sanctions, it violates international law by engaging in piracy on the high seas. On April 27, Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker headed for Houston, Texas. The seizure took place in the Gulf of Oman in international waters. It was the fifth case of Iran commandeering a commercial vessel in violation of international law.
The clandestine oil sales and Iran’s piracy are well known to the Biden administration. Yet President Joe Biden has chosen to do nothing in response. This is not because the U.S. lacks the ability to embargo Iranian shipping in the Persian Gulf until Iran stops its “secret” oil sales and releases the captured commercial vessels. If Iran’s navy fires on our vessels, we are more than capable of sinking the entire Iranian navy. Ronald Reagan sank half of it in 1988 when Iranian gunboats engaged U.S. vessels in the Gulf.
Ironically, this seems to be a situation in which the interests of the climate cultists and the foreign policy establishment align. For the cultists, this is a golden opportunity to frustrate Iran’s ability to sell its oil, increasing the likelihood that it will stay in the ground. For the foreign policy establishment, it is a way of bankrupting the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and thwarting its ability to spread its malign behavior in the region.
As for the captured vessels, one need look no further than the example of President Thomas Jefferson. After the Barbary pirates captured American commercial vessels, Jefferson sent a squadron of frigates to Tripoli, Libya to free the captured vessels. It worked. Perhaps because Jefferson was a slave owner, Biden seems to believe there is nothing he can learn from Jefferson.
In addition, if we can prevent Iran from empowering Assad—a serial human rights violator and war criminal who has used chemical weapons on unarmed civilians—it would seem to align human rights groups with those seeking to weaken Iranian and Russian influence in the region.
One would think that those who are so focused on bringing down Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in Saudi Arabia because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi would work extra hard to topple a regime led by a man responsible for murdering thousands of his own citizens. One would be wrong.
Why does the Biden administration lack the political will to stop Iran’s illegal oil sales? One must remember that this is the same administration that has allowed Iran and its terrorist proxies to attack American service members in Syria and Iraq over 80 times with no meaningful response. What explains the administration’s indifference?
There are two answers.
The most obvious answer is that the administration still bizarrely hopes to reenter the execrable JCPOA—the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. That deal gives Iran a legal path to a nuclear weapon, a ballistic missile system to deliver it and billions of dollars in sanctions relief to underwrite Iran’s terrorist network and malign behavior in the region.
The White House is concerned that if it confronts Iran or its allies, Iran will walk away from the deal. Iran knows, however, that the U.S. will not enforce the sanctions currently in place, as demonstrated by the administration’s willingness to allow Iran’s illegal oil sales. Iran therefore has no incentive to make any concessions. It has what it wants.
The second and less obvious answer is rooted in American progressives’ self-loathing. To them, America is a systemically racist and evil country. They think the projection of American power abroad will spread that cancer around the world. Thus, they believe, American power must be restrained.
This is particularly true regarding countries like Iran, which progressives believe has been victimized by America. They hold that the 1953 coup d’etat in which the Shah came to power was orchestrated by the CIA and constitutes a sin for which the U.S. must atone.
At its core, America’s failure to stop Iran’s illegal oil sales is an abdication of America’s responsibility as the leader of the free world. Thus, we should not be surprised when allies and partners around the world fail to rally behind us or try to hedge their bets by cozying up to China.
They ask themselves: “Why should we side with America if America will not side with itself?” Unfortunately, that’s a very good question.
Eric R. Levine is a founding member of the New York City law firm Eiseman, Levine, Lehrhaupt & Kakoyiannis, P.C. He is an essayist, political commentator and fundraiser for Republican candidates with an emphasis on the United States Senate.