Remarks by General Charles Wald, former Deputy Commander of the U.S. European Command, in a panel on the Iranian regime’s “IRGC and Meddling in the Region” in Paris, 29 June 2018, organized jointly by FEMO and APA.
General Charles Wald:
… just talked a little bit about many of these things you know, but to putting it in context of what Iran has been doing in the region and the aggression they’ve shown over the last several years—decades actually. As you all know, their regional aggression has grown significantly in recent years thanks to basically three things. One, in my estimation, sanctions relief from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the JCPOA, on Iran’s nuclear program. Two, the Iranian interventions supporting sectarian Shia forces in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, as the ambassador mentioned. Three, the U.S. reluctance to remain engaged in solving the regional conflict beyond the approaching defeat of ISIS.
The JCPOA and the American reluctance to engage in the region have not moderated Iran’s behavior at home or abroad, which is somewhat I think the JCPOA was based a lot on hope and some naivete. It didn’t work out as it should have. You can argue whether we probably should have kept that and gone harder on Iran over the next several years, but I think Jim will talk a little bit about that. But the JCPOA was pretty much a failure.
And as a revolutionary regime, Tehran believes its security depends on supporting that revolution that was mentioned by Walid in the beginning, including annihilating the “Little Satan,” which is Israel, and of course expelling the “Great Satan,” which is the United States, from the Middle East. Iran’s intervention around the region, and specifically its support for sectarian militias in regional conflicts drives both Shia and Sunni violent extremism. Currently, Iran’s regional ambitions depend most crucially on consolidating its control over Syria and Iraq and thereby cementing its predominance over the geostrategic heart of the Middle East and securing a land bridge to Hezbollah and the Mediterranean. In Syria, Iran is estimated to have spent 30 million dollars to date helping Assad brutally reconquer the country, including providing shock troops and military advisors for Assad’s offenses, including the infamous (Guda) offensive near Damascus in the spring of 2018, ethnically cleansing former Sunni majority areas retaken by the regime by repopulating them with Iranian-backed militias and their families, allowing Syrian regime forces to take over positions in the southwest of Syria, opposite Israel and Jordan, by withdrawing Iranian-aligned militias, when in fact Iranian militias are just staying and donning Syrian uniforms, continuing to supply pro-Assad militias in Syria and build military bases for the IRGC and its proxies in Syria, despite repeated air strikes on those facilities and demands that Iran leave Syria altogether, and threatening the United States that its counter-ISIS force must leave Syria either voluntarily or by force, and producing extensive propaganda trying to delegitimize the United States presence in Syria.
In Iraq, Iran remains the most influential foreign actor through its extensive support of hardline Shia militias. In March, Defense Secretary for the United States, Secretary Mattis, accused Iran, and I quote, “Of trying to influence using money the Iraqi Parliamentarian elections, Iran is following Russia’s example of mucking around in the Iraqi elections.” The May 12th Parliamentary elections were won by anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr who I think General Conway probably even knows, not in a good way, who announced his forming a coalition with the Iran-aligned head of the Badr organization, Hadi Al-Amiri.
In Lebanon, Iran is accused of trying to build at least two underground factories for the construction of precision missiles for Hezbollah. In Yemen, Iran supplied advanced missiles for sectarian and Houthi rebels fighting the U.S.-backed, internationally recognized Yemeni government. In 2018 alone, more than 30 of these missiles have been fired at Saudi Arabia, including its major cities and infrastructure. I was in Riyadh when a couple of them hit not too long ago. You know, I have to say, there’s been about 110 or 120 of these missiles fired into Saudi Arabia. And if somebody fired one missile into the United States, that would be the end of it, I can tell you that. The fact that they are firing missiles in with impunity basically is beyond belief. On March 15th, Secretary Mattis said the Iranians used Yemen as a weapons proving ground. It’s where you find their radars, their ballistic missiles, their anti-ship cruise missiles. We found their mines, their explosive boats, they’re all being tested there. Meanwhile, Iran also maintains the region’s largest ballistic missile arsenal, capable of threatening the U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf as well as Jordan and Egypt and Israel.
Iran’s aggressive meddling around the region and the expensive bill it rung up in the process contributes directly to the causes for growing unrest at home. Since December 2017, multiple waves of protests, as you all well know, across Iran have arisen due to the regime’s economic management, systematic corruption, and suppression of basic freedoms for Iranians. Repeatedly, protestor’s grievances expanded to include the regime’s support for Hezbollah and the cost of intervention in Syria.
What would I recommend personally? Overall, the United States needs a comprehensive strategy to pressure Iran on its nuclear program, regional meddling, and vulnerabilities at home. I think General Conway is going to speak highly to that. On the nuclear program, Iran’s nuclear program, we need to update contingency plans to neutralize nuclear facilities in Iran should Iran resume its progress towards nuclear weapons capability or obstruct IAEA access to declared or suspected undeclared nuclear-related facilities. We need to prepare contingency plans to defend the United States and its allies from further … tests of nuclear-capable missiles, including unequivocal threats to shoot down these tests if necessary. Iran’s legally binding nonproliferation treaty obligations regardless of the JCPOA fate include we need to pursue an integrated—this is a coalition now—we need to pursue an integrated regional missile defense and shared early warning system to include joint command control centers between the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, including potential Israeli cooperation under the table. We need to articulate close support for the new Saudi-Emirati coordination council, including explicit military backing against direct Iranian aggression. We need to maintain a military presence in Syria and Iraq to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and provide security for a stable post-war political process, reconstruction, and diminish Iranians’ influence that could jeopardize these objectives. We need to work with regional allies to step up maritime monitoring interdiction efforts in the Red, Arabian, and Mediterranean seas, as well as efforts to hinder Irani’s use of civilian aircraft for transporting military supplies and personnel. And lastly, to exploit Iran’s regime vulnerabilities at home, the United States should publicize the Iranian regime’s corruption and its cost to its people, criticize the regime publicly for failure to live up to President Rouhani’s pledges to respect and protect Iranians’ basic human rights, and target the regime and the IRGC sources of revenue by strictly enforcing renewed sanctions on Iran in enacting stringent sanctions on Iranian human rights violators. And then lastly, conduct a political warfare campaign against the regime, including for domestic dissidents. So thank you.