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LEBANON’S STAKE IN US-IRANIAN POLICY

LEBANON’S STAKE IN US-IRANIAN POLICY

 

            The Lebanese have a huge stake in the future course of US policy toward Iran and its nuclear enrichment program.  It is NALA’s perception that Hezbollah, as a military entity is funded, armed and trained by Iran as a preemptive deterrent force strategically deployed on Israel’s northern border, in defense of Iran’s ability to proceed with its enrichment program.  While this strategic deployment may well serve Iranian national interests, the presence of this force on Lebanese soil is destabilizing for Lebanon and for the eventual emergence of Lebanon as an independent sovereign state after thirty years of war and occupation.

            The current debate is framed in the two positions set forth in this paper.  The first is a portion of a speech given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the second is a response published in the Weekly Standard.

Sanctions Policy for the Purpose of Working a Negotiated Settlement with Iran.

            At a recent conference held in Manama Bahrain, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the following statement:       

You have the right to a peaceful nuclear program. But with that right comes a reasonable responsibility: that you follow the treaty you signed, and fully address the world’s concern about your nuclear activities. We urge you to make that choice – for your people, your interests, and our shared security. We urge you to restore the confidence of the international community and live up to your international obligations. Unfortunately, the most recent IAEA report reflected once again that so far Iran has chosen a different path, one that leads to greater international concern, isolation, and pressure.(emphasis added)”  Secretary Of State Hillary R. Clinton[1]

 

            It represented a nuanced change in the US position with regard to the Iranian nuclear development project which seemed to open a door to negotiations.  The Secretary asserted that Iran, like all signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a right to the peaceful development of nuclear power.  This represents a change from the former policy of the Bush Administration which held that the Iranians could not be trusted with a nuclear enrichment program for any purpose since the regime was not trustworthy and would not submit to the intrusive inspection regime imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

 

 

 

 

Sanctions Policy for the Purpose of Forcing Capitulation by Iran

            The more conservative position with regard to this issue was set forth in the recent issue of the Weekly Standard magazine in the article, “The Logic of Our Iran Sanctions - Accelerate them now”[2]

The article contains the argument against coercing Khamenei through sanctions into a negotiated deal whereby Khamenei may continue pursuit of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program for peaceful purposes under a strict IAEA inspection regime.  The article states that the White House may be seeking to use the sanctions regime to bring Khamenei into a bargained resolution because the White House is under the impression that to push the matter further toward Iranian capitulation on the issue would bring about one of two results both of which the White House seeks to avoid, namely, Crippling sanctions would cause a spike in oil prices; or Preemptive military strike on Iran.

 

The article makes the following points in opposition to the supposed White House strategy:

1.       There is no way to verify that Iran is keeping the agreement, Khamenei has already refused to comply with the necessary IAEA inspections regime necessary to insure compliance;

2.      An outcome that leaves Iran with a nuclear enrichment program is a political defeat for the West;

3.      Khamenei has expended substantial political resources against his own people to keep a bomb making capacity as a central component of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. He has no incentive not to make a bomb if Iran is allowed to keep its enrichment program.

4.      Regional allies will see such a deal as a rout of the West;

5.      Regional states will seek their own nuclear capacity;

6.      Israel will begin its count down to its own preemptive military strike; and,

7.      There is no political gain for Obama from such a presumed settlement.  Punitive means of “the stick” are starting to show progress. The Stuxnet virus has bought additional time for more punitive measures, therefore there is no need to negotiate now.

 

The article argues the alternative to the presumed negotiated resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and that is to force Iranian capitulation by accelerating the implementation and stringency of the sanctions regime. The article sets forth the following program:

1.      UN Security Council Resolution 1929, the sanctions regime, is being widely followed with EU states, Japan and South Korea giving harsher interpretations.  Our allies are taking the sanctions bit in their mouths;

2.      The sanctions are degrading Iran’s oil producing capacity and causing Iran’s oil customers to cut back, China by 17%; Japan by 19%.  These and other petroleum consumers are seeking supplies elsewhere than from Iran in response to the sanctions regime.  Loss of oil revenue threatens the survivability of the regime.

3.      The US can increase the “hassle factor” by exposing the IRG’s role in petroleum export business;

4.      Under the preamble to UN RES 1929, the US can restrict purchase of long term purchase contracts of Iranian oil and natural gas and close financing loop holes;

5.      The loss of Iranian oil production would have to be made up from other sources to keep prices stable.

6.      THE SHERMAN-CASEY-BROWN BILL INTRODUCED IN CONGRESS to establish this program.[3]

 

The issue is whether to accelerate sanctions or not. Considerations:

1.      The inevitability factor --They are coming anyway; 

2.      We should view the issue as does our adversary Khamenei in terms of black and white; win and lose; a zero-sum game of all or nothing. A “deal” where something is left to Iran will be seen in Iran as a US loss.

3.      Lessons of 1988 when the US Vincennes shot down the Iranian airliner, Khamenei advised Khomeini to give up the war against Saddam.  Cause – regime was threatened. When Khamenei sees the effects of sanctions as a regime threat, he backs down from the pursuit of a given policy;

4.      Obama politically cannot “surrender” during re-election season; and,

5.      Quoting from the article, “The sooner we can make the supreme leader conceive again of the awfulness of 1988, when surrender became thinkable, the better.”

6.       

So, the argument is that when the cost of an accelerated sanctions regime gets high enough, that is, when sanctions threaten regime survivability, Khamenei will capitulate.  So regime capitulation should be the objective of sanctions, rather than driving Iran into a negotiated settlement.

This argument is based on the historical assumption that the downing of the Iranian Airbus in 1988 was the precipitating cause for Khomenei to concede the Iran-Iraq War to Saddam Hussein[4], and that if pushed far enough, Khamenei will capitulate to the West as Khomenei capitulated to Saddam.

The Weekly Standard article also assumes that the logical end to the sanctions regime will be the choking off of petroleum revenues to the Islamic regime and that the said regime will neither find nor develop any exit strategy from the policy other than that articulated in the article of capitulation on the enrichment program or the fall of the regime. 

Lebanon’s Stake

The issue is one of time.  How much time does Iran need to buy for its nuclear development team to complete work on a weaponized nuclear device?  How much time does the Iranian Islamic regime have from its indigenous “Green Movement” to survive before being taken over and ousted due to the hardships worked on the population by the economic sanctions?  Iran will retain its command and control of Hezbollah as long as it appears that the window is open for completion of the weaponization aspect of its enrichment program. For as long as completion of the project remains viable, the threat of a military operation emanating from Israel or the United States or both also remains viable and the strategic deterrence of Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border in Lebanon will remain a high priority. The persistence of this presence in Lebanon, over time works a slow and steady deterioration of state institutions and of constitutional government.

Hezbollah is not structured so as to deter the threat to the regime posed by economic sanctions, only to deter military strikes.  Acceleration of sanctions with the purpose of forcing capitulation on the nuclear enrichment project would therefore seem the more beneficial course for US policy, at least as regards Lebanon’s interest in the outcome of this regional dispute. The sooner Hezbollah can become useless to Iran as a military force, the better.

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