Keeping our eyes on Iran

Iran’s uranium enrichment is almost certainly aimed to stale more time and enhance the nuclear program.

June 24, 2013 20:52
3 minute read.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attends the opening ceremony ahead of National Army Day.

Iran military parade 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Let us start evaluating the election of a new president in Iran by flashing back 20 years to the words of Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. On a historic morning, September 13, 1993, on the South Lawn of the White House, he signed a framework for peace with Yasser Arafat. Yet Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians continued.

Rabin was repeatedly asked how he could keep negotiating with Arafat. His formulation still seems perfect for the Middle East of today: “We shall negotiate peace as though there were no terrorism, and we shall fight terrorism as though there is no peace.”

The Obama administration and its Western allies would be wise to adopt the same stand toward Iran: Resume the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, but don’t lift the sanctions aimed at compelling the Iranians to stop it. Perhaps even tighten the sanctions, to show that the West is losing patience.

Iran’s uranium enrichment, which has continued even through election campaigns and smiling news conferences by the winner in Tehran, is almost certainly aimed to stale more time and enhance the nuclear program. So say the CIA, the Mossad, and European and Arab intelligence analysts who are all highly concerned about it.

If Iran’s scientists and military succeed in manufacturing nuclear warheads for missiles, then American interests in the Middle East – and Israel’s safety – would be in peril.

The White House has welcomed the electoral victory of Hassan Rohani as a potentially hopeful sign, but the self-described reformist has a long record of supporting and covering up his country’s nuclear program. As a senior official a decade ago, he had a role in suspending the uranium enrichment – apparently out of fear that the Bush administration would follow- up its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by striking Iran – but intelligence analysts say the secret work resumed in 2005.

The analysts also say that Rohani’s own writings indicate that Iran’s strategy was to keep negotiating with the West as a delaying tactic, while the centrifuges kept spinning to amass a large quantity of enriched uranium.

Intelligence agencies, including some in the Arab Gulf countries trying to assess whether the world is about to face a more gentle Iran – or a more insidious one – are pointing to indications that Rohani is, in fact, highly loyal to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The reputed evidence includes what is said to be a suicide note, left 21 years ago by Rohani’s son, which blasted his father for “kissing the hand of Khamenei.”

Israeli, American and European “Iranian watchers” conclude that the main reason for electing Rohani was the decline of Iranian economy.

Even the arch-conservative Supreme Leader Khamenei, who is the ultimate powerhouse in the country, has realized Iran is on the verge of economic disaster. This is primarily a direct result of the international sanctions imposed on Iran since 2005 and enhanced in the past two years.

Iran’s economy is heavily dependent on oil production and exports.

Last year oil exports has fell to a new low of one million barrels per day, down from 3.3 the previous year. Iran has lost nearly $400 billion and the economic decline is manifested by every indicator: from over 30 percent unemployment (much higher among the younger generation) to 50% practical devaluation of its currency to increase in drug use and prostitution to the spread of black market and the decline in foreign currency reserves.

Iran is on the verge of bankruptcy.

To save the country from collapse Khamenei had no choice but to allow Rohani to be elected. The supreme leader now hopes that his new president with his smiling face and softer tone will charm the US and the West and will persuade them to lift the sanctions without having to concede on the nuclear program.

Therefore now is the time to further consolidate the sanctions. The elections prove that sanctions are working. If oil export drops to 500,000 barrel a day Iran will probably be ready to make real concessions.

If President Barack Obama really wants to stop Iran of having nuclear weapons without going to war, he has to impose more sanctions.

One more little turn of the screw on Iran will prove the best peacekeeping measure.

The author is an Israel-based security commentator, co-author of Spies against Armageddon and senior contributor to and The Jerusalem Report.

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