JERUSALEM, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Iran must face tougher sanctions to stop its nuclear program, despite unprecedented U.S. sanctions and a European oil embargo, Israel's defense minister said.
The EU decision announced Monday to impose a phased ban on oil purchases from Iran, coupled with expanded U.S. sanctions, will add significant pressure to Tehran but are unlikely to force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, Ehud Barak told Israel Radio.
"In my opinion, we are not there yet," he said.
Western politicians allege Iran is building a nuclear weapons capability but Tehran insists its nuclear program is for civilian uses only. Amid the heightened tensions, Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic corridor for Western energy supplies.
The EU sanctions include an agreement by all 27 EU member countries not to sign new oil contracts with Iran and to end existing ones by July 1, about the time stiffer U.S. sanctions kick in. The European market accounts for about 20 percent of Iran's oil exports.
The EU countries also agreed to freeze the Iranian central bank's assets in Europe and to ban Iranian gold, precious metals and diamond transactions.
Washington's move, intended to bolster the EU sanctions, targets Iran's third-largest bank for its alleged role in financing Iran's nuclear program and for allegedly assisting other Iranian banks and companies in evading international sanctions.
Bank Tejarat is the 23rd financial institution in Iran subject to U.S. sanctions.
The U.S. sanctions follow President Barack Obama's move last month to ban any U.S. dealings with Iran's central bank.
Some observers fear the increased sanctions will lead to an acceleration of Iranian moves toward nuclear capability, the British newspaper The Guardian said.
"Very strong and quick pressure on Iran is necessary," Barak told Israel Radio. "Sanctions will have to be evaluated on the basis of results. As of today, Iran is continuing to produce nuclear weapons without hindrance."
Israel has long pressed for tougher sanctions, and has indicated it might consider an armed confrontation with Iran over the nuclear issue.
Barak said Jan. 18 any decision on a possible pre-emptive military strike on Iranian targets was "very far off."
His remarks came a day before U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey met with Barak, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Israeli military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to deliver a strong warning of the potentially dire consequences of an Israeli strike.