The UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) began circulating its much-awaited Iran report Tuesday night, Nov. 11 to Security Council and IAEA board members. According to the first leaks, the agency has no doubt that Iran is working on developing atomic weapons: Its clandestine computer-simulated and practical tests on nuclear detonators, uranium enrichment at a hidden underground site at Fordo and tests for adapting nuclear warheads to missiles have no explanation other than work on components for a nuclear weapon.
Israel's initial response was to give sanctions a last chance and hold its military option in abeyance for the weeks needed to put them in place, so long as they are tough enough to disrupt Iran's central bank and its oil industry. However, the Obama administration has already foresworn these penalties, as debkafile reported earlier Tuesday.
US President Barack Obama is backing away from crippling sanctions on Iran's central bank bank and an embargo on its oil trade. This was decided shortly before the International Atomic Energy Agency was due to confirm Tuesday or Wednesday, Nov. 8-9 that Iran's clandestine military nuclear program had reached the point of no-return, and after Israel intelligence experts found that Iran could build a weapon as soon as it so decided.
Four considerations persuaded the Obama administration to backtrack on new sanctions, thereby letting Tehran prevail in this round of the nuclear controversy:
1. Because it is too late. Even the harshest sanctions would not alter the fact that Iran has arrived at a position wherbey it is capable of building a bomb or warhead any time it chooses.
2. Severe penalties against Iran's central bank and its fuel exports would exacerbate the turmoil on international financial markets.
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, Nov. 8, "Though US officials had declared they would hold 'Iran accountable' for a purported plot [to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington], they now have decided that a proposed move against Iran's central bank could disrupt international oil markets and further damage the reeling American and world economies."
Instead, say those officials, Washington will seek to persuade some of Tehran's key trading partners, including the Persian Gulf states, South Korea and Japan, to join existing sanctions.
3. For the first time in American history, Washington has admitted its military capabilities are constrained by economic concerns.
This constraint was also reflected in the Washington Post of Tuesday: "The possibility of a US strike is considered remote, however. That is partly because there is no certainty it would successfully stop Iran and partly because of the diplomatic and political repercussions for a cash-strapped nation emerging from two wars."
4. Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday in a radio interview that he was not optimistic about tough sanctions because there was no international consensus to support them.
debkafile's intelligence sources report that Russia and China would not only cast their votes against stiff penalties but disrupt them through marketing mechanisms they have already put in place for bypassing international restrictions on Iran's foreign banking and exports.
Those mechanisms have also been placed at the disposal of Syria.
Tehran has therefore been able to pre-empt the IAEA report, however damning it may turn out to be, and can continue to develop its nuclear objectives without fear of punishing sanctions.
The Israeli defense minister noted that while it would be preferable in matters as grave as a potential attack on Iran's nuclear sites to work closely with the United States, Israeli is a sovereign country and its government cannot shirk responsibility for defending its security.
Israel's existence was not at stake, Barak stressed – either from Iran's missiles or Hizballah's rockets. An attack would cause suffering on the home front, he said, but nowhere near the 100,000 mentioned in the speculation of the last two weeks – or even 5,000. He dismissed much of this speculation as wildly irresponsible and unfounded.
If sanctions against Iran fall by the wayside, all other options stay on the table, said the defense minister. Israeli is holding intelligence exchanges with some friends but in the last resort must make its own decisions which he promised would be made responsibly.
Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu no doubt intended to go through the motions of demanding tougher sanctions against Iran after the publication of the IAEA report. But that option has vanished from the Washington landscape, leaving Israel with a choice between a military strike or bowing to the Obama administration's acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran and learning to live with this ever-present menace.
The same stark choice confronts Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf.