No attack on Iran this year: that was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus message at the United Nations this week. The world has a few more months to make sanctions work and halt the Iranian program through diplomacy.
With war off the table in 2012, the question remains: What can yet be done this year to dissuade Iran?
Sanctions have been tightened and tightened again. The most recent rounds include the European Union embargo on Iranian oil (imposed July 1) and the impending U.S. sanctions on the central bank of Iran. These last sanctions will cut Iran off from the international payments system and force Iranian importers and exporters to collect and pay money in cash, via barter, or through circuitous and expensive clandestine routes.
The Iranian economy has been squeezed hard by the sanctions to the regime to date; its currency has lost more than half its value against the dollar since 2010. So far this year alone, the riyal has dropped from about 18,000 to the dollar to 24,000 to the dollar. Basic foods like chicken have reportedly disappeared from marketplaces.
At ForeignPolicy.com, former Bush national security advisor Stephen Hadley outlines additional sanctions that could yet be imposed. In his words, they are as follows:
- Targeting front companies in Europe and Asia that supply Iran with dual-use components for the nuclear program;
- Targeting banks that process any financial transactions with National Iranian Tanker Co.;
- Targeting certain petroleum resource development joint ventures outside of Iran if the Iranian government is a substantial partner or investor in the joint venture;
- Blacklisting Irans entire energy sector and labelling it a zone of proliferation concern to prohibit completely international businesses from dealing with its petroleum sector.
This last step would ban any company that does business with Iranian oil from doing any business anywhere else within reach of U.S. jurisdiction.
It already has been proposed before Congress in a bill sponsored by representatives Robert Dold, an Illinois Republican, and Brad Sherman, a California Democrat. The exact nature of U.S. retaliation remains hazy, but no less intimidating for its lack of specificity.
2012 has not seen the spectacular acts of sabotage against Iranian facilities that marked 2011, when explosions smashed up an Iranian missile-testing field, a nuclear facility and a mill that manufactured specialized steel. 2012 has not seen any such incidents publicly reported, at least.
While the Iranian public has been quiet since the suppression of protests after the faked presidential election of 2009, trouble could erupt againYet you dont need secret briefings to notice the Iranian regime is under pressure. Important elements of the subordinate Iranian clergy have protested whats increasingly called the dictatorship of the Supreme Leader, Seyed Ali Khameini. Khameini has fallen out with his own hand-picked candidate for president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: in 2011, two of Ahmadinejads closest associates were arrested by clerical police on charges of sorcery. (When PM Netanyahu mocked the Iranian leadership as medieval, he was speaking literally.)
While the Iranian public has been quiet since the suppression of protests after the faked presidential election of 2009, trouble could erupt again, as it did in 2002-03, another moment when the regime looked weak.
Can the Iranian nuclear program be stopped without war? We must invest our hope in yet another tightening of the sanctions regime and the clandestine programs of Israel and the western democratic alliance.