October 10, 2023 | The Algemeiner

US Policy Emboldened Iran and Hamas; It’s Time to Fight Back

October 10, 2023 | The Algemeiner

US Policy Emboldened Iran and Hamas; It’s Time to Fight Back

It was Ali Khamenei who foreshadowed what was to come. “The Zionist regime is dying,” said Iran’s supreme leader on X (formerly Twitter), on October 4 — three days before Hamas attacked Israel.

This was familiar bluster, the sort of rhetoric that Tehran has deployed countless times in the past. But this time was different.

Israel is at war. The Jewish state will surely prevail, but at a total cost in blood and funds that remains unknown. One thing is clear: The Biden administration can no longer cling to the illusion that Iran, the patron of Hamas, remains a viable negotiating partner capable of reaching a deal that advances US interests. Biden’s previous policies empowered Tehran, as the Iranian regime helped Hamas train for and acquire the resources for the conflict. The bloodshed will end only through the exertion of Israeli power and Western resolve.

Hindsight, to be sure, is twenty-twenty. Khamenei’s antisemitic braggadocio is so recurring that it may seem almost quaint, the kind of innocuous rambling you expect from a crazy uncle rather than a serious political leader.

Familiarity invites complacency, which clearly infected American negotiators such as special envoy Robert Malley. But Israelis had reason to expect greater foresight from the Jewish state’s military, a force so formidable that it has waged astounding counter-intelligence operations deep inside Iran.

The signs were apparent for anyone with eyes to see. Over the past three years, Iran has largely recovered from the economic and diplomatic blows exacted by the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign. In place of that campaign, Tehran now faces an international campaign of maximum deference, led by the European Union and a US government desperate for a nuclear deal and regional quiet.

Thus, Washington weakened its enforcement of oil sanctions, resulting in an outpouring of cash for the Iranians. The Wall Street Journal has reported an estimate by former Iranian central banker Abdolnaser Hemmati that Iran earned $28 billion in crude sales in the Persian calendar year ending in March 2023, nearly four times more than in 2021.

In July, the United States allowed Iran to access some $10 billion in frozen funds in Iraq. And in August, the Biden administration reached a deal with Tehran that allowed the regime to access $6 billion in frozen funds in South Korea in exchange for five innocent American hostages. As part of this unwritten arrangement, the Biden administration also released five imprisoned Iranians guilty of violating US laws.

Meanwhile, Iran escalated its nuclear activities. Whereas its overt violations of the 2015 atomic deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had been only incremental under the Trump administration, Tehran surged ahead with its enrichment of uranium under Biden.

Confident that it will pay no price for its defiance, Iran is now only 12 days away from producing enough fissile material for a bomb, according to a September report of the Institute for Science and International Security. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, has imposed no meaningful consequences.

Then, of course, there were the nationwide protests in Iran that began in September 2022 after Tehran’s morality police murdered 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.

Initially, it may have seemed that the uprising posed a threat to the regime’s survival. But more than a year later, even as demonstrations persist, the regime appears as powerful as ever, showing no signs of imminent collapse. With the Biden administration voicing only tepid support for the protests, the Islamic Republic’s endurance has undoubtedly emboldened the regime further.

Hamas clearly took inspiration not only from Tehran’s hostage-taking, but also from its cost-free aggression and repression since 2021. The terrorist group understood that the United States, rocked by increasing isolationist sentiment at home (an approach backed by many Republicans and Trump himself, despite Trump’s Iran policy), lacked the confidence and will to assert itself on the global stage.

And Hamas perceived Israel as weakened and distracted by internal political divisions. In that context, Tehran surely noticed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criticisms of US policy were far more muted than they were when President Barack Obama negotiated the JCPOA in 2015.

Whether Hamas and Iran’s assessments constitute miscalculations remains to be seen. To his credit, President Biden has expressed unwavering support for Israel, while Israelis are uniting under crisis.

Ultimately, however, broader Iranian policy will change only with a corresponding reversal of broader US policy. That means not only backing Israel’s right to self-defense for as long as it takes, but also ending negotiations with Tehran, isolating it diplomatically, and reimposing sanctions. It means no more ransom payments. It means endorsing the Iranian people’s call for regime change. It means the articulation of a credible threat of military force against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In short, it means the resumption — and intensification — of Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign.

President Biden will be loathe to admit the virtues of his predecessor’s approach. But a tougher US line on Iran, along with greater Israeli vigilance, could have significantly weakened the regime. It’s not too late for a course correction. If the two allies play their cards right, it could be a counter-offensive that Ali Khamenei never saw coming.

Tzvi Kahn is a research fellow and senior editor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on X @TzviKahn. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism Nonproliferation