ECONOMIC SCENE: Sanctions on Iran and Israel could defuse Middle East

To stop the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Obama administration could threaten to suspend the $3 billion a year it sends to Israel. That’s a move urged by former US Rep. Paul Findley, founder of a nonprofit group calling for even-handed US policy in the Middle East.

To keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, key nations could stop buying its oil and selling it much-needed gasoline. Those are two elements of a 12-point Iran policy proposed by Jennifer Mizrahi, head of the Israel Project, a pro-Israel nonprofit.

For centuries, nations have resorted to economic sanctions when diplomacy has failed. “It’s an intermediate tool … much preferable to declaring war,” says John Williamson, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

But does it work?

Sometimes. A survey of 204 episodes of economic sanctions since World War I found that about 1 in 3 succeeded in changing the behavior of the targeted regime or changing the regime itself, says Kimberly Elliott, whose study turned into a Peterson Institute book. In the 1970s and 1980s, though, US unilateral sanctions worked in only about 1 in 5 cases.

The US finds it easier to employ economic pressure with Iran than Israel. Israel is a close ally whom America wants to cajole. Iran is accused of funding terrorists and aiming to develop nuclear weapons. Yet, the US already has severely cut back trade… >>>

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