Sanctions Alone Won’t Stop Iran
Diplomacy and economic pressure need to be backed up by a big stick.


Clifford D. May

  So what’s next? The Israelis are wrestling with what may be the most difficult decision they have ever faced: whether and when to use whatever military capabilities they have in an attempt to disable Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

The sanctions in place now are tough — but nowhere near as tough as they could be. To increase economic pressure the U.S. would, at a minimum, blacklist both the Central Bank of Iran and Iran’s energy sector.

Beyond that, the U.S. could impose a comprehensive international trade and investment embargo on Iran, declaring Iran’s entire economy a “zone of primary proliferation concern.” European and other foreign companies would be asked to halt any and all dealings with Iran except for the provision of food and medicine. Such measures — there are others, a long list — could precipitate a serious economic crisis. How soon? To determine that would require some number crunching.

There are those who will say that these actions are tantamount to economic warfare. They are not wrong. But Iran’s rulers have been at war with America for more than 30 years. The question now: What will we do to prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons with which to wage it?

And should Israel decide that the imminent acquisition of nukes by a regime openly committed to its annihilation requires a military response sooner rather than later, having tougher sanctions in place will be indispensable. The day after such a clash, Western diplomats should be able to tell the theocrats that the resuscitation of Iran’s economy cannot begin until their nuclear-weapons program is moribund and they have stopped sponsoring terrorists abroad and violating fundamental human rights at home. At that point, the Iranian people are sure to have opinions of their own. With a little encouragement they may have the courage to express them.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.