Will Iran wake up to the signals?

By Alistair de Kare-Silver, February 7, 2012

The increased international pressure towards Iran over its nuclear program is timely and much needed. At the end of last month, following a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers all 27 member states agreed to an immediate ban on any new contracts for the purchase or transport of Iranian crude oil or refined petroleum.

These steps amount to the most punitive restrictions yet imposed on Iran. This is in addition to the sending of six warships by Britain, America and France to the sensitive Strait of Hormuz. These measures were designed to send clear signals to Tehran that the West will no longer tolerate Iranian intransigence over its nuclear program and its failures to comply with its international obligations.

These measures at last demonstrate that Europe is willing to tackle the Iranian issue with resolve. In the past Europe has been divided over Iran's nuclear ambitions and has been reticent and pusillanimous in dealing with this pariah state. This has allowed the regime to believe it could pursue its enrichment program with impunity. However the regime should no longer be under any illusion that it can pursue its nuclear program without serious ramifications. These new sanctions will add to Iran's economic woes; the country has seen its national currency plummet by more than 20 per cent in recent weeks.

the regime should no longer be under any illusions

The regime has to understand that if it persists with its illegal enrichment of uranium the country will pay a heavy price. These measures should compel Iran to comply with its international obligations and return to the negotiating table.

However the real fear for Western diplomats is Israel's position. There was renewed speculation last month that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to appoint a pro-war officer as head of the Israeli Air Force. The Obama administration has asked Bibi to tone down his bellicose rhetoric towards Iran.

For Israel, the country that fears Iran's nuclear ambitions the most, there is a dichotomy between the military and political establishments. The former believe that the consequences outweigh the benefits and that it is strategically impossible to launch a successful pre-emptive strike against Iran; the latter want to do so.

For Israel the prospect of a nuclear Iran is deeply worrying. As a country built in the aftermath of the Holocaust, this strongly informs Israeli security doctrine - the notion of "never again". Israeli security doctrine is predicated on cumulative military deterrence and being the main power in the region so the country can never again be threatened with annihilation. Israeli policy makers fear that a nuclear Iran will be able to challenge this and hinder Israel's ability to influence the geopolitical landscape of the region.

The question, therefore, that remains is whether Israel will wait to see if sanctions will halt Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, or whether it will do as it with the Iraqi reactor in 1981 and the Syrian reactor in 2007, and forcefully remove any threat. Bibi's comments ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day returned to the familiar theme that if compelled to act, Israel will. "The Jewish people and the Israeli government have the right, the obligation and the ability to prevent another destruction of the Jewish people or an attack on its state," he said.

Alistair de Kare-Silver is studying International History and Politics at Leeds University

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Last updated: 2:23pm, February 7 2012