Exposing the Iran Fallacy

The Jerusulam Post exposes the fallacy of Western thinking on the Russia-Iran axis:

After Russia invaded Georgia last month, one of the West’s principal excuses for inaction was the need for Russian assistance in halting Iran’s nuclear program. “It’s Iran, it’s the UN,” explained Angela Stent, who until 2006 was the US National Intelligence Council’s top Russia officer, to The New York Times. “There are any number of issues over which they [the Russians] can be less cooperative than they’ve been.”

Actually, it is hard to imagine how Russia could be less cooperative on Iran. It has used its Security Council veto both to delay every sanction resolution for months, and then, whenever it sensed that the West might act outside the UN if Russia’s obstructionism continued, to weaken the resolutions to the point where they caused Iran no real pain. Consequently, the sanctions have failed to alter Iran’s behavior.

Russia also undercut whatever impact the watered-down sanctions might have had by signing lucrative trade deals with Iran, and even actively assisted Teheran’s nuclear program by supplying technical aid and nuclear fuel for the reactor in Bushehr. Just last week, it said this reactor’s operation will be “irreversible” by December 31. Moreover, it has reportedly supplied Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, thereby impeding military action against Iran’s nukes.

And, lest anyone delude himself that this attitude might change, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev scotched that notion at last week’s meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow. “The world does not need to tighten its sanctions on Iran at this time,” he declared.

Incredibly, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the Valdai group that this is because Iran is now cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since the IAEA’s last two reports, in May and this past Monday, both accused Iran explicitly of noncooperation, listing numerous questions Teheran has refused to answer, this bald-faced lie speaks volumes about Russia’s determination to protect Iran’s nuclear program.

IN A trenchant analysis published in The New York Times last week, Ray Takeyh of the US Council on Foreign Relations and Nikolas Gvosdev of the US Naval War College explained why: “Both Iran and Russia are essentially satisfied with existing US-European policy of applying incremental and largely symbolic UN sanctions on Teheran. Moscow feels that as long as the diplomatic process remains in play, America is in no position to launch a military strike that could destabilize the Middle East.”

Moreover, by keeping the sanctions too weak to change Iran’s behavior, Russia perpetuates a situation it deems beneficial: “Not only does it destabilize international oil markets – keeping prices higher than they ought to be – but Iran’s large natural gas reserves are effectively off-limits for European use, reinforcing the continent’s dependency on Moscow.”

In other words, the current policy serves Moscow’s interests perfectly: On one hand, it forestalls military action against Iran; on the other, it enriches Russia by keeping oil prices high, while also enabling it to largely dictate European policy via that continent’s energy dependence on it. Thus Russia has every reason to continue doing just what it has to date: postponing new sanctions as long as possible, then acquiescing whenever necessary to forestall independent Euro-American action while weakening them sufficiently to ensure that they will not change Iran’s behavior.

Hence any attempt to end Iran’s nuclear program through sanctions, thereby obviating the need for military action, must begin with recognizing that far from being part of the solution, Russia is part of the problem.

ONCE THIS recognition exists, effective sanctions become possible: The European Union accounts for fully one-third of Iran’s trade, while Iran accounts for only about 1 percent of the EU’s trade; thus tough, independent EU sanctions could have a major impact on Iran at minimal cost to the EU. In particular, Iran needs European know-how (which experts say Russia and China cannot currently replace) to develop its natural gas fields; moreover, Teheran lacks oil refining capacity, and therefore imports 43 percent of its gasoline consumption. Sanctions in these two areas could thus devastate Iran’s economy.

Clearly, such sanctions would be even more effective if Russia and China participated. More importantly, however, broad-based Security Council action would prevent Europe from becoming the principal target of Iranian (and perhaps broader Muslim) wrath. That is why the EU much prefers working through the UN. And since the US, whose trade with Iran is minuscule, can do little on its own, it must perforce acquiesce.

Therefore, it is the EU that must be persuaded to change its approach. And while the US should be doing more on this front, it is Israel, as Iran’s first potential victim, that must take the lead.

