Washington — As the United States moves toward the final stage of imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank and oil industry, American officials are trying to erase Israeli suspicion about the effectiveness of economic pressure and to ensure that Jerusalem and Washington are fully coordinated in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat.
A recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, which has been attributed to Israel by multiple sources (including Western intelligence, according to Time magazine), has tested this coordination and has made clear that despite a broad agreement between the United States and Israel, there are still areas of tactical difference.
The United States, now ratcheting up sanctions to a level seen as devastating to the Islamic Republic’s economy, is opposed to any unilateral Israeli action that could destabilize the region and put at risk the international drive to tighten the screws on Iran.
“We’ve heard from Iran that sanctions are biting,” a senior administration official said, adding that the next round of sanctions will force Iran to decide between adhering to international demands or suffering a crippling blow to its economy.
These sanctions will deny national and private banks that conduct business with Iran’s central bank access to America’s financial system. The first stage of the sanctions relates to business dealings outside the energy sector; the second, to be implemented within six months, includes all petroleum transactions.
In recent weeks, according to the senior official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, the United States sent teams overseas to discuss the implementation of sanctions with other nations. The goal of these teams was to increase oil supplies from Gulf countries and from Iraq and Libya in order to make up for Iranian oil and to convince key consumers of Iranian oil, including China, Japan and India, to diversify their oil suppliers and cut purchases from Iran. The United States has also increased its own oil and natural gas production to make sure the sanctions don’t lead to a spike in oil prices. “We are doing this in a phased but aggressive manner so Iran doesn’t increase its oil revenue,” the official said.
This phased approach has caused some in Israel to question the resolve of the United States to actually block Iran’s oil sales. “The American administration is hesitant because it fears oil prices will go up in an election year, and in this aspect this is definitely disappointing,” Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said on January 16.
But remarks by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on January 18 appeared designed to allay American concerns that the two nations were on different tracks.
Close talks between the two governments, including a visit by Martin Dempsey, chairman of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Israel on January 19, were focused on reassuring Israelis that America’s drive for sanctions is serious and effective.
Friction between the two countries was also caused by a clandestine act that the United States feared could derail its sanctions effort and ignite violence.