EU ups the ante with Iran

By Walt Braun

The European Union has done just about everything it can to call Iran’s bluff to close the Strait of Hormuz.

The EU’s decision to embargo Iranian oil was expected, as was a related move by the 27-member organization to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank. The acts are part of the effort to force Iran to at least resume talks on shutting down its nuclear weapons program.

Despite increasing evidence of underground facilities that it hopes are bomb-proof, Iran has insisted that its nuclear quest is peaceful. Whether calculated or genuine, Iran’s outrage at the EU’s latest move was amply evident Monday. Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, deputy head of the nation’s committee on national security, said the Strait of Hormuz “would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way.”

That’s a considerable “if.” Iran can find other markets for its oil. For good measure, Kowsari also warned the United States against “military adventurism.”

He didn’t say whether the presence of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the aircraft carrier that replaced the USS John Stennis, in the Gulf on Sunday qualified as military adventurism, but Iran can’t be pleased with that move.

The EU’s sanctions follow similar moves in December by the United States; neither the U.S. or EU sanctions will have much effect on Iran’s oil until this summer. That isn’t so much out of concern for Iran as it is for the price of oil, which affects the entire global economy.

Russia, predictably, opposes the sanctions, and has said Iran would not yield to such pressure. Russia might be right, but nothing else has succeeded. Much like North Korea, Iran has stalled negotiations while proceeding apace with its research. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe is confident that the sanctions will be effective. “It means that we will paralyze, bit by bit, Iran’s economic activity… You can be skeptical, but it is better than making war.”

That sounds good unless war breaks out, which is plausible if Iran attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz or fires on an oil-laden supertanker. If that were to occur, the possibilities range from limited military confrontations to a wider war that could unleash considerable death and destruction.

While that’s not in anyone’s interests, it’s certainly a war Iran cannot win.

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