Robert Gates, Jim Jones, and other US officials traipsing in and out of Israel this week have told Israeli officials to stop “ranting and raving” about Iran for, oh, about eight more weeks.

Eight weeks! According to Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, that’s how much time they’re willing to give Iran to start talking. Let’s hope that Iran does start talking by then, but if they don’t, well, then it’ll take longer. But the Obama administration seems set on tougher sanctions after that.

Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious part of the Haaretz report is that Jones and Co. told the Israelis about the progress of Joe Liberman-sponsored sanctions legislation in the US Senate. Said the paper:

“Jones and his team reported that a bill by Senator Joe Lieberman to curb sales of refined oil products to Iran is almost complete, and 67 senators have already signed it.”

Just a guess, but I think top Israeli officials are well aware of what the vaunted minions of the Israel lobby are doing in Washington. In fact, yesterday the Senate passed a bill that gets that sanctions ball rolling, according to Reuters:

“To pressure Tehran to give up its nuclear program, the U.S. Senate has voted to ban companies that sell gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran from also receiving Energy Department contracts to deliver crude to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

According to Haaretz, the new sanctions under consideration by the administration include a ban gasoline and refined petroleum imports by Iran:

“New sanctions would mainly aim to significantly curb Tehran’s ability to import refined petroleum products. Despite its huge crude oil reserves, Iran has only limited refining capacity, so it imports large quantities of refined products such as gasoline.”


“The Americans are proposing financial sanctions such as banning insurance on trade deals with Tehran, which would make it difficult for Iran to trade with other countries. They also want to impose sanctions on any company that trades with Iran and use this to pressure other countries, mainly in Asia, to resist making deals with Iran.

“In the next stage, the Americans will consider even harsher sanctions, such as banning Iranian ships from docking in Western ports and, as a next step, banning Iranian airplanes from landing in Western airports.”

Yesterday, in Tehran, thousands of demonstrators once again clashed with police, the Guard, and the paramiltary Basij, and authorities intervened to prevent Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the two reformist leaders, from speaking to the crowd. (Interestingly, according to CNN, some of the events — including the gathering at the cemetary in south Tehran — were shown live by state-run Press TV.)

It isn’t clear whether a shutoff of Iran’s gasoline imports could be accomplished, and if so, how. Russia is unlikely to go along. Ditto China. Ditto the United Arab Emirates, which is important since Iran imports a great deal of its gasoline via shipments through Dubai. Would the US and NATO enforce a blockade? Doubtful, since that means war. Would the US take European oil companies to court? That seems unlikely too.

But the real question is: Why sanctions? It’s extremely unlikely that Iran would soften its stance on the nuclear issue because of more sanctions. So then, what effect would sanctions have on the protest movement in Iran? It’s possible, I supposed, to argue that hardships imposed by tougher sanctions would galvanize the movement into stronger actions. But it seems far more likely that sanctions will have the opposite effect, spurring the regime to even tougher repression against a Bush-like foreign threat, while pushing Iran into closer alliance with Russia, China, and other not-so-friendly competitors of the United States.

Meanwhile, in a separate commentary in Haaretz, Amos Harel writes that the US is still giving Israel the “red light” on attacking Iran, but he suggests that Israeli treats are useful for Obama: “They allow Obama to wave the Israeli stick at the Iranians as part of his effort to get the Iranians to agree to a dialogue, and possibly even to concessions.” Ominously, he reports on a US-Israeli joint exercise in Nevada:

“The talks on the matter opened just after a joint American-Israeli exercise at Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base. It was dubbed Red Flag, and included training on the in-flight refueling of Israeli jets by American airplanes. … The American Air Force published a feature about the joint Nevada exercise on its web site. It reported the participation of a squadron of F-16i (‘Storm’) jets, the new model that will bear the brunt of long-range target attacks should the need arise.”