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What do the sanctions against Iran mean for Israel?

  • Paula
On Monday, a second phase of American sanctions went into effect targeting critical sectors of Iran’s economy, including its oil exports, shipping sector, and financial institutions.
by PAULA SLIER | Nov 08, 2018

After being lifted in July 2015 with the signing of the P5 + 1 nuclear deal under former American President Barack Obama, sanctions have now been reinstated almost five months after current American President Donald Trump withdrew from what he has repeatedly called “the worst deal ever”.

Jerusalem has been one of the most vocal supporters of Trump’s actions, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared the reimposed sanctions “an important moment for Israel”.

Tehran must meet 12 demands to get sanctions lifted, including ending its “support for terrorism and military engagement in Syria” and “halting its nuclear and ballistic-missile development”.

Jerusalem is hugely concerned about Iranian expansion and influence, particularly in southern Syria, where the country supports all the organisations on Israel’s northern border, including those of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

Iran’s emboldenment of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah mean that there is widespread speculation nowadays that war between Israel and Hezbollah is on the cards. Two months after the nuclear deal was originally signed, the leader of the Islamic Republic declared that in 25 years, the Jewish state would no longer exist. Israeli leaders have taken threats like that seriously.

Dr Soli Shahvar, the Founding Director of the Ezri Centre for Iran and the Persian Gulf, says that in the past three-and-a-half years, Iranian conduct – like supporting opposition movements and creating militia in a number of countries – has contributed more to instability in the Middle East than any other factor. No wonder then that Israeli officials have repeatedly argued that Tehran was using the deal to arm itself with nuclear weapons, and increase its influence in the region. These same politicians are now hopeful that Trump’s new measures will lead to the downfall of the current Iranian leadership.

The idea is that by applying economic pressure, Tehran will change its policy. The White House insists that the sanctions are not aimed at toppling the Islamic Republic, but are rather aimed at forcing Iran to alter her regional policies dramatically, including support for militant groups. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin summed it up best when he said, “The Iranian beast must be starved and not fed. This is the only way to guarantee the stability of the world.”

Since the United States pulled out of the nuclear deal in May, the Iranian rial has slipped to record lows, and the country has plunged into recession. Protests, driven by economic concerns, have erupted in several major cities against the government. The new sanctions will continue to push Iran to boiling point. Should the US, Israel, and other countries provide the necessary assistance to these protestors, they could very likely succeed in overthrowing the government.

But there is no guarantee that this policy will work, and should it trigger a revolution, who’s to say it won’t herald an even more conservative leadership than the one in power?

In addition, the European Union (EU) is not on board. It considers the nuclear deal crucial to its national interests, although it’s far from clear whether it can save it by propping up those European companies financially which are feeling the pinch from American threats. The new sanctions prohibit any EU entities who work in Iran from doing business with the United States. It’s no surprise then that most companies have – or are in the process of – abandoning the Iranian market over the American one. Also, to date, the EU hasn’t managed to put in place an alternative payment mechanism to sidestep the American-dominated banking system.

Jerusalem is outraged by the EU decision not to support the sanctions. It has criticised the bloc for ignoring documents the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, stole from Tehran last January, and which Netanyahu insists prove that Iran’s nuclear programme is a military one aimed at developing atomic bombs.

Israeli Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan has called the bloc “morally bankrupt”. He and others argue that Europe’s position could lead to even more refugees flooding the continent in the wake of a possible major military clash.

But, Europe aside, Tehran still maintains key support from Russia and Asia, including China, India and South Korea, that could save the country’s economy from total collapse. Certainly, the Iranian leadership is keen to engage with these countries as much as possible, although it could pay a high price for doing so.

In the Iranian psyche, Russia, for example, is not much loved. It has taken territories away from Iran throughout the country’s history, while intervening in Iranian domestic affairs. Depending more on Russia is not something the Iranians are desperate to do; but they will do so in order to survive and outlast the impact of Trump’s sanctions.

For now, though, Israel has received an enormous boost to its security. An increasing number of countries are coming on board, and accepting Jerusalem’s position vis-à-vis Tehran. But it’s not all easy sailing moving forward. Trump has signalled his willingness to meet the Iranian leadership, and Israeli officials are worried he might agree to a face-to-face before Tehran even agrees to dismantle her nuclear facilities. From the Israeli perspective, the battle has been won, but not the war. Tehran has been contained for now.

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