By Jose María Aznar and Stephen Harper
The Wall Street Journal, March 4, 2018 – The Israeli military was forced last month to engage an Iranian drone launched into Israeli airspace from Syria. Israel’s defensive actions in this case were limited, but the world should take note. There will be more such incidents if Tehran is permitted to continue projecting force throughout the Middle East. To prevent a full-scale crisis, North America and Europe must join Israel in stopping Iran.
Iran is a revolutionary theocratic state committed to spreading religious extremism throughout the Islamic world. It combines this ideological mission with pragmatic tactics, projecting political and military power from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean and Red seas. To support its ambition, Iran has illegally pursued nuclear weapons and fought wars using terrorist proxies. Iran’s leaders have threatened Israel time and again with total destruction, and now, for the first time since the Islamist revolution of 1979, Iranian power has arrived at Israel’s border.
Despite Tehran’s quest for regional control, popular protests in December and January showed that most of the nation’s citizens don’t share their leaders’ designs. The regime’s destabilizing actions have also triggered resistance from Saudi Arabia and other regional powers. Iran’s own citizens and neighbors are convinced of Tehran’s malice, and all concerned nations should heed their warning.
The first objective must be to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The nuclear inspections for which the agreement provides grant Iran too much time to conceal evidence of illicit activity. And the agreement doesn’t prohibit the development of delivery mechanisms such as ballistic and cruise missiles. Worst of all, the agreement’s sunset clause provides a clear horizon for Iran to resume its race toward a nuclear bomb.
Rather than preventing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the 2015 agreement gave the regime a road map to achieving them. Predictions that the agreement would de-escalate tensions and improve cooperation have proved wrong. Since signing the agreement, Iran’s aggression and hostility have increased.
But fixing the agreement and stopping Iran from going nuclear would not eliminate the threat. The U.S. and its allies must also roll back Iran’s aggression and influence throughout the Middle East. Tehran continues to wage war using terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Thankfully, the U.S. has demonstrated its ability to rally its Middle Eastern partners in stabilizing the region. Iranian theocracy appeals mainly to a few neighboring Shiite Islamic factions, and Iran’s long-term conflicts with other sects have made many states eager to cooperate in restraining its influence. Numerous allies can be mobilized in the struggle against Iran, from the Kurds and tribal elements to many Sunni Arabs and Shiite forces not co-opted by Tehran. These factions must collaborate to contain Iran’s hegemonic ambitions.
Israel remains the greatest bulwark against Iran, and Iran remains committed to destroying the Jewish state. The recent border skirmish was the first time Iranian weapons directly infiltrated Israeli space. Iranian operatives have established themselves ever closer to Israel’s northern border and pose a growing threat to Israeli security.
President Trump seems to understand instinctively how poorly the Iran deal is playing out. He also seems to understand that the U.S. and its allies have a broad interest in standing firmly behind Israel. And he is right to say that the nuclear agreement must be renegotiated. The U.S. must demonstrate its leadership by increasing the pressure on Iran and resisting the interference of countries, including many in Europe, that prefer the status quo.
Applying halfhearted diplomatic fixes to grand-strategic problems creates impossible situations like the one in North Korea. Iran is already emulating North Korea by using Hezbollah’s missiles to hold Israeli cities hostage. If left unchecked, Iran’s aggression will ultimately threaten Europe and North America as well. All should urgently work together to counter this threat to global security.
Mr. Aznar is a former prime minister of Spain. Mr. Harper is a former prime minister of Canada.