Dr Jonathan Schanzer participates in AIJAC webinar

April 5, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Dr Jonathan Schanzer told an AIJAC webinar 2020 will be the year of Iran’s Precision-Guided Missile.

Dr Jonathan Schanzer Screenshot

In the second of its new Webinar series, the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) hosted Dr Schanzer, Senior Vice President for Research at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies in the USA who spoke on the topic, “Iranian Imperialism under the cover of COVID-19”. Dr Schanzer previously worked as a terrorism finance analyst at the US Department of the Treasury and often testifies before Congress.

He explained the Iranian regime is spending the approximately $150 billion that had been freed up by the JCPOA nuclear deal, not for the benefit of the Iranian people, but on Iran’s terror proxies, including Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, two dozen Shi’ite militia groups across Syrian and Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran’s aim, he explained, is to establish and consolidate a Shi’ite Crescent across the Middle East, using its proxies to bring weapons and fighters wherever it wants to establish its power.

Around the end of 2018, explosions began to occur across areas of Iranian influence. Israel didn’t ever take credit for these eruptions, but did start talking about the need to target “game-changing weapons”.  The estimated 1,000 attacks have been on these weapons, which are largely and most importantly precision-guided munitions, or PGMs, and associated facilities.

Up to now, Iran has generally supplied its proxies with “dumb rockets” that rarely hit their targets. However, it is now trying to supply them with extremely accurate PGMs. These could be used to cause enormous damage or loss of life, by being fired at a chemical plant, a nuclear facility or a major military base or installation. An attack with enough of them could potentially overwhelm an Iron Dome battery.

Iran and its supporters claim that the sanctions against it are preventing it tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, but, Dr Schanzer said, this is disproven by the fact that it still spends tens of millions of dollars to send rockets and build factories across the Middle East, in its efforts to take over Lebanon and surround Israel and the US bases in Iraq with PGMs.

Therefore, sanctions relief should not be granted for as long as Iran is continuing this conduct.

Following these remarks, there was the opportunity for questions. His answers to these included the following:

  • Countries experiencing civil wars, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, have no public health system to speak of, and are likely to see thousands upon thousands of coronavirus cases, which will move across borders with refugee flows, including into Europe, meaning the crisis will continue after the West feels it has dealt with it. This will be a ticking time bomb, and in these countries, will present an unprecedented health crisis;
  • There has been broad participation in protests in Iran against the  regime for a number of years, and these will probably continue after the COVID-19 emergency has passed, because of the way the regime spends its money. In some cases, the spread of the virus through the Middle East has been through Iran, as regime agents such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps move through the region;
  • The Europeans are still wedded to the JCPOA nuclear deal, as they still see it as a way to get Iran to moderate its rogue state behaviour (Dr Schanzer disagrees), but they realise too much has changed since its inception, including revelations about Iran’s non-compliance from an Israeli raid on a warehouse in Teheran containing records of nuclear activity, for the deal to remain in its current form;
  • Sanctions are working in term of damaging the Iranian economy, which is cratering,  and putting pressure on the regime. The sanctions do not prevent Iran getting all the humanitarian aid, medicines and medical supplies it needs to fight the pandemic, another argument against suspending them;
  • The recent drop in the price of oil has damaged Iran, and the attack on the Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia was carried out using PGMs, and the US does fear this could happen again to other targets such as Saudi oil facilities or US bases;
  • There should be international pressure including sanctions on all those involved in Iran’s PMG program – at the moment, no-one is talking about this, so Iran thinks it can continue to get away with it;
  • It is important that Iran’s proxies such as Hezbollah are identified and proscribed as terrorist groups and treated accordingly, including by Australia. At the moment, the UN only lists Sunni groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS as terrorists, despite Shi’ite Iran and its proxies now being far more dangerous, and this is because countries such as Russia and China protect Iran at the UN;
  • There has been a huge infiltration by Iran and Hezbollah into South America, where they are partnering with narcotics gangs, in promoting narco-terrorism;
  • Syria has had practically no success in targeting Israeli planes, partly due to an understanding between Israel and Russia that they stay out of each other’s way. Russia is beginning to understand that Iran may be a liability in Syria, so there are tensions in that relationship, but Russia wants to continue to support the Assad regime, so it can demonstrate that it is loyal, stick a finger in the USA’s eye and sell its weapons across the Middle East;
  • The IAEA has been blocked from seeing existing structures involved in Iran’s nuclear program, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down the IAEA inspections, so Iran has the opportunity to push the envelope on its nuclear weapons program.

The next AIJAC webinar will be shortly after the Passover period, so keep a watch out for notification.

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