As the Islamic Republic moves closer to obtaining a nuclear weapons capability, talk of an Israeli attack on Iran is increasingly the subject of articles and reports in the international media. On the one hand, it is certainly understandable why Israel is extremely concerned about the Islamic Republic's nuclear capability, particularly given the escalating anti-Israeli rhetoric coming from Tehran. On the other hand, is an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities really the best solution to the nuclear threat posed by the Islamic Republic?
The answer to this question lies in the effectiveness of the international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic and whether a coalition of concerned countries, with American leadership, is now willing to support the Iranian freedom movement.
The international sanctions that have delivered the biggest punch to date have been those imposed on Iran's oil and gas industry and its financial institutions. Iran's crude oil shipments have dropped by 52 percent since July 1 and the Islamic Republic is losing $133 million a day all without the devastating oil-price spike that many had feared would happen. Sensitive internal government reports are beginning to leak in Tehran warning of an impending financial crisis in which the regime might not be able to meet the government payroll in the next three months. The regime has warned its ministries to expect a 50 percent cut in the salary of all government employees.
While Ali Khamenei and his minions have been trying to minimize the effects of international sanctions, it appears that the regime's foreign currency reserve may be exhausted in the coming months. The IMF estimated that the regime had $106 billion in official foreign reserves at the end of 2011; estimates by private economists now put the regime's reserves remaining at $50 billion - $70 billion. In spite of Iran Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani's efforts to hide this alarming situation and halt the dramatic slide of the rial, the rial's unofficial rate is reported to have plunged to record low rates of 25,000 to 29,000 rials to the U.S. dollar. The regime anticipates that the rial may fall to a devastating 67,000 rials to the dollar as the Iranian central bank tries to curb the sharp drop in its reserves.
Inflation has plagued the Iranian economy since the Islamic Revolution. The removal of government subsidies on food and fuel amplified this problem and sanctions have added to the inflationary pressures. With inflation now at 33 percent, prices have escalated to a point that the burden is very difficult if not unbearable for the average Iranian consumer. Discontent with the regime is on the rise. Indeed, if the leaked classified reports are to be believed, the regime should anticipate that riots will occur in border cities where day-to-day conditions are most rapidly disintegrating. The Iranian people blame the regime and its policies for their growing poverty, and food and fuel shortages. Momentum is shifting from the regime to those seeking a free, democratic Iran.
The regime's relentless pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability presents a genuine dilemma. While it is important to keep a credible military strike option on the table, a military attack, especially if Israel executes it unilaterally, will not have long-lasting effects in preventing a nuclear weapons-capable Iran. Israel and all countries concerned about the regime's nuclear threat should not lose sight of the fact that discontent among the Iranians is at its highest level since the Revolution. The Iranian people are capable of surprising the world again by rising up against this oppressive, illegitimate regime just as they did in the 2009 post-election protests.
It is impossible to predict the precise moment when another uprising will happen in Iran, but a military attack will be a serious impediment to the success of any democratic movement in Iran. It will give the mullahs the perfect chance to play victim on the international scene and to impose even greater oppression on the Iranian people. Perhaps this is why the public pronouncements of leaders of the Islamic Republic have been so provocative lately.
The regime believes that a nuclear weapons capability will bestow upon it what the Iranian people will not -- unchallenged legitimacy. Consequently, the Islamic regime will never abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons. A free and democratic Iran is the only permanent solution to the Islamic regime's nuclear threat to the security of Israel and international peace. It requires a concerted international effort to financially paralyze the regime. It also requires a policy by the United States and its allies, including Israel, to support the Iranian freedom movement both inside Iran and abroad.
The Iranian people rose courageously once to show their opposition to this regime and their desire for a peaceful democratic government, but the governments of the free world failed to support them. Today, finally, these same governments, with U.S. leadership, are beginning to take major steps in the right direction through rigorous sanctions. Instead of a military attack, the U.S. and Israel should immediately launch major funding and human rights initiatives to support the Iranian freedom movement in its efforts to bring about a free, democratic Iran that is committed to playing a peaceful and constructive role in the Middle East. The Iranian freedom movement is not asking the United States or its allies to shed blood to advance its struggle with the regime in Tehran. Those seeking a free, democratic Iran are simply looking for strong international public support to secure their God-given freedom and fundamental human rights.
G. William Heiser is a former official in the Reagan National Security Council Staff and currently is an advisor to the Confederation of Iranian Students.
Amir Fakhravar is Secretary General of the Confederation of Iranian Students and a former political prisoner of the Iranian regime. He is presently a Research Fellow and Visiting Lecturer at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of international affairs in Washington, DC.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.