Sanctions the best way to crush Ahmedinijad - for now
We have all met “truthers”. You know, the kind of conspiracy theorist who believes that every evil event was concocted at a secret military facility in the basement at Fort Dix, Georgia, or some such place.
Last week Iran’s President Ahmedinejad’s appeared before the UN General assembly. He told the assembled leaders that most of the world believed that the US government was responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Centre in 2001.
So now we have the phenomenon of a national leader as a “truther”. Ahmedinijad’s bizarre speech – the latest in a long series – gives an important insight into the nature of the regime in Tehran, a regime which may soon have its finger on the bomb.
Back in the real world, following the passage of UN Security Council resolution supporting sanctions against the Iranian nuclear program, countries around the world are passing even tougher sanctions against the Iranian regime.
UN SC resolution 1929 was supported by all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China and Russia, who many thought would abstain or vote against further sanctioning of Tehran. In addition Russia, who has sold Iran more than $5 billion in military hardware over the past decade to Iran, announced last week that it would be halting all sales of sophisticated weaponry.
Years of negative assessments by the International Atomic Energy Agency and repeated threats in UN security council resolutions have not brought about any changes in Iran’s behaviour. Now, tougher sanctions by the G20 members on Iran’s banking, insurance and transport are seen as a last resort to prevent the theocratic regime in Tehran acquiring atomic weapons.
The most significant of these national initiatives was comprehensive US legislation designed to punish foreign firms that invest in Iran’s energy industry or provide the country with refined petroleum.
Congress requires that companies which violate these stipulations be publicly cited. This has clear naming-and-shaming effect. Senator John McCain said that companies faced a clear choice: “Do you want the business with Iran, or do you want to do business with the United States?”
Last month Japan announced that it was suspending new oil and gas investments in Iran and freezing the assets of 88 Iranian connected organisations and 24 individuals. Estimates are that Japanese sanctions against the country could reduce Iran’s crude exports by twenty-five percent.
For its part, the European Union – Iran’s largest trading partner – recently implemented a wide range of sanctions covering trade, energy investment and financial arrangements with Iran. Again, surprisingly, Russia’s President Medvedev went beyond sanctions on Iran by refusing to provide the Iranian regime with advanced (and contracted) air defence missile systems.
Oil exports are the life-blood of the Iranian regime, accounting for about half of all government revenues. But its weak domestic refining capacity means that Tehran has to reimport 30 to 40 percent of its refined petrol. Further, there are certain kinds of equipment and technology required for oil and gas development that Iran can only purchase from the West. If it wants to reduce its technical dependence, Tehran may have to eventually make concessions in order to remove the restrictions of trade and investment in these areas.
The reintroduction, with expected bi-partisan support, of Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Legislation to Parliament last week indicates the seriousness in which Australia takes the threat Iran nuclear poses to the world.
Australia has also imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and gas sector. Our new sanctions target are a further 98 companies and 12 individuals involved in Iran’s financial and transport sector. New measures also include a trade ban on arms-related material and dual-use technologies for likely biological weapons development. Recently Sydney based engineering contractor Wolsey Parsons , who provide engineering support to Iran’s LNG sector, announced that it will not accept anymore work in Iran.
Earlier this year, prior to the passage of Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Legislation, using powers afforded to then Defence Minister, John Faulkner, under the Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act, blocked and issued prohibition orders to three companies which sought to export goods that could be used in the development, production, acquisition or stockpiling of weapons.
There are signs that the latest round of sanctions are beginning to bite. Living costs in Iran are skyrocketing and unemployment has reached 30 percent in certain areas. Iran’s currency, the rial, had plunged by 20% at the end of last week.
The question is, will sanctions imposed on Iran force it to comply with the UN Security Council, and stop its march towards war? We may have slightly more time than was thought.
Recently, Stuxnet, a cyber worm that experts say maybe the world’s first known cyber missile designed to destroy real world targets, was detected in several computers at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant. What is so astonishing is this malware virus is mainly targeted at industrial equipment produced by Siemens that control oil pipelines, electric utilities and nuclear facilities in Iran. While the cyber worm has been detected in Indonesia, Pakistan and India, a disproportionate number of computers in Iran have been infected with the worm. No-one knows who is targeting Iran’s facilities in this way – but we can guess.
Sanctions on Iran and ingenious cyber warfare attacks maybe retarding Iranian nuclear proliferation activities, but we shouldn’t underestimate the continuing danger Iran poses to the region. Dr Mike Kelly MP, Australia’s former Parliamentary Secretary of Defence, put it bluntly in speaking to Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Legislation: Iran “has played a very bad faith role in its promotion of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and, of course, Hamas in the Gaza strip.” He made the salient point that Iran’s continued support of terrorist organisations, its massive human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture and beatings, demonstrates the nature of the threat the Tehran regime poses to the world.
There is little enthusiasm in war-weary Western countries for military intervention to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. However the time gained by economic sanctions and technological interference with the program may give the sanction program force to bring about policy change in Tehran. Obviously it is best if this can be achieved without military intervention from outside. But no-one should underestimate the continuing, clear and present danger that the Iranian regime, it’s demented president and its nuclear ambitions pose to world peace. This story is far from over.
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