Battered Israel relieved to take back seat on Iran sanctions

While Israel had called for 'crippling' Iran sanctions, in the wake of its fatal Gaza flotilla raid officials knows they have little political capital to push for more aggressive action than the US has taken.

Jonathan Shaul/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an economic forum in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday. Israel had called for 'crippling' economic sanctions, including a ban on buying oil and gas from Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised President Barack Obama for securing a fourth round of Iran sanctions, even though many here say that the measures are not sufficient to prompt Tehran to change course.

"It's an important first symbolic step,'' says Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a member of a team of foreign policy advisers to Netanyahu. "It shows Iran and its supporters that most of the world is determined to oppose Iran's nuclear efforts, but a great deal more will be needed in order to make sanctions effective…. Obviously time is running out.''

Israel had called for "crippling" economic sanctions, including a ban on buying oil and gas from Iran. But in the wake of Israel's fatal Gaza flotilla raid, officials here seem resigned to the fact that there's little they can do to accelerate the gradualist approach of the US.

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid

"Israel is much more enthusiastic than the international community'' on sanctions, says Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert based in Tel Aviv. But "Israel can't part ways with the US. Israel had problems taking over one Turkish ship, and it infuriated the international community, which shows that the current Israeli government doesn't have the political capital to take Iran militarily, which is much more complex.''

Israel relieved to move out of international spotlight

Mr. Netanyahu lauded Mr. Obama for building an "impressive'' majority in the United Nations Security Council Thursday, persuading even Russia and China to support fresh sanctions.

For Netanyahu, the vote was a welcome global spotlight shift after more than a week of intense international pressure on Israel for an external investigation of its raid on the main boat of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara. Turkey and Brazil, which had brokered an 11th-hour nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran in a bid to avoid sanctions, were the only two countries on the 15-member council to oppose the vote – although Lebanon abstained.

Iran unlikely to 'rethink' its nuclear aspirations – analyst

While Israel has been relatively quiet publicly, national security commentator Ronen Bergman wrote that Israeli officials have privately knocked the measures approved yesterday as too weak. But he took issue with such views.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, he said the measures would have a "considerable tactical effect'' on the Iranian military establishment and nuclear program by limiting the purchase of equipment – and by hurting companies and banks that finance the build-up. But ultimately, he said, the sanctions will not achieve Israel's ultimate goal.

"The bad news is that all this will probably not change the Iranian determination to reach the bomb,'' he wrote. "Only sanctions that inflict serious harm to the Iranian economy and cause distress to the Iranian people are liable to cause the regime to feel that its future is in danger – and rethink the whole matter. The sanctions imposed yesterday are not sanctions of this kind.''

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid


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