An Iran update

September 24, 2020 by J-Wire
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Foundation for Defence of Democracies Iran expert Behnam Ben Taleblu, speaking at an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC’s) webinar urged Australia to take stronger action to try to bring home Kylie Moore-Gilbert, currently imprisoned in Iran.

Behnam Ben Taleblu

Noting that Iran targets for hostage-taking people who have dual nationalities, he continued, “The key thing for the foreign ministry of any country that has a detained person in the Islamic republic is to put the spotlight on it, to cite how ridiculous the jailing, the prosecuting, the detention and the hostage-taking actually is; how unfortunate it is and how deplorable it is that this is a longstanding trend with the Islamic republic, that it’s part and parcel of their foreign security policy.”

He added, “while [Iran[ often seek[s] something from such detentions, in many ways also it’s Iran trying to use Westerners… as pawns in some wider strategic game against the West,” and concluded, “while I understand anyone who would want to come to me and say ‘oh no please we don’t want to aggravate the situation,’ in this case I think a full spotlight approach is going to be helpful. And if it’s not helpful in attaining her release in the short term, it will be in the medium to long term.”

On the webinar’s main topic, “The Iranian nuclear crisis and the US election”, Ben Taleblu mentioned that the Iran issue is now “bleeding into” US domestic politics. After former President Obama reversed course not just on US policy, but on UN Security Council resolutions, to agree to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, President Donald Trump had done a 180-degree turn on it, leaving the agreement in May 2018 and since then restoring almost every US sanction previously on Iran.

Ben Taleblu noted US presidents tend to want to do the exact opposite to their predecessors, adding Joe Biden has talked about diplomacy, and returning to the JCPOA if Iran returns to full compliance with its provisions.

Iran, he said, can trot out its supposed moderates to take pressure off the regime, while it ramps up its nuclear capacity and military strength. His fear is that “the clawing back of this accord is not going to help American national security, it’s not going to help the global non-proliferation regime.” Instead, it will just help Iran’s regime.

He explained that it appears the hardliners will soon completely control Iran and could refuse a Biden offer to return to the JCPOA, and Biden appears to have no policy for what would happen then. He wondered whether Biden would then use Trump policies he has disavowed. Iran, he says could refuse as a stalling tactic while continuing to build its capacity.

Under the Trump maximum pressure strategy, he says, the question is when, not if, Iran will negotiate.

If Trump is re-elected, Ben Taleblu said, he has indicated he could change course if he receives a good offer from Iran. For example, he has tweeted that he would like to meet with Iranian President Rouhani and make a new deal.


Ben Taleblu warned, however, against any US behaviour that might signal that they want a deal as urgently as Iran does, as it would risk repeating the mistakes made by the previous administration.

Touching upon Israel’s normalisation deals with the UAE and Bahrain, Ben Taleblu said that Iran is the big loser ideologically and strategically. In many ways, Iran’s policy has driven this Arab-Israeli peace, although the UAE and Bahrain had other reasons as well.

Iran has been trying to intimidate the Arab states. It has been trying to destabilise Bahrain through that country’s Shi’ite majority, and has been using its embassies in various countries as terror hubs.

On Lebanon, Ben Taleblu noted Iran has long been looking to Lebanon as a means to avoid sanctions and international rules. The more Hezbollah has been exposed as an Iranian proxy, he said, the less it is Lebanese, but Lebanon has weak central authority, and Iran is good at making gains when central authority collapses, as it has in Iraq.

The West is disengaging from Lebanon, but Israel is perturbed by the increasingly sophisticated weapons Hezbollah is receiving from Iran, including precision-guided missiles.  “Responsible countries need to step up. The first thing politically I think they can do is to disabuse themselves of this notion that there is the political wing and the military wing. This doesn’t exist for Hezbollah. To really sanction the entire entity.” He noted that many of the five eyes countries – the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand- had designated Hezbollah in its entirety or the military wing, continuing,yet “Australia has not even done the entire military wing, so I think it’s time Australia steps up and the five eyes, this intelligence-sharing community, should really see 20/20 on Iran and Hezbollah in 2020.”

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