Iran: between the anvil of sanctions and the hammer of war
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov) - Tehran has once again been offered a choice between accepting the terms of the "Iranian six" or suffering inevitable sanctions with the possibility of a "small" war, proposed by Israel and the United States. The six powers involved are the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. The Western powers gave Iran two weeks from July 19 to respond to their offer to hold off more UN sanctions on Iran if Tehran freezes expansion of its nuclear program. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said during a two-day visit to the U.S. earlier this week that his country does not rule out the possibility of delivering a military strike against Iran. After discussing the Iranian problem in the State Department and the Pentagon, Barak said tough sanctions should be used to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons but added that no options should be excluded. Following his visit to Jerusalem, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama told a Democratic caucus this week, "Nobody said this to me directly, but I get the feeling from my talks that if the sanctions don't work, Israel is going to strike Iran." The timing of Barak Obama's remarks is alarming, especially since they come after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there could be no "artificial deadlines" or "drawing out" of the process in the search for a compromise between the six nations and Iran. Lavrov was apparently referring to the two weeks given to Iran by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to reconsider its decision. Speaking on Monday after the meeting between EU High Commissioner for Foreign and Defense Policy Javier Solana and Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on July 26, Rice dismissed Iran's response to a proposed solution on Tehran's nuclear program as "small talk" meant to buy time. "It's time for the Iranians to give a serious answer," she said. "They can't go and stall and make small talk about culture, they have to make a decision. ... We will see what Iran does in two weeks." The deadline is therefore August 2. Rice apparently exceeded her authority when making a statement none of the six nations has empowered her to make. On the other hand, the story of Iran's nuclear dossier and the UN Security Council's binding resolutions has become a boring soap opera. Over the past two years, the Security Council has adopted four resolutions on Iran, three of them with sanctions. But the more concessions the six nations make, the more capricious Tehran becomes. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has actually made Iran's nuclear program a hostage of his campaign for the 2009 presidential elections. This time the United States and Israel have gone further than ever before. The U.S. Congress has instructed the Pentagon to immediately start talks with the Israeli government on the placement of a missile defense radar in Israel "to defend against threats from Iran and Syria." Congressmen sent a letter to President George W. Bush strongly urging him to deploy the early-warning AN/TPY-2 radar to Israel as soon as possible and reminding him that Iran has tested "nine long- and medium-range missiles, including an upgraded Shabab-3 capable of reaching Israel." The radar will ensure the destruction of Iranian Shabab missiles by Israeli interceptors. Israel intends to buy the Vulcan Phalanx missile defense system from the United States, which can down short-range missiles such as the Qassam, which Hamas and Hizbollah have used to shell Israel. Tehran will most likely ignore this new "freeze-for-freeze" proposal under which Iran would not increase its enrichment efforts and the Iran Six would freeze the movement towards tougher sanctions against Iran. Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran, said on July 30 that Tehran would continue to develop its nuclear program, whose peaceful nature the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Security Council are questioning.
What will happen next?
Unless Iran decides to suspend uranium enrichment, it can expect more and harsher sanctions to be imposed by the United States and the European Union as early as late August or September, Rice said. There is still time for Israel and the Pentagon to deploy missile defense radars and systems in Israel, and for Iran to carefully weigh the pros and cons of its continued confrontation with the rest of the world. But time is running out fast, because Israel and the United States have never before seemed so serious.