The new round of sanctions will not stop Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, said Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a radio interview Tuesday, Jan. 24, stressing that Israel's hand was always near the trigger. His comments aimed at cooling the optimistic notes emanating from Washington, Europe and some Israeli circles Monday after the European Union foreign ministers approved an oil embargo against Iran from July 1 and froze its central bank's assets. The US then applied sanctions to Iran's third biggest bank, Bank Tejerat.
Barak said that because Iran had not stopped developing a nuclear weapon Israel had not removed any options from the table. We say this "very seriously," he stressed.
Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu greeted the European sanctions by saying that they were positive but would not stop or interrupt Iran's drive for a nuclear weapon.
The defense minister agreed that the Europeans had started out in the right direction. But he saw no reason to hold off until July before the oil embargo went into effect or to delay a boycott on transactions by Iran's central bank. Oil shortfalls can be made up within weeks, Barak pointed out, from Saudi Arabia's huge reserves, from the oil produced by Libya and from expanded Iraqi production.
debkafile's sources report that, seen from Israel, Obama administration and the European Union are holding sanctions off until summer to give US, European and Iranian back-channel emissaries using Turkey's good offices enough space to get nuclear negotiations resumed.
Iran is being offered to chance to repeat the old tricks, say Israeli sources, after repeatedly and successfully pulling them off in the last seven years, of sitting the world powers down for talks while carrying on blithely with plans for the first Shiite Muslim nuke. The extra six months will be a useful grace time for Iran to secrete its nuclear facilities in fortified underground bunkers.
According to the same old scenario, when July comes around, the US and European powers will seek to postpone sanctions so as not to jeopardize the talks with Iran.
Barak's words about the sanctions not being tough enough and "too far off" reflected his government's belief that the oil embargo cannot gain enough momentum by July to seriously upset the Iranian economy; another six months would be needed, so taking the new sanctions drive up to early 2013.
The Netanyahu government was also disappointed by President Barack Obama imposing sanctions on Iran's third largest bank – not its central bank. This left Tehran with enough leeway to activate bilateral financial mechanisms for dodging the oil embargo and financial penalties in conjunction with the governments which have opted out of the US-EU sanctions and continue to trade with Iran.
Sunday, debkafile reported exclusively that Tehran, New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Ankara were already transacting oil deals through those mechanisms.
In another part of his interview, the Israeli defense minister said Iran had climbed down over its first threat to shut the Strait of Hormuz to US aircraft carriers. Heeding the US pledge to use its might to guarantee free passage through the strait, Tehran let the USS Abraham Lincoln escorted by British and French warships pass through Jan. 22 without incident.
Barak was convinced the Iranians would not make good on their current threat to close the strait if its oil transactions were embargoed. And if they tried, it would not be for long because American and European fleets would reopen to Hormuz so that one-fifth of the oil shipped to world markets would leave for its destinations.
In the defense minister's view, therefore, Iran is in no position to hold the world's oil markets to ransom.