Clinton Admits Iran Sanctions Could Be Delayed by Months

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday that the new sanctions against Iran will go into effect in the coming moths. This announcement reflects a delay in the initial American timetable, which had called for sanctions by February or March at the latest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Iran is trying to create the false impression that Israel is threatening Syria. For his part, the head of research at Military Intelligence warned against the rise in arms smuggling to Hezbollah from Iran and Syria.

In Argentina, where she is currently on an official visit, Clinton admitted yesterday that despite progress on the sanctions moving swiftly at the UN Security Council, she is unable to say precisely when the matter will reach fruition. She said she estimates that the sanctions will be in place in the coming months.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who visited Washington last week, had heard from his hosts that the plan is to bring the sanctions to a vote in April.

At a press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expressed his willingness to consider the adoption of Iran sanctions. But for Israel, the pace of progress is far from satisfactory, particularly because Iran continues to move ahead with its nuclear program.

The latest report released by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other material available to Western intelligence agencies, suggests that Iran appears to be closer to its goal than had been previously thought: potentially in possession of a sufficient amount of highly enriched uranium for the manufacture of two or three bombs, which would then be armed with a nuclear trigger. As such, the nuclear clock is ticking faster than the one counting down toward sanctions. Meanwhile, the American responses to the developments appear to be indecisive.

PM: Int'l comunity like 'stalled car'

Netanyahu, at a briefing before the Knesset Committee of Foreign Affairs and Defense, described the pace at which the international community is handling the issue as that of a "stalled car." The prime minister argued that pressure on Iran cannot be effective if it does not incorporate sanctions.

These developments are putting increasing pressure on Israel and accelerating discussions among its leaders on whether a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear sites is something to consider. In response, a series of senior U.S. officials have made their way to Israel in an effort to assuage Netanyahu and block an Israeli strike at this time.

Yesterday the prime minister accused Iran of a "systematic process of armament and provocation" and said that Israel is not looking for a confrontation with Syria, despite Tehran's claims to the contrary. Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, who heads research at Military Intelligence and who spoke before the Knesset committee following the prime minister, argued that "the Syrians are delivering components to Hezbollah that they would not have dared to deliver earlier." Baidatz did not get into specifics, but his comments are part of a series of statements made during the past week, by Barak and Clinton as well.

Baidatz said Hezbollah is still planning to carry out attacks on Israeli targets abroad as revenge for alleged Israeli assassinations of its operatives, while simultaneously broadening its presence in Lebanon. All the while, he continued, it is receiving advanced weapons from Syria and Iran, including "long range missiles, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons."

The latest statements from Israeli and U.S. officials suggest the following scenario: Iran is planning an escalation along the border between Israel and Lebanon; and in a more extreme case, this would also include the border with Syria. If this happens, sanctions against Iran may be delayed further, enabling it to progress along its nuclear path, and diverting international attention toward the urgent need of calming the situation between Israel and its northern neighbors.

There is no guarantee that such a scenario will manifest itself, but the fact that it has preoccupied so many parties over the past few weeks can explain the preparedness in the north, as well as the war of words between the various sides - peaking with last week's summit in Damascus between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the heads of terrorist groups.