By Shahir ShahidSaless, American Iranian Council (AIC)
Many experts maintain that Iran’s current quest for a superior role in the region is to tackle new security challenges that are caused by the aggressive policies of the US since 2003, as well as the United States’ heavy military presence in the immediate proximity of Iran’s borders and in the region.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg transits the Persian Gulf at sunset (2007 file photo)
The relations between Iran and US have become increasingly confrontational since the revelation of Iran’s nuclear program in 2002. However, it would be naive to conclude that Iran’s nuclear program has been the root cause of the current ultra-hostile stance the two countries have adopted against each other. The reality is that the current stage of the US-Iran conflict stems mainly from the challenge that Iran poses to the hegemony of the US in the most important geostrategic region of the world for the US interests, in particular, given its massive energy resources.
Three major developments, spanning the last two decades, opened the path for Iran to challenge the U.S. hegemony in the Middle East: the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, followed by the fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, arch enemies to the Iranian government; and the sudden increase in the price of oil since 2005. Many experts maintain that Iran’s current quest for a superior role in the region is to tackle new security challenges that are caused by the aggressive policies of the US since 2003, as well as the United States’ heavy military presence in the immediate proximity of Iran’s borders and in the region.
Since 2002 Tehran has consistently denied Western claims about potential military ties to its nuclear development. However, many American experts view Iran’s nuclear program in the context of its grand strategy, its conflict with the US, and the new role that it seeks in the region. For instance, Rand Corporation, a think tank which advises the Pentagon, asserts that “Iran’s decisions regarding its nuclear program will be shaped primarily by the external environment, e.g. the US threat, and the value placed on nuclear weapons in serving its national security interests”.
However, there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program and the leadership in Tehran has so far demonstrated no intention of starting one. The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, which represented the consensus of 16 US intelligence agencies, confirmed with “high confidence” the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. In February 2012 the US spy agencies reconfirmed the findings of the 2007 report. However, on August 9, the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that according to Western and Israeli sources, “President Barack Obama recently received a new NIE report on the Iranian nuclear program, which shares Israel’s view that Iran has made surprising, significant progress toward military nuclear capability (emphasis added).” In March 2012, in a speech to the pro-Israel lobby, President Obama vowed that he would be ready to act militarily - with all "elements of American power" - to prevent the Islamic Republic from building an atomic bomb. Although Obama did not explicitly mention Iran “acquiring nuclear capability” as the US government’s red line, since then there has been a growing tendency in the media to define “seeking” or “acquiring” ‘nuclear capability” by the Islamic Republic as the US official red line.
The language of “nuclear capability” is deeply problematic. Does it mean moving toward acquiring “nuclear breakout,” or does it mean verifiably obtaining all of the necessary components to build a bomb? The CIA defines ”nuclear capability” as: “Knowledge, infrastructure, and materiel, which usually lie beneath the threshold of suspicion, but which can be rapidly adapted or reorganized to allow for weaponization processes to be undertaken. Such capabilities require pre-disposed resources and often employ dual-use technology, equipment, or knowledge.” However, the problem is that not everybody in the US government is willing to apply this definition for the purpose of decision making. When questioned about the definition of “nuclear capability,“ Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) said, “I guess everybody will determine for themselves what that means.”
With Republican presidential contender, Mitt Romney, accusing the Democrat president of going too easy on Iran, if the story about the new NEI report is true, Obama will face immense pressure to get even tougher on Iran. But let us have a quick look at the latest sanctions to have a better understanding what tougher policies may mean.
On July 31, 2012, President Obama issued an Executive Order to strengthen the sanctions on Iran by further targeting Iran’s oil and petrochemical sectors as well as its shipping trade. The Order, titled, “Authorizing Additional Sanctions with Respect to Iran,” authorizes sanctions against foreign financial institutions (FFIs) who have knowingly conducted or facilitated transactions for the purchase or acquisition of petroleum, petroleum products, or petrochemical products from Iran. The order also authorizes the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to block the property and interests in property of any person who materially assists, sponsors, or provides financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, NIOC (and its subsidiaries) or the Central Bank of Iran, or the purchase or acquisition of US bank notes or precious metals by the Government of Iran. OFAC has also warned that based on this Order, barter arrangements or other non-cash transactions involving petroleum, petroleum products, or petrochemical products originating from Iran may be sanctioned.
What this Order simply means is that not only will Iran be blocked to sell oil and oil related products, but also it would be barred from entering barter deals, e.g., exchange oil for food and/or medicine. This is a measure which was not even imposed on the Iraqi government after its invasion of Kuwait. While millions of Iranians will be punished, one must wonder what tougher measures may mean as advocated by Obama’s opponents. These sanctions do not target the government of Iran; neither are they “smart.” They target ordinary Iranian citizens and will devastate the life of the poor. Shortage of medicines and food will endanger the lives of the most vulnerable, that is, the children in the poor household.
Iran will not bow to the pressures and will not halt its enrichment program while it is under paralyzing sanctions. Mainly because, a) Ayatollah Khamenei believes that the nuclear issue is a pretext for regime change in Iran therefore, even halting the nuclear program will not change the US plan and b) because he firmly believes that “if the ofﬁcials of the country get daunted by the bullying of the arrogant powers and, as a result, begin to retreat from their own principles and make concessions to those powers, these concessions will never come to an end!” He maintains that “Indeed, the end to US pressure and intimidation will only come when Iranian ofﬁcials announce they are ready to compromise Islam and their popular government of the Islamic Republic.” According to The Wall Street Journal, sanctions are not aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear program any more. Rather, they serve “as a tool to precipitate the regime's collapse.”
Whether the WSJ’s statement is true or not, it is a grave mistake to assume that the Iranian government will stand by as a spectator while it is under paralyzing sanctions and its survival is threatened. First-hand news confirms that the Iranian leadership is ready for the worst. An “endangered” Islamic Republic is ready to take retaliatory actions. The government has already adopted a policy of “threat for threat” and may adopt other measures such as destabilizing the Strait of Hormuz. The recent trend makes an inadvertent or a planned war inevitable. The current dangerous game that is overplayed, let alone tougher sanctions as some advocate, also threatens the lives of ordinary Americans. Former US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, warns that a confrontation with Iran would be disastrous for the United States, lasting for years and the economic consequences of any such confrontation will be devastating for every average American. “High inflation. Instability. Insecurity,” Brezezinsky says.
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