We need sanctions against Iran
Winston Churchill once described Russia as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." No one yet has come up with an analogy to describe the difficulty of understanding and dealing with Iran.
With its thousands of years of history and multitude of cultures and languages, comprehending Iranian society and its politics could perhaps be likened to a fusion of astronomy and algebra. Very often political scientists discover new factors and players which they were not aware of. And once they do, establishing relations and correlations between them could turn into calculator defying operations.
This is one of the reason why western countries have found it difficult to deal with Iran, especially after the revolution.
Despite the present challenges in understanding Iran, since Obama took office in 2009, some factors have become more clear than others.
One is the intransigence of the Iranian leadership. Since taking office Obama has tried several diplomatic initiatives in order to reach out to the government of Ali Khamenei. These included two personal letters to the Iranian supreme leader. His overtures were dismissed. The regime does not seem interested in a diplomatic rapprochement with the U.S.
Meanwhile evidence is mounting against Iranian claims that the nuclear program is for civilian purposes only. These include: discovery of a secret enrichment facility in Natanz in 2002, another secret facility at Fordo near Qom in September 2009, and the discovery by the UN nuclear agency that Iran had tested advanced nuclear warhead design.
Such discoveries, as well as Iran's refusal to accept Obama's diplomatic overtures are convincing increasing number of countries that Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, and the man responsible for Iran's nuclear program, has military plans for his nuclear program. They are also an indication that he is not interested in reaching a compromise with the West, until he has fulfilled this goal.
Inaction will not stop the Iranian government. At the same time, war without giving diplomacy and other non-militaristic methods a chance would also boost the regime's standing at home. This was witnessed after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980. His unprovoked attack boosted the regime's credibility.
For now, targeted sanctions offer the most suitable solution. The engine of the Islamic Republic does not run on chants of "Death to America." It runs on income from its economy. Punishment of the Revolutionary Guard's business interests, and the private wealth of the regime have sent a powerful message to Tehran's rulers that defiance carries a price.
Understanding Iran is still a perplexing challenge for many governments. But history has shown that when pressured, the regime responds. Therefore the west should continue to pressure it, and what better way than targeted sanctions, which punish it for its nuclear policies, and its abuse of human rights, even more.
Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian-Israeli Middle East analyst, the coauthor of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of Iran and UN Global Expert.
Iran Cannot Be Stopped With Sanctions
A hallmark of the Obama administration's Iran policy has been a dual-track approach to its contentious nuclear program: diplomacy, and pressure on the regime. But pressure will not achieve its stated goal, namely, that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium on its soil and return to the negotiating table with the West.
Perhaps Western and Israeli leaders have a difficult or impossible time separating Iranian rhetoric from reality, but anyone who knows the Iranians should easily recognize that they're not exaggerating or lying when they say they refuse to compromise in the face of threats, or whenever "carrots and sticks" are promoted as a policy to force them to change their behavior.
As Iran prepares to sit down again -- for the first time in more than a year -- to negotiate its nuclear program with the P5+1, the chances for a diplomatic breakthrough remain as slim as ever, notwithstanding U.S. claims that the international sanctions regime is "working." Sanctions, designed to punish Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, force it to negotiate from a weakened position, or to weaken the regime to the breaking point, have clearly not achieved their objective and if anything, the pressure on Iran makes it even more intransigent.
If Iran were to give up its right to a nuclear program in the face of pressure from foreign powers, it would be a catastrophic defeat for the government of the Islamic Republic. A revolutionary leadership that declared from the moment of its victory over the Western-allied monarchy that it would pursue an independent path in international relations will not under any circumstances give in to Western demands.
The latest round of UN sanctions, as well as unilateral U.S. and EU sanctions, were apparently not designed to not hurt ordinary Iranians. But during a recent interview with the BBC's Persian Service, President Obama said that he expects the Iranian people to blame their own government, and not the U.S., for whatever hardship they suffer. A shockingly naïve statement that displays a complete lack of understanding of nationalism, basically akin to asking ordinary Americans to blame their own government for its foreign policy when they suffer a terrorist attack. People may blame their government for many things, but they don't generally blame their government for the actions of a foreign one.
Sanctions are indeed hurting ordinary Iranians -- "Ali the Plumber" if you will -- by contributing to inflation, and severely impacting investment and unemployment. If one goal of debilitating sanctions is to induce the people to rise up against their leaders, Western leaders are misreading not just the Iranian leadership, but the opposition and the Iranian people too. And those who believe sanctions should not be just linked to the nuclear issue but also to Iran's human-rights record, in the hope of empowering the opposition, also misread the nature of that opposition, mistakenly ascribing to it a desire for a realignment of Iran's strategic position from independence to ally of the West.
Sanctions, or even threats of military action, will ultimately be self-defeating. Turkey and Brazil, two countries that understand Iran and Iranians better than either the U.S. or the Europeans, have insisted that diplomacy alone is the only solution to the nuclear crisis. Perhaps it's time we listen to them, if we don't want to listen to the Iranians themselves.
Hooman Majd is author of The Ayatollahs' Democracy and UN Global Expert.