“This government is not afraid Iran will walk away from the deal, so it has more freedom… this advantage allows it to put pressure on Iran” and to respond to Iranian provocations.
The Trump administration’s strong response to Tehran’s missile test and other provocations related to the nuclear deal over the past week is finally sending the right deterrent message to Iran, two Israeli experts on Iran told The Jerusalem Post.
“The Trump administration responded that this [Iran’s actions] is unacceptable. We will respond. US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn put Iran on notice and then there were sanctions. This is exactly what the US should have been doing from Iran’s first provocation,” Emily Landau, INSS head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program said on Sunday.
It is important for the Trump administration to establish with Iran that “we are not going to play the same game that the Obama administration was. We see what you are doing. We don’t accept it and we will respond. This is important for US deterrence,” she continued.
Last week’s missile test by Iran, she noted, was of a medium-range ballistic missile with an estimated range of 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers that could reach Western Europe carrying a nuclear payload.
Providing background to the current state of play, Landau emphasized: “It is important to understand that this is a continuation of a dynamic that began almost immediately after the deal was secured back in July 2015. Since then, Iran has been testing the will of the US, the P5+1 and the international community to respond to… its provocations.”
She recounted how, in October 2015, Iran tested a precision-guided missile that could carry a nuclear warhead, violating UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed further sanctions and was in effect at the time. She added that Iran carried out additional missile tests, stepped up its military presence in Syria and tries to provide “game-changing weapons” to Hezbollah.
Analyzing the benefits of a strong response, she said: “There is a certain equation between the US and Iran. If Iran provokes and the US does not react, Iran’s deterrent power goes up because it learns it can do these provocations with no consequences. US power goes down because it is so afraid that it will let any provocation go by, even acting as Iran’s advocate so that there is no problem with anything Iran does.”
Landau expressed concern that because Trump is “so controversial in the US public debate, people will be strongly against Trump for whatever the reason… will not be able to differentiate between policies that are criticized in a justified manner and policies that are the correct ones – in this particular case of Iran, it’s the right policy.”
Ya’acov Amidror, former national security adviser and currently a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, voiced messages similar to Landau, but specifically emphasized that Trump’s approach was aimed at helping understand US interests, not specifically those of Israel.
The main takeaway, he said, was that “this government is not afraid Iran will walk away from the deal, so it has more freedom… this advantage allows it to put pressure on Iran” and to respond to Iranian provocations.
Criticizing the Obama administration, Amidror said it would not condemn any Iranian provocations as “serious because it was afraid Iran would use that to end the agreement.”
In contrast, the current government “thinks the deal is bad for the US… thinks it must contain Iran… would be happy if Iran violated the agreement… does not worry about the outcome if the agreement ended and it had lots of freedom… and would be happy” if it could blame Tehran for ending the deal.
Questioned about whether he was more satisfied by Trump’s actions from an Israeli perspective, he shot back: “It has nothing to do with being satisfied. It is not connected to Israel. It is connected to an American understanding that these things are not good for the US, including Iranian actions in the Middle East.”
Pressed that some have said the US must not suffice with words but must send an aircraft carrier and other concrete signs of military power to the region as an implied threat, he said sarcastically that he appreciates all those who tell the US government what it should do: “There is a full Pentagon for that – everyone thinks they are an expert.”
Likewise, Landau said Trump had responded not merely with words, but with new sanctions as well. Regarding mixed reports about whether an aircraft carrier would be sent to the region, he said it was best to wait and see because the situation is “mid-episode.”
US reviews of Trump’s Iran response in the US have been mixed with a small group of Republicans calling for even tougher reactions; a wide group of Republicans and Democrats sending similar messages while supporting maintaining the deal; and a small group of Democrats warning Trump not to ruin the deal by antagonizing Iran.