Friday, July 1, 2016
Iran is as belligerent as ever, by Joseph I. Lieberman
Joseph I. Lieberman is a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and serves as chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran. Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata is the former foreign minister of Italy and is a member of United Against Nuclear Iran's Advisory Board.
On Friday, July 1, thousands of Iranians will gather in the streets for Quds Day, whose main purpose is to call for "Death to Israel." Israeli, and probably American, flags will be burned, along with the likenesses of the leaders of both countries. These annual regime-organized rallies are in their fourth decade.
But now, the belligerence embodied in Quds Day stretches far beyond the borders of Iran, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei providing funding to enable the participation of anti-Israel extremists in cities around the world.
At the same time, some global leaders and corporate executives are too anxious to believe that Iran has changed in the wake of the conclusion of the nuclear deal. They are eager to find signs of reform from Tehran to justify business pursuits and to open lines of trade. But there is no greater proof, no more revealing time, for the world to understand the true nature of the Iranian regime than on Quds Day.
While some want us to see peace, moderation, and even friendship with Iran, the objective truth continues to be Iranian extremism, hostility, and violence. While some want to see lucrative business opportunities, the reality is that there are severe business risks in Iran that are too great to be ignored for the sake of short-term economic benefit. Just last week, the Financial Action Task Force announced that it would keep Iran on its blacklist because it remains "concerned with the terrorist financing risk emanating from Iran and the threat this poses to the international financial system."
The U.S. State Department recently declared again that Iran remains the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, whose attacks on Israelis, Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, and Americans brought death and destruction. Iran also commits gross human rights violations against its own people, and sets up front companies owned by the sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, funneling the revenue directly into the hands of the ayatollah for nefarious purposes at home and abroad. The regime still kidnaps and holds hostage people from countries which are at the same time pursuing business opportunities with Iran. The most important point for business executives to understand is that businesses doing business in Iran are still subject to severe economic sanctions due to the country's non-nuclear related behavior.
Rouhani himself is a walking contradiction. Last year, he spoke hopefully of ongoing talks between Iran and U.S. diplomats while marching in Quds Day demonstrations alongside signs declaring "Death to Zionism" and "Death to America." Days later, Iran finalized the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the "Great Satan," America.
Fortunately, nearly one year after the nuclear agreement was signed, there remains considerable wariness and aversion from countries, businesses and financial institutions to broker deals with Tehran. Why? Because, they are not blind to the authoritarian and extremist essence of the ayatollah and his regime. They cannot ignore his bellicose statements, and his regime's vociferous support for such appalling activities as the Holocaust cartoon contest, which his office deemed "excellent" and "appreciated" just weeks ago. And they should not conclude that there is no more risk to doing business in Iran.
Younger Iranians may dream of reform, but the power remains in the hands of an extremist clerical establishment with hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East. Consider that in 2009 the new chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body tasked with selecting the next supreme leader, called for the assassination of then-Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.
Quds Day began in 1979. It is clear 37 years later that Iran has not changed. The global community would be wise to keep its distance from this radical government until such time that it does truly change.Joseph I. Lieberman is a former U.S. senator from Connecticut and serves as chairman of United Against Nuclear Iran. Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata is the former foreign minister of Italy and is a member of United Against Nuclear Iran's Advisory Board.