Is Iran Actually Containing the U.S.?

Discussion in 'Defence & Strategic Issues' started by ajtr, Jun 25, 2010.

  1. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    Is Iran Actually Containing the U.S.?

    At the dawn of the Cold War in 1947, noted diplomat George Kennan proposed in a famous Foreign Affairs magazine article that the U.S. adopt a policy of "containment" to thwart Soviet expansion. "Containment" became a new buzzword in the diplomacy lexicon, the goal being to thwart the ability of a country to act against another.

    When the UN Security Council imposed its fourth round of sanctions against Iran's illegal nuclear program last week the punitive economic measures were intended to "contain" Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program.

    Dismissing the latest round of international punishment, Iran's mercurial president declared the sanctions to be nothing more than "...used tissues which should be thrown into the trash." Hyper bravado or trash-talk?

    Despite the denials multilateral sanctions are certainly more than a mere nuisance to Iran's leadership. The latest round of sanctions impose on Iran an arms embargo, blacklist Iran's international shipping companies, authorize inspections of cargo ships bound for Iran, prohibit foreign investment in Iran's bonds, and blacklist companies and persons connected to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Add other sanctions about to be imposed by the U.S. and its allies, and the noose should be tightening against Iran... or so sanctions proponents would have us believe.

    Well then, why not chalk this up as an unprecedented diplomatic achievement for the good guys given the fact that Iran's two most important allies on the Security Council -- China and Russia -- abandoned the mullahs? Surely, as sanctions are increasingly fine tuned Iran will be more "contained" and find it far more economically painful to continue thumbing its nose at the world. So it would seem.

    But Iran has been feverishly constructing its own containment policy to neutralize sanctions and straightjacket any military designs against its nuclear facilities.

    As the clock ticks toward a showdown with Iran will it succeed -- or miscalculate -- that it can thwart an attack by Israel or the U.S. against its nuclear enrichment facilities?

    First, in a global cat and mouse game, Iran has demonstrated uncanny resourcefulness and ingenuity to evade the worst of the sanctions against it. It has constructed a house of mirrors to hide its ownership of funds financing its imports and the companies breaking the sanctions.

    Iran has been relatively successful maintaining its vital export markets with the very countries we need to turn the sanctions tourniquet tighter. By any measure, American-led efforts to economically isolate Iran have achieved important victories, but on balance, insufficient ones. In fact, Iran continues to export its goods relatively unhindered particularly to the very nations the U.S. is counting on to support sanctions; namely Japan, the EU and India. Moreover, the Sunni Arab states most concerned about Shiite Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions, namely Kuwait, Oman and the UAE, have not done nearly enough to end Iran's access to their exports. A few weeks ago, while in Oman I personally witnessed a flotilla of zodiac boats overflowing with camouflaged goods zipping across the Arabian Gulf to Iran from the port of Khosab.

    Second, Iran has formed a new "northern alliance" which now includes, Syria, Hezbollah and Turkey. Turkey, once a strong NATO ally, is now firmly allied with Iran against the U.S. Turkey, which supported Iran in the UN, would certainly oppose military action against Iran and prevent its NATO air bases from being used against Iran. Iran may be calculating that by attacking Iran, both the U.S. and Israel risk losing Turkey as a NATO ally altogether.

    Third, several weeks ago a "terror summit" was held in Damascus among the leadership of Hezbollah, Syria and Iran which have formed a de facto military alliance. Reports out of Syria after the summit indicate that Hezbollah is primed to provoke a preemptive crisis with Israel to open a "northern front" against Israel should Iran be convinced Israel is preparing to attack it. The pieces are in place: Iran has shipped to Syria SCUD and M-600 ground-to-ground missiles capable of reaching every major Israeli population center and talk of war is in the air. Media reports indicate that Hezbollah has now stashed away 40,000 missiles as compared to the 15,000 missiles it had in its arsenal at the beginning of the 2006 war with Israel.

    Fourth, contradictory statements out of Washington have emboldened Iran to precede full speed ahead to quicken the pace of its nuclear enrichment program. And Iran has used every conceivable chance to publicly enumerate how it will retaliate against an attack, resulting in more and more hand-wringing in Washington over the cost of a military option. Public admonishments by Washington against the use of force by Israel against Iran, coupled with Iran's schadenfreude over America's troubled relations with Israel have also served to embolden Iran.

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently wrote a three-page memorandum to NSC Advisor Jim Jones warning that the U.S. had no clear contingency policy in place should sanctions fail to deter Iran from reaching a "threshold" capacity to construct a nuclear weapon. And Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, has repeatedly thrown cold water over a possible U.S. military strike against Iran even though he has recently not ruled out U.S. missile strikes against Iran. Why would Iran blink if Washington is unable to convince even itself that the inevitable shortcoming of sanctions leaves the use of military force as the only option left on the table?

