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Sanctions are hitting Iran hard; give them a chance to work for a bit longer

Mar 8, 2012 - By The Dallas Morning News Services

The last time Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Barack Obama at the White House, tensions were palpable, and their points of disagreement seemed to overshadow an otherwise close bilateral relationship. Netanyahu's visit Monday might not have been warm and fuzzy, but both leaders stood united on the importance of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, even if it takes military action.

Both leaders also agree that containment is not a viable option. Others feel that Iran can't be stopped from assembling a nuclear weapon so the only option is to contain it to minimize risks that such a weapon can be used. The Netanyahu and Obama agreement was crucial. Once Iran has a nuclear bomb, containment becomes the stuff of fantasy.

Where Israel and the United States still seem to disagree is how and where to draw the line. Iran has dramatically advanced its ability to enrich uranium to weapons grade and multiplied the equipment and underground facilities devoted to this quest.

As Iran hardens those facilities against attack and disperses them, the difficulty increases for outside forces to attack and neutralize all of them. That is why Israel, understandably, feels the situation is urgent.

At the same time, international economic sanctions have never been more punishing. Iran has lost the ability to repatriate billions of dollars in oil revenue. Domestic dissatisfaction is so high that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's political grouping overwhelmingly lost parliamentary elections last week. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is maneuvering to remove Ahmadinejad from power.

Meanwhile, a steady U.S. naval buildup around the Persian Gulf has minimized Iran's ability to sow mischief and disrupt petroleum shipments. With pressure mounting, Iran has offered to grant U.N. access to a key military complex and reopen broader talks on international nuclear inspections.

Has Tehran blinked? Hardly. Iran's delaying tactics are well-known, and there must be no substitute for full transparency and compliance with its treaty obligations. That's why maintaining the pressure of sanctions is key.

A unilateral Israeli attack would serve only to strengthen Iran's hard-line leadership while dramatically increasing chances of a catastrophic regional war. Imagine thousands of rockets and missiles raining down on Israel from southern Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah rules.

Imagine missiles crisscrossing the Persian Gulf, closing shipping lanes and sending gasoline prices to the stratosphere as major petroleum production and export facilities in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are threatened. Imagine U.S. forces being drawn into a war not of Washington's choice but of necessity to protect Israel from an onslaught.

Those distinct possibilities mandate closer coordination than ever between Israel and Washington. Iran must never doubt these two nations' resolve. But that resolve, for now at least, must be focused on sanctions, not war.

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