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Complicated Prospect of the "Iranian knot".

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 08:34

In early January the official Iranian sources reported about the end of ten-day large-scale naval exercises called "Velayat-90". They were held at the Straits of Hormuz, which is geographically the only way out into the open ocean from the Persian Gulf, and therefore it has a strategic importance. According to various estimates about 40% of sea-exports of petroleum and petroleum products, among which are active consumers - Europe and the USA, are transported through the transit corridor.
The end of 2011 was marked by a jump of international tensions after the sudden application of the Iran’s first vice-president, Mohammad Reza Rahimi. In particular, it was reported that the country's NAAFI may unilaterally block the passage of tankers through the strait if the West imposes sanctions on Iran's oil industry. This move was a response to the repeated statements of the West that was concerned about Iran's nuclear program about the need for the use of economic leverage. As a result, the prices of "black gold" dramatically rushed up; passing the psychological mark of $100 per barrel and the prices firmly entrenched.
Responding timely, the U.S. administration assured that it wouldn’t allow preventing the passage of oil tankers from going trough the Strait, accusing the Iranian side in the absurd behavior. A strike group of the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in the Persian Gulf led by the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis Soon entered the exercise area to confirm this and it freely entered the Arabian Sea. The representative of the United States called NAAFI actions as the planned and "routine" aimed at providing air support for NATO forces in Afghanistan. The statement sent by e-mail said that there were no tensions between American commanders and the Iranian authorities.
At the same time the press reported that the United States and Israel intend to carry out large-scale joint military exercises of anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense in the near future. The Ministry of Anti-missile Defense claims that the events were planned long time ago and they are not associated with increased Iranian activity, although originally they were talking about spring of 2012. The upcoming exercises called Austere Challenge-12 were designed to improve the coordination of the both countries’ armed forces to protect against missile attacks. It is expected that the maneuvers will be the most ambitious in the history of bilateral military cooperation: several thousand of soldiers from each side will participate in it. The exact date of the exercises is not known; perhaps it will be for a few weeks. In the opinion of some military experts, Iran’s successfully conducted trials of cruise missiles influenced the transfer of the date. According to the plan, the upcoming joint military exercises should become a kind of demonstration of "Israel’s and the USA’s readiness to counterattack", and conceive a specific psychological effect. The portal newsru.com informs that the last large-scale exercises on this type were held in Israel in the autumn of 2009. At that time within the maneuvers of Juniper Cobra-9, partners worked out joint actions in case of massive shelling from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The main attention was paid to the interaction between the marine system of the interception of ballistic missiles called Aegis by the mobile land-based complex for trans-atmospheric destruction of the THAAD warheads and the batteries of the ground-based systems of missile defense called Patriot-3 and the "Arrow 2".
Against the background of the information activity of the United States and Israel, the media reports that Iran does not intend to stop at what has been accomplished and plans to hold new maneuvers soon. According to rbc.ru with reference to the Commander of the Iran’s Navy, admiral A. Fadavi, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is planning regular naval exercises codenamed "Great Prophet VII" in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz this February.
During the last years, the United States have gradually introduced more stringent sanctions, trying to force Iran's leaders to reconsider their commitment to the development of nuclear weapons and to answer the growing list of questions from the IAEA. But until recently the oil exports, which provides nearly half of Iran's budget revenue, were not consciously mentioned.
On the last day of the previous year, the U.S. President Barack Obama signed the law about the penalties of foreign financial institutions, doing business with the Central Bank of Iran. Previously, the bill was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate; that happens very rarely. The new law is directed against anyone, who is dealing with the Central Bank of Iran, and it is called to force other countries to choose between buying oil from Iran and the total exclusion of the transactions with the American financial institutions and banks. According to the plan of the U.S. authorities, it should complicate the process of the Iranian authorities obtaining funds for further development of its nuclear program. However, the U.S. administration left a few loopholes in the final bill, which would selectively reduce the impact on the partners of anti-Iranian campaign. Also, the new law allows the President Obama to temporarily abandon the use of sanctions, depending on world prices. The new sanctions come into effect in the middle of the year, which gives Tehran some time to accept international demands and protect itself from an economic boycott.
