Target Sanctions At Iran's Leaders

Several recent developments suggest that Iran's nuclear programme is not for peaceful purposes, as the Tehran regime claims, but is intended to develop a bomb.

First was the exposure of the secret enrichment site at Fordo, near the holy city of Qom. The site, which was recently exposed by the United States, should have been declared three years ago when Iran began construction there. However, the Iranian government decided to keep it secret until September this year. The fact that the site is only suitable for 3,000 centrifuges, enough for making a bomb but in no way sufficient for producing nuclear fuel for a civilian reactor added to the validity of the argument that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

This is in addition to the recent discovery of a secret dossier by the International Atomic Energy Agency that contained evidence suggesting that Iran experimented with an advanced nuclear warhead design.

Currently, the US and Europe are deciding on the next stage of their dealings with Iran. After the rejection of Barack Obama's generous nuclear deal, which offered nuclear fuel in return for the shipment of 75% of Iran's Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) abroad, some have advocated not taking any more steps, as it could hurt the position of the opposition inside Iran.

At this stage, inaction would be the worst option. It would send the message to Iran's leaders that they not only have impunity to oppress their own people, they can also break international law at will, without fearing any repercussions.

In fact, inaction could boost the position of the ultra-conservatives in Tehran. They could use it as justification of their hardline stance and to say that as evidence, when Iran plays hard ball, the west retreats. Therefore their radical policies and rhetoric are the most suitable course of action for Iran to pursue.

Western countries should not forget that they do have a viable option at their disposal, and that is the imposition of sanctions against the bank accounts and business interests of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as well as senior Iranian politicians abroad.

This option would directly hurt the pockets of decision-makers in Tehran. It would also deprive Ali Khamenei from using sanctions as an opportunity to rally the people around the flag.

In fact, this form of sanctions could unite the West with the people of Iran, as corruption by Iran's politicians is an issue which enrages them. However, they are powerless to do anything about it, and would welcome Western action in this regard. This was witnessed recently by the positive reaction received in the Iranian blogosphere to the UK decision to block $1.6bn of funds to the bank accounts of Mojtaba Khamenei, the son of the supreme leader.

So far Western governments stopped there. Now that direct talks with Iran have failed and sanctions are impending, they should go after the leadership's wealth with fury.

Such sanctions would also cause damage to Iran's intricate web of secret accounts abroad which its leadership uses to transfer funds to groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This would be another blow to Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad and their desire to support extremist groups in the region.

Such a measure could also be detrimental for the IRGC's business empire in Iran, which is thought to controls one-third of the country's economy. Corrupt practices and insider dealings sanctioned by the supreme leader have played an important part in its growth as a business force. However, one can not ignore the important part which trading abroad through its front companies have played in turning it into a business as well as military force to be reckoned with.

The achilles heels of the current Iranian regime are the private business interests of its rulers. The West needs to create deterrence against the Iranian leadership, and to weaken the extremists. Hurting their pockets directly is for now the most practical and powerful way to do this. This option seems to be one which is currently being seriously considered by President Obama. US politicians and the international community should encourage him to adopt it. Otherwise, Tehran will not only acquire nuclear weapons, but the increasing economic and political clout of the IRGC will help it turn the country into a military dictatorship.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian.