How Biden helps Iran pay for its terror by refusing to enforce current sanctions

President Biden has spent his three years in office making it clear to Tehran’s terrorist regime that America won’t make it pay a price for attacking our allies, bankrolling Hamas and expanding Iranian nuclear capabilities.

In fact, by refusing to enforce sanctions already on the books, Biden is helping Iran foot the bill for its aggression, including the first direct attack on Israel in the regime’s 45 years in power.

Each year since Biden took office, Iran has steadily increased oil exports — its most lucrative revenue source — following a historic collapse of sales during the Trump administration’s maximum-pressure campaign.

The increase is no accident. “U.S. officials privately acknowledge they’ve gradually relaxed some enforcement of sanctions on Iranian oil sales,” Bloomberg revealed last year.

This month, Iran boosted oil production to an estimated five-year high of 3.4 million barrels per day — primarily for China, which buys the commodity at a discount.

From oil alone, the regime has earned upwards of $100 billion — and a handy cushion from the consequences of its own actions.

Another source of Tehran’s revenue is liquified petroleum gas, which the regime has started to export in record quantities, rendering it the top seller in the region.

In public, the administration denies it is going easy on Iran. Accordingly, the sanctions it should be enforcing are still on the books: specifically, regulations requiring the administration to sanction individuals and foreign financial institutions that trade in Tehran-origin commodities.

The administration has also left in place Executive Order 13846, issued by Donald Trump, which provides a toolkit to penalize anyone involved in the “purchase, acquisition, sale, transport, or marketing” of regime petroleum.

So why isn’t the administration acting?

In a word: appeasement.

Team Biden — populated by many Team Obama veterans — believe dogmatically that they can keep the Middle East quiet and finally pivot to Asia by paying Iran to behave.

The Oct. 7 massacre proved otherwise — Hamas depends on Tehran’s reliable provision of funding, training and weapons.

The administration’s flawed ideology has also led Washington to pull its punches across a spectrum of Iran-backed threats: the regime’s advancing nuclear program; dealing with Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias; the Houthis’ attacks on global shipping; and the unprecedented arming of Russia with missiles and drones for use against Ukraine.

Tehran is more capable of attacking the United States, Israel and our allies thanks to its windfall from US sanctions nonenforcement.

Indeed, there’s also a striking correlation between increased regime misbehavior during times of US appeasement versus economic pressure.

During Biden’s term, according to National Union for Democracy in Iran data, trendlines for Tehran’s oil exports, military expenditures and nuclear advances all surged upward compared with relative restraint by the regime during the height of Trump sanctions from 2018 to 2020.

The implication is clear: US sanctions deprive Iran of resources. The regime then must carefully calibrate its provocations against potential economic ramifications.

Biden can still get serious about penalizing Iran, but he must dramatically increase sanctions on the shippers, insurers, middlemen and so-called “dark-fleet” tankers involved in the petroleum trade.

But the most important action Biden could take is sanctioning the Chinese and Asian banks and financial institutions that facilitate Tehran’s illicit trade.

In the past, even a hint from the Treasury Department that those banks could be cut off from the US financial system led them to clamp down on trade, serving to drive Iranian exports downward.

It should be clear after the weekend’s dramatic attack — thankfully foiled by US, Israeli and partners’ military ingenuity — the consequences of continued US appeasement of Iran are a matter of life and death.

Washington must rectify its failed Iran policy and curb Tehran’s funding sources before the regional conflict spins out of control.

Andrea Stricker (@StrickerNonpro) is a research fellow and deputy director of the Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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