What Options for Iran?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Middle East In Focus

Questions about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program continue to occupy the pages of the regional dailies. Not surprisingly, the strongest voices come from Iran’s immediate neighborhood, especially Israel. In the latter, many have come to terms with the possibility that sooner or later Israel will have to provide an answer to Iran’s nuclear program with or without the help of its allies. However, enthusiasm for the prospect of military action by Israel continues to be lacking among other countries in the region.

The strongest argument in favor of military strikes against Iran comes from YNet’s Hagai Segal, who is worried that, “should Iran manage to produce a nuclear bomb before being attacked, it will serve as a mathematical proof that Israel merely threatens but doesn’t act on its threats. After that, we shall not be able to deter any other regional madman ever again. All the madmen will say to themselves that if Israel allowed Ahmadinejad to develop a bomb, the Jewish State will allow anything else….The Zionist enterprise is not an insurance policy against long-range rocket attacks, yet it is supposed to insure us against anti-Semitic rulers with nuclear hobbies. If President Barack Obama volunteers to act instead of us, that would be great. Yet should he fail to volunteer, we’ll have to act on our own.”

On the pages of the same Israeli daily, Alex Fishman considers alternatives to the targeting of nuclear sites while still maintaining the importance of military action: “One way or another, the countdown has already begun – in the course of 2012, all parties will complete their preparations (for attack or for sustaining a strike.) For the time being, we are in the midst of a wave of threatening rhetoric that will keep mounting….A military strike is just one aspect of the attempt to convince the Iranian regime that developing nuclear weapons does not pay off. A convincing military attack does not have to target fortified nuke sites; such assault could also be convincing if it hits sensitive government sites or important infrastructure targets, which are not necessarily related to the nuclear project.”

The reality of strikes against Iran is also evident in Linda Heard’s op-ed on the Saudi Arab News, who nevertheless disapproves of such action. According to Heard “everyone knows that sanctions don’t work. I don’t believe they are meant to. They are rather being used to send a message, a kind of prelude signaling military intervention is potentially in the cards. When they fail, as they surely will, those countries keen to use their fighter jets, drones, missiles and bunker busters to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities can stand up in the United Nations to say war is the only option left to them….The inevitability of a full scale conflict is drawing nearer as each day passes….Alternatively, and this is looking ever more likely, a cornered Tehran could decide to launch the first strike to benefit from an element of surprise.”

A similar concern about what the sanctions against Iran presage is evident in an article by Mark Heller, who on the pages of Khaleej Times asserts, “This week, the European Union went to war against Iran. There was no formal declaration, of course, nor even any undeclared use of military force. But the EU decision to place an embargo on Iranian oil imports, ban new contracts, and freeze Iranian Central Bank assets is effectively an act of war and may very well result in the military hostilities that sanctions are meant to forestall….If that turns out to be the case, then the Iranian regime, already coping with high inflation and a rapidly depreciating currency, will feel constrained to react…. [T]he military confrontation that many Europeans have sought to avoid will become unavoidable, even if Iranian decision makers do not delude themselves into thinking that they would ultimately prevail.”

One of the reasons for pessimism has to do with the record of previous sanctions and IAEA inspections in the country. For example, the Gulf Today editorial notes, “The visit by the IAEA team was loudly welcomed by top Iranian officials…. Previous efforts have failed to uncover solid evidence that there is any military programme at all, with Western nations saying that Iran is hiding them….Several rounds of such talks have been held but they produced nothing to solve the crisis. The key reason is that Iran and the so-called P+5 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — have not been able to find any common ground.

Yet, there are those who are calling for calmer heads to prevail. Among those voices is the editorial of the UAE daily The National, which asks that those interested in peace should “offer Iran a chance to compromise….With Iran to restart talks with IAEA inspectors today, there could be some room for compromise. The pessimistic view is that [Ahmadinejad] speaks for only one faction of a seriously divided national leadership, and that even if he has somehow won full agreement from the religious leadership and the Republican Guard, this is all probably just another stall….Iranians insist, correctly, that they have every right to peaceful nuclear power. The challenge in new talks would be to find a way to get Iran to back away from building nuclear-weapons capacity without a loss of face.”

Likewise, the Daily Star’s David Menashri suggests, “The West can delay Iran’s nuclearization without launching a hazardous war…. Sanctions against Iranian banks and targeted economic sanctions might bring significant pressure to bear on the regime. Iran today is weak and vulnerable. Tehran has shown that, under exceeding pressure, it can change its policy, even on key issues. So far, Iran has benefited from the trans-Atlantic differences within Western democracies. If states of the West could put their individual short-term economic interests aside, they would be able to collectively face what seems to be the major geostrategic challenge of 2012.”

Among those who feel that sanctions might be effective is also Todd Warnick, who in a commentary for the Jerusalem Post, urges the parties to get “serious about sanctions…. Historically, sanctions can work. They worked in South Africa; they worked in Iraq. But they require a world that is resolute and united. While the U.S. and the EU have somewhat upped the ante, much of the rest of the world is purposefully not joining in – most notably, Iran’s intractable Asian customers and Russia, who continue to oppose sanctions at every opportunity. The number of options left open to Israel is therefore extremely limited: Iran holding a nuclear weapon is not one of them.”

Iran, for its part, continues to show defiance in the face of potentially debilitating sanctions. According to a report on Mehr News, “The National Iranian Oil Company director for international affairs said on Tuesday that Iran can readily find new customers for its oil and has many alternatives to deal with sanctions. The National Iranian Oil Company has worked out the necessary plans to replace customers, Mohsen Qamsari told the Mehr News Agency. Asia is the main market for Iran’s oil exports, he said, adding, ‘We have no problem in selling oil.’ He also predicted that the value of Iran’s oil exports in 2012 will remain the same as that in 2011 due to the high demand for Iranian oil.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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