Written By: Harold Finch
This report is meant to be read alongside the embedded links, as well as the reference material at the bottom of the piece.
Conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is nothing new; the regime has been a self-declared enemy of the United States since it’s inception which began with the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran resulting in 52 Americans being held hostage, and a failed US rescue attempt.
United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) grew out of the failed rescue attempt that led to the deaths of several elite US Special Operations soldiers from the US Army’s famed Delta Force and US Army Ranger regiments. Since that dangerous beginning, the Iranian regime has relied on trans-national terrorism as its chief foreign policy tool. [2,3,6,7,8,9,11,13] There were several well-known atrocities committed by Lebanese Hezbollah at Iran’s direction. They include (to name just a few) the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon murdering 63 Americans, the bombing of the US Marine Corps barracks in Beirut which resulted in the murder of 241 US Military service members on a peace keeping mission, the hijacking of TWA flight 847, which lead to the murder of US Navy diver Robert Stethem, and the abduction, torture and murder of Beirut CIA Station Chief Bill Buckley. The terrorist mastermind behind these acts was the number two in Lebanese Hezbollah, Imad Fayez Mugniyeh. From an article published by the Washington Institute, Mugniyeh was the star of Iranian foreign policy and their most prolific terrorist until the emergence of Osama Bin Laden & the September 11th attacks. From the piece:
“Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, also known as Hajj Radwan, was reportedly born in south Lebanon in 1962 and became a sniper in Yasser Arafat’s forces in 1976. He has been implicated in some of the most spectacular terrorist attacks of the 1980s and 1990s, earning him a place on the FBI and EU’s most wanted lists. He served as special operations chief for Hizballah’s international operations and as the group’s primary liaison to Iran’s security and intelligence services.
The first high-profile terror act linked to Mughniyeh was the 1983 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut that killed sixty-three people. In the fall of the same year, he reportedly masterminded the twin truck bombings in Beirut that hit a building housing French paratroopers, killing fifty-eight, and a U.S. army barracks, killing 241 marines. Mughniyeh also engineered a series of high-profile kidnappings, including the CIA’s Beirut station chief William Buckley (who was later killed), and AP correspondent Terry Anderson, who was held for six years prior to his release. Mughniyeh was also implicated in — and subsequently indicted for — the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, which resulted in the execution of U.S. navy diver Robert Stetham.” 
Using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy was a tactic that spanned years and wasn’t just limited to the 1980’s. Hezbollah was later found to be instrumental in training the Al Qaeda teams responsible for the East Africa bombings in Dar-es-Salam and Tanzania. We learn more in this article published by Brookings Institute:
“In June 2004, the U.S. 9/11 commission found no operational ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq. It did, however, conclude that Osama bin Laden’s global terrorist network had long-running contacts with Iran and Hezbollah.
The alleged relationship between Al Qaeda and Hezbollah hit the spotlight in 2000 when it was reported that Imad Mugniyah, an international terrorist who is widely believed to be associated with Hezbollah, met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan to plan the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa.”  
The Iranians use of Hezbollah & Al-Qaeda spans the entire life of the Islamic Republic of Iran & continues to this day. Iran is widely known to have used Explosively Formed Penetrators en-masse in Iraq to kill US Military personnel via proxies, and in some instances IRGC Quds forces carried out the attacks directly. US Intelligence is also aware that Iran harbored Senior Al Qaeda figures after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2003, this in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Key terrorist figures have received protection and shelter in Iran, including Saif Al-Adel, Al Qaeda’s Chief of Security and leader of the twin African bombings (planned with Imad Mugniyeh), and the eldest son of Osama Bin Laden, Sa’ad Bin Laden.  Iran continues to use terrorism in order to advance its policy goals, and those goals are nothing short of hegemony over the Persian Gulf and its neighbor states. They are doing this in many ways. They do it by using the Lebanese and Syrian Hezbollah within Syria to carve out large swaths of the failed state under IRI control. And, they do it by using militias, like the Al-Sadr Brigade under radical Iranian Aligned Cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. The use of these tactics demonstrate just how virulent Iranian trans-national terrorism is.  This is the foundation of the remarks made by then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis before he left the Trump administration. In an interview with CBS Face the Nation he said:
“And in the U.S. Central Region, what we find is wherever there are challenges, wherever there is chaos, wherever there is violence, whether it be in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, the attempts to unsettle Bahrain. We always find Iran & the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] at it.”
This background is important; it establishes how the mullahs in Iran (led by the Supreme Ayatollah Khameini) view the world around them. It gives us a window into their thinking. They believe that this is the best way to go about achieving the regimes goals. It is important to understand the structure of Iran and how they operate. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocracy led by the religious leaders of Iran and headed by Khameini. For all intents and purposes, Iran is a dictatorship with one man presiding over the nation as though he were a Godhead (Khameini). Within his inner circle, are the most senior leaders in Iran’s Islamic movement, and the senior leadership of the Security Apparatus that controls the people, the economy, as well as the military/para-military forces. In this respect, Iran has a similar organizational structure as Hitler’s Germany.
Khameini is the man at the top, all powerful. His mullahs run society, the judiciary, the economy, and all industries. Iran is not a capitalist society. To the contrary, they embrace a socialist model. All major industry was nationalized during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The Iranian population are oppressed by several key security organs loyal only to Khameini & the Regime; the powerful paramilitary force called the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). They are roughly equivalent to the Waffen SS in Hitler’s Germany; a large parallel military force equivalent to or greater than the strength of the regular military- and their only loyalty is to Khameini and the Regime.
Within the IRGC are the Quds Force, which is a special detachment that performs external terror operations, acts as a special forces contingent, and controls terrorist proxies such as Lebanese Hezbollah and Al Qaeda units.  There are two primary state organs used to control the people; the Basij, a paramilitary force, who are described as poorly trained, (but intensely loyal) street soldiers, and are tasked with directly beating, repressing and arresting Iranians, and the Ministry of Security & Intelligence (MOSI), Iran’s Secret Police organization who are responsible for spying on the citizens of Iran, arresting dissidents and political enemies, as well as interrogating, torturing, imprisoning and executing political enemies of the Regime.  The Iranians are known for their barbaric execution of LGBTQ individuals. This program is administered by MOSI.
While Basij are field units of the IRGC, the MOSI is a Ministry level agency that reports directly to Ayatollah Khameini. IRGC & Basij are vital; they keep control of the country, as well as execute external military and terror operations, and they are the sole entity with control over the Iranian nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. All defense related industries are controlled by the IRGC, who in turn report directly to Ayatollah Khameini. 
Iran has a long history of attempting to assert its will over the Persian Gulf, most notably during the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war. Perhaps the greatest global impact to come from the Iran-Iraq war was the so-called ‘Tanker War’s of the 1980’s.[20 During, we saw both sides in the conflict target international shipping in the Persian Gulf. Each side was attempting to cut off all oil flow from the other, with the end goal of strangling their targets economy. This in turn would end their ability to continue the war. There was also an additional strategic goal. To put pressure on international parties to end the war, Iran targeted oil shipments and attempted to close the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz. The goal here was to cause a worldwide spike in oil prices, directly impacting the United States and in turn, its support of Iraq.  This was further complicated by the ongoing Iran-Contra affair, in which we the US government send arms shipments to the Iranians in exchange for the release of seven American hostages in Lebanon, who were being held by Iranian controlled Lebanese Hezbollah.  Iran attempted to employ an Area Denial strategy. Their goal? They were seeking to choke off all tanker traffic. Within the mouth of the Gulf where it narrows, Iran owns most of the small islands across the Strait of Hormuz, and many of the waters in the strait are Iranian Territorial waters. During the tanker wars, the Iranian navy and IRGC units used fast attack boats armed with small caliber cannon, missiles, and torpedoes, as well as sea mines laid in the shipping lanes to attack shipping. These sea mines and boats coupled with Iraqi use of the dangerous French-constructed Exocet Anti-Ship Missiles forced the United States to act.
The Reagan Administration responded with Operation Earnest Will, a Freedom of Navigation operation using US Navy surface warfare ships to escort vulnerable commercial shipping through the Persian Gulf.      This was only partially successful; the Iraqis continued to attack tankers with anti-ship missiles and IRGC & Iranian Navy units continued to mine the sea lanes and attack tankers using small attack boats and anti-ship missiles. Clearly, a greater response was needed. In June of 2013, Defense Media Networks wrote about Operations Prime Chance and Praying Mantis. From the piece:
“Prime Chance was a joint special operations and conventional force operation utilizing personnel from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) – the 160th SOAR, or “Night Stalkers” – SEALs, Special Boat Units, Marines, and the Navy. Prime Chance began with missions launched from Bernsen’s flagship, the command ship USS La Salle (AGF 3), and frigates USS Jarrett(FFG 33) and Klakring (FFG 42). Additional missions were planned to be staged from two large oil platform construction barges – the Hercules and the Wimbrown VII – located in Bahrain that were being converted into mobile sea bases (MSBs). Once operational, they would then be deployed in international waters near Iran’s Farsi Island in the northern Gulf. The conversion of the barges, and especially their deployed location, sparked a bureaucratic firestorm among traditionalists in the Pentagon opposed to the mobile sea base concept. Joint Chiefs of Staff critics of the plan claimed the MSBs would be irresistible targets dangerously vulnerable to air attack. With memories of the 1983 truck bomb attack on Marines in Beirut, Lebanon, still fresh, some went so far as to call the barges “Beirut Barracks.”
Prime Chance & Praying Mantis successfully broke the back of the efforts to close the Strait of Hormuz and ended the Tanker Wars of the 1980s. But the story doesn’t end there.
With the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, the fate of the Iran Nuclear Deal was sealed. Critics of the Obama era deal correctly pointed out that the deal was non-binding, had no verification mechanisms, and was easily cheated through means of deception. The United States formally withdrew from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018. An effort then began to ratchet up sanctions. According to some sources in Iran the sanctions are succeeding. They are harming the Regime’s ability to conduct external terror operations and having other positive effects on curbing the Regimes hostile behavior.  Iran’s regime, desperate to stave off the sanctions which are now threatening to completely topple their stranglehold on power, turned to the same strategy used in the 1980’s tanker wars. They began attacking shipping in the Gulf.   The action was a calculated attempt to split the United States from its European allies. The goal was to increase the cost of oil in the world market to such levels that EU economies would not tolerate the disruption. It was also an attempt to bait the United States into taking unilateral military action, which the EU would not support. The Iranians end goal was to split the coalition and bring an end to the sanctions crippling the regime. The gambit failed; the US did not attack Iran, and irrefutable evidence that Iran was behind the unprovoked attacks was quickly made public. Make no mistake, the reports that the sanctions aren’t working are politically motivated. Some outlets want a war, a profitable enterprise for their benefactors; others still seek to damage the Trump administration who they are ideologically opposed to. There are reports from inside Iran that there have been months long delays when paying some lower ranking people within the Basij and MOSI. This has the regime greatly concerned. The inability to pay Hezbollah & Houthi proxies is causing serious problems in Iranian foreign policy goals. It also undermines the grip the Iranian Regime has on the country.   
As religious & fanatically loyal as the IRGC is to Khameini, people still need to eat. They need electricity and running water. Right now, due to sanctions levied by the United States and honored by the EU, the Regime is having a hard time making these things happen. Not just for the regular people in Iran, but for important segments of the government essential for the control of the nation and it’s populace. Iran is facing the same kind of implosion that doomed the Soviet Union, and the second biggest response the Islamic Regime had to play has failed. The recent limited attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and spike oil prices has failed.
This is where things depart from historical precedent and take a scary turn. The last card Iran has to play is the same card that all of its dreams of regional hegemony depend on: The Nuclear Gambit. Iran’s ambitions are to annex eastern Iran, Kuwait, and ultimately the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. This would give it complete control of the oil in the Gulf and physical control of the Gulf itself. The key to these plans succeeding is the assembly of the first Iranian Nuclear Bomb. Obtaining nuclear weapons allows the Regime to strike out from behind a nuclear shield. If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it can blackmail the region and the world with the use of nuclear weapons. It can use them as a shield to launch wars against its neighbors, close the Gulf, and use its proxies in Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and others to conduct nuclear terrorism in pursuit of its foreign policy goals.
This is the Sum of All Fears. This is the nightmare scenario that has Kuwait, some leaders in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Israel gravely concerned. In the past, the Iranian regime has stated it intends to use nuclear weapons to ‘wipe Israel from the map’.  These words can only be taken at face value, and mean that Iran will use a nuclear weapon to strike the seat of Israeli government and begin a new Holocaust. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has been very outspoken about this, stating that Israel will not tolerate an Iranian Bomb, and that Israel would act alone if it had to as it has in the past, making reference to Israeli strikes in the Iraqi reactor at Osirak in 1980, as well as the strike on the Syrian reactor in in 2007. Talk threatening the use of nuclear weapons is taken seriously; the Israelis themselves are reputed to have a large arsenal of both tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. They possess them and state their justification clearly; to ensure that no country would ever use a nuclear weapon on Israel in a first strike. But the leadership in Tehran has made it clear this is an option they wish to pursue.
But what of the calls that the Iranian enrichment program itself is simply peaceful and the US and Israel are simply spoiling for another war to feed their own goal of regional hegemony and war profits? The reality is the Iranian nuclear program only has one purpose: to produce a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Let’s not waste time discussing why an oil and natural gas rich nation thinks it needs nuclear power generation, because it is pure folly. Iran has consistently hidden its nuclear weapons program, and has consistently hidden its activities from the UN IAEA, its neighbors, along with the big three: US, China and Russia. It has buried key facilities deep into the sides of mountains, and protected them with hundreds of IRGC troops, advanced surface-to-air missile batteries, and by hiding them as benign installations that mask their true purpose.  The Iranian nuclear program has conducted advanced experiments with refractive explosive lenses simulating the detonation of an implosion type nuclear weapon core, like that of the ‘Fat Man’ bomb dropped on Nagasaki. They have built an enrichment plant at Al Fordow that rivals the Oak Ridge Tennessee nuclear enrichment processing center built during the Manhattan Project, with the goal of producing enough Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to assemble the ‘Little Boy’ device dropped on Hiroshima. One key difference? Oak Ridge isn’t buried under a granite mountain, guarded by advanced Russian made S-300PMU SAM batteries and hundreds of paramilitary troops loyal to the Supreme Leader, like Al Fordow is. Al Fordow has one purpose; to mass produce HEU for bombs. The Al Fordow plant, its specifications, schematics, and progress are well-documented here and here.
Al Fordow was built where it was, and in the fashion it was for two specific purposes; to mass produce HEU which would build the Regime a small stockpile of nuclear weapons covertly, and to be resistant to air attack in the extreme. Many analysts have serious doubts that the facility can be destroyed from the air, and there are rumors the Israeli Defense Force has a plan to attack this site with airborne forces and destroy the facility with paratroopers and Special Forces troops. Such a venture would be costly in the extreme for both sides. It is also noteworthy that the Israeli Air Force has the capability to strike hardened sites and hold them at risk, however, it is believed they lack the ability to sufficiently strike the Al Fordow site. At the time of this writing there is only one known conventional capability that is sufficient to hold Al Fordow ‘at risk’- the B-2A Spirit armed with the GBU-57a/b.  Video of the B-2 dropping the MOP can be seen here. The alternative to a US strike on Al Fordow is an invasion of Iran by Israeli Special Operations troops, or the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons, should the Israelis be forced to go it alone.
Iran has recently decided to ratchet up the stakes. It is now clear to all involved that the only way the Regime survives is to stop the sanctions, and the last option the Islamic Regime has to roll back the sanctions, is to begin a crash course enriching Uranium into HEU and to assemble the first bomb to use as blackmail. This is the reason the Iranian Regime will never come back to the negotiating table. The goal of the JCPOA from the Iranian perspective wasn’t to negotiate in good faith, it was to obtain hard foreign currency to finance the program, to obtain time to allow the program to progress without being scrutinized or attacked, and to prevent any inspections/controls on the program that could not be covertly violated.
Make no mistake, the Sum of All Fears is very real in the minds of all countries in the line of fire of an Iranian Nuclear stockpile; the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia will not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. The crucial point is 20% enrichment. From that point on, racing ahead to 80% enrichment is a short, easy step. This is the Big Red Line. If Iran begins full operations at Al Fordow and begins moving towards 20% enrichment, it is highly probable that the United States and its regional allies will take military action to permanently halt Iran’s efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb. The consequences for the region will be dramatic if a strike takes place. The Iranians will unleash Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda worldwide. But the question we must answer is this- is living with a nuclear armed Islamic Republic of Iran better than dealing with a wave of trans-national terrorism in response to a strike ending the Iranian nuclear threat?
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