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Iran Nuke Deal: Will US Troops In Region Be At Risk?

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

Even though there’s enough Democratic support for the Iran deal to ensure that Congress can’t stop it, there is still much Congress can and should do to try to mitigate its harmful effects. For starters, Congress should press the Pentagon to assess how the influx of weapons, and especially missiles, into Iran (and therefore into the hands of its proxies) will increase the risk to deployed forces, their families, and allies.

According to Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, forces under the command of Iranian Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani are responsible for the deaths of around 500 American service members. That number is probably low, but the forensics make it difficult to pin down the origin of some of the weapons that killed and maimed Americans. During the surge in 2007, dozens of US troops were injured or killed by sophisticated roadside bombs called Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP), planted by Shiite militias and produced and supplied by Iran. Much more powerful than the better known Improvised Explosive Device (IED), EFPs could destroy armored Humvees. The Pentagon knows Iran produced and supplied these particular kinds of weapons. That doesn’t exclude the possibility that the Iranian military also produced and provided less sophisticated weapons that also killed and wounded American service members.

There are 35,000 US troops in the Middle East region. More than 3,000 American soldiers in Iraq are training and supporting Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to destroy ISIL and provide security for their country, President Obama is considering sending up to 1,000 more. The Army announced it will deploy about 3,000 troops to the Middle East and Afghanistan later this year, many to join U.S. forces in Kuwait as they support the fight against ISIL.

Although Iran is also fighting ISIL, the way it is arming Shia militants is often resulting in the killing and wounding of the wrong people (from the perspective of the U.S.), increasing sectarian strife, and overall undermining the efforts of the coalition effort of over 60 nations to aid the Iraqi government in its war against ISIL.

The Country Reports on Terrorism released in June of this year said “Iran used Iraqi Shia militants and high profile appearances by Qods Force officials on the front lines of Iraq to claim credit for military successes against ISIL and to belittle coalition airstrikes and U.S. contributions to the Government of Iraq’s ongoing fight against ISIL.”

Iran subverts the U.S. efforts in the region in a variety of other ways, too. It seeks to weaken and target the U.S.-backed government of Yemen by supplying Houthi rebels with weapons. It also supplies weapons to Hams, Hezbollah, and Syria’s Assad regime.

If the Iran deal goes through, some of the money out of the hundreds of billions Iran will receive over time will go towards Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region. Obama administration officials do not deny this. National Security Adviser Susan Rice recently admitted “…[ I]t is possible, and, in fact, we should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we have seen in the region up until now.”

Even more troubling, the Iran deal weakens restrictions on Iran’s already active missile program and lifts the embargo on those weapons after eight years. Iranian military leaders have already stated Iran will not abide by the restrictions.

Major Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, asserted that Iran would never surrender its missile program. Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics agreed stating: “Iran’s missile activities will not cease.” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said: “Using the ballistic missiles doesn’t violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” On this last point, he’s technically right. Secretary of State John Kerry clarified that, if Iran violates the missile embargo (or conventional arms embargo), it will not be in material breach of the Iran deal.

So from Iran’s perspective there’s little to lose and everything to gain by ignoring the embargo and taking the money from the lifting of economic sanctions to improve and increase its missile arsenal. In fact, that is exactly what it intends to do. Iran Supreme Leader Kamenei listed Iran’s priorities for its five-year development plan in June. Of the five priorities, one of them was to improve defense and missile capabilities. This is a normal priority for any state, but no one should be surprised when those very improvements are used to kill Americans, Israelis, and those whom the United States are currently aiding in countries like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria.

In 2009 the Obama administration changed course on plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe. One of the primary reasons, several officials argued, is that there was a change in the threat. Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy told a congressional panel, “In the near term, what this means is that the greatest missile threats from Iran will be to U.S. allies and partners, as well as to our deployed personnel, military and civilian, and their families in the Middle East and in Europe.”

Since then, Iran’s militancy has only gotten stronger and its missile force more powerful. The question is, is President Obama prepared to adjust the missile strategy in the region or at least increase the Pentagon’s budget to give it what it needs? Congress better press for the answers.

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