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What More Can the U.S. Do to Stop Iran?

A question after Barak/Panetta, new sanctions, and Romney/Bibi

Adam Chandler
August 01, 2012
Ahmadinejad and Chavez(Getty)

On the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, this was a busy week. There were high-level defense meetings, exciting new sanctions ordered, and various grim pronouncements made about Iran’s nuclear program. Here’s a quick summary:

As everyone knows, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney visited Israel this week, and, amid bro-time with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he announced that Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest danger in the world. Standing at Romney’s side, Netanyahu fretted:

We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.

Meanwhile, today U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak, and toured Israel, eschewing the customary helicopter for a convoy that caused massive traffic jams. They stopped to marvel at the American-funded Iron Dome system, which has been deemed effective in deterring rocket fire from Gaza, and they had some meetings, which they both swore were not about attack plans for Iran. Two things happened that seem especially worthy of note. The first is that Ehud Barak said this tender thing:

Ties between Israel an the US in the security realm are as strong and close as they have ever been, and without a doubt, a substantial part of the credit belongs to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

In nearly the same breath, Barak also said this about the inefficacy of sanctions and diplomacy as well as Israel’s right to defend itself:

Sanctions and diplomacy have an impact. However, the truth is that there is a low chance that the Ayatollah’s will sit at the table and say ‘that’s it, the game is over – we need to give up the nuclear program.’ It’s important to note that sanctions and diplomacy take time, and in the meantime, Iran is continuing to enrich uranium and approach the amounts it needs to prepare a weapon. I clarified that only the Israeli government will make the decision regarding Israel’s core defense issues.

Meanwhile, new sanctions have been authorized by the State Department and the White House and everyone else basically, which will tighten the noose around Iran’s economy. These sanctions target Iran’s energy and petrochemical industry by closing loopholes that make it possible to circumvent the oil sanctions. Additionally, the new sanctions target two banks—the Bank of Kunlun in China, and the Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq—which have been servicing Iran’s subversive banking needs for some time now.

In announcing the new sanctions, Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Adviser, quoted Iranian President Ahmadinejad about the sanctions already in place:

President Ahmadinejad recently called these “the most severe and strictest sanctions ever imposed on a country.”

The facts back him up well: Iran’s currency, the rial, lost 38 percent of its value in the last year, business firms are divesting from Iran because it’s too pricy to do work with them, and Iran’s crude exports—formerly totaling 2.5 million barrels per day—have dropped to below 1.5 million barrels per day, a decline of 40-50 percent at a price tag of $9 billion in lost revenue each quarter.

What does all this mean? The American effort—this has been a bipartisan effort on a number of fronts, we can all be a little proud, right?—has produced unprecedented sanctions on Iran. Sanctions even drove Iran to the P5+1 talks this spring, which ultimately amounted to nothing. Barak and Netanyahu both say sanctions and diplomacy might not work, so what will?

No one running for president of the United States right now is openly advocating bombing Iran, even if both repeatedly say it is important to keep the option on the table. In fact, Romney’s campaign had to walk back comments by key adviser Dan Senor—and recent subject of a fantastic Tablet profile—after Senor said that Gov. Romney would “understand” if Israel attacked Iran.

So, I ask: What more can the U.S. do to stop Iran?

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

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