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EU prepares unprecedented attack on Iranian economy

David Blair, UK Telegraph
The European Union is preparing to launch an unprecedented attack on Iran’s economy at a moment when experts believe the confrontation over the country’s nuclear ambitions is entering a dangerous new phase.

An embargo on Iran’s oil is due to be agreed by EU foreign ministers on Monday, potentially depriving Tehran of a quarter of its total exports. This step, designed to maximise the pressure on Iran’s leaders to negotiate over their nuclear programme, is also a measure of the scale of concern.

Officials note a series of events, ranging from the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran to the regime’s threats to disrupt oil supplies in the Gulf, and judge that Iranian decision-making is becoming more belligerent and unpredictable.

“This is a dangerous moment. We’re coming to the point where options are narrowing and there’s very little fat left in the system,” said Paul Cornish, professor of international security at Bath University.

The EU is likely to phase in the oil embargo over between three and eight months so that Greece, Italy and Spain – who together buy 450,000 barrels of Iranian crude every day – can make alternative arrangements.
(20 January 2012)

Barrelling towards fuel shortages

Jeremy Wakeford, Mail & Globe (South Africa)
Tension between Western powers and Iran, which has been simmering for decades, has heated up considerably in recent weeks and is in danger of boiling over into full-scale military conflict.

Because South Africa sources about a quarter of its crude oil imports — about 100 000 barrels a day — from Iran and another quarter from neighbouring Saudi Arabia, geopolitical events involving these countries could seriously knock the local economy.

The South African government should be crafting contingency plans to deal with possible fuel supply disruptions and price surges.

The ostensible reason for the tension is Iran’s nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is for civilian energy production only, but Western countries allege it is a cover for the production of nuclear weapons.

But it is no secret that energy security is a major driver of United States and Nato foreign policy and that Iran possesses the world’s second-largest reserves of both natural gas and oil. Moreover, the Islamic state has close ties with Russia and China, both of which have invested heavily in Iran and supplied it with conventional weaponry and, in the case of Russia, nuclear energy technology.

The hawkish Israeli leadership continues to threaten a “pre-emptive” military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Defence Minister Ehud Barak recently stated that after September it would be too late to disable Iran’s nuclear-enrichment capabilities because some of the installations were being moved underground.

For now, however, the US and European Union (EU) are opting to use economic pressure on Tehran. On New Year’s Eve President Barack Obama signed into law the controversial National Defence Authorisation Act that, among other provisions, imposes harsh economic sanctions on corporations or central banks that transact with the Central Bank of Iran. The legislation, due to come into effect within six months, aims to obstruct the sale of Iranian oil exports and thereby deprive Tehran of critical oil revenues.

Jeremy Wakeford is an independent economist specialising in energy and sustainability. He chairs the Association for the Study of Peak Oil South Africa, a think-tank that researches and raises awareness of the implications of global oil depletion for South Africa.
(20 January 2012)

An Iran war is brewing from mutual ignorance and chronic miscalculation

Simon Tisdall, Guardian
US talk of regime change via military action is as deluded as Tehran thinking it stands to gain from a conflict

Nicolas Sarkozy’s warning that “time is running out” to avoid western military intervention in Iran was largely aimed at Russia and China, which have refused to back tougher EU and US sanctions. But for Tehran, the French president’s words will likely sound like a calculated, alarming escalation. How much longer, they may ask themselves, before we are attacked by the US or Israel or a combination, including the perfidious British and French? Why wait for the inevitable? Perhaps we should attack first?

This is how wars start, through a process of hostile rhetoric, mutual ignorance and chronic miscalculation. Anybody in Tehran following the impassioned US debate on Iran will be aware that an influential Washington constituency, aided and abetted by leading Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, favours military action sooner rather than later. For these American hardliners, it is no longer merely a question of destroying Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities. Regime change is the name of the game because, it is argued, that is the only way to ensure Iran never gets the bomb.

“A limited strike against nuclear facilities would not lead to regime change. But a broader operation might,” argued Jamie M Fly and Gary Schmitt in Foreign Affairs. “It would not even need to be a ground invasion aimed at toppling the government. The US would basically need to expand its list of targets beyond the nuclear programme to key command and control elements of the Republican Guard and the intelligence ministry, and facilities associated with other key government officials. The goal would be to compromise severely the government’s ability to control the Iranian population. This would require an extended campaign.”

Luckily, this sort of horror-fantasy does not reflect Obama administration thinking – not yet, anyway.
(20 January 2012)