November 15, 2011 | Quote

Sanctions Against Iran, No ‘Silver Bullet’: Analyst

The United States missed a glorious opportunity to assist opponents of the government of Iran in 2009, but since then, President Barack Obama has a good record of pushing sanctions that have weakened the Islamist regime.

According to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), western countries, led by the United States, have taken steps that have hurt Iran economically and have hindered the country’s ability to pursue nuclear weapons and spread terrorism.

“This administration has done more than any in history on the economic warfare front,” said Dubowitz. The results include depriving Iran of an estimated $70 billion in energy revenue over five years.

At the same time, Dubowitz was critical of the Obama administration for failing to support Iranians who took to the street in June 2009 following a rigged presidential election. “It was a significant mistake.” The United States could have provided material support and covert assistance without adopting an aggressive stance versus the regime, Dubowitz said.

Dubowitz met with The CJN during a brief visit to Toronto, where he addressed a private meeting sponsored by HonestReporting Canada on “The Iranian Threat: What the Media Fail to Report.”

Around the time of Dubowitz’s visit, the situation in the Middle East appeared to heat up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly urged his cabinet to approve a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, while other reports indicated Britain was accelerating its planning to be part of a U.S.-led attack on Iran.

These developments seemed to contradict reports of U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s recent trip to Israel, when he warned Jerusalem not to act alone against Iran. “The reality is if Israel strikes, Iran would believe the United States was behind it. There would be hell to pay if Israel acted alone,” Dubowitz stated.

The current approach of sanctions, cyber warfare and killing Iranian scientists will continue to hamper the regime’s ambitions. Such an approach is also consistent with Israeli strategic doctrine of “mowing the grass” – setting back the effectiveness of its foes without dealing them a decisive blow.

Dubowitz believes Iran is getting close to a “break-out capacity” which would see it capable of assembling components to create a nuclear bomb.

Threats of military action by Israel create an impetus for more stringent sanctions, which hamper Iran’s economy and influence. Iran could be a much more important energy power, allowing it to exert influence over European nations, but sanctions have eroded its ability to do so.

“Sanctions are not a silver bullet. They may be silver shrapnel that wounds the regime… Much more needs to be done,” he said.

Iran’s recent attempt to contract a Mexican drug trafficker to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington was, like other Iranian assassination plots over the last 30 years, “quite amateurish” but not without precedent. Plots against Kurds in Berlin and dissidents in Paris were “rolled up” quickly by police, Dubowitz noted.

When Iranian security forces act outside familiar territory, surrogates are hired and they often botch the job, he added. Hiring outsiders provides the regime with “plausible deniability.” The news media fell short when they described the Washington plot as a “rogue operation. If you know Iran, you know it wasn’t a rogue operation. It was approved at the highest level,” Dubowitz said.

Asked about the crackdown by Syria on dissidents, Dubowitz said Iran is providing the Assad regime with security personnel, advice and even snipers. It is trying to prop up its main Arab ally.

“It took a long time for this administration to admit Assad had to go,” he said. Joined by other western countries, the United States imposed an oil embargo and other sanctions, but “it needs to provide material support, such as secure communication, to rebels” who are facing Iranian cyber squads who are passing information to the Syrian government.

The United States could provide money to the regime’s opponents, similar to a strike fund, and it should consider providing rebels with a geographic safe
zone similar to the strategy undertaken in Libya, he said.

As in Libya, the United States is “leading from behind” in Syria, while Turkey is taking a more proactive role in establishing links to Syrian Islamic radicals, he said.

Dubowitz, a native of Toronto who attended York Mills Collegiate and the University of Toronto, was accompanied by Sheryl Saperia, who was named
last week as the foundation’s director of policy for Canada.

The FDD describes itself as “a nonpartisan policy institute dedicated exclusively to promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that threaten democracy.” It was founded shortly after 9/11 by a group of philanthropists and policymakers to support the defence of democratic societies from terrorism and militant Islamism. 

HonestReporting Canada promotes fairness and accuracy in Canadian media coverage of Israel and the Middle East.


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