Because an Iran with nuclear weapons remains but a prospect for the future, rather than a reality with which to grapple today, the United States and its allies can enjoy the luxury of procrastination rather than feel the urgency of action.
Of immediacy, by contrast, is the actual shooting war that’s underway between the United States and Iran on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan – yes, real war leading to real deaths for U.S. soldiers.
Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry and its battlefield conflicts with the United States are but two sides of a geopolitical coin – for a Tehran that’s willing to kill U.S. troops in its push for regional hegemony begs the question of what it will do once it acquires the protection that a nuclear capacity would bring.
These Iranian initiatives are connected in another way. Washington’s strategy to blunt Tehran’s nuclear aspirations – a patient mix of offers of a new U.S.-Iranian relationship and the threat of stronger economic sanctions – has probably convinced U.S. officials to downplay the reality of on-the-ground bombs and bullets.
But reality it is, as described in a new Department of Defense (DoD) report to Congress about Iran’s current and future military strategy as well as recent revelations by senior U.S. military officials.
Seeking, according to DoD, to “increase its stature by countering U.S. influence and expanding ties with regional actors while advocating Islamic solidarity,” Iran wants to “secure political, economic and security influence in Iraq and Afghanistan while undermining U.S. efforts by supporting various political groups, providing developmental and humanitarian assistance, and furnishing lethal aid to Iraqi Shia militants and Afghan insurgents.”
In Iraq in particular, DoD wrote, Iran is providing Iraqi Shia militants and terrorists with money, training and weapons – the latter of which includes Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs) with radio-controlled, remote arming and passive infrared detonators, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), anti-aircraft weapons, mortars, 107 and 122 millimeter rockets, rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, and explosives.
The idea, lest anyone wonders, is to “target U.S. forces in Iraq and undermine U.S. interests.” The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – which is, incidentally, at the center of Iran’s nuclear push – takes the lead in training Iraqi insurgents, directly or through Iran’s most important terrorist proxy, Hezbollah.
Among the services provided are “training, tactics, and technology to conduct kidnappings, small unit tactical operations and employ sophisticated IEDs” as well as training “in the use of IEDs, EFPs, and the counter-measures designed to defeat these weapons.”
In Afghanistan, DoD wrote, Iran uses a “multi-faceted approach involving support for the Karzai government, economic and cultural outreach to the population, while covertly supporting various insurgent groups and political opposition groups.”
On the military side, “arms caches have been recently uncovered with large amounts of Iranian manufactured weapons, to include 107mm rockets,” which DOD believes that the IRGC “delivered to Afghan militants.” Their “recent manufacture date suggests [that] lethal support is ongoing.”
The United States is not exactly trumpeting Iran’s effort to kill U.S. soldiers, though it’s not denying it either.
The Weekly Standard reported that Admiral Mike Mullen, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on March 31 in response to a reporter’s question that he was “advised last night about a significant shipment of weapons… from Iran into Kandahar not too long ago” – a shipment about which he was “taken aback.”
A week earlier, Army Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sholtis told CNN, “We’ve known for some time that Iran has been a source for both materiel and trained fighters for Taliban elements in Afghanistan.”
It’s all part and parcel of Iran’s longstanding modus operandi. The regime remains the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism, propagator of a radical ideology, aspirant to regional hegemony, bitter enemy of an Israel it threatens to obliterate and an America it dreams of destroying, and pursuer of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to help make its dreams come true.
Washington may want to downplay Iran’s lethal meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, fearing that to give the issue high visibility is to guarantee failure for its patient deployment of carrots and sticks on the nuclear front, that to criticize Tehran in one arena is to ensure its non-cooperation in another.
Well, here’s another way to look at things:
Washington could use Iran’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan to its own advantage. By highlighting Iran’s willingness to challenge the world’s lone superpower and sow regional instability with its current capabilities, U.S. officials can force the world to consider what a nuclear-armed Tehran might be willing to do.