Iran expert Patrick Clawson said the international sanctions campaign has gained real momentum, and he expressed cautious optimism that it might succeed in preempting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
However, he told an audience in Whippany on Feb. 8, if Iranian efforts to produce weapons of mass destruction aren’t halted by diplomatic or financial pressure, “it is 100 percent certain” that Israel will launch an overt attack on its nuclear facilities “within two years.”
Clawson, the chief director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and director of its Iran Security Initiative, spoke to about 120 people at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus. Joining him was David Ibsen, executive director of the nonprofit United Against Nuclear Iran.
In addition to UANI and the Washington Institute, the event sponsors were the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest and Central NJ, the NJ region of American Jewish Committee, the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, and the Stop Iran Now task force.
In a week that brought reports suggesting that Israel feels Iran may soon be “immune” from attack, Clawson said military action might come sooner than later. Given how close Iran is to completing the task of enriching uranium for weapons use, the window of opportunity for such a strike is closing fast, he said, in agreement with some analysts.
He added that Israel would be more likely to attack during the American election campaign when no candidate would criticize such action, rather than right after the inauguration of a re-elected or new American president.
Clawson also asserted that, despite official silence, Israel has been using targeted assassinations of nuclear scientists and cyber-sabotage to slow down Iran’s progress. He also said that actions of the United States — including drone surveillance, encouraging defections, and sabotaging equipment — have also “come pretty darn close to the definition of an attack.”
Both Clawson and Ibsen remarked on the growing strength of economic efforts to pressure the Iranian regime to change course. Clawson, the author of 18 books or studies on Iran and a much consulted analyst on the subject, said the sanctions effort is having significant impact on Iran’s nuclear program and on the Iranian public.
Because of bank sanctions, cargo ships are lining up at the Port of Hormuz on the Iranian coast, stalled by the inability of their clients to access funds to pay for their goods. Anxious customers have staged runs on some of the banks in Tehran, rushing to withdraw their money.
But the international community, Clawson said, is motivated by fear of nuclear proliferation.
“It ain’t about Israel,” he declared, and he advised American friends of Israel not to emphasize the Israeli aspect of the threats.
Concern over proliferation is behind President Barack Obama’s efforts to bring other countries on board with sanctions against Iran, Clawson said, and it’s what motivates efforts by countries like Britain, France, and Germany.
He expressed some optimism that their efforts might be effective in reducing the imminent nuclear threat — at least in the short term.
But how the Iranian government will respond to the international pressure remains uncertain, Clawson warned. The sanctions ratchet up the possibilities for good and bad. Iran might be pressured to scale back its effort to produce nuclear weapons — or it might lash out in retaliation with military or terrorist attacks. That in turn could draw the United States into warfare.
Ibsen said the movement to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions has grown far beyond initial expectations. Just a few years ago, such concerted international action on sanctions and efforts to persuade corporations to withdraw from Iran were unthinkable. He welcomed that success and called on those present to use their own resources to step up pressure on firms still doing business in Iran; a list can be found on UANI’s website, www.uani.org.
Asked whether there was any “carrot” being offered to encourage a positive outcome, Ibsen said, “The reward is implicit in the sanctions. If they comply with our demands, sanctions would be lifted, one step at a time.”
Opening the program was Jim Daniels, chair of the Stop Iran Now Task Force. Martin Gross, the president of the Washington Institute, introduced Clawson to the gathering. In his remarks, Gross underlined America’s “cold, hard interest in supporting Israel.” He added that contrary to some claims, there has never been a documented case of the United States paying a price for that support.