What will Iran’s apologists say now? A new report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency states that while it has not yet actually built a bomb, “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” Not nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, as the Iranian government and its international enablers would have it, but mechanisms that are “specific to nuclear weapons.”
This is different than 2002. Unlike the information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged nuclear program that triggered the second Iraq war, the evidence this time comes from the UN nuclear watchdog, not from the intelligence services of interested countries. The IAEA, under Director Yukia Amano, is universally respected for its professionalism and impartiality. As a spokesman for the U.S. State Department put it, the report is “comprehensive, credible, quite damning and alarming.”
They don’t need to use the bomb to revolutionize the balance of power in the Middle East and beyond. The emergence of Shi’ite Iran as strongman of the region places the security of its Sunni neighbors at risk. And since these countries are U.S. allies and major exporters of oil to the West, there could be catastrophic consequences for the entire democratic world. Iranian long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles bring Europe itself under threat of nuclear attack.
Iran has proxies across the border eager to carry out the deed: Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, and terrorist non-state clients such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
What can be done to stop the Iranian atomic juggernaut? The UN Security Council has already passed four resolutions imposing economic and financial sanctions. The U.S., the EU and other countries, including Canada, have imposed their own sanctions on key Iranian companies and individuals.
While no means of deterrence should be declared off the table, there are clearly ways of ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran, and these should be tried before force is employed. The EU, in fact, is already discussing stronger sanctions aimed at Iran’s banking system and oil exports.
Unfortunately, Russia, China and some other countries have up to now opposed such measures, fearing the loss of economic benefits they get through trade with Iran. But with the IAEA report, it will be increasingly difficult for Russia and Iran’s other enablers to deny Tehran’s aggressive plans. The nations of the world have no choice but to act.
This is not simply Israel’s problem. A nuclear Iran threatens her neighbors, Europe and the entire world. It is high time we acted accordingly.
Dan Elbaum is director of the Chicago Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee.