Early this week, finally, the European Union (EU) adopted a new set of sanctions designed to discourage the Iranian regime’s drive to develop nuclear weapons.
These new measures include an asset freeze on Iran’s largest bank, Bank Melli, and other business and financial outfits affiliated with the nuclear and weapons programs. The European bloc is reportedly also studying sanctions against Iran's oil and gas sector, to be implemented in the next several months, and has published a blacklist of Iran’s nuclear experts and companies connected to these programs. The list includes 15 additional individuals and 20 companies.
The EU’s latest sanctions is welcomed news and will no doubt have an impact on the clandestine program, but they must be augmented by a set of bold, new policy initiatives to be effective.
True, the new measures, approved at a meeting of the 27-nation bloc in Luxembourg, signal the EU’s growing frustration with Tehran’s continued foot-dragging and lack of transparency. The frustration went through the roof after the EU’s chief diplomat, Javier Solana, failed to induce the ayatollahs to change course, despite a package of incentives.
The EU measures also follow a recent U.N. Security Council decision authorizing a third round of sanctions, freezing the financial assets of additional Iranian officials and companies with links to the country's nuclear and missile programs. Separately, the United States has levied several punitive financial measures against Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism in the region and in Iraq, and against its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
Last fall, Washington sanctioned Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat. The growing array of sanctions coming from both sides of the Atlantic, raise a key question about the effectiveness of such punitive measures. The short answer is that, while not sufficient on their own, these unilateral and multilateral measures have put a measurable squeeze on Tehran’s financial flow. Equally important, they have been instrumental in fueling the political disarray within the regime.
In the past several months alone, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the darling of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the ayatollahs’ supreme leader, has fired his key cabinet members in the financial and economic fields. The sudden announcement of fuel rationing last summer turned Tehran and other major cities into scenes of protest where — far beyond the regime’s energy policies — the totality of the ayatollahs’ regime was targeted. The politically-suppressed, socially-suffocated and economically-deprived people burnt down hundreds of state-run fuel pumps, chanting “death to dictatorship.”
After these riots, a state-run daily, Etemad, acknowledged that bread and butter issues have turned into major national security problems for the regime. "It does not matter what the event is; it could be the loss of the national soccer team, sudden loss of electricity, the cutting off of drinking water, or the sudden and unexpected rationing of fuel ... they all can spark a riot ... although most of these riots are put down after the security and military agencies intervene, every act of subversion adds to the collective memory of the people, who will use it as capital or a learned experience for the next uprising," the paper warned.
It is, therefore, evident that sanctions have an impact on Tehran’s political and financial capabilities. The ruling regime is extremely vulnerable, after being weakened by a series of dismissals and factional rivalries. It is plagued by an intrinsically dysfunctional theocratic system, confronted with an increasingly defiant and repression-resilient populace, and challenged by an organized opposition. A European correspondent reported last summer from Tehran that “Today, MEK is highly capable of attracting the young people born and raised after the revolution.”
On Monday, June 23, the British House of Commons and House of Lords formally removed the MEK from the UK’s blacklist. According to the Associated Press, the removal procedure is now complete and the group is effectively off the list of banned organizations in the UK.
To complement its new set of sanctions and gain effective leverage in its campaign to defuse the nuclear threat posed by the ayatollahs, many European parliamentarians are pressing the EU to follow suit and immediately remove the Iranian opposition from its own blacklist. In a parliamentary debate that led to delisting of the Iranian opposition in the UK on Monday, Lord Clarke of Hamstead said: "It was clear that the lead given by the British Government, which has now been proved to have been unlawful, motivated other countries to put the PMOI [MEK] on the European list. The Government should work now to redeem themselves. They can do a penance by saying to our friends in Europe 'We got in wrong'."
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.