Victory for Tehran

The excruciating process of stealthily creeping up on Iran sanctions came to no good end today.  Tehran and its allies insured that nothing approaching “crushing” sanctions will come out of the U.N. today.  What comes out of the U.N. today is the lowest common denominator as defined by China and Russia.  Both countries with significant ties to Iran, Russia builds the Iranian nuclear reactor, China provides advanced missile technology, as a for instance.    

Secretary Clinton said that the resolution represents “the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced.”  That is true; it’s a little tougher than before and therefore the “most significant.”  If only “most significant” actually equated to empirically significant, these are not!

The sanctions don’t touch oil; the Iranian revenue stream remains untouched.

An expanded arms embargo, really?  Iran exports weapons, has for two decades.

High Seas inspections are allowed.  More travel restrictions for select groups and one individual.  No uranium mining or “other” sensitive activities.

Perhaps the new banking restrictions will hurt a bit, but they were likely anticipated given the length of the negotiations.  

Reports of Iranian preparation for sanctions are longstanding, the Iranians have probably over prepared.  An overview of Iranian diplomatic activities over the past two years illuminates a truly significant set of efforts.  What they need, they can get.  What time they required, they were provided with.  The combination of Iranian strategic thinking and knowing well their enemies provided a clear path to the point we reach today. 

Today represents one more consistent result.  Regardless of what has been done or said over the past six years, Iran never took the nuclear program off the track that leads to a nuclear weapon.  Three sets of sanctions resolutions had no material impact; three comprehensive failures?  Great, let’s do it one more time!  This is also as far a sanctions will go, “Mahmoud, how much time do you need?”          

The resolution puts Israel in a very tough albeit ironic spot.  Iran’s nuclear program has been an international issue for nearly a decade.  The failure to manage the issue early and often and to see the Iranian strategy for what it was is criminal.  It results in a strange twist of logic where, realistically, Israel, the most decried country on earth, is all that stands in the way of Iran and a nuclear weapon!  Recent signals from Washington assure the Israelis that they are good and truly on their own. 

Should Israel act conventionally, the odds of doing enough damage to set the nuclear program sites back five years is 50/50 at best.  The price Israel will pay for buying those five years will be monumental in any wide variety of scenarios.  Even supporters of Israel face the reality of the box Israel finds itself in. Iran may be crazy but they’ve outsmarted just about everyone along the way! 

Israel, if she does not act, faces the possible reality that goes with threatening Iranian rhetoric.  Some calculate that a strike against Israel is too dangerous, even for the Iranians.  The counter weight to that calculation is the possibility that Iran see this as exactly the right moment in time based on the judgment that the West is weak, politically dysfunctional and economically hamstrung.

This may have been the last chance.  We will now face a continuing series of Hobson’s choice decisions.  The time to solve the situation peacefully has probably passed us by.