Sanctions still preferred in Iran nuclear standoff

Iran's deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear plans is making some well-armed countries nervous. But smart sanctions are still vastly preferable to military action.

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When it comes to curtailing Iran's nuclear programme, threats and actions rarely intersect. But every so often those shaking their fists in fury go further. Israel's test on Wednesday of a long-range missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to Iran is one such time.

Which is why the world must pursue a non-military solution to this intractable crisis. This problem needs smarter actions, not empty sanctions or deadly coercion.

Iran's right to enrich uranium - for peaceful purposes only - is not the issue. But the regime's intentional obfuscation of facts and deliberate ambiguity about its intentions has terrified many and prompted some countries, chiefly Israel and the US, to inch ever closer to the use of force.

Diplomacy, the preferred tool, has failed.

Sanctions, the next in line, have so far come up short despite a growing list of US, EU and UN measures. And yet sanctions, if wisely drafted and properly enforced, have a better chance of altering Tehran's calculations than missile threats.

The UAE Government has in recent years turned up the heat on Iranian businesses and banks. But Iran continues to find ways to circumvent sanctions on imports of illicit material. These holes must be closed.

Most contraband entering Iran is run-of-the-mill consumer goods, livestock, even cigarettes. But there is also a more dangerous side to this trade. Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment, says there is evidence that firms linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operate front companies in Dubai, frequently changing their names to maintain anonymity.

As The National reported yesterday, UAE customs officials are being trained to identify dual-use items before they can be sent on. But a comprehensive effort to inspect more cargo is also needed.

Legal trade is important to both the UAE and Iran. The Department of Economic Development values direct exports to Iran from Dubai at Dh1.8 billion annually, while re-exports top Dh24 billion. Only India is a bigger trading partner for this country.

So the UAE has an interest in maintaining the free flow of legal goods while clamping down on illicit ones.

As patience with Iran appears to be growing thin in some capitals, this is the time to keep using the peaceful pressure points that remain in the international community's tool kit.