A wounded protester is carried to receive first aid during clashes with security forces on Rasheed Street in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019.
Khalid Mohammed | AP
Every hunter and hiker knows that one of the first rules of the wild is to beware a wounded animal.
It’s also pretty good lesson to remember in foreign relations.
These days, the world would be hard-pressed to find a more dangerous wounded animal than Iran. The Islamist regime has spent most of this year ramping up its violent attacks on its neighbors in the Middle East and on oil tanker traffic along the Persian Gulf.
But over the last few weeks, the Iranian government’s brutality has been refocused on its own people. The regime’s decision to scrap gasoline subsidies sparked massive protests across the country, and the shocking crackdown on those protesters is providing stunning news stories almost daily.
As of now, the human rights group Amnesty International has confirmed a number of those stunning items. They include 208 protesters confirmed killed, a “shoot to kill” policy in place against demonstrators, and the absolutely most stunning revelation of all: in some cases, Iranian security forces are returning the bodies of killed protesters to their families and demanding to be paid for the price of the bullets used to kill them.
If you think that’s as perverse as it gets, be prepared for further disbelief. Because just as Iran’s belligerence is increasing, much of the Western world is going out of its way to appease the Islamist regime. Last week, six new European countries joined with France, Germany, and Great Britain in an effort to help Iran circumvent tough new U.S. economic sanctions by setting up a barter system that does not use the dollar. To call the timing of this outrageous, especially since European nations like Great Britain have recently suffered from Iran’s aggression in the Persian Gulf.
But it gets even worse. Remember that the continued reasoning for Europe’s dovish approach to Iran is the fact that Great Britain, France, and Germany are trying so hard to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. That’s the deal that the Trump administration formally took the U.S. out of last year and Iran has been systematically violating in recent months by increasing its uranium enrichment.
Their argument, one that’s parroted by many U.S. opponents of the Trump administration, is that Iran’s increased aggression is a direct result of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. Without the incentives to fall back from their march to nuclear weapons, the Europeans argue that Iran has been unintentionally coaxed by the U.S. back to its nuclear program and also more terrorism.
That could be a good argument if it weren’t for one thing: it’s blatantly incorrect on numerous levels.
First off, the assumption that Iran ever really abandoned or significantly delayed its nuclear program is highly questionable. Just last month, reports surfaced that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium particles at a site in Iran that had not been declared by the Iranian authorities.
The reports did not say exactly where the site was, but the BBC reported that inspectors are believed to have taken samples from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district. That would be the same location that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the U.N. about in 2018, saying the Iranians were using it as a “secret atomic warehouse.” This casts enough doubt on any definitive statement that Iran had been complying with the 2015 nuclear deal before the U.S. pulled of it.
Second, the idea that Iran’s mischief was somehow more manageable before the nuclear deal ended is more than a stretch. The deadly Syrian civil war that Iran has played a major role in for years by backing the regime of Bashar al-Assad began well before 2015. The Yemeni civil war, where Iran has backed the Houthi rebels, also began before the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran’s continued backing terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah and their continued attacks on Israeli civilian locations also long predates any nuclear deal with the West.
In fact, many experts believe the billions of dollars Iran was able to reclaim as part of the nuclear deal were used by the regime to advance their terrorist and other destabilizing efforts around the region. Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford told Congress in 2017 that’s what at least some of the money given to Iran was being used for.
At the very least, this is a belief held by many Iranians themselves. A key rallying cry against Iranian money being used to fund paramilitary activities abroad has been heard frequently in the current Iranian protests and demonstrations that hit the country last year. Many of the protesters are even chanting, “no money, no gas, screw Palestine” as a way to make it clear they want Iran’s money used to improve the domestic economy and not pay for rockets launched from Gaza into Israel.
All of this is on top of Iran’s already shoddy human rights record, which includes numerous cases of executing gays, jailing and beating women who don’t cover their hair, and persecuting Muslim converts to Christianity. One could argue there has never been a good time to appease Iran since the Islamic revolution changed that nation and the entire Middle East in 1979.
But the world is remaining mostly silent. In addition to the European nations ignoring the brutal crackdown on the protesters in favor of skirting economic sanctions, the U.N. has scheduled no resolutions to address this issue or the Iranian connection to the even more brutal crackdowns on protesters in Iraq.
Many news organizations have been covering the story, but rarely with the front page or top story status. Coverage or not, the dichotomy between the U.S. and Europe over how to deal with Iran is one of the biggest rifts in the history of the NATO alliance. If Iran continues to promote death and destruction at home and abroad, it’s hard to see how more rifts won’t emerge between the U.S. and Europe.
Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.