Analysts: Iran Has Been Put ‘On Notice’; Time to Show U.S. Means Business

Patrick Goodenough | March 10, 2017 | 4:15am EST
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The Trump administration a month ago said it was putting Iran 'on notice' after a previous ballistic missile test. (AP Photo/Mostafa Qotbi, File)

( – Iran’s provocations in the Persian Gulf and fresh ballistic missile tests indicate that the regime is testing the Trump administration and watching carefully to see whether and how it responds, policy analysts say.

On Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated Tasnim news agency reported that the IRGC in recent days “successfully” test-fired a sea-launched ballistic missile.

It cited IRGC Aerospace Division head Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying the short-range Hormuz-2 missile had destroyed a floating target 250 kilometers (155 miles) away.

It is believed to be the first Iranian ballistic missile launch since the White House in early February declared that it was “officially putting Iran on notice,” following a previous ballistic missile launch which the U.S. said was in violation of the U.N. resolution adopted after the Iran nuclear deal.

The White House warning was followed by new designations of people and entities involved in the missile program and in supporting terrorism.

Since then, Iran has carried out other troubling actions including military exercises, and the test-firing of a cruise missile. (Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles do not travel outside the atmosphere on route to their targets.)

Iranian vessels also have harassed U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf – something Iran did on a number of occasions during the Obama administration.

A low point was reached in January last year, when the IRGC Navy apprehended and humiliated U.S. sailors after their patrol boats inadvertently entered Iran’s territorial waters.

Also frequently occurring during the Obama era were Iranian missile tests, including tests carried out after the nuclear deal was concluded.

Pointing to both recent naval provocations in the Gulf and missile tests, Tzvi Kahn, a senior policy analyst at the non-profit Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) in Washington, argued that “Tehran likely seeks to determine whether the new president will respond – or, more precisely, fail to respond – to its misbehavior at sea in the same manner as his predecessor.”

He said President Trump should respond by designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, preparing the way for further sanctions against an organization that is deeply involved in the Iranian economy.

“The White House should also make clear that further Iranian harassment of U.S. naval forces in the Gulf risks triggering a military response against the offending vessels,” Kahn said.

“The Trump administration has already put Iran ‘on notice.’ It must now demonstrate that those were not idle words.”

Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said Thursday the regime in Tehran is clearly testing the Trump administration.

“A return to ballistic missile testing, whether covert or overt, signals Tehran intends to test the Trump administration’s limits, just as it did with its predecessor,” he wrote in a policy brief.

Taleblu noted that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier this week said that Iran, in order to discourage “the enemy” from carrying out attacks, “must avoid expressing weakness and reveal numerous strengths that we have.”

Hormuz short-range ballistic missiles on a launcher. (Photo: Tasnim news agency)

“Occasional missile tests appear to be the way in which the Islamic Republic reveals these aptitudes, incrementally flexing its muscles while daring its adversaries to respond,” Taleblu said.

“As the Trump administration proceeds towards its 100-day mark, it must remember that Iran is closely watching how it responds to such military provocations.”

After the administration announced the sanctions early last month the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) accused it of “following a dangerous escalatory path with Iran without any diplomatic approach or exit strategy.”

NIAC president Trita Parsi, whose organization strongly advocates engagement with Tehran, urged the administration and Congress to “hold their fire.”

“No amount of sanctions designations will convince Iran to part with a missile program it believes  is vital to its defense doctrine, particularly when Iran is vastly outspent militarily by rivals like Saudi Arabia and is being threatened by a superpower in the United States.”

Parsi said that “by leading with bombast and threats,” the Trump administration was “undercutting the vital work from the previous administration to build some trust and move away from a collision course toward war.”

See earlier story:
GOP Lawmakers: Why the ‘Delayed and Weak’ Response to Iran’s Missile Launches? (Apr. 5, 2016)

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