A subcommittee hearing was held by the U.S. Congress House of Representatives discussing Iran’s ballistic missile program. Individuals who spoke at the hearing include
Kenneth Katzman, Ph.D., a specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs Congressional Research Service; Michael Eisenstadt, Kahn Fellow and Director of Military and Security Studies Program, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Elizabeth Rosenburg, Senior Fellow and Director of Energy, Economics and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
In the opening remarks by the sub-committee chair, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, she noted that Iran has used the nuclear deal as leverage to increase its “illicit” activities, including taking hostages and demanding ransoms for their return, many which they have received. She also said that the Trump administration needs to step up its activities regarding monitoring of North Korea and Iran as part of the non-proliferation act. “Iran only responds to strength and pressure,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
“Despite the nuclear deal, Iran’s behavior has not changed,” said Representative Theodore Deutch, a member of the sub-committee, noting several areas where Iran is active “sowing instability beyond its borders.”
“It is clear that left unhindered, the scale and sophistication of the Iranian missile program will only grow and it is incumbent on this Congress to act decisively to halt its progress,” said Deutch. He also noted that Iran has defied international will in regards to its missile tests and the acts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) within the region.
Mr. Katzman talked about Iran’s objectives in terms of keeping its ballistic missile program, which seem to be focused on their power within the country and the region. “There are a number of options available to the Trump administration to counter Iran’s missile program. One of those is sanctions…” said Katzman.
He also included that military options are available, including an increasing missile defense program by the U.S. in the region. However, he noted that sanctions might not be affective if they can’t touch Iran economically and that designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization will only have a nominal effect, since the IRGC is already heavily sanctioned.
“Missiles and rockets are central to Iran’s way of war and that of its proxies,” said Mr. Eisenstadt. He noted that the growth of their missile defenses could be a significant threat to the region. “Washington should also continue to press allies, partners and others…to tighten enforcement of export controls to prevent Iran from acquiring technology, equipment and special materials that are essential to its missile program,” said Eisenstadt. He also noted that the U.S. needs to strengthen its deterrent posture, by building up missile defenses in the Middle East with its allies.
“The United States needs a comprehensive strategy toward Iran that pushes back against destabilizing Iranian activities, strengthens the JCPOA and deters Iran from building an industrial scale nuclear infrastructure or a nuclear breakout down the road,” said Eisenstadt. He also noted that the U.S. could take steps to make Tehran reevaluate the cost balance of its actions in the region that might bring it into conflict with the U.S., including a comprehensive defense partnership with Iraq and assisting the rebel groups in Syria.
The U.S also needs a strategy to address Iran with the time gained by the JCPOA, including addressing loopholes in the agreement and strengthening it, creating a coalition to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear plan instead of building a nuclear infrastructure once the 15 years is up, and to push back against the Iranian destabilizing activities within the region, according to witnesses.
Ms. Rosenberg noted in her testimony that the sanctions on the IRGC were important, as they addressed not only its terrorist activities, but proliferation of missiles and the nuclear program, as well as human rights abuses. However, she noted that the IRGC’s limit economic exposure to the U.S. and its avoidance of using the dollar has limited its sanction exposure, allowing it to function even during the tough international sanctions of the last few years.
She testified that the U.S. needs to use the sanctions in place to actively go after Iran’s supply chain for its ballistic missiles, as it works with outside sources to obtain materials, technology and parts. Rosenberg also noted that success comes from “multilateral action” against Iran. She also noted that the IRGC’s activities can be better targeted through sanctions as well.
The witnesses all iterated that it was key to focus on disrupting the supply chain for the Iranian missile program, as it is evident that exports are being received of materials that are banned under international agreements. Ms. Rosenberg noted that specific entities involved in the missile program under the control of the IRGC could be targeted for sanctions without targeting an entire sector of the Iranian economy.
Throughout the question and answer period, the witnesses offered a variety of options to address the relationship between Iran and Russia, as well as how to move forward with various allies to cut Iran off from Hezbollah and its other terrorist activities within the region.