The images we’ve seen are horrific. Children ripped from their beds. Families forced to hide in their homes. A music festival attacked, and, sadly, much more. Hamas’s terrorist attack that deliberately sought out civilians to torture, kill, and kidnap was a barbaric war crime. At least 1,300 people are dead, and at least 100 others have been kidnapped. The dead include at least 27 Americans. Hamas bears responsibility for this attack – but we know the attack could only have taken place with the approval and, at least, tacit support of Iran’s ruling clerics. That’s why we need to get tough on the regime in Tehran, or risk further terrorist acts throughout the world.
I know the Iranian regime firsthand; I fled it at just 13 years old. I was born in Tabriz, a city in northwestern Iran. My family and I were part of Iran’s ancient Jewish people, who trace their lineage back to the Babylonian Exile of 597 BCE, as described in the Old Testament. Like Jews throughout the world, the fortunes of Iran’s Jews waxed and waned over the next thousands of years, but we were enjoying a period of prosperity and protection under Iran’s ruling monarch, the Shah, when I was born. That all changed in an instant. Iran’s hardline Muslim clerics seized control of the country and instituted an uncompromising form of Islamic rule, imprisoning and executing perceived enemies by the thousands.
The new Islamic regime represented an obvious existential threat to Iran’s Jews, and most began making increasingly desperate plans to leave the country. Families were placed in impossible positions where they had to choose whether they would stay together or separate. Mine made the heart-wrenching decision to send me alone to America.
That’s how I eventually arrived in this country as a religious refugee as part of an international effort to rescue Iran’s Jewish children. On a cold and snowy night, I landed at JFK Airport and was taken to Crown Heights along with 39 other bewildered children. I remained there for several months while my parents tried to follow me to the U.S. Unfortunately, after Islamic militants took Americans hostage in the Iranian Embassy, the U.S. stopped issuing visas to Iranian nationals. My parents, who were now stateless after escaping Iran, had no place to go. No place except for the only country in the world that exists to provide safe haven for Jews. My parents flew to Israel and remained there for the next year. I was sent to live with a foster family in the Chicago suburbs, where I learned English and attended high school. Following the release of the hostages, my parents obtained U.S. visas and finally made it to the United States. It had been over two years, but, at last, we were reunited.
That’s my own personal story, but the torment and turmoil Iran’s Islamists unleashed on the country and the World is still felt to this day.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Iran-supported groups engage in dangerous and destabilizing activity across the Middle East, with Iran using the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and its proxies and partners, like Hamas and Hezbollah to advance its interests abroad. Within its own borders, Iran’s ruling mullahs have targeted their own citizens with arbitrary arrests, brutal torture and summary executions in an attempt to quash massive popular protests against continued strict clerical rule. At the same time, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is continuing, with substantial increases in uranium enrichment and construction of new centrifuges at Natanz.
That brings us to October 7, 2023. While Iran’s role is still unclear, we do know that they provide funding, support and logistics for Hamas. We also know that they cheered Hamas’s brutal massacre of Israeli civilians, with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaiming “We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime.”
These are not the actions and words of a government that is interested in peace, or one that should be trusted.
That’s why the United States must immediately increase its economic pressure on Iran by making sure its current sanctions on Iranian petroleum exports are enforced. That means imposing sanctions on foreign ports and refineries that process petroleum exported from Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. In particular, the U.S. should redouble its pressure on China to rein in its independent refiners that disguise Iranian oil imports to avoid U.S. sanctions. China imports as much as 1.5 million barrels of Iranian crude every month, so reducing Chinese oil purchases is the most effective way to inflict pain on Iran’s clerics.
Iranian arms transfers are another economic pressure point. While sanctions on Iranian arms companies have recently been tightened, the Treasury Department should also sanction any company that acts as an intermediary between Iran and its customers, even if those companies operate in key U.S. allies, such as the United Area Emirates.
The United States must speak clearly and unequivocally to friend and foe alike–facilitating trade in Iranian oil or weapons is unacceptable and will result in significant sanctions. The horrific events of October 7 give that message added urgency.
It is critical that we stand with Israel against its enemies. The United States can provide invaluable assistance to Israel by helping to sever the links between Iran’s Islamic regime and Hamas.
Anna Kaplan is a candidate for Congress in New York’s Third Congressional District (Northern and Central Nassau County and Queens). She is a former two-term New York State Senator, where she chaired the Committee on Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business. She is the first Iranian-American and the first former refugee to be elected to the New York State Legislature.