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Iran Spurns Incentives, Invites Further Isolation

There may also be stepped-up covert military operations against Iran's allies, as a message to Tehran that it should not rely too much on its military power. Iran's leadership received its first reminder in March 2007, when the CIA, in a sophisticated covert operation, arranged the defection of General Ali Asgari, Iran's top liaison to Hezbollah. This struck a heavy blow to Iran's intelligence agency. Some believe that it was the information provided by Asgari which facilitated the successful assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, with whom Asgari worked for many years.

Things certainly seem to be getting worse for Iran and her allies. According to news from Syria, General Suleyman, who was Assad's top liaison man to Hezbollah, was assassinated last week. This shows a disturbing pattern of increased penetration inside Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran's intelligence operation, something which can be used to weaken Iran's hand in the region.

Iran has the option of pushing back by increasing its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and for anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq. However, it's unlikely that these would make the international community bend.

When it comes to finding a diplomatic solution, the ball is in Tehran's court. In the meantime, the international community must move quickly on further sanctions which target the wealth of Iran's leadership, in order to show them that their belligerence has a direct relation to their bank accounts.

Should countries such as Russia and China balk from imposing tough sanctions against Iran, just as they did against Zimbabwe, they will push the Middle East dangerously close to having to live with a nuclear Iran or towards military confrontation.

The clock is ticking and the centrifuges are spinning. This truly is a race against time, which for now is on the side of Iran.