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Iran announced Sunday that it was cutting off crude oil sales to France and England, a mostly symbolic act given that Iran provides England less than 1% of its crude, and France claims that it “practically stopped importing Iranian oil,” according to the head of the Union of Petroleum Industries. A few days later, the head of Iran’s armed forces threatened to attack Israel preemptively through its terrorist proxies in Lebanon and Gaza. The Iranians are once again using bluster to counter the E.U. ban on Iranian oil slated to begin on July 1, and the threat of Belgium-based SWIFT to ban Iran from its system for facilitating transfers of payments among nations through its international network of banks. As a further provocation, the Iranians sent two warships through the Suez Canal in a show of support for global pariah Syria. This follows the Iranian-engineered terrorist attacks on Israeli targets in India, Georgia, and Thailand.
At the same time they threaten and foment terrorist attacks, the Iranians have told the “P5+1” nations (Permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany) of its “readiness for dialogue” and its “new initiatives” concerning its nuclear program, and has allowed U.N. inspectors back in the country, even though President Ahmadinejad said last week that “Our nuclear program is not a subject for negotiations.” Consistent with this position, inspectors were denied access to military installations believed to house nuclear testing equipment. Validating Iran’s lie that its nuclear program is for domestic energy, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that “we believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided” to make a nuclear weapon, and that “it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option is upon us.” The ominous background to all this diplomatic chatter is the continuing speculation about when or if Israel will take military action, or whether Israel has the capacity to degrade Iran’s nuclear facilities enough to make an attack worth the risk and blowback.
It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on in this diplomatic two-step we’ve been dancing with Iran for years. We know that Iran is dead set on acquiring nuclear weapons, or at least “nuclear latency,” the ability quickly to create a weapon. Since its creation in 1979, the Iranian regime has been about more than Iran. As one ayatollah said at the time, the revolution was just “the start of the story. An Islamic and divine government, much like Iran and better, will be created” in other Muslim nations. And more recently, an editorial in the newspaper Kayhan, published by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, proclaimed Iran’s “fixed strategic goal”: “Our late Imam [Khomeini] openly spoke of raising the flag of Islam on top of the palaces of arrogant power, notably the White House . . . as the goal and purpose of the Islamic Revolution.” Seeing itself as a world-transformative power, Iran has been the foremost inspiration and supporter of jihadist violence, its prestige enhanced by its serial humiliations of the U.S., and by its genocidal aggression against Israel, the “little Satan” to America’s “great Satan.” Given its massive oil reserves, which mean it will always have a source of revenue, an Iran with nuclear arms will be virtually untouchable, and thus able to dominate the Middle East and damage our interests, whether by holding oil exports hostage, sparking a larger arms race in the region, attacking our ally Israel, or handing off nukes to one of its numerous terrorist proxies.
Equally obvious is the feckless response of the West to this threat, which seems to have followed a Micawberesque policy of hoping “something will turn up.” Unwilling to act, for years now we have substituted inspections, “talks,” and sanctions as toothless substitutes for action. At least we are consistent, for this is precisely how the West handled the embassy hostage crisis in 1979. Then too we tried sanctions, secret offers to negotiate, and trade embargoes in order to change Iranian behavior. But political, national, and economic self-interest rendered them all ineffectual. For example, the NATO countries were begged to impose a trade embargo, but threats by President Bani-Sadr to cut off oil to Europe––sound familiar?–– led to a weakened and hence ineffectual policy. As the Economist pointed out at the time, “The denial of material things is unlikely to have much effect on minds suffused with immaterial things.” The Iranians never have acted by the materialist calculus we have used in our dealings with them.
Moreover, today’s Iran has North Korea as the model for dealing with the West by using diplomatic and inspections processes to create time for achieving nuclear capability. And North Korea is an economic basket case that can’t even feed its own people, unlike Iran, whose oil somebody will figure out a way to buy no matter how many allegedly “crippling” sanctions the West imposes. Yet despite this history, Western leaders continue to assert that “sanctions are working” and that a bit more time will bring Iran to its knees, as Dennis Ross, who was Obama’s Middle East advisor, recently asserted. Meanwhile, Iran’s thousands of recently announced new-generation centrifuges will soon start spinning out even more enriched fuel necessary for weapons.
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