Iran Threatens the US and the Middle East: Stay Away from Our Redlines. Obama's Response?

There used to be a time when the Islamic Republic showed some discretion with regards to its regional hegemonic and ideological ambitions, or skirting and breaching international laws.
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There used to be a time when the Islamic Republic showed some discretion with regards to its regional hegemonic and ideological ambitions, or skirting and breaching international laws. At least the ruling clerics of Iran preferred soft power and were more covert about these issues.

But not anymore.

Iran's partial discretion was limited to the period before the nuclear deal was reached between P5+1 and the Islamic Republic, and before President Obama began pursuing appeasement policies with the ruling clerics in order to secure the agreement.

Currently, Iran's blatant aggression and provocative attitude has reached an unprecedented level, ranging from launching ballistic missiles in the middle of the day, to publicly supporting Bashar Al Assad, militarily and financially, and galvanizing the Shiite proxies to engage in war.

But Iran wants more. More recently, Iranian Deputy Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Maassoud Jazzayeri was quoted by the Fars News Agency as warning the United States to stay away from Iran's redlines- one of which is Iran's ballistic missiles. Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh was also quoted by the ISNA agency as stating, "The reason we designed our missiles with a range of 2000 km is to be able to hit our enemy the Zionist regime from a safe distance." Iran has increased its short and medium-range ballistic missiles, and currently has the largest ballistic missile stockpile in the Middle East. But what will Obama's response to these threats and Iran's increasing application of hard power be? Will there be more appeasement policies, bowing to the ruling clerics of Iran and giving them more carrots?

For Iran: Intransigence Works! and For Khamenei: US Concessions means Weakness!

It is a simple rule that if you reward a student or your kid for bullying and breaking the rules, you will be encouraging his/her intransigent behavior which can ultimately become dangerous for everyone around that person. In addition if you show some students your weakness- such as being willing to give them extra points so that they give you good reviews at the end of the year- they will take advantage of that, or as the Persian proverb goes; they will milk you to the end.

And this is exactly what Iran is doing and how President Obama is encouraging the Islamic Republic. Iranian leaders have become cognizant of the fact that intransigence absolutely works with the White House, and that threatening Obama that Iran will pull out of the nuclear deal, or warning that a statement Obama has said, or that an American law is violating the nuclear deal, will lead to Obama offering more concessions to Iran.

This is a basic rule in Iran's politics and in Iran's Supreme Leader's philosophy: concessions means weakness. Once someone shows you his/her weakness, you have to speed up getting more concessions until there is nothing is left to get out of them.

Here are a chain of events that can easily help us understand how we got here with Iran, and to project how President Obama and the White House will respond to Iran's recent aggression and threat to the US, Israel and other countries in the region.

When the nuclear negotiations were initiated, Obama announced his terms. Iran's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, gave an inflammatory speech, lashing out on the US. Obama's response was to increase the number of centrifuges that Iran can hold and give Tehran more leverage in uranium enrichment. Obama also agreed not to include topics such as Iran's ballistic missiles, the issue of human rights or the fate of those Americans imprisoned in Iran during the negotiations.

Khamenei, the second longest ruling leader, or autocrat, in modern Middle East, mastered the game; he used another shrewd tactic by giving another speech threatening the US that he will pull out of the negotiations if certain conditions were not met. Obama's response was to immediately allow the Islamic Republic to receive all sanctions relief ( including the removal of United Nations Security Council's sanctions) even before Iran finished its 10 year obligations. He agreed to include the issue of arms embargo in the negotiation and Obama also gave Iran a green light to basically become a nuclear state by enriching uranium at a level that they desire, spinning as many centrifuges as they like, and buying arms with no limits (by lifting the arms embargo), after the 10 year period.

As the Persian proverb goes, Khamenei and the IRGC leaders wanted to milk the cow more. Iran launched its ballistic missiles- in violation of the the JCPOA (UNSCR 2231 Annex II, paragraph three) which states that Iran should not undertake any ballistic missiles activity "until the date eight years after the JCPOA Adoption Day or until the date on which the IAEA submits a report confirming the Broader Conclusion, whichever is earlier."

President Obama ignored it. Iran launched ballistics missiles couple of times more. President Obama issued a superficial statement criticizing Iran. Khamanei immediately gave his Nowruz speech heavily lashing out at the United States, the "Great Satan", and implying that he will pull out of the nuclear deal.

Then to appease the ruling clerics of Iran, Obama immediately backed off his statements by breaking the promises that he made to the Congress when he was trying to get his crowning nuclear deal through. In other words, he is preparing to give Iran access to the US banking and financial system, and he has already lifted sanctions against Iran which are not related to the nuclear program, but to Iran's ballistic missiles, terrorism and human rights violations. Iran was also removed from the list of countries for which there is travel ban, although it is prominent sponsor of terrorism.

Iran has a history which spans over 2500 years and it goes without saying that its politicians, particularly the ruling clerics, are among the most astute and shrewd politicians. They can smell weakness from thousands miles away and they know how to exploit it. It goes without saying that Obama's weakness is that he fears his so-called crowning foreign policy legacy (the nuclear deal) might fall apart, and this has led to Iran's bullying, using more hard power, acting as the policeman of the region, and also resulted in Obama's carrots-but-no-stick policy towards Tehran. It appears that Obama is indeed so focused on scoring superficial achievements in his name - such as the nuclear deal with Iran or visiting Cuba. But there is no doubt that his so-called "accomplishments" will be forgotten soon in the dust of history. The things that are important are the lives which have been lost, the human rights violations, and escalations of regional conflicts at the hand of Iranian leaders, and due to the repercussions of Obama's decisions and his self-oriented desires.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, business advisor and the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review. An American citizen, he is originally from Iran and Syria, lived most of his life in Iran and Syria till recently. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Arabic and Persian. He also speaks English and Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew.

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You can contact him at or follow him at @Dr_Rafizadeh. This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.


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