THERE IS certainly room for effective Israeli diplomacy. Germany, France and Italy – Iran’s major European trading partners – all currently have unusually sympathetic governments. And newer EU members from Eastern Europe are potentially strong allies, as they have few illusions about Russia.

Yet instead of making this case, Israeli officials keep proclaiming Russia part of the solution. After meeting Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month, for instance, President Shimon Peres praised him for asserting that Russia opposes Iran obtaining nuclear arms, instead of pointing out that Russia is Iran’s leading enabler in this quest. Similarly, after Ehud Olmert met then-president Putin in Moscow last fall, his aides publicly praised Russia’s attitude on Iran, saying the premier had emerged “with an understanding that Russia is concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons.”

This is a classic “why be more Catholic than the pope” problem: As long as the state most threatened by Iran insists that Moscow is behaving constructively, the EU has a perfect excuse for maintaining this fiction as well. Thus Israel must stop protecting Russia and start stating the obvious: Moscow is stymieing any possibility of effective diplomatic action against Iran.

Moreover, by keeping the sanctions too weak to change Iran’s behavior, Russia perpetuates a situation it deems beneficial: “Not only does it destabilize international oil markets – keeping prices higher than they ought to be – but Iran’s large natural gas reserves are effectively off-limits for European use, reinforcing the continent’s dependency on Moscow.”

In other words, the current policy serves Moscow’s interests perfectly: On one hand, it forestalls military action against Iran; on the other, it enriches Russia by keeping oil prices high, while also enabling it to largely dictate European policy via that continent’s energy dependence on it. Thus Russia has every reason to continue doing just what it has to date: postponing new sanctions as long as possible, then acquiescing whenever necessary to forestall independent Euro-American action while weakening them sufficiently to ensure that they will not change Iran’s behavior.

Hence any attempt to end Iran’s nuclear program through sanctions, thereby obviating the need for military action, must begin with recognizing that far from being part of the solution, Russia is part of the problem.

ONCE THIS recognition exists, effective sanctions become possible: The European Union accounts for fully one-third of Iran’s trade, while Iran accounts for only about 1 percent of the EU’s trade; thus tough, independent EU sanctions could have a major impact on Iran at minimal cost to the EU. In particular, Iran needs European know-how (which experts say Russia and China cannot currently replace) to develop its natural gas fields; moreover, Teheran lacks oil refining capacity, and therefore imports 43 percent of its gasoline consumption. Sanctions in these two areas could thus devastate Iran’s economy.

Clearly, such sanctions would be even more effective if Russia and China participated. More importantly, however, broad-based Security Council action would prevent Europe from becoming the principal target of Iranian (and perhaps broader Muslim) wrath. That is why the EU much prefers working through the UN. And since the US, whose trade with Iran is minuscule, can do little on its own, it must perforce acquiesce.

Therefore, it is the EU that must be persuaded to change its approach. And while the US should be doing more on this front, it is Israel, as Iran’s first potential victim, that must take the lead.

THERE IS certainly room for effective Israeli diplomacy. Germany, France and Italy – Iran’s major European trading partners – all currently have unusually sympathetic governments. And newer EU members from Eastern Europe are potentially strong allies, as they have few illusions about Russia.

Yet instead of making this case, Israeli officials keep proclaiming Russia part of the solution. After meeting Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month, for instance, President Shimon Peres praised him for asserting that Russia opposes Iran obtaining nuclear arms, instead of pointing out that Russia is Iran’s leading enabler in this quest. Similarly, after Ehud Olmert met then-president Putin in Moscow last fall, his aides publicly praised Russia’s attitude on Iran, saying the premier had emerged “with an understanding that Russia is concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons.”

This is a classic “why be more Catholic than the pope” problem: As long as the state most threatened by Iran insists that Moscow is behaving constructively, the EU has a perfect excuse for maintaining this fiction as well. Thus Israel must stop protecting Russia and start stating the obvious: Moscow is stymieing any possibility of effective diplomatic action against Iran.

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