What Iran Sanctions Won't Do and What They Can Do

[see also Time for America to Act on Iran]

President Obama recently promised strict and biting sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran for its continued refusal to curtail its nuclear program or even to enter serious negotiations. Such sanctions, and even embargoes, will not cause Iran's current government of Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i and his chosen representative, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to reverse course and terminate the nuclear program. In truth, nothing will convince the present Iranian regime to retreat on its mad rush to become a nuclear power. Khamene'i and his coterie of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) supporters regard the nuclear card as their ace in the hole that will keep them in power and in control of Iran. For Khamene'i, Ahmadinejad, and the IRGC, giving up the nuclear card is tantamount to surrendering to the ever-mounting opposition to their corrupt rule. Hell will freeze over five times before this cabal will stop seeking nuclear arms.

So if sanctions and even embargoes will not stop the mad mullahs, what's to be done? Is all-out war the only option left? Is the nuclear clock about to strike midnight?

Sanctions and embargoes still have an important role to play, but we must understand what that role is. Putting economic pressure on Iran will not cause its leadership to reverse course, but it can convince the majority of lower-class Iranians -- who until now have not opposed the regimen -- that this regime is more concerned about its own power than it is about the average Iranian's welfare. The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been a deep disappointment to most Iranians. Candidate Ahmadinejad promised in 2005 that he would introduce economic reforms and he was swept to power on an anti-corruption platform that basically promised "a chicken in every Persian pot in the country."

Four years later, it was clear to all that reforms hadn't occurred and that the economy had worsened considerably, due in large measure to the huge sums spent financing Iran's terror proxies abroad (Hezbollah, Hizballah-Iraq, Hamas, al-Qaeda-AP [in the Arabian Peninsula], Islamic jihad) as well as the huge sums spent on the nuclear and missile programs. Tired of being fleeced, the Iranian electorate voted for a change last year. Iranians discovered just how corrupt their government had become when Ahmadinejad was declared the winner by a two-thirds majority the day after the elections, even before all of the votes had been counted! As the actual vote had been a two-thirds majority for Mir Hussein Mousavi, the Green Revolution began to gather steam as more and more Iranians began to question the legitimacy of their government. When Khamene'i -- who until then as Supreme Leader was viewed as above the fray -- sided with Ahmadinejad, the populace turned against the regime.

As if the current government wasn't unpopular enough, it recently decided to end the economic subsidies program that has been in place for thirty years -- subsidies in everything from gasoline to the price of chicken, eggs, and bread. For the lower classes, the loss of the subsidies will prove exceedingly painful. Inflation last year was 28%; without the subsidies, basic foodstuffs may see triple-digit inflation. With about 25% of the population unemployed, and most of that group under 30 years of age, the Persian pot is bubbling, to say the least.

Sanctions and embargoes -- of everything other than food and medicine -- would ratchet up the pressure to the point that the Iranian in the street will say: "Enough of this corrupt regime." Already the street demonstrations have been ringing for nearly nine months with the chant, "Na ghazeh na lobnan janam fadai iran" -- "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon is our business; no to Gaza and no to Lebanon. Iran is our business, and I give my life for that!" This is a clear indication of the popular displeasure with the Iranian regime's support of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Hizballah-Iraq. 

It is important to realize that the economic pressure of sanctions and embargoes has its place in our war with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and make no mistake: We are engaged in a war, which this Iranian regime began with us in 1979. Economic war affects the lower classes before it does the privileged of the regime; that is regrettable. But if our economic war is accompanied by a campaign to support the Green Revolution in the same manner in which we supported the color revolutions in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, the Iranian people will know that we ultimately seek their freedom, and they will respond positively.

There is one additional thing that President Barack H. Obama and Secretary of State Hilary R. Clinton can do if they really want to get Tehran's attention: They can follow the lead of the United Kingdom and the European Union and remove the false, politically motivated "terrorist" label from the leading Iranian opposition movement -- the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). Not only will Tehran finally take us seriously, but the Iranian people will realize that we really are on their side against the mullahs and the IRGC.

It's important to realize what sanctions can and cannot do. Now it's time to use them to bring down the corrupt regime of Khamene'i, Ahmadinejad, and their IRGC thug supporters with the help of the Iranian people itself.

Nur azadi mi-ayad, Inshallah! (Farsi: By the grace of God, the light of freedom is coming!)

Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws.
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