(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli officials welcomed Tuesday morning's recommendation by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to send the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council, but cautioned against expecting quick economic sanctions against the Teheran regime.
Following the surprise decision by the foreign ministers of the US, Britain, France, Russia and China to recommend that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at its upcoming meeting refer the issue to the Security Council, the officials noted that the Security Council would unlikely take up the issue until March.
In the meantime, the officials said, Israel's policy of keeping a low public profile on this issue to keep it from turning into an Israeli-Iranian issue, rather than an international one, would continue.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said Tuesday that Iran would resume suspended nuclear activities and bar surprise UN inspections of facilities if it is referred to the Security Council.
He stopped short of specifying that Iran would restart its uranium enrichment program, which has been suspended for nearly two years. A resumption of enrichment would dramatically escalate Teheran's confrontation with the West.
"In case of referral... we have to start all nuclear work that has been voluntarily suspended and stop implementation of the Additional Protocol," Larijani told reporters.
Under the protocols, Iran agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to carry out surprise inspections of its nuclear sites with as little as two hours notice. The deal also lets them inspect sites Iran has not officially declared as nuclear facilities - such as the Parchin military base outside of Teheran that inspectors visited in October on suspicion that nuclear activity was taking place there.
In recent weeks, Israeli diplomats have held discussions with their European and American counterparts about the most effective type of sanctions to take.
According to assessments in Jerusalem, there is no interest in the various capitals in hitting Iran with draconian sanctions immediately, but rather waiting to see the impact that the very referring of the issue to the Security Council will have on the government in Iran.
This is very much in line with what US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told the Herzliya Conference via a video hookup last week. He said the first step after referring the issue to the Security Council would be a statement calling on Iran to comply with the existing IAEA resolutions.
"I think that would be a gut check for the Iranians, and if they don't heed that warning we would have to consider what to do next," he said.
Regarding that next stage, according to assessments reaching Jerusalem, the international community is walking a tightrope between wanting to punish the Iranian government and not wanting to make the Iranian public suffer. The concern is that if the people suffer, they would rally around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, something that would run contrary to the interests of the international community.
Among the sanctions being considered are a ban on oil exports from Iran and an embargo against shipping refined oil products to Iran - something that could have a devastating impact on the country's economy. Iran imports oil products because its oil refining capabilities are very limited.
Banning Iranian oil exports would mean that the international community would also have to ensure that other oil-producing countries increase their production so oil prices don't jump dramatically.
There are also discussions about banning foreign investments in Iran, amid concern that not all countries would obey the ban and some would take advantage of the situation to get into Iran through the back door and make a huge profit.
Other steps being considered are preventing the landing of Iranian airplanes abroad, and denying travel visas for Ahmadinejad and other top Iranian officials.
At a London meeting that lasted into the early hours of Tuesday, envoys of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US decided they would recommend that at its Thursday meeting the IAEA should report Iran to the UN Security Council.
They also decided the Security Council should wait until the agency issues a formal report on Iran in March before tackling the issue. Russia has touted that proviso in hopes that the referral will not scuttle negotiations it is holding with its ally Iran in hopes of resolving the standoff.
In Vienna, Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh said the gathering storm over the nuclear issue would not affect Iran's oil policy.
"We have no reason to stop our exports" because of the nuclear issue, he said before Tuesday's OPEC meeting. "From our point of view there's no link between the two."
The decision by Russia and China to vote for referral surprised observers, since they have consistently counseled caution on Iran's nuclear file. Both have major economic ties with Iran.
Russian and Chinese diplomats will head to Teheran shortly to explain the meaning of the agreement reached in London and urge Iran to meet IAEA demands, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.
AP contributed to this report.