(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/08/ahmadinejad5jw-764396.gif)Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to push his country towards a seemingly inevitable showdown with the West. In a speech posted yesterday on his website, Ahmadinejad contended that the ultimate goal of world forces should be the annihilation of Israel. The speech was aimed at the ambassadors of Islamic countries ahead of “Quds Day,” also known as “Jerusalem Day,” an annual Iranian anti-Zionist event established in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini. Quds Day falls on August 17th. The Iranian leader illuminated its significance. “Qods Day is not merely a strategic solution for the Palestinian problem, as it is to be viewed as a key for solving the world problems,” he said. “Anyone who loves freedom and justice must strive for the annihilation of the Zionist regime in order to pave the way for world justice and freedom.”
Expressing many of the all-too-familiar anti-Semitic slanders, he accused ”Zionists” of being “behind the scene of the world’s main powers, media, monetary and banking centers.” With a nod towards the American presidential election, the Iranian leader also labeled Jews as “the decision makers, to the extent that the presidential election hopefuls must go and kiss the feet of the Zionists to ensure their election victory.” He further claimed that a “horrible Zionist current” has been managing world affairs for “about 400 years.”
He lashed out at Europe as well. “Zionism is the modern times plight of the human society and when we meet the European politicians they say speak transparently about everything, but they refrain from talking about the Zionist regime, which proves that Israel is the axis of unity of the world hegemonic powers,” he said.
The attack comes on the heels of the latest round of sanctions imposed by Western nations attempting to persuade the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear development program. Iran continues to claim it is intended for peaceful purposes, but the West rightly fears it is about making atomic weapons that would inevitably be used against Israel.
The effectiveness of the sanctions remains controversial. There are reports that the sanctions are crippling Iran’s economy in the short term, producing runaway inflation and high unemployment. Yet as recently as Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was forced to admit that Iran hasn’t reined in its nuclear program, even as he repeated the increasingly tiresome rhetoric about the Islamic Republic’s “willingness” to negotiate–again.
The House and Senate are currently working to reconcile the latest round of purportedly “crippling” sanctions before breaking for recess at the end of the week. The aim is to close several loopholes by expanding the list of Iranian entities subject to sanctions. The Obama administration is also being asked to impose penalties on foreign companies doing business with Iranian energy and financial companies. Yet as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Iranians “are pros when it comes to creating hundreds of new front companies to replace those on the sanctions’ list.” They further note that despite congressional requests, the administration is ”waging a behind-the-scenes campaign to water down existing sanctions by granting nearly every available waiver to countries that continue to buy Iranian oil.”
Proponents of tougher sanctions, such as Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) Rep. Robert Dold, (R-IL), and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), insist there is a better way. They have called for a blacklist of Iran’s entire energy sector, labeling it a “zone of proliferation concern.” Lawmakers have also pushed for sanctions on the directors and shareholders of organizations like the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT), the Belgian bank consortium that provides financial communications and clearing systems for the Central Bank of Iran. The administration is against the move, claiming individual banks would take SWIFT’s place. But as the Journal notes, it is unlikely too many banks would be willing to cut themselves off from the international finance system in order to “place themselves in a basket of outlaw or shady banks.”
Unfortunately, the Obama administration holds the upper hand. The current draft of the bill says the president shall impose sanctions–and that provision is non-binding. Thousands of waivers have already been issued by the Treasury Department, and the president has granted both China and India permission to continue importing Iranian oil. Furthermore, the Washington Free Beacon reports that the Obama administration is attempting to water down the sanctions even more as a sop to the insurance industry that underwrites shipping companies, cargo carriers, or airlines that have been subject to sanctions. If Congress were to pass the harsher restrictions outlined above, it would force the president to reveal whether he is genuinely interested in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon–or simply paying lip service to the idea.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is seemingly betting on lip service. On Wednesday, he contended that sanctions against Iran were largely useless, and that the “time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out.” _The New York Times_ reported that “public statements and private communications from the Israeli leadership” have renewed concerns that Israel may attempt a unilateral strike on Iran as early as this fall. That sent several administration officials hightailing it to Israel, including Defense Secretary Panetta. According the to the Times, “a number of administration officials say they remain hopeful that Israel has no imminent plans to attack and may be willing to let the United States take the lead in any future military strike, which they say would not occur until next year at the earliest.”
In other words, the administration is doing everything it can to persuade the Jewish State not to roil the American presidential election by forcing Obama to reveal where he really stands regarding the prospect of renewed war in the Middle East. The Times dances around this reality, noting that one of the reasons Israel “may act in September or early October” is that “Mr. Netanyahu feels that he will have less leverage if President Obama is re-elected…” (Or maybe no leverage at all if the president wins another four years). It is also worth remembering that Obama is in the midst of an unprecedented courtship of the Muslim Brotherhood, highlighted by his invitation to newly-elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to visit the White House in September. It is virtually certain that an attack on Iran led or assisted by the United States would put a huge dent in the president’s Muslim “outreach” efforts.
Efraim Halevy, a former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency and national security adviser, made it clear that some officials in Israel are running out of patience. “If I were an Iranian, I would be very fearful of the next 12 weeks,” he said. That sentiment was echoed by Amos Harel, defense correspondent for Haaretz. He estimated that the chance of an attack before November was 50 percent. “It’s probably a more crucial junction than it was ever before,” he contended. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev, who noted Ahmadinejad’s “extreme, poisonous language is unfortunately par for the course for the Iranian leadership,” called upon the international community to ”prevent the Iranian regime–with its fanatical and hate filled agenda–from obtaining nuclear capability.”
Whether the international community–or the Obama administration–is up to the task is deeply uncertain.
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