Sanctions, Threats Add Weight on Iran
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei weighed in on a rising sense of crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, as threats of a possible Israeli attack and a new push to cut Iran off from the international banking system put greater pressure on the regime in Tehran.
On Friday, Belgium’s Society for Worldwide International Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, said it has entered discussions with the U.S. and European governments to address concerns that its financial services are being used by Iran to avoid international sanctions and conduct illicit businesses.
The Senate Banking Committee passed a bill on Thursday that could lead to sanctions against Swift’s board of directors and owners if the organization doesn’t end dealings with Iran’s central bank and other Iranian firms that have been sanctioned by the U.S. and European Union.
Swift is a central player in the international banking system by facilitating the flow of electronic financial transactions.
Amid the sanctions push Israel’s defense minister this week said it would better to strike Iran before it develops nuclear weapons.
Mr. Panetta on Friday appeared to indirectly caution Israel against taking any actions that could open rifts within the international community.
Mr. Panetta, meeting with U.S. troops in Germany, said nations were now unified behind tough sanctions and in telling Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.
“The whole international community has said: ‘Don’t do it,’ ” Mr. Panetta said at the Ramstein Air Base. But if Iran pushes ahead with production of a nuclear bomb, Mr. Panetta added, “we have all options on the table and we’ll be prepared to respond if we have to.”
Iran says it isn’t developing nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have also stressed that it is necessary to give sanctions meant to squeeze the Iranian regime’s finances time to work.
The U.S. State Department weighed in Friday that sanctions could still have an effect.
“We believe there’s still time and space to pursue diplomacy and to allow the sanctions that are in place…to take hold,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. “These are unprecedented sanctions that I think everyone agrees are having a chilling effect on the Iranian economy.”
Mr. Khamenei, in a sermon marking the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, said the sanctions were only helping Iran. “They will make us more self-reliant….We would not achieve military progress if sanctions were not imposed on Iran’s military sector.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week appeared to suggest that an Israeli attack may be imminent.
“Whoever says ‘later” might find that ‘later’ is too late,” he said. He added that “Iran must not become nuclear….We mean what we say.”
Some Israeli officials, however, privately advise against taking the heightened rhetoric very seriously. If Israel decided to target Iran’s nuclear facilities, they said, the government isn’t likely to let the world know ahead of time.
“People should be more on alert when we stop talking about it,” said an Israeli official. “The world will only learn about it after it’s happened.”