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Israeli push for Iranian sanctions losing legitimacy

By Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler | Last updated: Jun 27, 2010 - 9:30:50 PM

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (second from right, front row), President of the Islamic Republic of Iran; Manouchehr Mottaki (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Javad Zarif, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations. Photo courtesy, United Nations
JERUSALEM (IPS/GIN) - Israel has given guarded approval to the new round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council in the international community's bid to haul back Iran's nuclear program.

But a senior Israeli official told IPS, “We very much doubt that these sanctions will be enough.”

Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the latest sanctions as a “positive step.” He said he hoped it would lead the international community to take broader economic and diplomatic sanctions against the Iranian energy sector.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, added that the latest resolution “could serve as a launching pad for far-reaching sanctions against Iran by the U.S. and like-minded nations.”

Those sanctions could be aimed at Iran's ability to import gasoline, Oren said, pointing out that “Iran has a lot of oil, but not a lot of refined oil or the capacity to export oil.”

Most Israelis, officials and strategic analysts alike, concur that the latest move against Iran falls well short of the “paralyzing sanctions” advocated at the beginning of the year by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Under the headline ‘Obama proves true to his word,' Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff wrote in Haaretz, “Both Israel and the U.S. realize that the new sanctions won't bring Iran to its knees; the key to achieving is complementary sanctions which, unlike those just approved by the UN, could prove paralyzing for the Iranian economy, and especially for Iran's Revolutionary Guard.”

Iran has already stated categorically that the sanctions will not force it to change course in its nuclear quest.

So already, in Israel there is preoccupation with ‘what's next?'—whether or not sanctions are further intensified.

With their country at the focus of international scrutiny for the past fortnight, Israelis are finding it difficult to disentangle the fallout over the confrontation over the Free Gaza flotilla in which Israeli commandoes killed nine pro-Palestinian activists, from the approval of the new sanctions against Iran.

Write Harel and Issacharoff: “Obama hinted as much in his statement on the status quo in Gaza being ‘intolerable.' But to resolve Israel's differences with the U.S. over the raid on the flotilla will require a real change in the Gaza blockade as well as Israeli willingness to set up an inquiry committee that is satisfactory to Washington.”

Netanyahu may well move to accommodate those U.S. demands. That does not, however, disguise a sense of heightened uneasiness within Israel, a feeling of deepening isolation in the wake of the flotilla clash, a confrontation which most Israelis perceive as an “act of self-defense.”

Nor would such accommodation to Washington's demands conceal a growing suspicion in Israel that on Iran—also for Israelis a critical issue of self-defense—the U.S. President may finally not “live up to his word” and may eventually acquiesce in Iran gaining nuclear capability.

“The biggest danger to peace is that the most dangerous regimes in the world will use the most dangerous weapons of all,” said Netanyahu after the sanctions debate. And, he added, “the international community needs to continue to keep the prevention of this threat at the top of its agenda.”

With sanctions approved on one hand, but on the other hand, doubts whether the Obama Administration can harness enough international support to actually prevent Iran from going nuclear, Israel finds itself in something of a bind.

Netanyahu does appreciate that any move by the U.S. against Iran has to be embedded in international legitimacy. Yet, like most Israelis, he resents the fact that Israel's own international legitimacy is increasingly under question as a result of the sea confrontation off Gaza, and because of its long and continuing occupation of Palestinian lands.

Washington is clearly keeping a close watch on such existential Israeli fears—about a nuclear Iran, and about its international de-legitimization.

Anthony Cordesman from the Washington-based Centre of Strategic and International Studies who, last year, issued a detailed assessment entitled ‘Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities' told the BBC World Service, “A confident Israel induced to undertake peace policies that are in its own interest is clearly preferable to a beleaguered nuclear Israel which sees itself as having its back to the wall.”

Specifically regarding Iran, Israel has no problem making plain its concerns and what might follow—at least in behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

This came out pointedly when the New York Times, in a report on the diplomatic maneuvers in advance of this week's UN sanctions debate, related the telling account by an official in Jerusalem about Israel's own effort to convince China of the urgent need to support tough sanctions.

On a meeting of a high-ranking Israeli delegation in Beijing, the paper quoted the Israeli official as saying, “The Chinese didn't seem too surprised about the classified evidence we showed them (about Iran's nuclear build-up). But they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on the oil supplies they have come to depend on.”

Related news:

Shame on America and the United Nations (FCN Editorial, 06-21-2010)

Brazil-Turkey Deal with Iran frustrates belligerent U.S. policy (FCN, 05-21-2010)

Iran's President speaks on relations with U.S. (FCN, 05-18-2010)

U.S. walks out as Iran presents its case at UN conference (FCN, 05-7-2010)

World community backs Iran's nuclear program (FCN, 09-14-2008)