US efforts to punish Iran are unjustified and will have no meaningful impact, says Gwynne Dyer.
The mountain laboured for a year and a half, and finally gave birth to a mouse. On June 9, the United Nations Security Council agreed on a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, for its alleged attempt to build nuclear weapons.
They will cause Iran no grave inconvenience. But that's only fair, since the crime of which Iran is accused has not been proven either.
In November 2007, all 16 United States intelligence agencies contributed to a National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003.
It was a bureaucratic pre-emptive strike, intended to head off real air strikes against Iran by the Bush Administration. And even now, the US intelligence agencies haven't changed their view.
In March 2009, then Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and the Defence Intelligence Agency's head, Lieutenant-General Michael Maples, told Congress that Iran did not have highly-enriched uranium for bomb-making and had not made the decision to produce any.
They also testified that Iran's missile programme was not related to its nuclear programme.
True, two senior US military officers testified to Congress this April that Iran could produce enough highly-enriched uranium for one bomb in a year, if it wanted to.
They added that it would take Iran another three to five years to produce a "deliverable weapon that is usable", if that were its intention.
But they did NOT say that Iran was actually doing those things - just that it could. They also did not mention that you can say exactly the same things about Germany, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, and the Netherlands - that they could produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb in a year. Belgium, Italy, Spain and Australia would take a little longer.
So why hasn't the UN Security Council brought sanctions against them, too? Because their enrichment facilities are legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which they have all signed - and because the US trusts them.
Iran's enrichment facilities are equally legal, and it has also signed the treaty. However, the US Government does not trust the Iranians. Even more to the point, Israel does not trust them, and Israel can cause trouble for Obama's Administration, both in Congress and abroad.
So the US demands that Iran stop enriching uranium even to the level (2.5 per cent pure) that is needed for nuclear power reactors. If Iran can do even a little bit of enrichment, Washington argues, that gives it the capacity to enrich uranium all the way up to weapons grade (90 per cent pure) and make nuclear weapons some time in the future.
That is technically true - not just for Iran, but for every country that enriches uranium. However, it is also legal under the NPT.
Countries that exercise their right to enrich uranium just have to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to ensure that they are not enriching it to weapons grade.
Iran has abided by the letter of those rules, although it has often been slow to report its actions. It explains its reluctance to disclose more than the legally-required minimum about its nuclear work on the grounds that it has faced US trade embargoes and attempts at sabotage ever since America's man in Tehran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in 1979.
That is why the US moved its campaign to isolate and punish Iran for its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions from the IAEA, which will not convict on mere suspicion, to the UN Security Council, a more overtly political body.
For the fourth time, the Security Council has bowed to Washington's demands and imposed more sanctions on Iran - but they certainly will not bring Iran to its knees.
In practice, the new UN sanctions just increase the severity of the existing ones by 5 or 10 per cent. They tighten the scrutiny of financial transactions made through Iranian banks, they impose more asset freezes on Iranian companies working in the nuclear sector and slap more travel bans on their employees. And they forbid the sale of helicopter gunships and offensive missiles to the country. Big deal.
Companies and people in Iran's nuclear industry got used to this kind of harassment long ago, as did Iranian banks. Iran makes its own missiles, for the most part.
The reason that the sanctions are so mild is not only (as the US Government and media insist) that other countries are reluctant to damage their lucrative trade with Iran. They also don't believe that the US has made its case against Iran.
Other countries go along with some sanctions against Iran because they do not want to harm their relations with the US. But they baulk at truly punitive measures. And last week, for the first time, two of the 15 Security Council members, Brazil and Turkey, voted against the sanctions.
* Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.