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The perfect storm: Three ways to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions – short of war

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Worse is to come, as new US legislation takes effect that will penalize any foreign bank that does business with Iran to facilitate its sales of crude oil. The complementary unfolding plan for Western countries to curtail purchases of Iranian crude oil will strike a body blow to the Iranian economy.

While the stated purposes of these economic sanctions is to pressure Iran to return to the nuclear negotiating table, US officials have been explicit in declaring that for Washington, at least, the sanctions have broader goals. In particular, the Obama administration hopes to force Iran to end its support for international terrorism and its glaring human rights abuses.

In effect, Washington has used the nuclear issue as a rallying point to impose sanctions that seek to undermine the Iranian regime at large. Some have suggested that the unstated goal of the current round of sanctions is really to foment regime change in Tehran. A frequent Western tactic has been to blackball entire organizations linked to the regime – such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, and various Iranian banks – once even a small fraction of their activities is found to have provided direct support for the country’s nuclear program.

The second component of a US strategy, more directly targeted against Iran’s nuclear program, is covert operations, some directly involving Washington, others conducted by Israel or, perhaps, Saudi Arabia, but all contributing to what appears to be a slow-down in Iran’s nuclear advances. These operations have included the Stuxnet computer worm, which destroyed 1,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear complex beginning in late 2009 or early 2010.

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