Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its enablers. The bill – H.R. 1698, or “The Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act” – received bipartisan support, passing by a vote of 423-2. While the legislation was met with tirades by Iran’s purportedly “moderate” President Hassan Rouhani, who promised to grow his country’s ballistic missile arsenal, the House measure opens the door to more robust ballistic missile sanctions, which Washington will need to impose if it is going to get tough on Tehran.
Building on an earlier sanctions package that President Trump signed into law this August, the new bill expands existing authorities under which the U.S. can sanction the Government of Iran or its affiliates for attempts “to develop, procure, or acquire goods, services, or technology … with respect to ballistic missile-related goods, services, and technologies.”
Specifically, the legislation augments the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to require mandatory sanctions on individuals and entities that the administration determines are engaged in procurement activities that support Iran’s ballistic missile program.
The new legislation also requires executive branch reporting to Congress on Iran’s foreign and domestic supply chain, the first reporting requirement of its kind. The bill also requires reporting after Iranian missile tests on the class of missiles tested, technical data on those missiles, and reporting on attempts by Iran to procure sensitive technologies outside of a UN-established procurement channel.
These reporting requirements set the predicate to expand missile sanctions on entities inside Iran. For too long, Washington has focused exclusively on export controls and sanctions against foreign procurement rings to prevent Iran from acquiring missile technology abroad. But qualitative and quantitative improvements to Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal have made it necessary to sanction the domestic infrastructure of the Iranian missile program.
In his Iran deal decertification address, President Trump pledged to “address the [Iranian] regime’s proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation.” Since coming into office, the administration has relied heavily on Executive Order 13382 (for proliferation of WMD and their delivery vehicles) to target Iran’s ballistic missile supporters and networks. But should the House bill move to become law, it would permit the president to do more.
It is urgent for President Trump to follow through on his pledge because ballistic missiles are the most likely and effective delivery vehicle for nuclear weapons, a point Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats made in his recent testimony to Congress. Iran will resist making concessions, since its ballistic missile program grew out of the painful lessons of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. But if policymakers are serious about contesting all aspects of Iranian power, then they must confront this threat. After all, as the current and former DNI have attested, “Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD.”
Behnam Ben Taleblu is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Tyler Stapleton is deputy director of congressional relations. Follow Tyler on Twitter @Ty_D_Stapleton.
Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD.