July 2012, Week 2


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Sat, 14 Jul 2012 11:49:57 -0400
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Iran Sanctions: War by Other Means

By Conn Hallinan
Foreign Policy in Focus
July 13, 2012


Now that the talks with Iran on its
nuclear program appear to be on the ropes, are we
on the road to war? The Israelis threaten it almost
weekly, and the Obama administration has
reportedly drawn up an attack plan. But in a sense,
we are already at war with Iran.

Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of
modern warfare, defined war as the continuation of
politics by other means. In the case of Iran,
international politics has become a de-facto state of

According to reports, the annual inflation rate in
Iran is 22.2 percent, although many economists
estimate it at double that. In the last week of June,
the price of chicken rose 30 percent, grains were up
55.8 percent, fruits up 66.6 percent, and vegetables
up 99.5 percent.   Iran's Central Bank estimates
unemployment among the young is 22.5 percent,
although the Financial Times says "the official
figures are vastly underestimated." The production
sector is working at half its capacity.

The value of the Iranian rial has fallen 40 percent
since last year, and there is a wave of business
closings and bankruptcies due to rising energy costs
and imports made expensive by the sanctions.

Oil exports, Iran's major source of income, have
fallen 40 percent in 2012, according to the
International Energy Agency, costing the country
nearly $32 billion over the past year. The 27-
member European Union (EU) ban on buying
Iranian oil will further depress sales, and an EU
withdrawal of shipping insurance will make it
difficult for Tehran to ship oil and gas to its
diminishing number of customers. Loss of
insurance coverage could reduce Iran's oil exports
by 200,000 barrels a day, or $4.5 billion a month.
Energy accounts for about 80 percent of Iran's
public revenues.

Whipsawed by energy sanctions, the worst may be
yet to come. The United States has already made it
difficult for countries to deal with Iran's Central
Bank, and the U.S. Congress is considering
legislation that would declare the Iranian energy
sector a "zone of proliferation concern," which would
strangle Tehran's ability to collect payments for its
oil exports. Other proposals would essentially make
it impossible to do business with Iran's other banks.
Any country that dared to do so would find itself
unable to conduct virtually any kind of international

If the blizzard of legislation does pass, "This would
be a significant ratcheting-up of the economic war
against Iran," Mark Dubowitz told the Financial
Times. Dubowitz is executive director of the
neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of
Democracies, which has lobbied for a series of
economic assaults against the Palestinians, China,
and Hezbollah.

But the "war" has already gone far beyond the
economic sphere.

In the past two years, five Iranian nuclear scientists
have been assassinated. The hits have been widely
attributed to the Israeli intelligence service, Mossad,
and the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), an
organization the U.S. State Department designates
as "terrorist."

Last year a massive explosion rocked the Bid Ganeh
military base near Tehran, killing 17 people,
including the founder of Iran's missile program,
Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam. According to
Israeli media, the camp was sabotaged by the MEK
working with Mossad. Deadly attacks directed at
Iran's Revolutionary Guard have been tied to
Jundallah, a Sunni group with ties to U.S. and
Israeli intelligence.

It is no secret-indeed, President Obama openly
admitted it-that under the codename "Olympic
Games," the United States has been waging cyber
war against Iran. The Stuxnet virus shut down a
considerable portion of Iran's nuclear program,
although it also infected infrastructure systems,
including power plants, oil rigs, and water supplies.
The virus was designed to attack systems made by
the German company Siemens and has apparently
spread to China, Pakistan, and Indonesia.

The United States is also suspected of being behind
the Flame virus, a spyware program able to record
keystrokes, eavesdrop on conversations near an
infected computer, and tap into screen images.
Besides Iran, Flame has been found in computers in
the Palestinian West Bank, Lebanon, Hungary,
Austria, Russia, Hong Kong, and the United Arab
Emirates.  Because "malware" seeks out undefended
computers no matter where they are, it has a habit
of spreading beyond its initial target.

