Mohamed ElBaradei’s tenure as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency ended this week, and he received an ominous send-off: Even as he censured Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the construction of 10 new enrichment plants.
If there is a silver lining to this grim announcement, it is that the world is beginning to come around to the conclusion Israel reached long ago: Iran’s talk of developing a “peacetime” nuclear energy program is empty rhetoric, and its transparent goal is to develop a nuclear weapons capability that will irreversibly sway the balance of power in the Middle East.
This isn’t only about Israel, but it is surely about Israel to a large degree. As the Times of London editorialized this week, “All of this would be provocative enough coming from any autocracy. Coming from a leader who believes in a literal and imminent apocalypse and who gleefully anticipates the extinction of the Jewish state, it is chilling.”
Iran’s recalcitrance is leading to mounting threats of sanctions and angry reactions in the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany. Yet China, a key Iranian trade partner, and Russia remain reluctant to look beyond their self-interest and join the international consensus. But as these “great powers” dither, time is running out on a diplomatic solution.
What is needed immediately are sanctions with bite, not to punish the Iranian people, but to create the conditions that will force their theocratic government to retreat from its nuclear ambitions, or embolden the relatively pro-Western voices in the streets. Here is an opportunity for the United Nations to prove its relevance. If not, the chill from Tehran will be felt not only in the Middle East, but around the world.