Isolating Iran: Is It Counter-Productive? – Analysis


By Anureet Rai

The alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US and the recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme have revived the West’s efforts to further isolate Iran through the imposition of sanctions. The possibility of military strikes has also not been ruled out. However, neither the plot nor the report holds enough ground for such actions to take place. The question therefore is, why is the US attempting to further isolate Iran today? Will isolating Iran achieve any tangible results for the US or will it prove to be counter-productive?


An isolated state with limited resources is presented as a real danger to the region and the world. At times, unlikely conspiracy theories are given official credence, such as the supposed plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. Iran’s nuclear programme is recognized as a threat in much the same way as Iraq’s nonexistent WMD. For instance, the recent IAEA report on Iran alleges that it is building a nuclear weapon and although this may be true, many critics argue that the report has been over-hyped in the media, and together with the Saudi plot, is being used to justify sanctions and prospective military action against Iran.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA Ali Asghar stated that the report was ‘unprofessional, unbalanced, illegal and politicized’, and that it had ‘deeply ruined the reputation of the Agency as a technically competent authority’. The Russian representative to the IAEA has also raised questions about the credibility of the claims made in the report. The credibility of the IAEA as an international agency is further being questioned as Yukiya Amano, the IAEA director general, comes across as being strictly in the Western camp. Recent WikiLeaks cables solidified this assumption when they revealed that he reassured US diplomats of being on the US’s side on every strategic decision including the handling of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme. In light of this, one must wonder the usefulness of the report and the plot.

The US in the past has said that it would not stop efforts to try and put an end to Iran’s nuclear programme; previous sanctions by the US have been directed primarily at hindering the advancement of Iranian nuclear know-how. Together, the Saudi plot and the IAEA report has enabled the US to call for heavier sanctions against Iran in the absence of any further movement on the nuclear front. If this is an attempt by the US to further isolate Iran, this will once again, just as in the case of Iraq, be seen as another attempt by the US with to interfere and destroy a Muslim power to further its own regional hegemony. It is not news to anyone that US influence in the region has deteriorated. The US fears Iranian hegemony in the region and the realization of its policy to export its revolution across the region.

The US is likely to face hindrance from countries such as Russia and China since the US has not provided indisputable intelligence to suggest that Iran was involved in the plot. They may also find the IAEA report lacking in sufficient evidence. Therefore, the Obama administration’s efforts to call for tougher action against Iran is likely to backfire as this will only reaffirm to other Arab countries what they already think of it, which is that it is an irrational actor on the international platform.

In Western understanding, specifically that of the US, the only way tangible results can be achieved is through diplomatic action against Iran, and this of course means hitting Iran with tougher sanctions. This, it seems, would be the rational response and would receive general consensus amongst the international platform. The Obama administration has already imposed sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical sector which would stop Iran from further modernizing its gas and oil sector, thus obstructing the progression in its nuclear capabilities. There is not sufficient evidence or support in the international community for the use of military strikes against Iran; Germany has already considered discussion on this topic as counter-productive and refuses to indulge in the topic.

Nuclear facilities in Iran are buried deep and scattered wide, which means they would be impossible to put out of action without some form of ground intervention. The US should think carefully before undertaking such actions, especially since anti-American sentiment already runs deep in Iran. The nationalist sentiment created in Iran post the CIA-led coup in 1953 will only strengthen if military strikes are to occur, and could potentially encourage the regime to become more hard-line, with the re-emergence of policies that the West has tried to repress. As opposed to eliminating Iran’s nuclear facilities, this type of attack could actually provide an incentive to Iran to try and obtain nuclear weapons as a guarantor of their security. In essence, this means that the US would be helping in reinforcing its own nemesis as opposed to eliminating it.

With the global economy already in tatters, it would not be wise to encourage military attacks, especially since Iran has responded by suggesting that oil supply will be used as an instrument to retaliate against any such action. With 40 per cent of the world’s oil exports passing through the Straits of Hormuz, it would be detrimental to Iran’s bigger customers such as China and India if it were to cut its oil exports. A rise in oil prices will only create graver problems for the economy and it is not something the West can afford to indulge in.

Additionally, if the US or Israel is to undertake military strikes, it could force Iran and Islamist movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas to unleash their own rocket arsenals, potentially leading up to a regional war. Simply put, military action against Iran would not only be catastrophic for the Middle East but also for the West, and will only help create far more serious problems in the future.

Anureet Rai
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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