Commentary Magazine


Don’t Assume Embargo Will Make Iran Fold

With the tightening of international sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, there are some hopeful signs the pain being inflicted on the Islamist regime may have serious repercussions. As Amotz Asa-El writes in the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, the continued fall of oil prices despite the cuts in Iranian exports is a hopeful sign as is the regime’s admission that their output is dropping. More importantly, the hyperinflation afflicting Iran’s economy is causing unrest in Tehran, raising hopes the sanctions are destabilizing the country and calling into question the ability of the ayatollah’s government to hang on. All this could generate another rebuke from the Iranian people at the next scheduled presidential election next year that would create even more problems than the revolt that popped up when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rigged the vote in 2009.

But optimism about the impact the sanctions will have on Iran is not the same thing as an assurance they cannot endure them. As the Iranian attitude during the three rounds of the P5+1 talks with the West has illustrated, the ayatollahs are still under the impression that the pain inflicted on their people will not be enough to either topple the regime or bring the country to a standstill. Though Iran’s feeble attempt to flex its muscles in response to the sanctions by threatening oil tanker traffic in the Gulf of Hormuz isn’t scaring anyone — least of all the United States which is reinforcing its own naval presence in the region to remind the Iranians of their weakness — there is no reason to assume their belief they can hang on while continuing their progress toward the nuclear goal is not valid.

The European oil embargo, which has been belatedly imposed in an effort to deter Israel from acting on its own to stop the Iranian nuclear threat, may well be feeding unrest in the streets of Tehran. But to assume that unhappiness about the country’s economy will translate into a willingness on the part of the regime to give up its nuclear ambitions requires a leap of faith not backed up by any evidence other than the hopes of Western onlookers. As the Islamist leaders of Iran showed in 2009, they are perfectly willing to use violence on their own people to repress dissent, and there is no sign they have weakened in their resolve. If anything, their backing of the massacres being carried out in Syria to prop up the government of their ally Bashar al-Assad ought to remind foreign observers that optimism about the demise of such regimes is unjustified.

For all of the hardships being inflicted on Iran, it should be remembered the sanctions are far from airtight, as even previous weaker measures were often unenforced by Western governments. Even this far more serious attempt to choke off the oil exports that keep the country afloat is being undermined by the waivers granted by the Obama administration to China and India that now buy 22 and 13 percent of Iran’s oil exports. As the Journal noted in an editorial, “thanks to lobbying by the Obama Administration, the sanctions law contained several loopholes you could drive a warhead through. ” It may be these countries will, as Asa-El hopes, eventually drop their business with Tehran. But given the good rates they are getting from the Iranians, there is every reason to believe this outlet will continue to exist and give the regime enough cash to limp along.