Gigot: The Trump administration this week deployed USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group along with the USS Arlington and a Patriot surface-to-air missile battery to the Persian Gulf. A response to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a number of troubling and escalatory warnings from Tehran. The deployment comes as the U.S. announces fresh sanctions targeting Iran’s copper, or iron, steel, and aluminum industries and as Tehran warns European leaders that it will stop complying with key parts of the 2015 nuclear deal setting a 60-day deadline for the parties to negotiate new terms. Mark Dubowitz is Chief Executive of the Foundation For Defense of Democracies where he leads the Iran program. So, Mark thanks for coming in good to have you back.
Dubowitz: Thanks, Paul.
Gigot: So, in my experience the U.S. doesn’t deploy this kind of military force as quickly as it has unless there’s really good intelligence saying there’s something to worry about. Is that how you read it?
Dubowitz: Paul, certainly there’s really good intelligence that the regime in Iran was threatening US interests and US allies and so the deployment of these assets is obviously sent as a message to the regime to be careful in that these the carrier group the b-52 bombers that went back they were part of a regularly scheduled redeployment. But certainly I think it sounds like things were expedited to send a message over the past couple of weeks that they had real intelligence of real threats
Gigot: Yeah, now Qasem Soleimani the head of the Kurds force and of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, his tactics do include the use of force and striking back usually through proxies like Hezbollah and militias. Is that how you think this would happen if it did from an Iranian point, if it does, from an Iranian point of view?
Dubowitz: Yeah, Soleimani’s playbook and has been for years. And he’s you know he’s killed hundreds of Americans and maimed thousands of Americans over the years and so I think that probably was the Intel that the U.S government was picking up that Soleimani was going to be using Shiite militias potentially against US troops in in Iraq or in Syria and certainly against US allies and US interests throughout the Gulf
Gigot: Yeah, maybe your American diplomats and embassies, I think they’re also worried about that. Do you think that the Iranian government could actually want some kind of skirmish with the United States militarily? Is that just to help themselves domestically at home?
Dubowitz: Look, it’s always possible. I mean, I think it would be suicidal for the regime to confront the United States certainly given overwhelming American conventional power. And I think it’s also the reason that you hear from President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, Ambassador John Bolton as well as the commander of U.S. forces in in the Middle East, that if they if Soleimani tries this indirectly through proxies as he has in the past they will hold the regime in Iran accountable.
Gigot: Alright, let’s turn to the nuclear agreement and the threat the to the Europeans from Iran that if they don’t do something to fulfill the economic terms of the agreement beyond US sanctions they will withdraw in 60 days. You take that seriously?
Dubowitz: I don’t take it that seriously. I mean, I think the regime in Iran understands that if they do withdraw the Europeans will actually join the United States in reimposing EU sanctions and UN sanctions. So, Iran has to be careful, but I think what you will see is again the Iranian playbook tends to be they expand their nuclear program incrementally, not egregiously, though overtime the sum total of those incremental expansions are egregious. So, I think they will try to blackmail the Europeans and get the Europeans to try to force businesses and banks to start returning to Iran. I think it’ll be wholly unsuccessful.
Gigot: Yeah, it hasn’t been successful so far. But what about the threat what the policy they’re already imposed they’re going to keep their excess enriched uranium and heavy water that they’ve been sending overseas as part of the agreement. Now, they’re going to keep that how serious important is that?
Dubowitz: Look, it is important I mean that would be an incremental breach of the agreement and a serious breach of the agreement because it lowers the breakout time for Iran to weaponize uranium and develop nuclear weapons. So I think they will start to dial up on the nuclear side and again use nuclear blackmail against Europeans on the assumption that the Europeans will then freak out and start to put immense pressure either on Washington or start to breach sanctions. So, this is part of the Iranian playbook it has been for years and it’s something that we’ve expected.
Gigot: Is all of this acting out here by the Iranians a sign that the US tighter sanctions, particularly sanctioning the IRGC there in the Revolutionary Guard Corps and then now tighter sanctions on oil exports, that those are really starting to hurt?
Dubowitz: There’s no doubt about it, I mean I think the sanctions that President Trump has reimposed the new sanctions that have come on board and past couple of weeks against the IRGC and against oil exports are really beginning to put a severe amount of pressure on the economy in Iran and I think that the regime war is at this point that they may see state facing a severe economic crisis but as well a political crisis as thousands of Iranians are still on the streets every day yelling death to the Ayatollah, death to the regime. Why are you spending your money supporting Assad and Hezbollah instead of supporting Iranian’s? And so they’re worried about an economic crisis and a political crisis and they’re really being squeezed between a, I guess, a Trumpian rock and a Bolton hard place
Gigot: All right, Mark Dubowitz thanks for being here appreciate it.