The conjecture and speculations the past few weeks, some of it rather harrowing and hair-raising, regarding the state of Iran’s nuclear weapons industry and possible pre-emptive attacks against it may have had a galvanizing effect on the governments of Europe.
As of last Saturday, the world’s largest financial messaging system severed all monetary transactions with Iranian banks that have been targeted by European Union sanctions. As reported by Ha’aretz, “the move is an unprecedented measure that will effectively prevent Iranian institutions from electronically transferring global funds.”
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) announced March 15 that the Iranian financial institutions subject to EU sanctions would be removed from the international network as of Saturday, March 17. In effect, the society gave Tehran two days notice to reconsider the implications of its brazen flouting of the international community’s concerns over the country’s race to build nuclear weapons.
“The new European Council decision, as confirmed by the Belgian Treasury, prohibits companies such as SWIFT to continue to provide specialized financial messaging services to EU-sanctioned Iranian banks,” SWIFT announced last week.
White House spokesperson Jay Carney described the decision as being “part of the process of isolating Iran and making clear to the Iranian leadership that there is a price to pay for their intransigence, their refusal to abide by their international obligations, their refusal to adequately reassure the international community that its nuclear intentions are peaceful and non-weapon-related.”
Prior to the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz assessed the impact of SWIFT’s decision in strong, unambiguous terms. “It is a tough blow to Iran’s economy and makes the import and export of oil very difficult,” he told reporters. “This thing can cause the collapse of the Iranian economy. Is it enough? I don’t know. Is it significant and will it affect their endurance? Without a doubt it is a very dramatic step,” he added.
It was reported in Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had raised the issue of disconnecting the Iranian banks from the SWIFT system with U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his visits to Washington and Ottawa two weeks ago.
To the extent that the SWIFT decision owes to the intervention of Obama and Harper as well as to rising worldwide nervousness, we commend and thank the two western leaders for their actions.