The conundrum over what to do about Iran’s nuclear issue remains. Sanctions are the international community’s most viable policy tool on Iran, but the existing restrictions have only been effective in slowing Iran’s nuclear programme up until now. They have not stopped it and neither are they unlikely to do so in the future.
Further sanctions might persuade Iran to return to the negotiating table, but Tehran is not easily swayed.
A military strike on Iran will do nothing to solve the problem and would instead have potentially catastrophic consequences for the rest of the region. It would also strengthen Iran’s resolve and rally public support behind the regime, which would not be the desired effect. Iranians themselves do not necessarily support a nuclear bomb, but they believe it is their right to have a civilian nuclear programme.
In a year that has seen civil unrest uproot governments across the Middle East, few have the appetite for a war with Tehran. Washington certainly does not have the stomach for another conflict in the Middle East nor the kind of reaction Iran will be sure to unleash if attacked.
An antagonised Iran is likely activate Hamas and Hezbollah to cause trouble in their respective sub-regions. Tehran has also previously threatened to block the transportation of oil through the key waterway in the Gulf, the Straits of Hormuz. This would inevitably result in a huge spike in oil prices.
Perhaps the best strategy now for the international community is to go in the opposite direction by removing some sanctions and restoring relations as Iran is set on pursuing its current course of action regardless.
Short of a complete turnaround in the political landscape, Iran’s nuclear programme is unlikely to be abandoned. Hope remains that when a new president comes into office in the summer of 2013, he will be more open to international negotiations.