European sanctions against Iran are too little, too late
If the EU really wants to alter the regime’s destabilizing behavior and promote peace and security, it should take tougher measures, including the suspension of trade with Tehran, reimposing the sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal, and renegotiating the terms of that agreement.
FRANCE, Britain and Germany are discussing ways to impose sanctions on the Iranian regime. These sanctions will most likely be aimed at members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Such a move, if implemented, would be intriguing as it would be the first punitive act carried out by the EU against the Iranian regime and its military since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was agreed and since four rounds of UN economic sanctions were lifted.
However, it is critical to point out that EU sanctions against the Islamic Republic are long overdue for several reasons. Since the nuclear agreement was reached between the P5+1 countries and Iran in 2015, Tehran’s foreign policy has taken a more offensive and belligerent path. The Iranian regime has expanded its financial, military, intelligence and advisory support to militia and terrorist groups at a much faster pace.
Iran has also escalated the provision of illegal weapons and ballistic missiles to militias including the Houthis in Yemen, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. The Houthis then began firing these Iranian missiles into Saudi Arabia. One such attack happened on March 25 and resulted in the death of one person and injuries to two more. The UN condemned the Houthis. Formerly, the UN conclusively found the Iranian regime was behind the transfer of illegal weapons to the Houthis.
Any astute observer of Middle East politics can observe that the region has become more unstable since the JCPOA. This is due to the fact it has become easier for the Iranian leaders to expand their influence through hard power thanks to increased revenues from oil sales and other trade with European nations, and their enhanced legitimacy. As a result, these developments indicate that punitive action against the Iranian regime is necessary to establish peace and security.
On the one hand, the EU’s discussed sanctions are critical because they would send a robust message to the Iranian regime that the bloc will not tolerate Iran’s aggressive foreign policy, violations of international laws and UN resolutions, military adventurism in the region, and the supply of weapons to terrorist groups.
On the other hand, the EU’s discussed sanctions against Iran — reportedly 15 Iranian individuals and companies — are not adequate. They are too little and too limited to moderate Iran’s foreign policy and change the regime’s behavior.
In addition, it would be counterproductive if France, Britain and Germany should only take such measures due to the two following reasons: First, it is tactically discussing sanctions just before US President Donald Trump’s May 12 deadline to “fix the terrible flaws” of the 2015 nuclear agreement in order to persuade the Trump administration to keep the deal intact. Additionally, Tehran’s aggression and violations of international laws have escalated to an unprecedented level.
Hence, the EU is only imposing cosmetic sanctions in order to prevent its legitimacy and global image from being negatively impacted if it continued to turn a blind eye to Iran’s aggression and violations on the international stage. It is crucial to point out that, if France, Britain and Germany are acting due to either of these two reasons, they are directly or indirectly serving the Iranian regime’s interests.
With only such limited sanctions, Tehran will more likely escalate its belligerence and disregard for international norms. From the perspective of the Iranian leaders, the EU remains on the side of Tehran because it favors the nuclear deal. They believe these limited sanctions are only being discussed to maintain economic ties with Iran.
If the purpose is to alter the Iranian regime’s destabilizing behavior and to promote peace and security, the EU ought to take tougher measures, including the suspension of trade with Tehran, reimposing the sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal, and renegotiating the terms of the nuclear agreement. More fundamentally, the EU should act with a united front. This means that other members, such as Italy, Greece, Ireland and Sweden, which are considered Iran’s closest European allies, need to forcefully join Britain, Germany and France.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce and Business. Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh