As a bright spot in a time of turbulence and uncertainty, Americans are welcoming home the five prisoners who were detained in Iran. We are relieved for their families, their friends, and their communities. We should be pleased that the negotiations with the rogue nation were not in vain. Most of all, we remain hopeful that Iran will someday join the international community of peace-loving, law-abiding nations.
Although rejoining the international community is the ultimate goal of renewed American diplomacy with Iran, our nation’s policymakers, despite their views of the nuclear deal, should agree that we must hold Iran accountable for its commitments to the international community, and we must not abandon our allies in the Middle East during a time of great need.
To do so, the United States must not only ensure that Iran lives up to the letter of its obligations under the nuclear deal but also tackle the threats that the regime presents to the region and the entire world. We have already seen how Teheran is propping up the Assad regime in Syria, fueling civil war in Yemen, sponsoring sectarian militias in Iraq, and supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group that seeks to destroy the state of Israel. Unless the United States and our European partners impose swift and serious consequences for destructive behavior, Iran will be tempted to use its $100 billion worth of sanctions relief to step up its support for terrorist organizations, stoke still more sectarian strife, and continue to stir up civil wars within its neighboring nations.
Moreover, it is undeniable that Iran continues to pose a threat to American service members and our nation’s interests in this pivotal part of the world. In late December, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards launched a rocket within 1,500 yards of the Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier in the Straits of Hormuz. Earlier that same month, Iran violated a United Nations Security Council resolution by conducting ballistic missile tests. Iran followed this provocation up by capturing ten of our sailors and two of our boats and holding them for sixteen hours.
What’s more, Iran’s saber rattling and regional expansionism are causing concern among America’s allies in the region, from Israel and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States. In the midst of this regional uncertainty, Saudi Arabia has taken steps to defend its own interests without relying on its traditional alliance with America, a less-than-shocking response after continued United States disengagement.
For more than thirty-five years, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council have been critical strategic allies in the Middle East, helping stabilize the Persian Gulf and its energy supplies and, in recent years, playing a critical part in combating Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and other transnational terrorist groups. The member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council support our military strategy in the region by hosting 35,000 soldiers, sailors and marines and vital access for our ships and aircraft. Furthermore, the United States has long urged Middle Eastern nations to step up to the plate against violent extremism. In December, the Saudis founded a coalition of more than 30 Muslim countries, including Turkey, Egypt and Malaysia, to combat international terrorism. In order to promote stability in the region, the US should reassure our longstanding regional partners.
The Middle East and the Gulf States are changing in ways from which there is no turning back. But, to promote progress and not chaos, America should reassure our allies that we have their backs.
Crenshaw has represented Florida’s 4th Congressional District since 2001. He sits on the Appropriations Committee.