Ya'alon: Elections handcuffing Washington on Iran

"Election-year considerations" lay behind Obama's caution over sanctions, says vice premier.

By
January 15, 2012 16:04
3 minute read.
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe 'Bogie' Ya'alon.

yaalon office 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In some of the harshest Israeli public criticism yet of Washington’s policy toward Iran, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday that US “election year considerations” were behind its caution over tough sanctions sought by US legislators.

“In the United States, the Senate passed a resolution, by a majority of 100-to-none, to impose these sanctions, and in the US administration there is hesitation for fear of oil prices rising this year, out of election-year considerations,” Ya’alon told Israel Radio. “In that regard, this is certainly a disappointment, for now.”

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While Washington has been talking tougher about Iran’s nuclear work and threat to block oil export routes out of the Gulf if hit with harsher sanctions, new US measures adopted on December 31 gave US President Barack Obama leeway on the scope of penalties on the Iranian central bank and oil exports.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu neither publicly endorsed nor distanced himself from Ya’alon’s statements, with one government source saying Ya’alon was speaking for himself, and not for the prime minister.

At the same time, the source said Ya’alon’s frustration reflected the thinking of some within the country’s national security establishment.

Israel’s position regarding the fear that stiff sanctions would lead to a spike in oil prices is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – as concerned about a nuclear Iran as Israel is – can “relatively easily” expand their oil production to account for the loss of Iranian oil.

Ya’alon’s comments came before a scheduled trip to Israel at the end of the week by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His visit is widely expected to focus on Iran, and the various scenarios regarding possible military intervention.

Ya’alon said Israel should not “leap forward” to attack Iran, but had to be ready to defend itself. “Let’s hope we do not arrive at that moment,” he said.

One senior government official told visitors from abroad on Sunday that what was required now from the West was “tough sanctions in the next few weeks.”

“We see the sanctions are affecting the Iranian economy, but not yet affecting its nuclear program,” the senior official said. “Now is the time to apply sanctions,” the official said of measures aimed at Iran’s central bank and its petrochemical industry. “If you wait, then they will become irrelevant.”

The message Israeli officials have been passing on to their interlocutors around the world in recent days is that it is critical now for the international community to “do more.”

EU leaders are scheduled to meet by the end of the month to decide whether to carry out a proposal to embargo Iranian oil.

Netanyahu has said in recent days that while the Iranians were starting to feel the pains of sanctions, more must be done.

“We are discerning a concern from the Iranian regime about where the sanctions could lead,” one official said. “We are picking up tension.”

Israeli officials are also stressing that tougher sanctions needed to be coupled with a clear message from the international community that if the sanctions failed, the international community would take military action to keep Iran from gaining nuclear capability.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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