Michael Pregent, Middle East analyst, Hudson Institute, addressed a panel discussion on the subject of “IRGC and Sanctions” in a Paris suburb on June 29, 2018. The event was jointly organized by FEMO and APA. His remarks follow:
Thank you for having me and thank you for having me at this panel. What’s different now is that the IRGC Quds Force and Iran’s regime do not have an advocate like they had in 2009. In 2009 through 2013, the Iranian regime faced the toughest sanctions it ever faced before yet it was still able to do very destabilizing activities. That’s because they had a guarantor, and the guarantor was the US Administration, those in the Administration who were working towards the JCPOA, the Iran deal. There were overtures back and forth between the Supreme Leader and the Obama administration to show us you’re serious. Their request was made to the United States first, show us you’re serious. So we started releasing IRGC Quds Force operatives in Iraq that we never would have released before because they had American blood on their hands and they had Iraqi blood on their hands. But we started releasing them. And they were the ones that Qassem Soleimani was asking for.
Despite the sanctions, the IRGC Quds Force was able to conduct some very destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon. And now fast forward to 2018, we’ve seen what the regime has been able to do, specifically the IRGC Quds Force in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. So these sanctions are different. These protests are different. In 2009, the protestors in Iran did not have Western support. They should have had Western support. They did not. These protests are different. You have the narrative being challenged. The narrative is that if Americans get behind protesters in Iran, it will move the protestors towards the regime. We hear that every day in Washington, D.C. and the counternarrative is actually being played out on the ground. The protestors are asking for American support, the protestors are asking for Western support. And this movement is different because it’s not like the 2009 movement where it actually had leaders and it was a political movement. This is organic, this is leaderless, this is across the country because of the economic situation tied directly to the economic opportunities that were squandered and lost by the regime and the IRGC Quds Force as it stepped up its destabilizing activities. These protests, this is where you have women that are being persecuted for taking the veil off, you have political dissidents off being imprisoned, you have homosexuals being hanged, you have Kurds being hanged, you have opposition leaders being imprisoned without due process. This is built for Western support. I wish more Western media would actually cover it because, you know, if we’re looking for events to cover in the United States you can see it’s easy to get sidetracked on things that some important, some less important. But these protests are very important.
What’s different this time with sanctions? Again, the sanctions under the Obama administration were meant to bring Iran to the table to negotiate an Iran deal and then Iran pretty much got everything back in annex two of the JCPOA. Annex 2 of the JCPOA was the giveaway. It made the JCPOA a bad deal, an imperfect one if we want to take that language. It basically reactivated the IRGC Quds Force’s operational and logistical terror networks. It delisted banks. It delisted individuals. It delisted shipping lines and actual ships that were responsible for shipping weapons to Lebanese Hezbollah, to Hamas, to the Houthis. We’ve seen a lot of activities. So what’s different this time is that the president walked away from the Iran deal because of what the IRGC Quds Force was doing. And if you listen to the protestors, the protestors are blaming the regime for the Iran deal collapsing, not the United States. They’re blaming the regime for adventurism, for violating UN Security Council resolutions. And I argued when I testified in front of Congress, I said we’d have an Iran deal today if the regime didn’t violate existing UN Security Council resolutions with ballistic missiles. We’d have an Iran deal today if the regime didn’t use commercial aircraft to send captive Afghans to Syria to prop up Assad or to move militias from Iraq to Syria on commercial aircraft. We’d have an Iran deal today if the regime didn’t consider to support terrorism, continue to fund Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthis, and you can just keep going.
The Iran deal collapsed because Annex 2 of the Iran deal was a giveaway to the nonnuclear terror threat that was Iran, the IRGC Quds Force. That is all gone now. Annex 2 we’re going to start looking at sanctioning entities like (Setad), the supreme leader’s personal fortune of almost $190 billion. Like you said, sanctions aren’t enough. What we should do also is highlight Qassem Soleimani’s personal fortune. The Basij commander’s personal fortune. The Supreme Leader’s personal fortune. I mean Mohammed (Rezinakti) was the leader of the Basij. He’s the one responsible for putting down the 2009 protests. He received sanctions relief. We need to publish these individuals’ personal wealth because those soldiers that you talked about, what happens to the foot soldier in the IRGC Quds Force when they find out that their commanders make a thousand times more than they do, and yet they’re carrying out all the risk. These are things we need to do.
The good thing that I’m hearing, I think this is a good thing, the private sector is not listening to reassurance from their European governments that they should invest in Iran. The European private sector, it was hesitant to go into Iran when the United States was in the JCPOA, and more hesitant now. They may not be listening to their governments when their governments say go ahead and do this, but they are listening to U.S. Treasury, they are listening to the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions on Iran, on Russia and China. The United States just announced that they will not offer any waivers on the import of Iranian oil to any country, and are actually using leverage with sanctions against Russia and China to get them to move towards a position on North Korea.
And the North Korea thing is important, and I’ll stop here. The North Korea-Iran deal—Iran warned North Korea that the president would walk away from an Iran deal and you can’t trust the United States. What the regime should actually warn North Korea is to not violate existing UN Security Council resolutions. Do not detain Americans when they go to Iran. Do not detain U.S. Navy sailors. Do not film them as the Geneva Convention violation for propaganda purposes on their knees. Do not continue to launch ballistic missiles. Do not continue to export terrorism. And then you’d likely have a nuclear deal. What I love about the negotiations with North Korea is walking away from the JCPOA actually gave us leverage. You’ll listen to Democrats that supported the Iran deal who supported it with a caveat: I understand Iran is the leading state sponsor of terror, but this is the right way to go.; It’s either this or war. Those same Democrats now are saying if you negotiate with North Korea, no sunset clause, no benefits before actions, meaning don’t frontload sanction relief, don’t give them money before they do things, 24/7 inspections with American inspectors, Canadian inspectors, and include ballistic missiles and include the export of terror. So that’s tough language. That’s what leverage looks like.
So in this current environment, the regime is shedding friends. The Toman has lost 60% to 70% of its value. Those contracts that Russia and China put in place in Iran during the JCPOA when the U.S. was the guarantor that Iran would not become a nuclear power are 60% less valuable than they were when they signed these contracts. So Iran is shedding friends. If they rush to a bomb, they lose Europe. If they rush to a bomb, Russia actually has to put its foot down because Russia does not want the Islamic Republic to have a nuclear weapon on its border. And China is simply tired of pouring billions of dollars into Iran’s economy to offset the hesitancy of the U.S. private sector and European private sector companies. And I’ll leave it there.