November 25, 2011
Number 11/11 #07
This Update features three pieces commenting on the international debate about a new round of sanctions on Iran – with the US, Britain and Canada announcing new measures on Monday, and Europe agreeing “in principle” to expand sanctions a couple of days later
First up is an editorial from the Washington Post, in which the paper argues that the new sanctions announced by the US Administration amount to “half-measures”. Instead, the paper argues, the sorts of tough sanctions proposed by French President Nicholas Sarkozy early this week should be adopted – including a freeze on the assets of Iran’s central bank, and a complete embargo on all petroleum purchases from Iran being adopted by a coalition of Western states. The Post argues that by failing to adopt adequately tough sanctions which can threaten the survival of the Iranian regime, “the Obama administration merely makes it more likely that drastic action, such as a military attack, eventually will be taken by Israel, or forced on the United States.” For the paper’s argument in full, CLICK HERE. Interestingly, France is now reportedly putting its money where its mouth is, unilaterally halting all oil imports from Iran.
Next up is academic expert on Iran Prof. Jamsheed Choksy, who argues that “negotiations, economic sanctions and electronic intrusions” have not had a record of success to date on Iran. He argues that American military strikes, however, could do more than set back Iran’s nuclear program – he says if well targeted they are likely to lead to regime change. He asserts that the Green Movement of 2009 was largely suppressed via the overwhelming force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Basij militias, and if these were degraded as part of a bombing campaign, it is likely, he argues, that the majority would be able to launch a populist uprising and overthrow the current regime. For his argument in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, this Update offers readers an expert on the Iranian nuclear conundrum, Emmanule Ottolenghi, who provides a very pessimistic outlook on the prospects for halting Iran’s nuclear program in time. He does not argue that tough sanctions cannot work, he says they can, but he does argue that he sees no political prospect of adequately tough sanctions being put in place. He says between European economic fears and Russian and Chinese opposition, it simply will not happen, and that an American military strike also looks unlikely. For his full argument,
Readers may also be interested in:
- Washington Institute military expert Michael Eisenstadt arguing that only a credible threat of military action can give a chance for diplomatic efforts to stop the Iranian nuclear program succeeding.
- More on the ongoing Egyptian unrest and the larger power struggle in Egypt from Israeli academic experts Eyal Zisser and Hillel Frisch.
- An important piece on the dangerous plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians from the Egyptian revolution and unrest, by former Egyptian Jewish resident Andre Aciman.
- Noted Lebanese writer Hussein Ibish condemns the various Western analysts who continue to shill for Syria’s Assad regime.
- A story on PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo yesterday, where there was much talk of a “new partnership” but no agreement on a new unity government.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- Libyans find a use for their new-found freedom of expression – to insist that Muammar Gaddafi was a Jew.
- Analysis of a bizarre piece in the New York Times accusing Israel of “pinkwashing” – that is, being supposedly supportive of gay rights only as a public relations exercise.
- Lebanon’s special tribunal makes a decision which appears to effectively give up on bringing the murderers of former PM Rafiq Hariri to trial.
- Libyans find a use for their new-found freedom of expression – to insist that Muammar Gaddafi was a Jew.
Washington Post, November 23
THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION pledged that Iran would suffer painful consequences for plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and for refusing to freeze its nuclear program. Key European allies and Congress — not to mention Israel — are ready for decisive action. But on Monday the administration unveiled another series of half-steps. Sanctions were toughened on Iran’s oil industry, but there was no move to block its exports. The Iranian banking system was designated “a primary money laundering concern,” a step U.S. officials said could prompt banks and companies around the world to cease doing business with the country. But the administration declined to directly sanction the central bank.
The result is that President Obama is not even leading from behind on Iran; he is simply behind. At the forefront of the Western effort to pressure Tehran is French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who issued a statement Monday calling on the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada and “other willing countries” to “immediately freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank” and suspend purchases of Iranian oil. France rejects the Obama administration’s view that these steps would cause a counterproductive spike in oil prices. In any case, higher oil prices are preferable to allowing an Iranian bomb — or having to take military action to stop it.
Congress is ahead of Mr. Obama, too. It’s likely that large bipartisan majorities will support legislation mandating sanctions against the central bank; in the Senate’s case it could be attached to the defense authorization bill. Another comprehensive sanctions bill, targeting both Iran and its ally Syria, could be brought to the Senate floor within a couple of weeks.
The administration’s slowness to embrace crippling sanctions is one of several persistent flaws in its Iran policy. Another is its continued insistence on the possibility of “engagement” with a regime that has repeatedly rejected it while plotting murder in Washington. “The United States is committed to engagement,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted Monday. Some European officials say they are concerned by the concessions the administration appears prepared to offer Tehran if there are new talks.
By now it should be obvious that only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program. That means, at a minimum, the departure of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly blocked efforts by other Iranian leaders to talk to the West. Sanctions that stop Iran from exporting oil and importing gasoline could deal a decisive blow to his dictatorship, which already faced an Arab Spring-like popular revolt two years ago. By holding back on such measures, the Obama administration merely makes it more likely that drastic action, such as a military attack, eventually will be taken by Israel, or forced on the United States.
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Western strikes should target Tehran’s military and paramilitary forces, crippling the regime’s machinery of domestic repression.
By JAMSHEED K. CHOKSY
Wall Street Journal, NOVEMBER 23, 2011
Why, despite the growing danger posed by Iran’s nuclear program, have the United States and other nations restricted themselves to negotiations, economic sanctions and electronic intrusions? None of those tactics has been particularly effective or produced enduring changes.
