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The temporary disappearance of the cargo ship Arctic Sea in the English Channel last July led to speculation that Mossad may have been involved. One version of the saga is that the Israelis faked the ship's hijacking in order to draw attention to attempts by rogue Russian military personnel to sell the Iranians the latest S-300 anti-aircraft weapons. Such a system could increase Israeli Air Force casualties by 50 per cent, should it bomb Iran's nuclear installations. In a separate development, a Belgian arms dealer, Jacques Monsieur — known as "The Field Marshal" — has been arrested in New York for allegedly attempting to buy engines for Iranian F-5 fighters. Meanwhile, Iran has signalled its intransigence by appointing the former head of its al-Quds terror force, said to be responsible for bombing a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, as its new Defence Minister. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may say the nuclear debate is over. But it is not. 

Sanctions have a poor reputation, whether one thinks of Italy and Abyssinia in the 1930s, Rhodesia and South Africa, or Cuba. With characteristic robustness, the former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton has been fulminating in the Wall Street Journal against the "strong sanctions" President Barack Obama plans to orchestrate if Iran does not freeze its nuclear programme. He argues that these sanctions simply will not work because China and Russia will not play ball, German and Italian business interests in Iran will ensure that EU co-operation is limp, while the new Japanese Democratic Party government will be unreliable. By contrast, advocates of sanctions claim that Iran's greatest vulnerability is that it imports 40 per cent of its daily refined petroleum consumption. Bolton counters that Iran could lower consumption by cutting petrol subsidies, while simultaneously increasing its own refining capability and switching to cars and trucks run on compressed natural gas, which it has in abundance. One doubts, however, that this will happen overnight.

In his desire to see the bombers go into Iran, Bolton does not consider the sort of smart sanctions most experts on this subject actually envisage. None of the experts is known as a yellow-bellied appeaser. Stuart Levey, the US Treasury Under-Secretary for financial intelligence and terrorism under both George W. Bush and Obama, says that modern sanctions are more like law enforcement measures, authorised under the US Patriot Act, than vague expressions of hope that "x" will not trade with "y". 

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