Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that lifting sanctions on Iran without demanding sufficient concessions in return will only encourage Tehran on its path to nuclear armament and lead to future conflict.
Tehran has been negotiating sanction relief in Geneva with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, in exchange for assurances that it will not develop a nuclear weapon. Exact terms on offer from both sides have not been made public, but no agreement was made over the weekend. The sides will sit down for a new round of talks on November 20.
“On Iran, there aren’t only two options – a bad deal or war. There is a third option: Continuing to exert pressure through sanctions,” Netanyahu told parliament on Wednesday.
“I would even say that a bad deal could lead to the second, unwanted result.”
Israel has been lobbying hard against appeasement, with Netanyahu himself claiming that Iran is about to clinch “the deal of the century.”
Despite the avowed secrecy of the negotiations, Netanyahu’s chief Iran expert, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, produced estimates of the benefits of the current sanctions.
Banking, equipment, and oil export restrictions currently cost the Iranian economy about US$100 billion a year – around a quarter of its domestic output.
“The sanctions relief directly will reduce between $15 to $20 billion out of this amount,” Steinitz told the Jerusalem Press Club on Wednesday.
The minister believes the relief will have a multiplier effect, therefore making it harder to enforce other restrictions.
“The damage to the overall sanctions, we believe, will be something between $20 billion and maybe up to $40 billion. This is very significant. It’s not all the sanctions. It’s not the core sanctions about oil exports and the banking system, but it’s very significant relief for the Iranians,” said Steinitz.
The US has insisted that any loosening of the blockade of the Iranian economy will be “targeted and reversible.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that if Congress imposes any new sanctions against Tehran, it could torpedo the talks. “The risk is that if Congress were to unilaterally move to raise sanctions it could break faith in those negotiations and actually stop them and break them apart,” Kerry told reporters before meeting with US senators on the matter on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Tehran continues to insist – as it has throughout the past decade – that it is developing nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.
Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the UN’s nuclear watchdog – has been in Tehran this week to iron out a deal on international supervision of the country’s nuclear program. The main issues involve site access for UN inspectors and assurances that nuclear materials – such as enriched uranium – that could be used as potential weapons ingredients are not being manufactured.
A cooperation deal was struck between the IAEA and Iran on Monday. But speaking to Reuters on Wednesday, Amano struck a more cautious note.
“I can say that enrichment activities are ongoing…no radical change is reported to me,” he said.
“Activities which are not allowed [under UN Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend all enrichment] are continuing,” Amano added.
Speaking on Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – a close ally of Tehran – stated that failure to reach a deal over Iran’s nuclear program could lead to a war in the Middle East.
“What is the alternative to a deal with Iran and the countries of the world,” he asked in a rare pulic appearance. “The alternative is war in the region.”
Nasrallah pointed the finger at Israel and accused some Arab countries of siding with Tel Aviv on the issue.
“Israel does not want any accord that would avert war in the region. It is regrettable that some Arab countries take the Israeli side in its murderous choices. It is regrettable that Netanyahu is the spokesman for some Arab countries,” he said.
This seemed to be in reference to Iran’s archrivals – Sunni Saudi Arabia and Qatar.