Israeli leaders fear US Iran sanctions 'not enough'

"Sanctions insufficient" - Ehud Barak

"Sanctions insufficient" - Ehud Barak

The round of sanctions against Iran decided upon by the United States and the European Union over the past couple of weeks is unprecedented, but Israeli leaders are still not convinced that they will be enough to force the Iranian regime to forsake its nuclear ambitions.

A day after EU leaders voted to approve a package of sanctions forbidding the purchase of Iranian oil and petrochemical products by the end of June and cutting off all transactions with the main Iranian banks, Defence Minister Ehud Barak insisted in an interview that it would not be enough. "We are not there yet" he said, echoing remarks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said last week during a visit to Holland that the European sanctions should take effect immediately.

While the Israeli government is satisfied with the fact that the EU has finally got around to boycotting Iranian oil, the latest assessments of Tehran's intentions, as articulated in a report by the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is that the nuclear programme is a key part of Iran's bid for regional supremacy and will not be abandoned.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu referred to the international Holocaust Remembrance Day taking place this week. He did not mention Iran by name but his intentions were clear when he said: "The difference between 1942 and 2012 is not the absence of enemies - there is still the will to exterminate the Jewish people and its state. That will has not changed, what has changed is our ability to defend ourselves, and the determination to do so."

Israeli analysts see the next few months as a critical interval in which Iran is planning to move vital components of its uranium-enrichment process into a new underground facility. This will make a strike much more difficult and give the Iranians the option to "break-out" to military nuclear capability in a matter of weeks. This scenario has caused fears in Washington of an imminent Israeli attack.

Last week, General Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Israel for a round of meetings with political leaders and security chiefs, in a bid to restrain Israel from attacking without prior co-ordination with the Obama administration.

General Dempsey was politely rebuffed and told that Israel reserved the right to attack at will, and would give the Americans notice of only 12 hours.

Meanwhile, tension has grown this week over the Strait of Hormuz. After Iran threatened to close the strategic waterway through which 20 per cent of the world's oil is transported, on Monday a US aircraft carrier, along with British and French ships, sailed through the Strait. This has given Israelis a ray of hope that the US would take the initiative and attack Iran itself. "The Americans think we will attack and we are now thinking that there is a good chance they will do it," said one defence source.

Last updated: 12:52pm, January 26 2012