As President Obama contemplates a nuclear deal with Iran, it’s useful to consider what else the United States might want from Iran.
Yes, Iran’s nuclear program is paramount, because the world, and Washington, has three big fears on an Iran with nukes: an attack on Israel; a bomb given to a terrorist group who would try to blow up New York, London, or even Moscow; and the most likely outcome–that an Iran with a bomb would encourage rivals Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or other Persian Gulf states to get their own nuclear weapons, surely a destabilizing development in such a volatile region.
So, it’s fine to go ahead and secure, quickly, a verifiable nuclear deal with Iran. But we need something else from Iran, something that goes to the heart of the problems across the Middle East and to the heart of threats against Americans. We need Iran to use its good, or maybe covert, offices, to help squelch terrorist attacks, the kind of tit-for-tat hateful violence that is engulfing the Islamic arc from Tunisia to Indonesia.Granted, not many of the terrorist car and truck bombs and suicide attacks that inflame this region are inspired, led, or even funded by Shiite Iran. Most are Al Qaeda inspired or linked; Al Qaeda is a distinctly Sunni outgrowth.
But Iran, through its Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and the corps’ Quds Force, a radical Islamist military group outside the command and control of the conventional Iranian military, does fund and train terrorists. And it has been behind, or at the very least involved in, some of the most deadly and harmful attacks against Americans, going back to the origins of our Middle East crisis, the U.S. diplomats held hostage in Tehran in 1979-80.
Here’s a list in case you’ve forgotten: The April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, which killed 63 people, including 17 Americans. The October 1983 truck suicide bombings of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut and the French Paratroop barracks nearby. Those blasts killed 241 American servicemen and 58 French paratroopers. A then shadowy group called Islamic Jihad took responsibility for those bombings; it was a precursor to the Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, which ever since has been funded and trained by the Revolutionary Guard.
The other major IRGC attack, and it’s important to note that many people believe this was an attack helped by Al Qaeda units too, is the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment complex that housed U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia. Most evidence points to the IRGC as being behind the training and inspiration for that blast which killed 19 U.S. Airmen and injured scores more.
More recently, the IRGC and its Quds Force leaders were behind some of the most deadly attacks by Shiite Arab militias in Iraq against U.S. troops there after the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
It’s important to note that in all of these attacks, Iranians never were the actual suicide bombers. Iranians, it seems, almost never blow themselves up. They get others to do it.
I mention these not to reopen old wounds, but to note that there are several countries where Iran, by reining in the IRGC, could be helpful in tamping down the violence that so racks the Middle East.
Iran could use its considerable influence with Shiites in Arab Iraq to tone down the sectarian warfare there between Shiite and Sunni that is killing hundreds every month. With Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza, which also has been supported by the IRGC, new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could keep those two groups quiet while real peace negotiations go on between Palestinians and Israelis.
And if the Iranians are indeed sensitive to the poison gas used on them by Saddam Hussein in the bloody eight-year war it fought with Iraq from 1908 to 1988, then it should help with a negotiated transition away from Bashar al-Assad in Syria who used these horrible weapons on his own people.
If Iran is to be invited to the party now, 34 years after its revolutionary phase, then it now has to start acting like a responsible adult; it needs to rein in the juvenile rage of its IRGC and Quds Force. This will not be easy for Iranian moderates to pull off. The Guard Corps is powerful and has patrons at the top of the Iranian government.
But terrorism and its long-lasting cycles of hatred and revenge is the real enemy in the Middle East. Iran should do its part to stop it, no matter how hard it may be.