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.
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