On March 31, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that the U.S. military had discovered a “significant shipment” of arms from Iran to Afghanistan. Responding to a question at a press conference in Kabul, Mullen, the nation’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, said he was disturbed by Iran’s increasing influence in Afghanistan. “I was advised last night about a significant shipment of weapons, you know, from Iran into Kandahar not too long ago, for example.” How significant was the shipment? “I was taken aback,” Mullen said.
Any shipment of arms from Iran to Afghanistan is worrisome. But the timing of this one, shortly before the surge fighting shifts to Kandahar this summer, is particularly troubling. Mullen added that the Iranians’ “desire to be influential is increasing.”
Indeed. A week earlier, CNN reported that Iran was training Taliban fighters—in Iran. “We’ve known for some time that Iran has been a source for both materiel and trained fighters for Taliban elements in Afghanistan,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Edward Sholtis.
Although the support from Iran is clearly growing, it is not new. Last fall, CBS reported that Iran had stepped up shipments of deadly EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) and armor-piercing bombs. “More worrying still,” the report continued, “U.S. intelligence believes Iran is supplying surface-to-air missiles to the Taliban—the very same weapon the United States supplied to the Afghan resistance to bring down the Russians.”
The level of Iranian support for the Afghan insurgency does not yet match the crucial support Iran has provided to Shiite militias and Sunni militant groups in Iraq. And the insurgency in Afghanistan would exist with or without Iranian backing. But Iran’s aggressive and deadly activity in Afghanistan is growing, and its support for insurgents in Iraq continues.
Iran is the only nation that is actively supporting the forces fighting against the United States in both places. This war—or proxy war—is not led by rogue elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or military. It is directed by the Iranian government and approved at the highest levels. It is regime policy.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Iran has been designated for years by the State Department as the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Tehran doesn’t hide its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. And it has long harbored senior al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden’s son.
All of which provokes two questions: Why doesn’t President Obama talk about Iran and terrorism? And why hasn’t this president, so quick to issue formal condemnations of Israeli apartment construction, ever once publicly rebuked Iran for arming and training those who are killing Americans?
Last week, world leaders gathered in Washington for a summit to address nuclear terrorism and proliferation. President Obama told them that nuclear terrorism is “one of the greatest threats to global security.” Iran—an active sponsor of terror now racing toward nuclear weapons—should have dominated the agenda. It didn’t. In fact, the most serious discussion of Iran came at the closing press conference, when reporters asked why it had been overlooked.
Clearly, talking about Iran and terrorism complicates Obama’s diplomacy. Since the first moments of his administration the president has chosen to believe that the Iranian regime might voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons program. To a great extent, his approach depends on maintaining that assumption.
It is hard to understand how Iran, in the context of its quiet war with the United States, will suddenly become a good faith negotiating partner on its nuclear program. And it becomes more difficult to pretend that the same Iranian leaders responsible for this aggression might willingly abandon a weapon that would instantly make their nation a regional superpower.
For the past two months, administration officials have told reporters (on background) that China and Russia will eventually support sanctions. And each time, a representative of the Russians or the Chinese downplayed the claim and raised questions about the effectiveness or the desirability of tough sanctions. Or both. And two weeks ago, when reporters from the New York Times tried to get Obama to embrace Hillary Clinton’s description of the sanctions his administration was pursuing as “crippling,” he balked.
So the Obama administration, after allowing the mullahs to miss deadline after deadline while it waited for some sign of compromise, is no longer even pushing for tough sanctions. And Iran, its centrifuges spinning, continues to supply those who target Americans with impunity.
This is not going to end well.
—Stephen F. Hayes