Iran-Triple-Track Strategy: Tighten Sanctions, address the People, prepare Surgical Strikes

Posted in Iran | 30-Apr-07 | Author: Dieter Farwick

"Iran-Triple-Track Strategy: Tighten Sanctions, address the People, prepare Surgical Strikes"
"Iran-Triple-Track Strategy: Tighten Sanctions, address the People, prepare Surgical Strikes"
The agenda of explosive security policy problems is long: Afghanistan, Sudan/ Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Taiwan, worldwide murderous terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, global climate change and environmental violations.

It’s the old game of mankind: Challenge and response. States, international organizations as well as individual people will have to prove if they are willing and able to analyze the problems and find durable solutions. As the crises are already in existence, the call for crisis management is evident.

At the top of the agenda is Iran because it has the greatest potential for bringing about a global disaster. Many people ask:

Is a war with Iran inevitable in order to avoid an Iranian nuclear weapon?

Is Iraq a blueprint for Iran?

The vicious spiral

In the recent past, a vicious spiral has developed. It started with the Iranian uranium enrichment program, followed by inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA - a UN organization), then negotiations between Iran and the E3 (France, Germany and United Kingdom) without any result, an ongoing nuclear development program emphasizing Iran’s right to develop its national program for non-military purposes, obstacles and a reduction of inspections, debate in the UN Security Council (UNSC), warning signals to Iran that it should stop the program, no reaction by Iran, new negotiations between Iran and the E3 without any result, debate in the UNSC leading to the first “soft” sanctions, Iran’s declaration to disregard those sanctions, new negotiations with Iran and the E 3 – coordinated with USA – without any change in Iran’s position , new debate in the UNSC with some “hard” sanctions and finally the declaration by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran is a nuclear power based upon the 3,000 centrifuges necessary for the nuclear power plant in Natans – an open-ended spiral.

How do we perceive Iran?

The political image of Iran is dominated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the surprising winner of the elections in April 2005. As Mayor of Tehran, he won the elections through becoming known as “the advocate of the poor in the streets.” He promised to stop corruption and to take the money from the rich and give it to the poor. He seems to be the strong man – but still under Command and Control of the highest clerics.

He shocked the world shortly after his election with his declaration to “wipe Israel off the map” and the denial of the Holocaust. He wants to be seen as an “Islamic hero” who dares to fight against the established powers of the infidels and crusaders.

Do we have to take him seriously? We had better do so. Adolf Hitler announced his goals and objectives in his book “Mein Kampf.” The world did not read this book and underestimated Hitler and his power. We know the result.

There is only a small step from the non-military use of nuclear energy to a nuclear weapons development program. For Iranians, the development of nuclear energy has become a matter of national pride. Even opposition forces to Ahmadinejad are obviously backing the nuclear program. Whether or not the figure of 3,000 centrifuges as announced by Ahmedinejad is correct or closer to 1,300 – as the IAEA says - is of secondary significance. They will try to get many more centrifuges as soon as possible.

Political power in Iran is based upon the high revenues for oil and gas. For example, the money allows the regime to support Hezbollah in its terrorist fight against Israel. In the war in Lebanon in 2006, Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah denied Israel a military victory with long-reaching consequences.

Israel lost the aureole of its invincibility caused by serious political and military mistakes. Israel’s capability for deterrence and denial has been downgraded. This has lead to consequences for the conflict with Iran, too, which I will elaborate on later.

Any threat assessment has to take intentions and capability into account. The openly declared intentions and the visible capabilities lead to the following conclusions:

  • Based upon nuclear weapons, Iran will execute power projection beyond its borders.

  • The threat perception in Israel and in the Gulf states will drastically increase regardless of available far-reaching delivery means. ”Dirty” and “container” bombs do not need ballistic missiles.

  • The development of Iran’s nuclear weapons will trigger a nuclear arms race in the Broader Middle East in Egypt, Saudi-Arabia and the Gulf states.

  • The danger of nuclear proliferation will increase.

  • The conflict between Iran-backed Shiites and the Sunnis will gain a new quality.

Do we recognize the first fault lines in Ahmadinejad’s regime?

"The surgical attack should buy more time for a political solution."
"The surgical attack should buy more time for a political solution."
There are first signs that Ahmadinejad’s regime is internally not as monolith as he wants to present it. First of all, he did not deliver to the poor what he promised. The living conditions for the poor did not change. Corruption is still an integral part of Iran’s system. Ahmadinejad already had a difficult time getting his candidates for high political positions approved by the parliament.

In the municipal election in 2006, Ahmadinejad’s side lost a lot of seats. His successor as Mayor of Tehran founded his own party and was successful in distancing himself from Ahmadinejad.

The latest signal: The parliament shortened Ahmadinejad’s term as president by one year.

The affair of the capture of the 15 British sailors shed a new light on the regime. It was obviously planned long before and was executed by the Pasdaran under Command and Control of Ahmadinejad or his entourage. Again, Ahmadinejad wanted to show that he is an “Islamic hero” strong enough to attack great powers like United Kingdom.