The new "punitive measures" obviously raise serious issues of economic and diplomatic nature, as well as issues related to security. The current U.S. administration admits that it is not interested in the significant increase of oil prices in the conditions of an uneasy state of affairs in the national economy, and at the time when it is campaigning for re-election of Barack Obama to the presidency. It is clear that such vulnerability is taken into account by the Iranian side and can be used to its advantage in the future. According to the information portal inosmi.ru, the U.S. government will have to carefully calibrate the laws of supply and demand to provide the markets with the new sources of oil and to avoid a sharp rise in quote. At the time when the Western economists are wondering whether it’s possible to reduce Iran's oil exports, so that it did not affect the price of oil internationally, even if to give the market a clear signal about the alternative sources. Analysts of investment banks warn about the possibility of rising prices for gasoline this year.
As it was expected, the American initiative was supported by the European Union, as it was announced on January 23, 2012. At the meeting of foreign ministers the initiators were able to overcome the other members’ fears of the economic difficulties and to reassure doubters, expressing the general attitude of the EU to the Iranian nuclear program. The European Union actions happen amid growing pressure from the USA to China, India and other Asian countries to reduce imports of Iranian oil. Despite the diplomatic efforts, these countries continue to declare about their intention to import Iranian oil. They are not willing to refuse Iranian oil because of their needs, but, taking advantage of the situation, they are able to benefit, after talking with the Iranian side about the lowering of prices.
It seems that only the authorities of Western democracy are confident about the effectiveness of the embargo, while the expert community of these countries evinces doubt on the practical benefits of economic pressure, warning of future fluctuations in the oil market that are negative for initiators. According to the researcher of the French Institute of International Strategic Studies Thierry Kovil, a ban on imports of Iranian oil won’t achieve its goal and will help to strengthen the Iranian regime. In this case, the black market controlled by the hard wing of the regime will presumably strengthen to the prejudice of the official channels of supply. It is also very likely that the expert says about the risk of Iranian nationalism aggravation as a people’s reaction to foreign intervention in the internal affairs of the country, as the portal inosmi.ru reports.
The same source cites the opinion of the NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who gives priority to the EU economic sanctions to the prejudice of NATO military intervention in Iran. Thus, the leadership of Western countries makes a kind of promise, giving Tehran time to eliminate claims filed to it. It seems that military option is not completely excluded. Now the whole situation is reminiscent of a warm-up before the game, when the parties throw the ball to each other, accompanying every pass with new comments. The time factor plays into the hands of the Iranians, for whom it will be easier to find new markets, rather than the Western coalition’s countries, especially Southern Europe, to replace the Iranian oil without subjecting their economies to extra stress conditions. However, there is every indication that instead of using the opportunity to retreat, Tehran seems to be willing to take the aggravation with the United States and its satellites. The EU embargo should come into effect only after six months, but Iran can be the first to respond by cutting its oil supplies to Europe. However this step, which looks like a clear desire for revenge, can cause serious consequences. According to the Iranian news agency Mehr, as a retaliatory move the government is going to present the Parliament a bill for an immediate cessation of oil supplies to Europe. By this maneuver Tehran can deprive its Western customers of the time to find alternative sources and add a new headache to the European Union. Timely moral support came from the largest importer of the Iranian oil - China. Xinhua news agency quoted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, "Blind pressure and sanctions against Iran are not a constructive approach to solving problems."
The question about the deaths of Iranian nuclear physicists, occurring with frightening regularity in recent years, remains sharp. Iranian authorities blame the United States and Israel, suspecting them of conducting "invisible war". Official Washington, as it was expected, was quick to disown it, but the silence of Tel Aviv looks a bit strange. The activity of the authorities of Israel is shown in fomenting anti-Iranian hysteria and appealing primarily to the USA for the early solution of the Iranian issue. Thus, according to the portal ZMAN.com, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the world must take immediate steps against Tehran, as soon it will be late and pinpoint strikes on Iranian facilities would not help. According to Israel’s estimates, in 9 months the Iranian nuclear program will be able to survive the Israeli attack, and in 15 months - the U.S. attack. Barak fears that the emergence of Iran's nuclear bomb "will ensure the survival of the regime" in Tehran, as well as it will trigger the development of nuclear weapons in other countries of the region, reports the resource inopressa.ru.
Today the "Iranian issue" is one of the key problems of the world politics and has a pronounced tendency to expand the sphere of economics, international military cooperation, etc. The West suspects the country of secretly developing nuclear weapons and it is ready to strike at its nuclear fuel cycle facilities. In turn, Iran accuses the USA of conducting a policy of double standards and assures of the peaceful nature of its program. In the meantime, both sides increasingly expresses military rhetoric, the situation continues to grow into new details, involving more participants and gradually becoming entangled in a protracted complex knot. It is clear that the Iranian authorities, contrasting themselves with the powerful Western bloc led by the United States, risk to repeat the same fate as some of the leaders of Arab states in the region. The international community froze in anticipation of their further steps, hoping for the prudence of those, who still have to make decisions.



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