Most of the media is focused on whether the failure
of the talks will lead to an Israeli or American attack
on Iran's nuclear facilities, and there is certainly
considerable smoke out there.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
Defense Minister Ehud Barak have been threatening
to attack Iran for the past two years. According to
Gideon Rachman, a leading columnist for the
Financial Times, some Israeli officials have told him
Tel Aviv will attack sometime this summer or early
fall. One source told him "Israel will wait until
September or October because the weather is better
and it's closer to the U.S. elections."

But the Independent's (UK) Patrick Cockburn, one
of the more reliable analysts on the Middle East,
thinks the Israeli threats are "the bluff of the
century." Cockburn argues that there is simply no
reason for Tel Aviv to go to war, since the Iranian
economy is being effectively strangled by the
sanctions. But the saber rattling is useful because it
scares the EU into toughing up the siege of Tehran,
while also shifting the Palestinian issue to a back

There are serious divisions within Israel on whether
to go to war, with the Israeli intelligence and military
generally opposed. The latter's reasons are simple:
militarily Tel Aviv couldn't pull it off, and politically
an attack would garner worldwide sympathy for
Iran. Recent statements downgrading the threat of
Iran by Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz
suggest the Netanyahu government is finally feeling
the pressure from divisions within its own ranks
and may be backing off from a military

And the United States?

According to Paul Rogers, a Department of Peace
Studies professor at Bradford University and
OpenDemocracy's international security editor, the
Pentagon has drawn up plans for a concentrated
attack on Iran's nuclear industry, using a
combination of bombers and cruise missiles. The
United States recently beefed up its military
footprint in the region.

But while the possibility of such an attack is
real-especially if congressional hawks get their
way-the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence
establishment are hardly enthusiastic about it. And
in any case, the United States is carpet-bombing
Iran's economy without firing a shot or sending air
crews into harm's way.

Although Iran is generally depicted as the
recalcitrant party in the current nuclear talks, it has
already compromised extensively, even agreeing to
ship some of its enriched uranium out of the
country and to guarantee the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) access to all nuclear facilities.
Tehran has also converted one-third of its 20-
percent enriched uranium into plates, making it
almost impossible to use the fuel for nuclear
weapons. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90

In return, Tehran is demanding the right to enrich
to 3.5 percent-the level needed to power a civilian
reactor-and an end to sanctions.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not ban
enriching uranium-indeed, it is guaranteed by
Articles III and IV-as long as the fuel is not
weaponized. "Iran is raising eyebrows," says Yousaf
M. Butt of the American Federation of Scientists,
"but what it is doing is a concern-not illegal."

However, the P5+1-the permanent UN Security
Council members, Britain, France, the US, Russia,
China, plus Germany -is demanding an end to all
enrichment, an Iranian commitment to ship the
enriched fuel out of the country, and closure of the
enrichment plant at Fordo: "stop, shut, and ship."
In return, Iran would get enriched fuel for medical
use and some spare parts for its civilian airlines.
The sanctions would remain in place, however,
although it would open the subject up for
discussion. The problem is that many of the more
onerous sanctions are those independently applied
by the United States and the EU. Russia and China
have expressed opposition to the independent
sanctions, but so far have not shown a willingness
to openly flaunt them.

It will be hard for Tehran to make further
concessions, particularly if there is no light at the
end of the sanction tunnel. Indeed, some of the
demands seem almost crafted to derail a diplomatic
solution, raising the suspicion that the dispute is
less about Iran's nuclear program than a concerted
drive to marginalize a country that has resisted
European and U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Isolate Iran enough, the thinking goes, and it might
bring about regime change. Moscow and Beijing
don't support such an outcome, but they have little
influence over what Washington and Brussels do

There is still no evidence that Iran is trying to build
nuclear weapons. Indeed, the body of evidence
suggests the opposite, including the 2007 US
National Intelligence Estimate that Tehran
mothballed its program in 2003. But evidence is
irrelevant when the enormous economic power of
the United States and the EU can cow the rest of the
world, and force a country to its knees without
resorting to open hostilities.

In short, war by other means.


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