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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Editorial: New Iran Sanctions Legislation Marks an Important Step


On Aug. 2, President Donald Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (H.R. 3364). This bipartisan legislation—overwhelmingly adopted by the Senate on July 27 and the House of Representatives on July 25—is the first significant foreign policy statute that Congress approved this year. It strengthens sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile program, destabilizing actions in the Middle East, human rights abuses and illicit conventional weapons trade. 


The new law marks an important step in ensuring that America holds Iran accountable for its expanding, destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East.

Iran—the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism—remains Israel’s and America’s greatest long-term threat in the Middle East.


Since implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—Tehran has only become more emboldened and seeks to destabilize the Middle East in a variety of ways.


  • Expanding Ballistic Missile Program Since July 2015, Iran has carried out at least 15 ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231. Its missiles can already reach Israel, the Gulf Arab states, and U.S. forces in the region. Last month, Iran test-launched a satellite-carrying rocket into space. The United States and its allies are concerned that the same technology used to launch satellites could also be used to develop Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) capable of hitting America.

  • Supporting Terrorist Groups In June, the U.S. State Department reaffirmed that Iran “continued to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” Notably, Iran provides significant financial and military support to Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy in Lebanon—the group has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group except al-Qaida. In addition to an estimated $1 billion in annual support, Iran has transferred massive weapons stocks to Hezbollah helping it stockpile 150,000 rockets and missiles. Some of these can reach any point within Israel. Iran has also provided large-scale financial and material support to Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. With this aid, Hamas has dramatically bolstered the size, accuracy and range of its rocket arsenal. Iranian expertise can also be seen in Hamas’ complex underground tunnel network.

  • Purchasing New Weapons Under UNSCR 2231, the United Nations Security Council must approve the sale and transfer of offensive weapons to Iran. Nonetheless, Iran is seeking to purchase advanced weapons systems. “Tehran is putting considerable resources into conventional military priorities such as ballistic and cruise missiles naval systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, air defense systems that could threaten the U.S. and our interests in the region,” said Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart on May 23, 2017.

  • Fomenting Regional Instability Iran foments unrest throughout the region by using its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to fund and train Shiite militias and terrorist proxies. Iran has backed insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen aimed at dominating its neighbors, attaining regional primacy and exporting its Islamic Revolution.

  • Supporting Syria's Assad Regime Despite Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of his own people and loss of international legitimacy, Iran continues to provide his regime with financial, material and military support. Iranian involvement in the conflict has contributed to the chaotic maelstrom on Israel’s northern frontier.

  • Challenging America in the Region Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei continues to make clear that he has no desire to improve relations with the United States. Iran’s government-sponsored rallies and parades continue to feature “Death to America” chants—and its military has made numerous unsafe approaches to U.S. naval vessels, fired a rocket within 1,500 yards of a U.S. warship, and illegally detained ten U.S. service members. Iran also continues to unjustly hold Americans captive. In addition to these destabilizing activities, Iran’s brutal theocratic regime engages in systemic human rights abuses against its own people in an effort to preserve its hold on power. Despite the 2013 election and 2017 re-election of the relatively pragmatic hardliner President Hassan Rouhani, Iran has increased executions and heightened repression of women, minorities, journalists and political dissidents.


The new sanctions take significant steps to target Iran’s destabilizing actions.


Directed solely at Iran’s regional aggression and human rights abuses, these sanctions do not violate the JCPOA, which is strictly limited to nuclear-related activity. The legislation specifically: 

  • Mandates sanctions on persons that engage in any activity that materially contributes to Iran's ballistic missile program. These sanctions would affect those engaged in any effort to manufacture, acquire, possess, develop, transport, transfer or use ballistic missiles.

  • Imposes terrorism-related sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The U.S. government has already designated the IRGC’s Quds Force—the organization’s foreign activities branch—as a terrorist group. This legislation makes clear that the entirety of the IRGC is complicit in its terrorist activities.

  • Mandates sanctions on persons violating UNSCR 2231’s arms embargo. 

  • Authorizes the president to impose sanctions on Iranians responsible for human rights violations against those who seek to promote human rights in Iran or who expose illegal Iranian government activity.


The new sanctions are important in holding Iran accountable for its regional aggression.


AIPAC commends Congress and the President for demonstrating to Iran that it cannot continue to destabilize the region and threaten Israel and U.S. interests without facing consequences. Moving forward, Washington should:

  • Continue to push back on Iran’s regional aggression;

  • Strictly enforce all ballistic missile, terrorism, conventional arms, and human rights sanctions on Iran, including those mandated by H.R. 3364;

  • Ensure Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, so long as it is in effect, while highlighting the danger of allowing an unreformed Iran to expand its nuclear infrastructure as the deal's restrictions expire;

  • Expand missile defense cooperation with Israel;

  • Stand with Israel as it confronts Iranian-backed terrorists; and

  • Ensure Israel has the means to defend itself—by itself.


Tags: Near East Report Near-East-Report