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Sanctions On Iran Can Be Effective If They Are Serious And Enforced

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In response to Iran’s missile and drone attacks on Israel, the European Union and the United States announced their intention to impose more sanctions on those involved in Tehran’s weapons proliferation.

Separately, the US Congress passed a long-stalled foreign assistance bill that contained several Iran sanctions. President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed the measures into law, including the Mahsa Act that requires the US government to impose applicable sanctions on Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his office and his appointees, Iran’s president, and several entities affiliated with Khamenei. The SHIP Act, another measure passed by US Congress, also targets Tehran’s illicit oil exports in defiance of US sanctions.

The fact that President Biden signed the bill was simply because it was part of military assistance to Ukraine, which his administration was desperately waiting to pass to prevent a Russian victory. Otherwise, the administration has failed to enforce oil export sanctions that are the most important punitive measure adopted by former President Donald Trump.

The US also designated four people and two companies it says were “involved in malicious cyber activity” on behalf of the country’s military. The individuals and companies were working “on behalf of” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Cyber Electronic Command (IRGC-CEC), the Treasury said. However, these have more of a declarative value rather than being forceful measures against a government that has supported the Hamas invasion of Israel, stockpiled enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb and sent hundreds of kamikaze drones to Russia.

IRI apologists,who have worked against major US sanctions for decades argue at the same time that these measures are not effective in putting pressure on the regime to change its behavior or to weaken its hold on power: “But, after four decades, the case of Iran shows the opposite to be true: sanctions strengthened the Iranian state, impoverished its population, increased state repression, and escalated Iran’s military posture toward the US and its allies in the region.”

Let’s assume that this statement is true. Why sanctions that worked against South Africa and Iraq, are toothless against Tehran?

Is the existing sanction system against IRI effective in establishing deterrence and change the policies of the Islamic Republic? Not satisfactorily. Sanctions are effective when the economic and military establishments, the repression and propaganda machines, and the interests of the ruling elite are targeted constantly and forcefully. The purpose should be to deter, weaken, or change the regime’s behavior and not to deceive public opinion by an action that is not intended to be pursued.

Against their public gestures to “send a clear message to the Iranian regime”, Western governments have applied three methods in the past three years to minimize their sanctions:

While Europe has not imposed any significant economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, the Biden administration has failed to vigorously enforce the oil sanctions on third parties involved in shipments from Iran. The SHIP Act promises to broaden the scope of restrictions on Iran’s crude oil exports by extending coverage to foreign ports, vessels, and refineries that knowingly engage in the trade but the Biden administration will not make any moves out of fear that they may increase the price of crude or the gasoline in the election year.

However, to what extent the administration would implement the restrictions in an election year is not certain, as they have repeatedly emphasized diplomacy with Tehran.

If the SHIP Act is implemented and enforced, the new sanctions could add as much as $8.40 to global prices, according to ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington-based consulting firm. It is clear that Biden does not want higher gas prices six months before the presidential elections.

Both the US and Europe have announced dozens of sanctions in recent past, which they call “smart” targeting individuals and entities involved in Tehran’s nefarious activities. But these measures are from exerting effective pressure on the Iranian government.

Despite publicly claiming to be pressuring Iran, the Biden administration has also released tens of billions of dollars to the Islamist regime that were blocked by US sanctions. It has effectively unfrozen an estimated $16 billion that Iraq and South Korea owed the Iran respectively but could not pay due to US sanctions.

The only time that sanctions exerted pressure was during the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy. During Trump’s tenure, the Tehran’s oil exports fell under 300k barrels per day, cutting off its major source of revenue. It was due to three factors.