MONTREAL — Foreign companies doing business in Iran could get around Canada's newly expanded sanctions by making their operations in this country subsidiaries of a parent in Iran, warned Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD).
Dubowitz, a Toronto native, was a panelist at an Aug. 15 conference on the possibility of Iran's imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons, sponsored by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR).
Dubowitz said this legal loophole must be closed if the new measures announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in July under the Special Economic Measures Act are to be effective in reining in Iran's nuclear program.
That said, Dubowitz believes that economic sanctions, especially those aimed at crippling Iran's crucial oil and natural gas sectors, can dissuade the country's leaders from building the bomb, as well from supporting terrorism abroad and committing domestic human rights abuses. But these measures must be enforced swiftly and the penalties have to be in the $1-billion range, he stressed.
However, he added, "If by December, no companies have been penalized, the policy will fall apart."
Dubowitz thinks that Canada, as an "energy superpower," can play a significant role in the international effort led by the United States to prevent Iran from obtaining the ultimate bomb, especially because of the leverage this country has with Chinese companies.
Co-ordinated pressure between Washington and Ottawa could have an effect on Chinese and Russian companies, which have been the most resistant to complying with economic sanctions against Iran, he said.
Dubowitz is confident U.S. President Barack Obama is determined to stop Iran from making nuclear weapons, and that this is a high priority for his administration.
"Obama has done a masterful job of building an international coalition for sanctions," he said, and has acted more decisively on Iran than any administration, whether Democratic or Republican, over the past 30 years.
The threat of sanctions alone has already led some companies to cut ties with Iran, he added.
An Israeli military strike on Iran would be "disastrous" to Israel and the United States at this time, and would rupture the Jewish state's relations with its greatest ally, Dubowitz continued.
As serious as the Iranian threat is strategically, Dubowitz said it should not be characterized as another Holocaust in the making.
The FDD, a non-partisan policy institute, was founded shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and is devoted to raising awareness of the threat of militant Islamism and terrorism to democratic societies.
Dubowitz's co-panelist, Asaf Romirowsky of Philadelphia, a fellow of the Middle East Forum, said Israelis across the political spectrum see Iran as a threat to their existence and that is because of their "Holocaust mindset."
"For most Israelis, the military option has to be on the table," he said, although it's understood a successful strike at Iran's multiple and hidden nuclear facilities wouldn't be easy.
The conference opened with CIJR founder and director, Frederick Krantz, drawing a parallel between the Iranian regime and Nazi Germany, and stressing that "less than five minutes to midnight" remains before Iran becomes a nuclear power.
He was critical of the Obama administration's attempts to "negotiate" with Iran and its "reversal of the U.S.'s forthright support of Israel." He fears that the world is "sleepwalking" while Iran puts the finishing touches on weapons of mass destruction.
John Thompson, president of the Toronto-based Mackenzie Institute, said some comparisons can be made between today's Iranian regime and Nazi Germany, including that it will hang onto power at all costs, driven perhaps by an "apocalyptical" vision.
"It's been prepared for air strikes from day one. That's why it camouflaged its nuclear sites," he said.
If Iran is hit, its ally Hezbollah will attack Israel, he thinks.
According to Thompson, Hezbollah is making hundreds of millions of dollars in the cocaine trade that is spent on arms and the fortification of southern Lebanon. "In 2006, Hezbollah had 10,000 artillery rockets. Now it has 60,000, and they can reach as far as the Negev."
Any conflict between Israel and/or the United States will for Iran be, not be so much about destroying Israel, but influence in the Muslim and Arab worlds, Thompson said. The Islamic republic wants to create "the appearance" of having struck a blow against its enemies' military might.
His co-panelist, Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, stressed that a nuclear Iran is a problem for the world, not only Israel, and the West especially is deeply worried.
But sanctions and diplomacy seem to be having an effect, and Iran's nuclear program is slowing, he said.
"No senior Israeli leader in the last six months has spoken of Iran as an extreme urgency. It appears the Israeli government has accepted the judgment of most intelligence agencies that the Iranian nuclear program has hit some glitches. Certainly, the mood of the Obama administration is that we have some time."
Furthermore, the Iranian regime has few state allies and its neighbours fear it, while its own population, especially the young, is turning against it, Clawson added.
Nevertheless, the regime is "stupid enough" to gamble on starting a war, because it believes it has won the "test of wills" with the United States.