Menendez is right on Iran: Hope is not a strategy

But will President Biden heed the warning?

U.S. President Joe Biden on June 4, 2021. Source: POTUS/Facebook.
U.S. President Joe Biden on June 4, 2021. Source: POTUS/Facebook.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

U.S. Iran policy foundered on the rocks of reality in 1979 when, with U.S. assistance, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini assumed power. Contrary to U.S. expectations, Khomeini transformed Iran, “the American policeman of the Gulf,” into the global epicenter of anti-U.S. subversion, terrorism and drug-trafficking.

In 2015, U.S. Iran policy foundered again when—contrary to U.S. expectations—Iran’s ayatollah’s failed to use the mega-billion dollar bonanza resulting from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear accord to upgrade Iranians’ standard of living. Instead, the money went toward anti-U.S. subversion, terrorism and the development, manufacture and proliferation of non-conventional military systems.

In 2022, U.S. policy-makers once again seem to be basing their Iran policy on assessments of the ayatollahs’ future behavior rather than on their proven and consistent track record. They base their policy on the hope that Western generosity can induce the ayatollahs to abandon the anti-U.S. policy to which they have adhered since 1979, and which is driven by a 1,400-year-old religious, cultural, historical and imperialistic vision.

This hope-driven policy has led to an unseemly display of eagerness to reach an agreement with Iran’s ayatollahs, in which the ayatollahs’ bad-faith conduct is downplayed and the military and regime-change options are downplayed.

However, as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned President Biden on the Senate floor on Feb. 1: “Hope is not a national security strategy!”

Africa’s geo-strategic significance

General Thomas Waldhauser, a former commander of the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM), said during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “instability in North Africa may be the most significant near-term threat to [the] U.S. and [its] allies….”

Gen. Waldhauser’s testimony has been vindicated by the accelerated transformation of Africa—the second largest continent, home to more than 1.2 billion people—into a major global epicenter of anti-U.S. Islamic terrorism.

Iran’s ayatollahs consider North Africa to be the soft underbelly of “infidel” Europe, and the whole of Africa to be an extension of the Islamic Republic’s strategic depth.

One of the examples of the continent’s strategic significance is the Horn of Africa (150 million people, about 40 percent of whom are Muslim), one of the more militarily volatile, unpredictable and critical regions in the world. It stretches along the southern part of the Red Sea, across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen, controlling the strategically vital Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which facilitates trade between Asia and Europe, including Persian Gulf oil shipments. It is a significant platform, militarily and economically, for regional and global powers.

The Washington-based Foreign Policy contends that “Europe’s future will be decided in North Africa. Morocco and Spain are separated by a mere 9 miles. There are only 146 miles separating the Tunisian coast and the Italian coast, and 286 miles from Libya to Greece. Algeria’s beaches are 469 miles from those of France—about the distance from Washington, D.C. to Charleston, South Carolina….

“Algeria (920,000 sqm), Libya (680,000 sqm), and Tunisia (63,000 sqm) all have terrorism problems that have affected Europe in frightening ways….  Algeria and Libya border Chad, Mali and Niger, which are themselves confronting [Islamic terrorism]….

“Africa is the foundation of the global supply chain—a strategic source of almost 40% of the raw materials, agriculture, fresh water and energy essential for global growth…. Africa has become the fastest-growing oil producing region worldwide. Not only does it produce oil that is easily refined, but many experts also believe that there are still large undiscovered oil fields with immense potential. Africa possesses 60% of the world’s diamonds, 40% of its phosphate, and 30% of its cobalt [and 18% of its uranium] resources….

“11% of Europe’s natural gas is imported from Algeria… Spain, for example, gets 52% of its natural gas from Algeria. The North African giant is also Italy’s second-largest gas supplier.  If Algeria descended into violence—which is not out of the realm of possibility—and its gas supplies were somehow disrupted, Europe would have a significant problem…. Libya has a lot of gas, but it is in the midst of a civil war….”

The Washington-based Atlantic Council reports that “In 2015, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks in Africa was the same or higher as the number of fatalities caused by ISIS in the Middle East…. African-based groups such as Boko Haram—the second most lethal terrorist group in the world—and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) espouse dangerous anti-U.S. and/or anti-Western ideologies…. Africa is a growing transit hub for illegal drugs…. 12% of the cocaine trafficked through Africa is destined for the U.S….. Drug trafficking in West Africa has been likened to drug-related violence in Latin America and the Caribbean…. [West Africa’s] Guinea-Bissau has been labeled a narco-state….”

Africa as a springboard to export Iran’s Islamic Revolution

Iran’s ayatollahs have been active in Africa since the early 1980s, leveraging Africa’s inherent instability, failed states, tribal, ethnic and religious military conflicts. They have been recruiting and training terrorists; fueling local and regional conflicts; challenging all Sunni regimes through subversion and terrorism; establishing Shi’ite seminaries and converting Sunni Muslims to Shi’ism; forging West Africa-Latin America drug trafficking and money laundering coordination; supporting anti-U.S. African governments (e.g., assisting Ethiopia in its war against Tigray rebels); Expanding access to uranium resources.

According to King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, “Iran sought Africa’s support for its nuclear program, promoting the concept of Third World’s ‘nuclear unity.’ The initiative was designed to assist Iran’s access to Africa’s uranium markets [in Algeria, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo], and derail international sanctions…. Iran invested in the uranium mines of Namibia and Malawi [and possibly in Gabon and Zimbabwe].”

Iran’s ayatollahs have realized that adding fuel to tribal and regional wars, unstable and failed states—which have plagued Africa—feeds violence and global terrorism, serving the Islamic Revolution. Thus, North Africa (Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt) has produced a substantial percentage of the foreigners who have joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in defiance of their own home countries.

Iran’s African network consists of religious, cultural, drug-trafficking, money laundering and terror operations, in collaboration with its Hezbollah proxy and in coordination with their joint initiatives with Latin American drug cartels, terrorist groups and anti-U.S. governments.

Menendez’s warning. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman stated on Feb. 1 that “We are not dealing with a good faith actor here…. We can’t live in a counterfactual world where all parties remained in full compliance, but we do know that even for the first couple years of the JCPOA, Iran’s leaders… fought vigorously to keep their highly advanced nuclear infrastructure in place…. Iran’s consistent obfuscation, continual stalling and outlandish demands have left us flying blind….”

The chairman indicated that there are no grounds for hope that:

• Iran’s ayatollahs will sign and comply with an accord that undermines the hegemonic vision of the Islamic Revolution;

• Democracy will take hold in Iran;

• Iran will desist from its nuclear ambitions;

• The ayatollahs will stop exporting and supporting terrorism;

• They will stop their “Death to America” policy.

Will the president heed this vital advice from a senior member of the legislature?

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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