Opinion: Time for Leaps, Not ‘Steps’ Against Iran

Radiation Warning Symbol. Public Domain.

The Europeans have been among the leaders on sanctions of Iran, and while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed a sense of appreciation for the efforts, he doesn’t appear convinced they have yet gone far enough. And you know what? He’s right.

Netanyahu, in comments at a Thursday press conference and posted on the Prime Minister’s Office website, pointed out that a nuclear Iran would threaten the whole world. Against the backdrop of Europe considering enacting more sanctions, he called for them to do so.

“I have to say that I’m pleased that more powerful sanctions have been taken, but I believe that more powerful sanctions are due, especially those that would focus on the oil sector and most especially on the banking sector,” said the Israeli leader. “If anything has a chance of taking a real bite into Iran’s economy and having a real impact on this regime, it is these more powerful sanctions.  I hope they’ll be taken.”

Netanyahu’s statements were in the context of the European plans, but they could’ve just as easily applied to the Americans. The simple fact of the matter is the US and Europe are trying—but lack the sense of urgency needed at this critical time.

In commenting on the sanctions announced earlier this week by the US, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was quoted as pointing out that additional steps could still be taken.

While that was intended as a threat, the situation with Iran is past the threat of sanctions stage. It’s time to do everything short of bombing Tehran—because otherwise military action will be the only hope of stopping the Iranian drive for the bomb.

A senior US administration official, in comments released by the State Department, praised the latest financial measures taken against Iran, saying it should have a “serious chilling effect” on banks’ willingness to deal with the Islamic Republic. But the official also noted that the steps won’t halt every financial link to Tehran.

If the West wants to stop Iran before it’s too late, they better try to do just that. Truly crippling sanctions that will virtually shut down the Iranian export economy and oil industry are desperately needed.

Netanyahu was right: The only chance for sanctions to bite hard enough are for “powerful sanctions.” While his definition of such moves is unclear, his attitude is the right one. He knows the stakes, and based on reports is considering even military action to prevent Iran from going nuclear.

According to arms control expert Dr. Emily Landau, senior research fellow at The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Israel, the time to act is now. “If Iran is moving in that direction, if they’re motivated to get there, then all efforts to stop Iran need to be taken now,” said Landau.“…All those that do not want Iran to be a nuclear state should be doing whatever they can right now to stop it and not wait for some unambiguous warning sign that will tell them that they are the last moment. We might be at the last moment right now.”

Dr. Landau was not calling for immediate military action, but for credible threats and harsher sanctions. She made the comments prior to the American steps announced this week, but it doesn’t appear the moves are aggressive enough.

A reporter in the conference call with senior US administration officials was quoted in the transcript released by the State Department as questioning what some of the new sanctions do that old sanctions didn’t. And the response is basically that they escalate them and plug loopholes. That’s simply not enough.

Least of Three Evils

It’s true: the global economy is fragile, especially in Europe. Massive sanctions that would truly prohibit banks from dealing with Iran or nations and companies from buying their oil will likely have a devastating effect on world economics. Already high oil prices would undoubtedly rise higher. Already shaky stock markets would certainly shudder more. And global recession or worse is possible.

But it’s the least bad of several terrible options, since it’s the only chance to stop Iran without going to war.

The Iranian leaders do fear their people, and popular anger is difficult to control. What could be angst against the West for the sanctions on one day could eventually shift to bitterness and protest against the regime. Iran isn’t a benevolent dictatorship: There are lots of people who hate the authorities already. Crippling sanctions grant them more motivation to do something about it and recruit others.

Ironically, if those moves aren’t taken, the West may be forced to militarily intervene, and that will be much worse for everyone.

A military strike on Iran, by Israel or the West, would cripple the world economy. Iran could block the critical Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf and devastate the oil shipping lines, placing the whole world in a virtual oil-related siege.

Just having warfare in and around the world’s major oil producers will cause prices to skyrocket and shock the global economy. Transportation and shipping costs could soar, with a ripple effect on an already weak system.

And despite all that, it’s not even the worst prospect: Iran actually getting nuclear weapons. If that happens, Iran can choose when to send a shudder through the global economy. Stronger rhetoric against its neighbors, a new missile test that can reach southern Europe or a nuclear test could send panic through markets and increase oil prices. Furthermore, Iran would have nuclear cover for it’s terrorist activities.

More plots to strike the US, like the one on the Saudi Ambassador, could be planned without fear of serious military retaliation from the Americans, lest that situation spiral into a nuclear showdown. Economic recession or depression could be just a successful Iranian attack away.

And if the Iranians ever use the bomb, or enable one of their terrorist proxies to do so, the world as we know it could end. The Iranians might never do that, but can we really trust them to act like the West when they believe they are the forerunners of a new world order?

Suffice it to say, the painful repercussions for the global economy from crippling sanctions is the least of three evils.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper cited a source concerned that Iran’s moving it’s nuclear program into a hardened military base would heighten uncertainty about the effectiveness of a military strike beyond a year from now. Time is simply running out.

And that’s why the Americans haven’t gone far enough. It’s not the time to say they can do more. It’s time to do everything they can—while there’s still time left.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 24, 2011)