People shop at the Grand Bazaar in the center of Tehran, Iran, August 2, 2017.
(photo credit: NAZANIN TABATABAEE YAZDI/ TIMA VIA REUTERS)
On Monday, the US restored and strengthened the sanctions it had lifted under the 2015 international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
The sanctions, targeting Iran’s oil, banking and industrial sectors “are the toughest sanctions ever put in place on the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the beginning of the week.
Even with temporary exceptions to eight oil importers – China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea – more than 20 nations have already cut their oil imports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than one million barrels per day, Pompeo said.
The sanctions also prohibit countries from conducting business with 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries; more than 200 people and vessels in its shipping sector; the country’s national airline, Iran Air; and more than 65 of its aircraft, the US Treasury said.
Israeli officials – from Gilad Erdan and Danny Danon to Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett – fell over themselves running to heap praise on US President Donald Trump for reversing US policy on Iran. Bennett, in particular, tweeted a fawning “Thank You for Making the Ayatollahs Scared Again” in homage to Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”
But nobody was happier than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Any way you look at it, the decision by Trump to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action brokered by former president Barack Obama bears the personal influence and efforts of the Israeli leader.
He has tirelessly battled against the agreement with Iran, arguing that it wouldn’t prevent the regime from developing nuclear weapons – and that only stiff economic sanctions would halt Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for global terrorism.
Netanyahu raised the wrath of the Obama administration and liberal American Jews by telling a 2015 joint meeting of Congress in Washington that instead of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Obama’s plan “would all but guarantee” that it does, in turn setting off a regional arms race.
His much anticipated, props-filled annual speeches at the United Nations General Assembly have focused almost entirely on the Iranian threat – and since the deal went into effect, how Iran was violating the agreement.
Netanyahu found a sympathetic and like-minded ear in Trump, who already during his campaign for president, regularly skewered the “bad” deal with Tehran.
On Monday, Netanyahu congratulated Trump, calling the heightened sanctions “a great day for the future of Israel” and praising the US president for “a courageous, determined and important decision.”
He also touted his involvement in turning the Iran agreement on its head.
“You know that for many years I have devoted my time and energy to the war against the Iranian threat. In this matter I went almost against the whole world. Today we see the results of this long and continuous struggle,” he told the Likud faction in the Knesset.
However, the struggle is far from over. The return of beefed up sanctions is no guarantee that the Iranian threat is going to be eradicated from the world arena. A defiant Tehran has pledged to buck the new obstacles and continue its global trade.
Although the new penalties in effect could have a major impact on Iran’s ability to export its nefarious goals via Hezbollah and its proxies in Syria, a regime with its back to the wall is a dangerous regime.
It’s nice to think that Iran will roll over and play dead, surrendering to the weight of sanctions. But if anything is apparent, it’s that the country’s leadership cares less about its people than its power.
The US and Israel can take a moment to bask in the satisfaction of success over rescinding the dubious nuclear agreement with Iran. But everyone needs to remember that the Iranian people are not the enemy. Every effort needs to be made to reach out to them and encourage the citizens of the beleaguered country to demand change, reconciliation with the West and the end of religious fanaticism, nuclear ambitions and the export of terrorism. The sanctions are a good start, but they are not the endgame.
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