UN Security Council imposes new sanctions on Iran

UNSC imposes fourth round of sanctions on Iran. Obama meets Abbas and pledges aid. NATO helicopter shot down by Afghan Taliban. Dutch vote at national elections. NATO supply convoy hit in Pakistan. All this and more in today’s security briefing.

The UN Security Council enforced a fourth round of sanctions on Iran on Wednesday over its nuclear programme which suspected is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Twelve out of fifteen Security Council members voted in favour of the new package of economic sanctions. Lebanon abstained whilst two members, Turkey and Brazil, voted against the new resolution arguing that the latest sanctions are counterproductive to diplomacy and could lead to war.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded defiantly, saying the new UN resolution was 'valueless' and that the 'Iranian nation will not withdraw even one inch from its stance.'

Resolution 1929 'builds on previous sanctions by deciding that Iran shall not acquire an interest in any commercial activity in another State involving uranium mining, production or use of nuclear materials and technology.' The resolution will target Iranian banks if they are used to 'fund proliferation and nuclear activities' and also calls on all states to 'prevent the supply, sale or transfer' of armaments to Iran, including battle tanks, artillery systems, combat aircraft, warships, missiles and missile systems.

US President Barack Obama said UN Resolution 1929 will be 'vigorously enforced' and that its passage sends an 'unmistakable message' to Tehran that the international community is resolute in its commitment to nuclear non-proliferation.

The openSecurity verdict: Fresh sanctions are unlikely to deter Iranian ambitions to continue developing their nuclear energy program. The ineffectiveness of today's resolution is underscored by the fact that many companies mentioned in the new sanctions list have previously been subject to sanctions, though Iran has found ways to evade international penalties. Moreover, reports suggest that the cat-and-mouse game to prevent Iran from gaining access to certain goods and materials has found its way to the seas, where the difficulties in enforcing sanctions is most visible. Iran has reportedly shipped contraband goods from around the world, routinely changing the names and ownership of ships to avoid being detected. Although the US treasury department is tasked with the job of overseeing sanctions efforts, the New York Times notes that they simply haven't kept up. The secretary of the US treasury department, Stuart Levey, acknowledged 'we are dealing with people who are as smart as we are.'

Besides the difficulties associated with enforcing sanctions on Iran, significantly, as Robert Naiman notes, the latest round of sanctions have been divisive: 'There's never been more than one no vote before; there's never been less than fourteen yes votes before; it's only the second time that there were any no votes at all. And it's the first time any non-Muslim country voted no (Brazil.)' Significantly, he notes 'Brazil and Turkey have gotten too big and too independent, especially given Washington's waning power, for the U.S. to push around.' The way in which both Brazil and Turkey voted on the Iranian nuclear issue is testament to their shifting place in the new multipolar global order.

Recent regional events, particularly the deadly attack by Israeli commandos on the Gaza 'freedom flotilla' have also served to fortify relations between Turkey and Iran. The two neighbours, along with Syria, are said to be forging a 'new regional axis that, for all practical purposes, could replace the diminished Arab triangle of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria and transform the region in the process.' Notably, Turkish-Syrian and Turkish-Iranian relations have, until very recently, been cold. It would appear that Turkey holds the key to a realignment of regional power in the region, with some suspecting that Ankara's alienation from Israel, NATO and the EU are the driving force behind it wanting to better ties with its southern and eastern neighbours. The strengthening of ties between Syria, Iran and Turkey may force the US, and other world powers, to re-assess their assumptions and policies in the middle east.

Tehran will no doubt take solace in the fact that their diplomatic gambit with Brazil and Turkey has won them some support in the international community, though not enough to avoid sanctions. Tehran’s ties with Russia and China have come under severe strain in recent months, though analysts note that the deep economic cooperation that underpins both Russian and Chinese relations with Tehran are, for the most part, the reason why the latest sanctions are not as crippling as the US had hoped they would be.

Obama meets Abbas and pledges aid

US President Barack Obama met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House amid attempts to diffuse tensions in the middle east. He stated that the situation in Gaza is 'unsustainable', promising $400million in aid to the region.

Irrespective of aid pledges, the main sticking point however was Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is in flagrant breach of UN Resolution 1860. Israel allowed some foods to enter Gaza on Wednesday, though much needed materials to re-build infrastructure following Israel's Operation Cast Lead last year have been denied entry. The economic blockade has detrimentally affected Palestinians, with the unemployment rate in the Gaza strip standing at over 40 percent.

Elsewhere, middle east envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated on Israeli television that he is '100 percent on Israel's side.' Blair added that any investigation into Israel's deadly attack on an aid flotilla last week needed to be 'full and impartial', though he remained vague on whether this investigation ought to be internationally-led.

NATO helicopter shot down by Afghan Taliban

Four US soldiers were killed when a NATO helicopter was shot down by suspected insurgents in the southern Afghan province of Helmand on Wednesday. The Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack. Today's casualties bring the number of NATO troops who have died this week to twenty-one.

Meanwhile, US defence secretary, Robert Gates issued a warning on Wednesday that the US and coalition countries needed a 'strategic breakthrough' to show signs of progress in Afghanistan by the coming winter, or risk losing support of the public. Gates stated: 'The one thing none of the public will tolerate is the perception of stalemate in which we're losing young men.'

Elsewhere, General David Patraeus warned on Wednesday that the Afghan mission risked failure without the UK. Speaking in London, he praised UK special forces for their 'world-class counter-terrorism expertise.' Patraeus' attempts to woo the UK came on the back of reports that reveal a 'succession of military and civilian officials' interviewed by The Times who say politicians and senior advisers deployed its troops in Helmand province with their 'eyes shut and fingers crossed.'

NATO supply convoy hit in Pakistan

Gunmen carried out a daring attack on a NATO supply convoy 10 km outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday killing at least seven people. Reports suggest that up to twelve fighters fired machine guns and threw grenades, before torching the convoy of 50 trucks that were transporting fuel, food and other supplies to Afghanistan. NATO convoys have previously been subject to attacks in Peshawar, though this is the first time the attack has been carried out so close to the capital.

About the author

Rukeyya Khan is an Oxbridge graduate in political science specialising in conflict resolution. Rukeyya is one of openDemocracy's security briefings editorial team.