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Dartmouth Scholar Says Iran Remains Dangerous But Unlikely to Unleash New Terror

Dec. 3, 2015

Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth's Dickey Center for International Understanding and the former counterterrorism coordinator at the U.S. State Department, is available to comment on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran's destabilizing behavior in the Middle East.

His testimony Wednesday before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is available here. A video of the hearing is available here.

Iran was a central part of Benjamin's work as coordinator for counterterrorism under Secretary Clinton and President Obama and as a National Security Council staff member under President Clinton.

"Iran remains by a significant margin the foremost state sponsor of terror today, but overall, our nation has, together with our partners in the Middle East and around the world, prevented the Islamic Republic from causing far greater damage to regional stability and the security of some of our closest friends," Benjamin says. "Today, I am convinced that we are on a course to continue this success and, indeed, to strengthen security in the region through the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which, if Iran fulfills its obligations, will end the country's pursuit of a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years. As President Obama has said on many occasions, this deal does not deal with all of Iran's behavior, but it does address one of the foremost security problems of our time — Iran's nuclear aspirations. As we consider the other ways in which Iran challenges us, we should be mindful of the JCPOA achievement and leery of anything that would undermine it.

"The hypothesis that Tehran will use large sums derived from sanctions relief to support terror and subversion appears flawed for two reasons. First, a primary goal of the leadership in negotiating the JCPOA was to improve economic conditions at home that were eroding support for the regime. It would follow, therefore, that the bulk of the money will be used to ameliorate domestic concerns. Press reports indicate that the U.S. intelligence community has arrived at the same conclusion. The second reason why Iran is unlikely to devote a major portion of the proceeds from sanctions relief is that the country has never restricted resources for its foreign policy — especially not for such activities as its direct support for the Asad regime and Iranian fighting forces in Syria. Undoubtedly, Iran will be in a position to devote more funds to activities such as these. The numbers, however, are likely to be small compared to the totals regained through sanctions relief. It is unlikely that there is an intention to spend vast new sums because these initiatives are already well funded. Terrorism, it is also worth pointing out, is inexpensive, as the United States has learned through hard experience.

"As President Obama, Secretary Kerry and others have said, we no expectations that Iran will suddenly become a responsible global actor. But the argument about an impending wave of terror and subversion is unlikely. I believe that the political realities of the moment are dramatically changed from those we
knew before. These realities require that we think hard about our interests, and that we not be locked into reflexive positions that would undermine our interests going forward. I strongly believe the Obama Administration has struck the right balance in the negotiations on the JCPOA in terms of sanctions relief on the one hand and ensuring that we are prepared to deter and respond to possible Iranian terrorism and subversion."

Daniel Benjamin is available to comment at Daniel.Benjamin@dartmouth.edu.

Last Updated: 12/21/15