Iran a Far Greater Threat Than North Korea, Warns Scholar
WASHINGTON – If the U.S. stays on its present path, Iran will emerge in the coming years as a far more ominous nuclear threat than North Korea, a Heritage Foundation scholar said Wednesday.
“If you like what North Korea is doing today, you’re going to love what Iran is going to be doing a few years down the road,” said James Phillips, a senior research fellow.
The Obama administration, a handful of international partners, Russia and Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015, which dictated that Iran significantly curb nuclear operations in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions. The agreement dealt an estimated $100 billion in sanctions relief and unfrozen assets to Iran.
But international consensus is that Tehran has not upheld its end of the bargain, ramping up its ballistic missile program and expanding subversive forces throughout Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Iran’s list of proxies includes Hezbollah, Hamas and Houthis. The last administration acknowledged that such bad behavior was not meant to be covered by the P5+1 nuclear deal.
In Syria, Iran has cooperated closely with Russia, deploying some 5,000 revolutionary guards. According to Phillips, since the agreement, Tehran has boosted its defense budget by about $300 million for a ballistic missile program and the Quds Force, elite special forces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with protecting and advancing the Islamic Republic. Phillips said the 2015 deal handed Iran an “economic bonanza.”
“The nuclear deal has not moderated Iran. In fact, it has strengthened and emboldened hardliners within Iran, and Washington must impose clear and increasing costs on Iran, on the regime, in order to dissuade it from continuing on its present path,” he said.
Iran differs from North Korea, he continued, in that Tehran leads a much stronger economy, has more allies around the world, and it has a far more aggressive track record of violent regional intervention.
Jim Hanson, president of the Security Studies Group who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, said that America stood by for the past eight years watching President Obama empower Tehran. He was “stunned” that the Obama administration treated Iran as a potential peace partner, given that there is no historical basis for such an approach. Iran, he said, has been killing Americans since its revolution in the late 1970s. In the Iraq War, Iran was one of the major producers and distributors of weapons used by al-Qaeda and Shia militias, he said, which killed somewhere between 500 and 1,000 American troops.
“Yet somehow (Obama) decided that they were ones that we should back,” Hanson said. “2016 – (Iran was) the State Department’s leading sponsor of terrorism worldwide. Now, that might not get you much in the Trump administration. In the Obama administration, it got you pallets full of cash flown in the middle of the night.”