Iran has been at war for 40 years

Staff Columnist

By  Mohammed Alyaha in The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, May 28, 2019)

“The U.S. plans to send 1,500 troops and other military assets to the Middle East to counter the Iranian threat.  Those who worry about the possibility of war ignore that Iran is already at war and has been for almost 40 years.  Its recent sabotage of commercial vessels in the United Arab Emirates and pipelines in Saudi Arabia continues a long pattern that began with the invasion of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979.

Iran established Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s.  In April 1983, Hezbollah attacked the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63, including 17 Americans.  Six months later it carried out twin suicide bombings, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen and 58 French military personnel.  In 1990 Ali Khamenei said that the mission of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, is to ‘establish popular Hezbollah cells all over the world.’

In the 2000s the IRGC saw the U.S .- led invasion of Iraq as another opportunity to establish proxy forces.  It armed Shiite militias with explosively formed projectiles, a particularly deadly improvised explosive that killed hundreds of American and coalition soldiers.  The Pentagon recently estimated the number of U.S. troops killed by Iran in Iraq as 608.  Given that Iran’s client in Syria, Bashar Assad, opened Damascus to anti-American Sunni Jihadists, it appears the majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq were caused by Iran and its partners.

In a recent study of Shiite militias,

Philip Smyth of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy finds that ‘more than a hundred different Shia groups and subgroups, the primary drivers of Iranian influence, operate in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria.’

Thus the debate isn’t about whether to go to war with Iran but whether to grant legitimacy to Iran’s military campaign.  That’s where the Iran policies of Presidents Obama  and Trump fundamentally differ.  Mr. Obama’s policy of engagement with the Iranian regime strengthened Tehran economically, militarily and geopolitically.  When the nuclear  deal was implemented in January 2016, billions of dollars in sanctions relief filled Iran’s war chest – including the equivalent of $1.7 billion in cash

All the while, Iran’s regional influence steadily grew.  Iran is now largely in control of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and is deploying ballistic missiles to Yemen, where its Houthi proxy is targeting Saudi Arabia under the guidance of embedded IRGC advisers.

Yet Mr. Trump’s policy of maximum pressure is showing signs of success.  Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has publicly called for donations from the party faithful even as salaries are slashed and services curtailed as a result of sanctions againstTehran.  Popular protests throughout major Iranian cities have underscored the character ans state of the regime.

While a full conventional conflict is an outcome that is best avoided, it is important to be clear-eyed about the realities on the ground.  The Islamic Republic is already at war.  For nearly 40 years, it’s been conducting that war against U.S. allies and interests and American forces.”

Mr. Alyaha is editor in chief of Al Arabiya English

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