By Peter Symonds
(source: World Socialist Web Site)
The Obama administration has issued what amounts to a threat of war against
Iran following comments by senior Iranian officials that Tehran would close the
Strait of Hormuz in response to an embargo on its oil exports. To reinforce the
point, the US navy sent two of its warships—the aircraft carrier USS John C.
Stennis and the guided-missile destroyer USS Mobile Bay—on a “routine transit”
through the strategic waterway where the Iranian navy is currently holding
The growing tensions in the Persian Gulf are the result of provocative steps
by the US and its European allies towards blocking Iranian oil exports.
President Obama is about to sign a measure into law that would freeze the US
assets of foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran’s central bank—moves
that would seriously impede Iranian oil exports. At the same time, Britain and
France are pressing the European Union to adopt an embargo on the import of
Any restriction on Iran’s energy exports would seriously damage the
country’s economy, which is already under pressure from previous sanctions
imposed both unilaterally by the US and its allies and by the UN Security
The value of the Iranian currency has fallen by about 20 percent against the
US dollar in the past few months. Last week, the US Treasury Department
continued to tighten the economic noose around Iran by blacklisting 10
companies in Malta accused of acting as fronts for the Islamic Republic of Iran
Confronting potential economic chaos, Iranian vice president Mohammad-Reza
Rahimi warned on Tuesday: “If they impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, then
even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz.” The US Defense
Department and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in the Gulf State of Bahrain,
both issued statements warning that any step to inhibit “freedom of navigation”
through the waterway would “not be tolerated”—a tacit threat of military
The US and international media immediately seized on Rahimi’s remarks topaint Iran as the belligerent power. However, it is the Obama administrationthat has been deliberately heightening tensions with Iran, setting the stagefor a possible military confrontation. The threatened oil embargo is itself anact of aggression—a point that is uniformly ignored in the compliant Americanpress.
The move towards oil sanctions takes place in the context of nearly a decadeof US military threats against Iran over unsubstantiated claims that it seeks tobuild nuclear weapons. Moreover, it is all but openly acknowledged that Israeland the US have over the past two years been engaged in acts of sabotagedirected at Iran’s nuclear program and its military—including the use ofcomputer viruses, explosions at key facilities and the murder of nuclearscientists.
Over the past month, the Obama administration has taken a markedly moreaggressive stance. Using an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportpublished in November as the pretext, the White House has pushed for tougherinternational sanctions against Iran and emphasized that all options—includingmilitary strikes—would be used to prevent Tehran from building nuclear weapons.
The IAEA report was in every way a political document. Produced under pressurefrom Washington, it contained a key appendix arguing that Iran had carried outresearch related to nuclear weapons. Most of the activities ended almost adecade ago. Some of the “evidence” has been challenged by Iran as having beenfabricated by Israeli or US intelligence agencies—an issue passed over by theIAEA.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta upped the ante last week by declaring in aCBS interview that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within a year or “perhaps alittle less”—if there was a hidden uranium enrichment facility somewhere insideIran. He offered no evidence either that Iran had such a plant or was buildinga bomb. But that did not stop Panetta from declaring that acquiring a nuclearweapon would be a “red line” for the US, which would “take whatever stepsnecessary to deal with it.”
As if to spell out what Panetta meant, US Joint Chief of Staff chairmanGeneral Martin Dempsey told the media the following day that the Pentagon haddrawn up military options that were reaching the point of being “executable ifnecessary”. He warned Iran against underestimating US resolve, saying: “Anymiscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict and that would be atragedy for the region and the world.”
Behind the scenes there is clearly an intense debate taking place inWashington over a US military attack on Iran. A Wall Street Journaleditorial yesterday urged the White House to declare that it would consider anyrestriction on oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz as an act of warwarranting a military response. “That response would be robust and immediate,and it would target Iran’s military and nuclear assets, perhaps even itsregime,” the newspaper declared.
A detailed article by security analyst Eli Lake in the Daily Beaston Wednesday pointed to intense discussions between the US and Israel in recentweeks over the prerequisites for a military attack. In the context of awell-publicized debate in Israel over military strikes, Lake noted that theWhite House had been “reassuring the Israelis that the administration had itsown ‘red lines’ that would trigger military action against Iran, and that thereis no need for Jerusalem to act unilaterally.”
In addition, an essay entitled “Time to Attack Iran” has just been publishedin Foreign Affairs, the premier journal of the American foreign policyestablishment, calling for the US to take military action now. In answeringcritics, it argued that “a carefully managed US attack” could destroy Iran’snuclear facilities without provoking an all-out war that threatened to engulfthe region. Significantly, the author of this plan for military aggression isMatthew Kroenig, who was until July a special advisor to the Office of the USSecretary of Defense, responsible for Iran.
While Kroenig and other advocates of war focus on the purported danger ofIranian nuclear weapons, the real purpose of any military action is to advancelongstanding US ambitions for regime change in Tehran as part of broader aimsfor domination of the energy-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.Washington’s latest menacing moves take place as the US seeks to exploit theoppositional movements throughout the regions—most recently in Syria—to installregimes more amenable to American interests.
US efforts to ensure regional hegemony are above all aimed at its rivals,chiefly China, which is heavily dependent on Middle Eastern oil importsincluding from Iran. It is precisely this intersection of any conflict overIran with wider geopolitical rivalries that heightens the risk of a local warin the Persian Gulf becoming an international catastrophe.