While the gravity of Iran’s threat to global security has deepened with the passage of time, world recognition of the dangers that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would pose, and what should be done to prevent that eventuality, has not kept pace.
The new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, the most comprehensive and penetrating assessment of the Iranian nuclear program, should have been a wake-up call for urgent action. But the response has been uninspiring. While the IAEA board endorsed IAEA Director Amano’s concerns, its resolution adopted last Friday fell short on follow-up by omitting any call for additional UN Security Council action or other punitive measures.
Since prospects for a fifth Security Council resolution sanctioning Iran are unlikely, key Western governments are taking steps to expand and toughen existing economic sanctions. The boldest so far was Britain’s decision Monday to end all dealings with the Iranian Central Bank. That initiative would have greater impact if the United States and other countries invoked similarly strong measures.
So far, however, new American and Canadian sanctions stopped short of a total ban on the central bank. While the European Union is poised to impose another round of sanctions later this week, the refusal of Russia and China to join in these efforts undermines the global campaign to prevent Iranian nuclear weapons. The obstinate posture assumed by these powers may ironically enhance the chance for some kind of military action, precisely the outcome Moscow and Beijing profess to oppose.
Leading American pundits have argued for some time that military action is the only way to end Iran’s nuclear-weapons quest. They do not believe that the economic sanctions imposed by the U.N., U.S., EU and other countries can be effective.
These experts share a view that only one country, Israel, is both able and willing to do the job. Major American media have been obsessed, almost wishfully, for several years now with the prospect of an Israeli military strike, mentioning Israel in almost every news article on Iran’s nuclear program.
President Obama has made clear that all options are still on the table. Several Republican contenders for the presidency have openly stated their support for U.S. military intervention. And, public opinion polls show a majority of Americans would favor an Israeli or American military attack.
In its last poll on Iran, taken in April 2010, Fox News found that 65 percent of Americans support, and 25 percent oppose, the U.S. taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
A CNN poll found 59 percent would support military action if economic and diplomatic efforts fail to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Indeed, 23 percent didn’t want to wait, and would have supported military action when the poll was taken in February 2010.
And, AJC, in its latest annual survey of American Jews, found 56 percent would support, and 38 percent oppose, the U.S. taking military action against Iran. When asked about Israel, 68 percent would support and 26 percent oppose Jerusalem doing the job.
Comments by Israeli officials around the IAEA report release brought to the fore concerns about whether and when an overt attack on Iran might occur. Ultimately, Israel will decide what is necessary to protect its citizens.
But unlike the destruction of Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, or the nuclear site in Syria in 2007, attacking Iran would not be a total surprise. It is one of the most talked about potential assaults in recent history.
Along with the IAEA report, renewed speculation about Israel or the U.S. exercising the military option should spur a mobilization of international economic and political sanctions. The right mix of non-military measures, particularly focused on Iran’s all-important energy and banking sectors, still might stop the Iranian nuclear threat.
To prevent an attack, though, sanctions must be punishingly effective. The onus is, first and foremost, on those major nations that continue to do business as usual with Iran.
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s Director of Media Relations.