The handling of the affair increased Iran’s image of being a “bad guy,” thus increasing the risk of worldwide isolation with negative consequences for Iran’s standing in the nuclear conflict.

It is easier for the UNSC to decide on harder sanctions against a politically isolated country than against a respected member of the world community.

So, the high clerics – at the top Ayatollah Sayed Ali Chamenei - put on the brakes. Ahmadinejad tried to save his face with the “farewell-party” for the 15 sailors – with limited success.

One should not overestimate those fault lines, but we should take them into account.

Do sanctions work?

Sanctions do not have the best historic record. There are always national interests and attractive incentives to bypass sanctions. However, in the field of nuclear development programs there are some positive results.

Countries like Brazil, South Africa, Libya and – hopefully – North Korea stopped their programs because sanctions have been combined with incentives.

The value of sanctions depends on a unity of effort by the major players – at least officially. To achieve deterrence and denial and to make sanctions work, the sticks have to be seen behind the carrots.

There must be a price to be paid if sanctions are disregarded.

The dependence of many countries on Iranian oil and gas makes it difficult to forge a union against Iraq. But so far it has worked – more or less. The UK was not successful in getting a UN resolution after the capture of the 15 sailors. But the last “harder “ sanctions with cutting financial links and freezing Iranian accounts in foreign banks as well as some restrictions on travels of Iranian officials are another step in the right direction.

What could be further steps?

  • More financial constraints

  • Stopping the export of “dual-use” technology

  • Reduction of the import of Iran’s gas and oil

  • Stop refinement of Iranian oil and reduce the export of gasoline

  • Stop the export of oil and gas producing devices

  • Boycott of Iranian goods

  • Disrupt all diplomatic relations

  • IAEA stops all projects with Iran

The world would have to pay a price for sustaining these sanctions. We might have to accept higher prices for transport and heating as well as for industrial production, but higher prices would certainly be more acceptable than the cost of a war against Iran.

Is war a real option?

"Based upon nuclear weapons, Iran will execute power projection beyond its borders"
"Based upon nuclear weapons, Iran will execute power projection beyond its borders"
Lessons learned from the war in Iraq should be well taken into account. The first and most important question regards legitimacy and moral responsibility. Looking at the potential consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran with its political intentions, I am personally convinced that a war against Iran is justified.

I doubt that the UN would be willing and able to give a mandate for a military operation at the present stage. An UN-mandated military operation would have more political legitimacy than any unilateral operation.

There are claims of double standards regarding Iran on the one side and Pakistan, India and Israel on the other. There are no intentions in Pakistan, India and Israel to wipe any country off the map. There are no intentions there to use nuclear weapons in offensive operations.

But is war a real option?

Again, there are lessons learned from the war in Iraq. The commitment of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq has lead to a “military overstretch.”

The performance of Israeli forces in Lebanon is not encouraging any military operations. A massive attack against Iran would be a political, economic and ecological disaster getting out of control. It might trigger another world war.

A “classic war” of high intensity against Iran is no acceptable option.

No military option?

In my view, there is only the option of a limited and surgical military operation where paralyzing is aimed for – not destroying. This operation should buy time.

For a first strike there is a window of opportunity of 3-5 years. After this, Iran might have an operational nuclear weapon. Then the situation would be even worse. We would then have to live with the Iranian nuclear weapon that some countries and individuals would certainly prefer over any military operation against Iran.

Should we really sit on our hands and wait for Iran’s nuclear weapon?

A triple-track strategy for Iran

The following triple-track strategy offers opportunities if and when the great powers and the UN orchestrate their efforts.

The first track: Go on with sanctions.

The UN and great powers should jointly squeeze Iran with harder sanctions as mentioned above. The regime and the population should recognize the high price they have to pay following the path of isolation.

As an incentive, Iran should get guarantees – as Russia did already – to receive the necessary ingredients for a non-military use of the nuclear energy – without the need for a national enrichment program.

This time should be used to get the best possible information and knowledge about the vulnerability of the nuclear power plants and their logistics.

Military options should be seriously discussed in the strategic community. Military options should become regarded as a last resort.

The second track: Address the Iranian people

The UN and the great powers should convince the Iranian people that the sanctions are not directed against them. They should be informed that the UN and the great powers are ready to support Iran to regain worldwide acceptance and integration and to get financial and economic aid to improve Iran’s efficiency in exploiting its wealth of oil and gas.

We should tell the Iranian people that we esteem their history and culture. Iran is a democratic system. Regime change can be achieved at the ballots - not with bullets. Young Iranians should learn via the Internet and other media about a life without President Ahmadinejad.

The third track: Preparation and execution of a surgical attack

This surgical attack as a last resort should get a UN-mandate. It should buy more time for a political solution. It should minimize “collateral damage.” If a UN mandate is not achievable, a broad “coalition of the willing” should take action with as much political and moral support as possible.

There is no guarantee that this triple-track strategy will work. It is the only way to the alternative of an Iranian nuclear weapon backing power projection that includes “wiping Israel off the map.” We have the tools to stop Iran becoming a dangerous hegemony with nuclear weapons capability. There is still some time left to execute an orchestrated strategy defusing the Iranian nuclear conflict.