EU to Expand Iran Penalties as Nuclear Tension Mounts

Roughly 200 Iranian entities and individuals are set to be targeted by European Union penalties endorsed informally by the bloc's members on Tuesday, Reuters reported (see GSN, Nov. 22).

The move, due to be finalized at a Dec. 1 meeting of top European Union diplomats, would restrict the travel and financial holdings of penalized individuals while barring transactions between affected companies and firms in EU nations.

Announcement of the planned sanctions followed new punitive steps taken against Iran this week by Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States over international fears that the Middle Eastern nation is secretly moving to establish a nuclear-weapon capability. The International Atomic Energy Agency in a report this month raised "serious concerns" that the Middle Eastern nation is pursuing such a capacity.

Tehran, which maintains its atomic activities are strictly nonmilitary in nature, has brushed off the new punitive measures as insignificant (Justyna Pawlak, Reuters I, Nov. 22).

"We have had no relations with America for the past 32 years so we had no relationship with them yesterday and won't have tomorrow," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday in a public address. "But we are surprised by these European puppets, who immediately repeat whatever their master says like impotent servants" (Mitra Amiri, Reuters II, Nov. 23).

The leader of the Iranian central bank denounced the United Kingdom's move this week to cut ties with his nation's financial institutions, Agence France-Presse reported .

"The British move is a political, utterly unprofessional one," Mahmoud Bahmani said in remarks reported on Wednesday by state media.

"The issue of sanctions are not new. For some time, our financial ties with Britain's central bank have been cut, and Britain is announcing something that is not new and cannot have an impact on us," he said (Agence France-Presse I/, Nov. 23).

In response to the penalties, Iranian lawmakers are slated on Sunday to take up legislation that would bar British ambassadors from the country, permitting only lower-ranking British representatives (Agence France-Presse II/Daily Star, Nov. 23).

Meanwhile, Australia on Tuesday indicated it would mull taking new punitive action against Iran, The Australian newspaper reported.

"Consistent with Australia's mounting concern about Iran's nuclear program, the government will continue to explore additional sanctions," a representative for Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd stated (Sean Parnell, The Australian, Nov. 23).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called for further economic pressure on Tehran, Reuters reported.

"Iran is developing nuclear weapons. If anyone had any doubts, the IAEA report certainly dispelled them," Netanyahu told his country's legislature.

"It is important to impose sanctions, tough sanctions, on this regime -- even tougher than those that have been imposed over the past few days," he said (Reuters III, Nov. 23).

China, though, on Wednesday voiced disapproval of independent penalties being employed in the nuclear standoff.

"China is always against unilateral sanctions against Iran and is even more opposed to the expansion of such sanctions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said. The official reaffirmed Beijing's call for dialogue on the situation.

"We believe pressure and sanctions will not fundamentally solve the Iranian issue, but will complicate the issue. Intensifying confrontation is not conducive to the region's peace and stability," the official said.

Russia offered similar comments after the new Western sanctions were announced (Sui-lee Wee, Reuters IV, Nov. 23).

The findings reported in this month's IAEA assessment are probably insufficient to prompt any armed strike on Iran's atomic assets, Reuters quoted analysts as saying.

"The route that continues to be taken and favored by the international community when dealing with Iran is very much one of applying pressure and a desire to return to the negotiating table," said Marie Bos, a specialist with the independent Control Risks Group.

"We still feel at this stage that the scenario of a military strike remains an unlikely one," Bos said.

Additional nonmilitary options remain available, including possible U.S. sanctions against Iran's central bank, the analyst added. The move "would significantly hamper Iran's ability to trade internationally, including on the oil and gas market, and it could have an impact on oil and gas prices," she said.

Iran's technical expertise relevant to bomb development is "a nuclear intangible ... that can't be rectified with a military strike," added Andrea Berger, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in the United Kingdom.

Iran's atomic activities would likely only be considered an imminent danger if the nation took an action such as expelling IAEA monitors or transferring declared fissile material from known locations, or if indications appeared that Iran is operating clandestine nuclear facilities.

"We know what's going on in (the monitored sites) now, and what's going on in them now is not indicative of an Iran that's racing toward a nuclear weapon," Berger said. "There might be something that would compel a change in thinking on the military option, but right now it doesn't have much utility. So other options might be better."

British defense expert Tim Ripley said military action against Iran would result in significant aftershocks.

"The idea that the state of Israel is able to mount any kind of attack with its air force and its missiles against Iran's nuclear program and have any chance of pulling it off and destroying the whole thing, is very unlikely," Ripley said

"And once they do that they would start a very big war which would drag in almost every Middle East country and the United States," the expert said.

The United States has discouraged Israeli military action to date, he said.

"Up until now, President Bush and President Obama have said don't do it. That's been documented," he said. "This is the multibillion dollar question: are the Israelis misguided and impulsive enough not to ask the Americans for permission" (Peter Graff, Reuters V, Nov. 22).

Some experts suggested Iran's government has relied too much on unyielding negotiating tactics while miscalculating the determination of the United States and its allies, according to Reuters.

"The regime is very worried about a military strike. They have mishandled the issue and it is now very difficult for them to reach any kind of compromise," one high-level European envoy in Tehran said. "Also they are worried about a spread of the Arab Spring into Iran and cannot risk more economic pressure that can cause street protests" (Pawlak, Reuters I).

Elsewhere, former Israeli Missile Defense Organization head Uzi Rubin questioned the effectiveness of Iran's planned domestically built substitute for the Russian S-300 air defense system, the Jerusalem Post reported. Russia previously canceled a transfer of the S-300 to Iran; experts suggested the system might have been used to guard Iranian atomic sites from potential airstrikes.

“Intuitively, it is difficult to imagine that the Iranian [Bavar 373] system is as good as the S-300,” the former official said.

“Making the missile is the simple part. The problem is creating complex radars and other components. The effectiveness of the system depends on the radars. The Iranians have some skills in this, but years of experience are needed. It’s difficult to believe this can be done in one generation,” he said.

Still, “there are indications they are not working alone,” Rubin said, noting a report that Iran might have received support from North Korean experts (Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 23).

November 23, 2011

Roughly 200 Iranian entities and individuals are set to be targeted by European Union penalties endorsed informally by the bloc's members on Tuesday, Reuters reported (see GSN, Nov. 22).