Iran sanctions: when will the regime learn?

Iran’s clerical regime has announced its determination to maintain its support for terrorists and its divisive and disruptive foreign policy, despite new measures from the West aimed at restricting Iran’s regional influence and restoring stability to the Middle East.

Last Thursday, the US Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill authorising further sanctions on Iran and Russia. To most observers, this bill was no surprise. Both countries are waging illegal military campaigns that have focused on attacking civilians – in Syria and the Ukraine respectively – while continuing to finance and support terrorist groups abroad. Russia is also accused of meddling in the US elections, while Iran has continued to develop its missile programme.

Iran responded by admonishing the US for breaching the terms of the nuclear deal and alleging that Zionists are in charge of US foreign policy. Senior figures in the regime have been sent out to defend Iran, including the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to the Supreme Leader.

Their comments confirm what their opponents already know: that Iran will stop at nothing to secure its interests in the Middle East. Its protests against the new sanctions show how far away Iran is from playing a constructive role in the international arena.

The Iran legislation had broad bipartisan support after months of negotiations and easily cleared the Foreign Relations Committee in late May. The text of the bill expands current sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for terrorism and transfer of weapons, and human rights violations.

Since President Donald Trump arrived in the White House in January, he has been clear that Iran will no longer get away with such actions. He and senior members of his staff, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and others within the White House, have continually admonished Iran for its actions, but yet it has not changed its behaviour.

At home, funding of its missile programme and other defence initiatives, including arms purchases from Russia, was doubled at the start of the year by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Missile tests continued apace. Iran continued sentencing its own citizens to death at an astonishing rate, while restricting any rights to protest, free speech or religion. The insipid nature of the election in May showed just how tight the regime’s control of democracy is, with the two main candidates both from the same clerical background.

Abroad, the outlook is just as bad. Looking at any of the region’s hot-spots – Syria, Iraq, Yemen – and the hand of Iran can be felt clearly, wreaking havoc through the incitement of violence and the targeting of civilians. It is clear that Iran actively subverts the rule of its neighbours – including allies of the West in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere –but yet it has continued to do so, too often without rebuke.

Iran, therefore, cannot complain that it has not been warned. Unfortunately, however, it is unlikely to change its behaviour, meaning it will contribute to further instability and chaos in the region for many years to come.