The world is aware of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its sponsorship of terrorist organizations. What is less understood is Tehran’s abuse of the financial sector, banks, front companies, and other deceptive techniques to evade the controls responsible countries have instituted to stop it from achieving nuclearization. Yet it is precisely these techniques that make Iran vulnerable to economic warfare, and such warfare, if deployed intelligently and strategically, could hurt the regime where it is weakest—its pocketbook.
Securing Uranium Ore
Iran is scouring the earth in search of countries that possess uranium deposits, searching in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Iranian engineers have reportedly mapped out all of the world’s uranium deposits to assess countries most likely to sell them the coveted mineral. Iran has reportedly decided that Congo, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zimbabwe are the countries with uranium most likely to do business with it.
If Iran secures large quantities of uranium that can ultimately be converted into yellowcake, this would likely be the nail in the coffin in preventing Iran from achieving nuclearization. Policymakers around the world must be vigilant in tracking Iran’s efforts to secure uranium
Crude Oil and Liquefied Natural Gas
The United States has spent tremendous resources to cut off refined petroleum sales to Iran. Although it is a major producer of crude oil, Iran imports 40% of its gasoline needs because it lacks the refining capacity to meet its consumption. Some companies have been identified, and sanctioned, for supplying gasoline to Iran.
Yet we should be targeting not only what goes into Iran, but also, what comes out. The biggest source of revenue for Iran, which has the world’s third-largest known oil reserves and second-largest natural gas reserves, is export of crude oil and liquefied natural gas. Both the oil and natural gas industries are heavily subsidized by the government.
Targeting and sanctioning the countries and companies that buy oil and gas from Iran would make a significant contribution toward cutting off this source of income.
There are currently thirty Iranian banks around the globe, and twenty have been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department for illicit behavior. At this point, no U.S. banks are providing Iranian banks with financial services, and Treasury has informed major foreign financial institutions that if they offer such services to designated Iranian banks, they could lose access to the U.S. market. Furthermore, global banking organizations, such as SWIFT, are finally turning their backs.
However, some international financial institutions still offer services to blacklisted Iranian banks, and while many have operations in the United States and/or access to the U.S. market through local partners, Treasury has not yet sanctioned a single one. The United States must start to take advantage of the leverage it possesses over these banks.
Bonyads (Iranian Charities)
Bonyads are tax-exempt Iranian charitable trusts that control an estimated 20–40% of Iran’s GDP. Subsidized by the government, they answer only to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Bonyads represent an important target for sanctions because they control such a large share of Iran’s economy.
As charities, they supposedly provide social services to the poor and the needy, but in fact, they are also involved in every major industry, including soybean and cotton production, hotel administration, soft drink firms, shipping line ownership and car manufacturing.
The United States should publicly name, shame, and blacklist all major bonyads, thus making it illegal to make a charitable contribution to them.
The United States and its allies have all the tools necessary to punish the banks, corporations and charities helping Iran achieve nuclearization. If we are truly going to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, we must use as many of the bows in our quiver as possible.