    Also on the table is Iran's capacity to mischievously ratchet up its interference against American military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Iran's rulers may suffer from a bad case of misbegotten uber confidence. But on balance Iran's counter-containment policy has achieved impressive results. How impressive? Obviously, time will tell. But by its words and deeds Iran's bravado has the telltale hallmark of nation increasingly convinced that rather being contained, it is the nation that is doing the containing.
  3. ajtr

    ajtr Veteran Member Veteran Member

    Oct 2, 2009
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    A resilient Iran shields itself from pressure by building alliances

    TEHRAN -- A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.

    Now, even as the U.N. Security Council prepares to impose its fourth round of sanctions on Iran with a vote slated for Wednesday, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.

    Iran's ability to navigate such a perilous diplomatic course, analysts say, reflects both Iranian savvy and U.S. shortcomings as up-and-coming global players attempt to challenge U.S. supremacy, and look to Iran as a useful instrument.

    "We are very proud of our diplomacy, although we are mainly benefiting from mistakes made by the United States and its allies," said Kazem Jalali, a key member of the Iranian parliament's commission on national security and foreign policy. "We are using all our resources to exploit these weaknesses."

    The U.S. push for sanctions is facing strong headwinds in the Security Council, which is likely to be divided on its approach to Iran for the first time in more than four years. U.S. and European diplomats say the vote is assured passage in the 15-nation council. But they think Brazil, Lebanon and Turkey will either abstain or vote against the resolution.

    The measure would modestly reinforce a range of economic, high-technology and military sanctions against Iran, and target more than 40 Iranian elites and companies linked to the nation's nuclear program with a travel ban and an asset freeze. Iran has repeatedly rebuffed calls to halt its uranium-enrichment program; Iranian leaders say their efforts are entirely peaceful, but the United States and others say Iran is set on building a bomb.

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the U.N. resolution "the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced."

    But in another sign of the fragile nature of Washington's anti-Iran alliance, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran convened a regional security summit Tuesday to emphasize the realignment of military power in the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who backs U.N. sanctions, said the measures should not "be excessive" or impose undue hardship on the Iranian leadership or the Iranian people.

    The new U.S.-backed measures have been watered down enough that Tehran's crucial oil sector will probably be spared, and Russia's and China's business dealings with Iran will go largely untouched.

    U.N. constituency

    Iran has benefited from a solid constituency at the United Nations. In one particularly eye-catching move, Iran was elected a member of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in May, just weeks before the start of an aggressive campaign to arrest women with "inappropriate" clothing on Tehran's streets.

    At the month-long review conference for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York, also in May, Iranian diplomats, aligning themselves with other developing nations, obstructed U.S. attempts to alter the covenant. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flew to the United States to address the conference, where he called on world powers to destroy their nuclear weapons.

    Some question Iran's diplomatic ascendance, saying that Tehran severely miscalculated its handling of the nuclear crisis, losing support from China and Russia.

    "Rising and risen powers like China, Russia and Brazil will continue to flirt with Tehran, but when it comes crunch time, they know this is a core issue for the United States. And they're not going to jeopardize their most important relationship to please the Iranians," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

    U.N. officials and outside observers note that existing sanctions have heightened pressure on Iran, leading to the frequent seizure of vessels caught supplying Iran with banned materials and weapons. Iran will now have to brace for a range of banking and financial sanctions that will complicate its efforts to do business and to acquire nuclear technology. U.S. and European sanctions could follow.

    "Stuff they got easily five or six years ago they are struggling to get now," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Albright said that while the sanctions are not crippling Iran, they are potentially delaying the day when Iran can declare itself a nuclear weapons power.

    Shifting alliances

    Still, it is clear that Iran's grievances with the United States have resonated with a broader audience, particularly among a group of rising economic powers, including Brazil, Turkey and India, that have emerged from the world recession with greater economic might and that are demanding more influence on the world stage. They see the Security Council as reflecting the power structure of a bygone era.

    "The Iranians won't like the sanctions; but they will see this as a situation where they can actually come out ahead," said Flynt Leverett, a former Middle East specialist at the National Security Council and a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. "Brazil and the Turks will also use this as an opening to raise more public questions about the legitimacy of the Security Council."

    Leverett and other analysts say Iran has taken steps to shield itself from sanctions such as planned U.S. measures targeting Iran's gas sector. Iran has expanded its capacity to refine its own crude. It has also signed gas deals with non-Western countries such as China and Venezuela.

    Meanwhile, new investment is being marshaled to develop pipelines that would carry Iranian gas through Turkey to European countries, including Austria and Germany, that are hoping to reduce their dependence on Russia. "This love story between Turkey and Iran has a lot to do with fact that Iran really needs Turkey to reach European gas," said Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security.

    Luft said that while some of the financial sanctions "may hurt" Iran, he does not think they will change its behavior. Four years ago, Luft conducted an analysis of Iran's consumption of refined petroleum products, showing that more than 40 percent came from abroad. That figure he said, is now closer to 25 percent, making U.S. sanctions on gas imports increasingly irrelevant.

    "The U.S. Congress is conveniently unaware of all this," Luft said. "They are pushing for this straw man, which is gasoline sanctions, but the horse is out of the stable."

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