Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at UN 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran seems intent on pushing forward with its nuclear program and there seems to
be no surefire way of stopping it. If the current situation continues, we might
have to face the horrific prospect of learning to live with a nuclear
It has been five years since the UN Security Council first demanded
that Iran cease enriching uranium. But the Islamic Republic continues to defy
international pressure and is stubbornly advancing with what appears to be a bid
to acquire nuclear weapons in the coming year.
On November 8, the
International Atomic Energy Agency released a report expressing “serious
concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.” The
most recent development is Iran’s announcement that it is beginning to enrich
uranium in a new facility in Fordo, near the holy city of Qom.
imminent opening of the new enrichment site further complicates a military
option. Since the new facility is buried deep underground at a well-defended
military site, it is considered far more resistant to air strikes than the
existing enrichment site at Natanz. And even if a military strike against
Iranian nuclear facilities succeeded, the geopolitical fallout is liable to be
nightmarish, although the prospect of a nuclear Iran is no less of a
Covert actions, in contrast, carry much less of a risk, but
are also less effective. For instance, last week’s assassination of Mostafa
Ahmadi Roshan, director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, undoubtedly
dealt a blow to Iran’s nuclear program.
But the delay, if any, is only
temporary since Roshan is obviously not the only person in Iran privy to nuclear
know-how. And these sorts of operations have negative side effects.
Theoretically, if the US was behind the killing of Roshan or one of the other
four (or five, depending on which reports you believe) scientists killed since
2007 and this became known, the Obama administration might have a more difficult
time putting together a unified front consisting of Russia, China and other
countries against Iran.
Some say that targeted killings strengthen
extremists, though it is difficult to claim today that there is any significant
“moderate” opposition challenging the Islamic Republic’s leadership.
contrast, cyber warfare or other non-lethal covert operations such as the
Stuxnet virus are less likely to hurt American attempts to muster a broad
coalition against Iran. Some of these operations can be presented by the
Iranians as “accidents.”
Economic sanctions, meanwhile, have so far not
changed Iranian nuclear policy, though they have caused some damage. Indeed,
since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there have been numerous attempts to
influence Iranian policy through economic sanctions.
sanctions helped end Iran’s war with Iraq in 1988. At the same time, Iran’s
economy has been forced to adapt to functioning under various Western boycotts
while developing alternative trade ties with Russia, China and several South and
Central American countries.
Still, Tehran’s threat to close the Strait of
Hormuz, gateway to much of the world’s oil trade, could be a sign of its growing
economic desperation. Iranians are plagued by inflation, unemployment and
economic stagnation. And the economic situation will only worsen. Though
a new round of Security Council-backed sanctions has been delayed due to
opposition from Russia and China, the US and Europe have put in place their own
penalties. Japan pledged to buy less Iranian oil while South Korea said
it was looking for alternative suppliers. And even China can take advantage of a
situation in which fewer countries are buying Iranian oil to put pressure on
Tehran to lower prices.
A new US law that would penalize foreign
companies that do business with Iran’s central bank and an oil embargo that EU
foreign ministers plan to approve on January 23 could have an even bigger
A combination of covert operations, economic sanctions and
diplomatic pressure, while at the same time keeping the military option “on the
table,” is the only way to convince Tehran to back down. And maintaining a broad
coalition of countries behind the sanctions is the best way to make them