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Strong economic sanctions against Iran could cripple the Middle Eastern country's economy in months, destabilize its totalitarian regime and in doing so prevent nuclear proliferation in the region, said Akiva Tor, Israeli consul general for the Pacific Northwest.
Tor, while meeting with the Juneau Empire's editorial board Monday, said Iran's push to acquire nuclear materials, which could be used for both its energy needs and to craft dirty bombs, is Israel's problem "first and foremost."
The result, he said, is "the most radical regime would have the most extreme weapon." And those weapons would likely end up in the hands of radical groups such as Hezbollah.
UN Security Council Resolution 1747 forbids Iran from selling or supplying arms. Even still, Iran has supplied Hezbollah with weapons in the past.
On Wednesday, Israeli officials seized a weapons cache shipped from Iran they believe was destined for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, according to media reports. Iran and Syria deny they had anything to do with the shipment, and Hezbollah has claimed the cargo was not intended for them.
"(Israel's) No. 1 policy issue is stopping Iran from getting a nuclear missile," Tor said. The prospects of Iran developing a nuclear weapon could happen within a year or two, he said, based on Israeli intelligence. And though Iran likely wouldn't be the one to detonate a nuclear weapon, Tor said, the terrorist organizations it supports wouldn't hesitate to.
Iran has just a few missiles that could strike Israel, but its ties with Hezbollah pose a constant threat to northern Israel, Tor said.
Tor said Alaskans can do their part to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear materials by urging state leaders to adopt sanctions - similar to what 11 other states have passed - to divest from companies that have contracts with Iran's energy sector. Twenty other states are contemplating adopting similar sanctions, though the topic has received little attention thus far in Alaska.
Alaska does not have any direct investments with companies that deal with Iran's energy programs. An official with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. said she was unsure if the fund had any investments with companies that perform work for Iranian energy projects.
The U.S. House of Representatives last month passed the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act by a vote of 414-6, making it easier for states and pension funds to end investments in companies helping to develop Iran's energy sector. The act has garnered support from both Democrats and Republicans who want to maintain pressure on Iran as it continues talks over its nuclear programs.
Along with support from individual states, Tor said the U.S. should use its influence to persuade other countries - namely Russia, China, Syria and Turkey - to do the same.
Tor described China as an "energy hungry nation that is changing and wants to be a responsible member of the international community." China's economic growth relies heavily on oil supplied by Iran. The same goes for Russia. U.S. negotiations with these countries to find a way to meet their energy needs is crucial if China and Russia are to wean themselves from dependency on Iranian oil exports.
U.S. sanctions would do more than hamstring Iran's economy, it would also destabilize Iran's oppressive regime currently in power, Tor said.
"The regime stole Iran's election this summer," he said, adding that a troubled Iranian economy would empower its citizens to demand change. "Iran's thug police force is its mechanism of control of the people," he said.
Tor told the audience attending Monday's Juneau World Affairs Council forum that Israelis aren't as naïve about the prospects of peace in the Middle East as they once were, but even still his countrymen are optimistic peace can be achieved. But Israel can't do it alone; the rest of the world must do its part as well, he said.