The main argument against military action is that it would set Iran’s nuclear program back only a few years, and that Tehran would retaliate directly and via surrogates, drawing the U.S. into another unwinnable war. Many fear also that Iranians will rally behind their regime with nationalist fervor, dashing hope of regime change for decades and turning Iran’s largely pro-Western population against the West once again, to the mullahs’ great benefit.
These concerns are based on worst-case scenarios that assume Iran has the resources to rebuild quickly, to retaliate without being thwarted, and to get the average Iranian to rally behind a regime hated for its violent oppression of dissent, stifling social codes, economic failures and isolationist policies. Yet Iran’s government is already weakened by very public infighting between its much disliked ruling factions.
We should not conclude that a nuclear Iran is inevitable. Instead we should think about another way of confronting the threat. The real goal of air strikes should be not only to target Iran’s nuclear facilities but to cripple the ayatollahs’ ability to protect themselves from popular overthrow.
The mass uprisings in 2009—known as the Green Revolution—have dissipated because few protesters saw any hope of mustering the force necessary to defeat the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces who brutally enforce Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s authority. Yet dissatisfaction and resentment still run deep across all social groups and economic ranks, even among civil-service bureaucrats, rank-and-file military men, and elected officials.
This means Western air strikes should hit other military production facilities and the bases of the IRGC and Basij. A foreign takedown of those enforcers would give Iran’s population the opportunity to rise again. As a popular Tehrani female rapper notes: “No regime can hang on through intimidation and violence. We are ready and waiting. The regime thinks it has put out the fire. We are the burning coals under the ashes.”
The IRGC’s claims that it can retaliate significantly are largely bluster. The Iranian Navy’s fast boats and midget submarines in the Persian Gulf could be eliminated through pinpoint strikes, as could army artillery batteries along the Strait of Hormuz—thereby removing any threat to the region’s maritime trade, including crude oil shipments.
While the nuclear program may not be completely destroyed, sufficient damage will occur so even facilities deep underground would require several years of restoration. Most importantly, once the power of the Basij and the IRGC to enforce the regime’s will upon the people has been seriously compromised, it would not be surprising to see large segments of Iran’s population casting off the theocratic yoke.
The Libyan rebellion’s successful ouster of a 42-year dictatorial elite is but one example of successful regime change. Another is the ongoing attempt by Syrians to end a nearly half-century dictatorship. A few months ago, few would have believed those revolutions would occur. Moreover, an Iranian uprising will be directed against Islamists, not by them. Were Iran’s theocrats gravely weakened or swept away, Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists and dictatorships would come to a halt—making groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and leaders like Bashar al-Assad, Kim Jong Il and Hugo Chávez more vulnerable.
A new Iranian nation would require economic aid and political guidance—from the U.S. and Europe—to develop representational governance. That would be a worthwhile investment. Crucially, even if a post-theocratic Iranian state gradually rebuilds its military and resumes its nuclear program, the weapons would not be in the hands of a regime so hostile to much of the world.
Regime change remains the best option for defusing the ayatollahs’ nuclear threat, and it can best be achieved by the Iranian people themselves. Disabling the theocracy’s machinery of repression would leave it vulnerable to popular revolt. Through such decisive actions, the U.S. and its allies could help Iranians bring the populist uprising of 2009 to a fitting culmination.
Mr. Choksy is professor of Iranian studies, senior fellow of the Center on American and Global Security, and former director of the Middle Eastern studies program at Indiana University.
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By Emanuele Ottolenghi,
Jewish Chronicle, November 24, 2011
The latest round of media hype on Iran offers much comic relief for an otherwise terrible truth. Iran can only be stopped from getting nuclear weapons by factors that are largely beyond the control of Israel, the Western world or the international community at large.
Not that stopping Iran has become impossible.
Robust and aggressive sanctions could cripple the regime’s economic lifeline and deprive Iran’s military infrastructure of crucial technology. They would also dry up the funds that are badly needed to conduct international transactions and keep domestic insurrections at bay. A sustained American-led air campaign would put Iran’s nuclear programme out of order for a long time – maybe forever.
Except that nobody is seriously contemplating those measures.
Days after the International Atomic Energy Agency released its damning report, which revealed that Iran conducted secret computer tests for nuclear bombs, the IAEA board of 35 nations could not agree to a tough resolution imposing a deadline on Iran.
A watered-down version ensured Russian and Chinese support – the price for denying Iran the satisfaction of causing a rift among the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and Germany over the issue.
But as soon as the resolution was passed, Russia’s UN envoy lashed out at the IAEA and joined Iran to question the agency’s credibility and impartiality. His government reiterated its utmost opposition to new sanctions.
With neither Russia nor China interested in a new round of sanctions and the EU fearful that tough measures may harm an already faltering economy, there are no good choices left for those who really wish to stop Iran’s progress to a nuclear bomb.
A military attack would significantly damage Iran’s programme, but Tehran’s progress is so remarkable that unless Iran’s military is also targeted – something only the US could take on – the likely cost of military action would far outweigh its benefits.
The bottom line is this then: Iran has all the components for a nuclear bomb. It only needs time to enrich enough uranium to produce the fissile material required; and it needs a political decision from above to proceed.
The former is amply available – even if sanctions are adopted it would take Iran only a few weeks to enrich uranium it already has and produce a first device. Nobody knows for sure about the latter, but there is no reason to doubt it will eventually come. If Iran’s nuclear programme has travelled so far, getting across the finish line is a foregone conclusion now.
What can be done? An attack is rife with danger. Hoping for regime change is not a strategy – although it would help. Tough sanctions remain, and all that is standing in the way there is the political will to adopt them.
Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies