NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

Editorial: Squeeze Iran Tighter

The latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran is quite worrisome. The report indicates that Iran continues to stockpile low-enriched uranium and now has enough material, if further enriched, for three nuclear bombs. That amount is almost double what Iran had last year.

With these facts in mind, it is tempting to say that Iran’s nuclear program has advanced too far for increased sanctions to have any affect on the thinking of Iranian leaders. But that is not true. Not yet.

In fact, what we need now is more pressure on Iran, not less. Sanctions are dramatically undermining the Iranian economy and, as a result, political fissures in the regime are growing.

Keep in mind that it’s only been about a few months since the U.N. Security Council passed a stringent Iran sanctions resolution and the European Union followed suit with serious sanctions of its own. And it’s only been a short time since President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA), which was Congress’ strongest-ever Iran sanctions legislation.

To understand why the sanctions are already having a striking impact in such a short time, it’s important to remember what CISADA’s main targets were.

First on the list was Iran’s dependence on refined petroleum imports, such as gasoline. Despite being one of the world’s largest oil producers, Tehran lacks the domestic refining capacity to meet the demands of its population.

Thus, when we read that Iran imported less than one gasoline cargo in September—a mere three percent of its previous monthly average—we know that Iran is feeling the pressure from sanctions.

In the months ahead, as Iran depletes its gasoline stockpile, the regime will soon be confronted with internal pressure to find new gasoline supplies or to reduce demand through lower subsidies and higher prices at the pump. It won’t be easy.

The second target of CISADA is Iran’s illicit financial activity and the foreign banks that enable it. Given the severe penalties for banks that violate the law, nearly half the banks that did business with Iran in June have since exited the country.

As a result of financial sanctions, Iran is having an increasingly difficult time finding customers for its most important economic lifeline—oil. That’s what happens when banks refuse to issue letters of credit, shipping companies refuse to send tankers to Iranian oil terminals, and insurance companies refuse to insure the cargo.

The pressure on the Iranian economy has produced tensions within the country’s conservative establishment. Former president and powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani urged Iran’s leadership to “take the sanctions seriously.”

Without mentioning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by name, Rafsanjani criticized the president for downplaying the sanctions and expressed doubt that Iran is using its abilities “in a proper way” to overcome sanctions.

Furthermore, Iranian merchants in Tehran—a powerful political class that helped establish the Islamist regime in 1979—closed their shops last week in frustration over the government’s economic policies.

Even the release of an American hiker, held captive in Iran for over a year, led to a public sparring match between the president and the head of the Iranian judiciary.

Given what is happening in Iran, can anybody doubt that the Islamic Republic is feeling the pressure from sanctions?

Imagine how much more pressure Iran would feel if sanctions laws were stringently implemented and enforced.

Imagine if the United States government penalized companies and individuals still investing in Iran’s energy sector, selling Iran refined petroleum or aiding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Imagine if foreign financial institutions that continue to do business with blacklisted Iranian banks were barred from accessing the U.S. financial system.

Imagine if Iran’s Central Bank was sanctioned.

Key members of Congress are trying to turn this vision into reality. Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) have established a congressional monitoring group to closely follow the progress of sanctions and press the administration and foreign governments for full enforcement.

In addition, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging the Obama administration to implement the new sanctions laws to the “fullest extent possible.”

This is a vital effort. Without it, sanctions laws will not achieve their desired outcome.

The time for sanctions to work is limited. If the United States fails to enforce sanctions now, we may soon face a nuclear Iran and wish we had pressured Iran much more, and much sooner. BACK TO TOP