How to Make Iran Change its Mind
Image Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

How to Make Iran Change its Mind


The Iranian regime can live without its nuclear program. But it can’t live without its economy, and the recently imposed sanctions, if continued, could turn into an existential danger for the Iranian regime by precipitating an economic collapse.

The sanctions imposed against Iran’s central bank in December 2011, which have started to dissuade an increasing number of countries from buying oil from Iran as they have to deal with the bank, are proving particularly damaging. These sanctions came in addition to a move by the EU that prompted the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) to discontinue offering service to Iranian banks. This means that from now on, Iranian banks won’t be able to send and receive money to and from the vast majority of banks abroad. Ultimately, this could mean Iranian businesses having to send suitcases full of banknotes to suppliers or abroad – or even to stop trading altogether.

A $900 billion economy simply can’t be run like this.

If there’s one thing we know about Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei it’s that nothing is more important to him than the stability of his regime. The West must therefore use the current economic weakness and diplomatic isolation of the regime as a tool with which to change Khamenei’s current nuclear policies.

First, though, it’s worth looking at what’s missing from the West’s approach to Iran: a clear message to Iran’s supreme leader that even if he does build a bomb, or just reaches a breakout capability, the sanctions and isolation won’t end. In fact, the opposite should be true: they will continue or even get worst.

Although Western intelligence agencies have suggested that Khamenei hasn’t actually made the decision to make a bomb, the price that he’s already paying for the nuclear program seems to suggest that he wants to reserve this option. Otherwise, why go through all this pain? His calculation appears to be that Iran can continue along its current path, paying a price for doing so, but that the costs of its continued defiance will end once he has made his decision and the country produces a bomb. After all, why would sanctions aimed at deterrence continue once Iran has secured a bomb? What would be the point? And with the end of the sanctions, Khamenei could recover by doing business with the rest of the world again.

But by making clear that sanctions will be continued even if Iran manages to build a bomb, the West will be sending a message to Iran’s leader that the sooner he reaches a deal with the West, the lower the economic cost will be. Similarly, if he decides to continue, the longer he waits, the more the country’s economy will pay. The regime can’t continue with the economic status quo indefinitely. If the economy collapses, nothing will be able to save it or stave off the regime-threatening instability that would come with it.

Sending this clear message could also encourage other influential players in Iranian politics, notably the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), to pressure Khamenei now, rather than later. More than ever, the IRGC is these days very much about its business interests. It runs a huge business empire, which includes the real estate and construction sector, manufacturing, and a massive import empire reportedly worth around $20 billion annually.

Mark Sleboda
September 4, 2012 at 22:00

They could make Israel give up their nuclear weapons or stop providing billions of dollars of military and economic aid and political flack in the UNSC to the Israel regime's brutal 60+year military occupation of Palestine for a start. Or they could try to make binding legal guarantees that their will be no further Western covert, memetic, or military interference in Iran's domestic affairs…I wouldn't give up a potential strategic deterrent for anything less…

Al Horvath
August 9, 2012 at 04:17

How to make the Iranians change their mind.  Reminds you of Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam war.  It did not work then and will not work now.

April 17, 2012 at 05:34

Meir, Try changing your own mind. Instead of believing in something which is about exploiting others, perpetrating injustice, and causing blood-shedding of innocents try to find the true faith. If you really tried God might help you. All the best.

Wim Roffel
March 28, 2012 at 21:04

“what’s missing from the West’s approach …. a clear message to Iran’s supreme leader that even if he does build a bomb … the sanctions and isolation won’t end”

I totally disagree. What misses most is a guarantee that the sanctions and isolation will end if it stops. In fact it may very well have stopped in 2005. But it looks like Iran is getting the Iraq treatment. When Iraq had decommissioned its “weapons of mass destruction” the US kept finding excuses that they would still have them – in the end even asking for searches of the palaces of Saddam (a clear and intended insult). Now it looks like no matter what Iran does the US and Israel will find an excuse to keep up and increase the sanctions.

Nicodemus Minde
March 27, 2012 at 17:51

Meir, When you came to give a talk in my MA class in Nairobi, and told us about your dual heritage of Israel-Iran, I thought it was a bit weird. But true to your dual heritage, you seem to balance the acts of your opinions. It is not bad anyway. Iran needs to stay strong and oppose all Western rhetoric. I think The Ayatollah is right to keep his cards close to his chest on matters of the acquisition of the bomb. Just like your analysis, he wants to balance between the economy (hit by sanctions) and the prospects for acquiring a bomb. When people guess what in his mind, then it is to the advantage of the Ayatollah and Iran. Keep guessing!

Kerry Givens
March 26, 2012 at 09:06

The Unites States has the backing of the Arab league and EU and will support a Israel military strike if Iran chooses not live up to its international responsibility. The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is none to the USA and will be easily replaced after the crippling sanction and an Arab League endorsed Israeli strike.

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