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Obama’s Iran Experiment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A hypothetical question: Suppose the Islamic State wanted to buy some American airplanes, and promised not to use them to support terrorists. Would you be OK with that? I’m guessing not.

Now suppose that the Islamic Republic of Iran wanted to buy some American airplanes, and promised not to use them to support terrorists. This question is not hypothetical. This is something Tehran very much wants and President Obama is eager to provide. Are you OK with that?

Mr. Obama might argue that the Islamic State and the Islamic Republic are very different. I’d say, yes and no. For example, the Islamic State is a terrorist entity. The Islamic Republic, as the U.S. government acknowledges, is the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism.

The Islamic State slaughters Christians and Yazidis. The Islamic Republic persecutes Baha’i but tolerates Christians -- so long as they accept second-class status. Both the Islamic State and the Islamic Republic execute members of what they don’t call the LGBT community.

Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic, has the intention, if not yet the capability, to bring “death” to America and Israel. The same is true of Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State. Supporters of the Islamic State have murdered dozens of Americans in America (while also slitting the throats of several in Syria). Iranian-backed Shia militias have murdered hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Lebanon (though an Iranian attempt to blow up a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 2011 failed).

There are, to be sure, stylistic differences between the Islamic State and the Islamic Republic. Jihadis for the former proudly take selfies while holding bleeding human heads by the hair. Jihadis for the latter probably find that gauche. Take Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, often described in the media as a moderate. He speaks impeccable English and you can bet he knows which fork to use when dining with Secretary of State John Kerry at expensive Viennese restaurants.

But two years ago, he laid a wreath on the Beirut grave of Imad Mugniyeh, the Hezbollah commander responsible for numerous terrorist atrocities, including the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 US Marines.

The current debate over whether to sell aircraft to Iran stems from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the deal President Obama cut with Iran’s rulers one year ago, on July 14, 2015. He has repeatedly asserted that it prevents Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In reality, restrictions on Iran’s nuclear weapons program will disappear after eight years – assuming that Iran’s rulers don’t cheat (which they already are as I’ll outline in a moment).

In exchange for Iran mothballing parts of its nuclear weapons program, many of the toughest American and international economic sanctions have been lifted. Iran’s rulers now have access to $100 billion in what had been blocked assets.

As expected, Iran’s economy is recovering. Nevertheless, Ayatollah Khamenei is dissatisfied. He recently charged that Americans were creating “Iranophobia so no one does business with Iran.”

In response, Secretary of State John Kerry has been telling Europeans and anyone else who would listen about all the marvelous investment opportunities available in Iran. Soon after, Boeing announced a $25 billion deal to sell and lease aircraft to government-owned Iran Air.

Iran’s rulers say the aircraft will be used only for civilian transportation. But it’s no secret that they’ve been running an illicit airlift of weapons and fighters to Syria where Hezbollah, their proxy militia, as well as elite units of their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are taking part in the Syrian civil war – a conflict that has claimed as many as 400,000 lives and displaced millions.

Last Thursday a House subcommittee held a hearing on “The Implications of U.S. Aircraft Sales to Iran” (at which my two FDD colleagues, Mark Dubowitz and Eric Lorber, testified). At about the same time, Germany's domestic intelligence agency revealed in its annual report that Iran’s “clandestine” efforts to illegally procure nuclear technology have continued “at what is, even by international standards, a quantitatively high level.” Among other things, Iran has been trying “to buy parts for missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads.”

Referencing the report, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the German parliament that recent Iranian missile launches were “in conflict” with a U.N. Security Council resolution. Reuters reported that a confidential report by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also had found Iran’s missile launches inconsistent “with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA.

Hours later, the House passed, with bipartisan support, two amendments to block the sales of aircraft to Iran. We’ll see if the Senate follows suit.

Meanwhile, revelations about Iran’s behavior keep on coming. Over the weekend, based on “intelligence data and reports from the 16 German states,” my Berlin-based FDD colleague Benjamin Weinthal reported that “Iran’s illicit proliferation activities span eight German states and involve a range of activities to advance its chemical and biological warfare, as well as its nuclear and missile programs.”

Let’s be charitable and consider the JCPOA an experiment. If President Obama showed Iran’s rulers respect, there was a chance they would respond by making an effort to “get right with the world” – toning down their jihadi rhetoric and revolutionary ambitions. Given an opportunity to make their country prosperous, they’d stop pursuing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. Feeling less threatened, they’d choose to peacefully coexist with their neighbors and ease repression on their citizens.

But that experiment has now been run. You know the results. Does President Obama? Or does he consider the Iran deal so essential to his legacy that he couldn’t possibly acknowledge its failure? On Friday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said he had “absolutely no indication that Iran has procured any materials in violation of the JCPOA.” Are you OK with that?

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