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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Editorial: Newly Announced Iran Sanctions Mark Important First Step


On Jan. 29, Iran test-launched a medium-range ballistic missile in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2231—the latest such launch in a series of tests following the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in January 2016.


In response, on Feb. 3 the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against 13 individuals and 12 entities in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates known to be providing key technology to Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force. These are important first steps for the United States, which must be part of a greater comprehensive strategy to push back against Iran’s malign activities and support U.S. allies.   


Iran’s ballistic missile tests are in clear defiance of UNSCR 2231.


Adopted in July 2015, UNSCR 2231 calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology, until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day.”


Tehran has conducted at least six ballistic missile tests since the resolution’s adoption—the missiles’ size and payload capacity make them capable of carrying nuclear warheads. This most recent test follows reported tests in March and December 2016, one of which featured missiles with the phrase “Israel must be wiped off the earth” written on them in Hebrew.


In response to the Iranian provocation, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn stated on Feb. 1 that the United States was “officially putting Iran on notice.”


The following day, a bipartisan group of 22 senators led by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) sent a letter to President Donald Trump advocating for additional sanctions. “Iranian leaders must feel sufficient pressure to cease deeply destabilizing activities, from sponsoring terrorist groups to continued testing of ballistic missiles,” the senators wrote. “We look forward to supporting your Administration’s efforts to hold Iran accountable,” they continued. “It is imperative that the United States lead the international community in enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231.”


There is widespread support for the newly announced sanctions.


In making the announcement, the acting director of the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), John E. Smith, stated: “Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States. Today’s action is part of Treasury’s ongoing efforts to counter Iranian malign activity abroad that is outside the scope of the JCPOA.” He continued, “We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior.”


In response, lawmakers from both chambers and both political parties praised the announcement.


House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) said: “Iran’s dangerous and provocative acts are a direct threat to the United States and our allies. I’m glad the administration is taking long-overdue steps to hold the regime accountable. I look forward to working with the administration to build on these designations, push back against Iran’s destructive policies, and promote stability in the Middle East.”


House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) said: “Iran's recent ballistic missile test—in clear violation of international law—certainly deserves today's response. With the nuclear agreement in place, the United States and our allies need to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior around the world. Iran’s continued support for dangerous actors around the region—including Hezbollah, the Assad regime, the Houthis and Shia militias in Iraq—poses an enormous threat to the United States and our allies. I support continued efforts to confront Iran’s malign activities, and I will continue to work so that U.S. law provides every tool needed to achieve that goal.”


Sen. Corker said, “Today's sanctions make clear that it is a new day in U.S.-Iran relations and that we will no longer tolerate Iran’s destabilizing behavior.”


Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said: “It is long past time for the United States and the international community to hold Iran accountable, not just for its commitments under the nuclear deal, but for its destabilizing behavior across the Middle East. I hope the measures announced today by the Trump administration will serve as a first step towards a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s malign influence and protect America’s national security interests.”


“Iran is a bad actor in a dangerous region of the world,” said Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL). “My position has always been clear—Iran must never be allowed to achieve nuclear weapons capability; not only for the next 10 to 15 years, but forever. A key component of Iran’s nuclear ambitions is the country’s ballistic missile program, and I believe the new sanctions announced today are a necessary and appropriate response to the belligerent aggression shown by Iran in last week’s ballistic missile test.”


Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) said, "As someone who was opposed early on to the dangerous and misguided Iran nuclear deal, I support decisive actions like those taken today against those supporting Iran's ballistic missile program. The United States cannot stand idly by while Iran continues to destabilize the Middle East and support dangerous entities including Hezbollah, radical militias in Iraq, the Assad regime, and others who pose a grave threat to the United States and our allies.”


The way forward


While the newly announced sanctions are a good first step, the United States must now develop a comprehensive strategy to counter the full range of Iran’s destabilizing behavior. Such actions would help bolster the security of the United States, Israel and other U.S. allies in the region, and should include:


Working aggressively to identify additional entities involved in Iran’s missile program and to sanction those supporting these entities, including financial and transportation companies;

  • Closely investigating whether Iran’s national shipping line, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISIL), or its national airline, Iran Air, have aided Iran’s missile program by transporting illicit missile components;

  • Considering targeting those parts of the Iranian economy that directly assist Iran’s missile program;

  • Holding accountable foreign governments that fail to punish entities aiding Iran’s ballistic missile program. China, for example, voted in favor of UNSCR 2231, but has taken no action against the many Chinese entities that are major suppliers to Iran’s missile program; and  

  • Concretely reasserting U.S. support for those most directly threatened by Iran, including Israel and America’s traditional Arab allies. The United States should enhance cooperation with Israel on missile defense systems capable of protecting against Iranian missiles.  


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