Designate Belarus as a state sponsor of terrorism

Belarus Politics
In this Monday, June 1, 2020 photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko meets with Valery Vakulchik, chief of the Belarusian state security service, KGB, in Minsk, Belarus. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)

Designate Belarus as a state sponsor of terrorism

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The dictator president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, will reportedly allow Russia to station nuclear weapons on his territory.

That Belarus is a strategic trap door for Russia is not new, however. Lukashenko has long provided a lifeline for Iran that, even under the Biden administration, the United States considers the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. Prior to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the lifting of many military sanctions on the Islamic Republic, for example, Belarus was a cut-out for the illicit trade between Russia and Iran. It was a useful rendezvous and launch point for Iranian and Hezbollah activities in Europe.

While President Barack Obama may have greenlighted the end of many military sanctions on Iran, Belarus’s importance to Tehran has only grown in recent years. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for example, already has a presence in Belarus via the Iran Khodro vehicle manufacturing plant in Obchak, Minsk, and Iran and Belarus both drill together in Russia’s annual International Army Games.

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Speaking on the 43rd anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei declared, “Countries that are sanctioned by the U.S. must work together and form a joint collective to destroy the weapon of sanctions, and we believe this is doable.” Just months later, Lukashenko visited Beijing and then Tehran, marking his first visit to Iran in 17 years. Receiving Lukashenko during that visit earlier this month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi praised the two countries’ “common strategic vision.” The two presidents proceeded to sign a road map for tighter ties consisting of seven separate memorandums of cooperation between separate ministries.

Iran’s provision of drones to Russia remains a strategic concern, but Iran’s practice is not simply to ship weaponry abroad: rather, it often exports the means to produce such weaponry. This not only bypasses concerns about logistical security but also gives Tehran plausible deniability. Iran has already provided not only Lebanese Hezbollah but also the Syrian regime, Yemen’s Houthis, and key Iraqi militias with the means to assemble Iranian weaponry. With Revolutionary Guard factories already in the country, the Belarusians may be next. How hard would it be to convert an assembly line building cars to one assembling drones, especially if done beyond the barbed wire and guard booths of Belarusian police?

Too often, U.S. diplomacy and intelligence communities artificially compartmentalize analysis to conform to U.S. bureaucratic divisions. It is hard enough to get geographical desks within U.S. bureaucracy to talk with each other when they each focus on different Middle Eastern countries. Getting Near Eastern Affairs and European Affairs to coordinate productively with each other can often be a bridge too far.

This is no excuse. U.S. policymakers must recognize that Lukashenko’s threat and destructive activities extend far beyond Europe. He represents sleight of hand for dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Xi Jinping. If Lukashenko enables Iranian terror, it is time he pays the price. The State Department should designate Belarus as a state sponsor of terror.

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Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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