Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eyes Wide Shut: With EU Oil Ban U.S. Calls the Shots in Iran Escalation

When the European Union declared on Monday that it will impose an oil embargo on the Islamic Republic, it set the stage for a new escalation of the Western-created crisis over claims that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program.

In Tuesday's State of the Union address, President Obama declared amid thunderous applause and a standing ovation from Congress, "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."

Similar to sanctions legislation signed into law by Obama on December 31, the EU-approved measures ban imports on future and existing contracts beginning July 1 of crude oil, petrochemical products; as well, the measures forbid the export of equipment and technology to Iran's energy sector.

The EU sanctions also hit Iran's Central Bank, freezing its assets. Also on Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Iran's third-largest bank, Bank Tejarat; a sign that the administration intends to further isolate Iran from the global financial system.

The New York Times claimed that the EU's "phased" ban on oil purchases "was needed to help force a shift in policy and avert the risk of military strikes against Tehran."

France's Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, told reporters that in order to "avoid any military solution, which could have irreparable consequences, we have decided to go further down the path of sanctions."

"It is a good decision that sends a strong message and which I hope will persuade Iran that it must change its position," Juppé said, "change its line and accept the dialogue that we propose."

Writing in Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar rejected the foolish notion that the West is interested in defusing the crisis.

"The EU defends its strategy--or economic war--as the only way to avert 'chaos in the Middle East.' Yet the economic war may end up sparking the full-blown war it is theoretically trying to avert; talk about an array of unintended consequences waiting in the wings."

"The EU insists on spinning its so-called 'dual track' approach towards Iran," Escobar averred. "Stripped of spin, dual track essentially translates in practice as 'shut up, bow to our sanctions, stop enriching uranium and sit on the table to negotiate on our terms'."

"Senior EU officials," The Guardian disclosed, "concede that the move could be risky and send oil prices rocketing at a time of extreme economic difficulty in the west."

Reflecting the growing danger to the world economy by this stunt, "oil prices rose on Monday after the European Union agreed to ban imports of Iranian crude," Reuters reported.

"Brent March crude rose 72 cents to settle at $110.58 a barrel, having reached $111.36 intraday but unable to threaten front-month Brent's 200-day moving average of $112.19." One analyst warned, "heaven knows what will happen between now and the first of July" when the EU's date for full implementation of the embargo takes effect.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned "that global crude prices could rise as much as 30 percent if Iran halts oil exports as a result of U.S. and European Union sanctions," Reuters disclosed.

Accordingly, if the Islamic Republic stops exporting oil to the EU and other countries that join the "attack Iran" coalition of the feckless, "it would likely trigger an 'initial' oil price jump of 20 to 30 percent, or about $20 to $30 a barrel, the IMF said in its first public comment on a possible Iranian oil supply disruption."

"In addition the oil embargo, the EU also decided to freeze the assets of the Iranian central bank, arguing that the aim was to choke off funding for the nuclear programme," according to The Guardian. The EU's move against Iran's Central Bank follow policies put in place by the United States.

"The Iranian programmes are proceeding apace and represent a strategic threat," an unnamed "senior diplomat" The Guardian. "The aim is to have a big impact on the Iranian financial system, targeting the economic lifeline of the regime."

The Guardian also informed us that "David Cameron, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, issued a joint statement calling on Iran to suspend its nuclear activities."

"Our message is clear," the statement read. "We have no quarrel with the Iranian people"--a diplomatic cliché that generally means: do what we say or else--"but the Iranian leadership has failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon."

In a day filled with joint statements by imperial shills, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (Henry Kissinger's wunderkind in Obama's cabinet) and Secretary of State Hillary (bomb the Libyans back to the Stone Age) Clinton said that "the measures agreed to today by the EU Foreign Affairs Council are another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran. This new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran's leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations."

Commenting on the slow-motion apocalypse in progress, Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent: "Bring on the sanctions. Send in the Clowns."

More Israeli Threats

How did America's "stationary aircraft carrier in the Middle East" react?

According to Debkafile, a right-wing publication privy to leaks from Israel's intelligence and military establishment, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that a "new round of sanctions will not stop Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon ... stressing that Israel's hand was always near the trigger."

Barak's comments were "aimed at cooling the optimistic notes emanating from Washington, Europe and some Israeli circles Monday after the European Union foreign ministers approved an oil embargo against Iran from July 1 and froze its central bank's assets."

The Defense Minister said "that because Iran had not stopped developing a nuclear weapon Israel had not removed any options from the table. We say this 'very seriously,' he stressed."

Barak's noxious statements were amplified in a lengthy piece published this week in The New York Times.

Titled "Will Israel Attack Iran?," Ronen Bergman, a political analyst with the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper who, like Debkafile, has cozy ties to Israeli defense mavens, wrote: "After speaking to many senior Israeli leaders and chiefs of the military and the intelligence, I have come to believe that Israel will indeed strike Iran in 2012."

Speaking at the Davos economic summit on Friday, Barak warned "that a situation could be rapidly reached when even 'surgical' military action could not block the Tehran regime from getting the bomb. 'We will know early enough whether the Iranians are ready to give up their nuclear weapons'," The Independent reported.

"We are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear," Barak said. "It seems to us to be urgent, because the Iranians are deliberately drifting into what we call an immunity zone where practically no surgical operation could block them."

Barak's message to Washington and the "international community": "We're ready to attack, now!"

'Europe Will Burn in the Fire of Iran's Oil Wells'

The new sanctions, coupled with escalating threats from Israel and the West are hardly "bridge builders" aimed at resuscitating stalled talks, but in fact are economic acts of war designed to force Iran into a corner.

Rejecting demands to "dialogue" with guns pointed at their heads, Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Kowsari, the deputy leader of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee told Press TV that "in the event of US 'military adventurism' in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran will respond in the shortest possible time by making the entire world unsafe for Americans."

Kowsari reiterated Iran's long-standing promise to "definitely" close the strategic Strait of Hormuz "if there is a disruption in the sales of the country's crude, stressing that the "US and its allies will not be able to reopen the strategic waterway."

Hardly fazed by Western threats, and apparently ready to take "preemptive" measures of their own, Seyyed Emad Hosseini, a spokesperson for Iran's parliamentary Energy Commission said on Friday that "Iran has the world's third biggest oil reserves and cannot be eliminated from global energy equations," Press TV reported.

Hosseini said that parliament "is considering a plan to completely stop oil exports to EU members which will initially paralyze the economies of Italy, Spain and Greece."

"Iran is powerful [as a country] and oil sanctions imposed by European countries will only harm the European Union." Hosseini added, "Europe will definitely lose its oil war with Iran because European countries are grappling with numerous domestic challenges and disruption of Iran oil flow will lead to the escalation of domestic pressure and crisis in EU member states."

On Saturday, Fars News Agency reported that "members of the Iranian parliament finalized a draft bill on cutting the country's oil exports to the European states in retaliation for the EU's oil ban against Tehran."

Nasser Soudani, the vice chairman of the parliamentary Energy Commission told Fars that "the bill has 4 articles, including one which states that the Islamic Republic of Iran will cut all oil exports to the European states until they end their oil sanctions against the country."

Soudani told Fars earlier this week when the oil cut-off bill was introduced, "Europe will burn in the fire of Iran's oil wells." Take that, Cameron, Merkel and Sarkozy!

Driving home the point, Bloomberg News reported Friday that "Fitch Ratings cut the credit ratings of Italy, Spain and three other euro-area countries, saying they lack financing flexibility in the face of the regional debt crisis."

In addition to Italy and Spain, the ratings agency also downgraded the credit worthiness of Belgium, Slovenia and Cyprus. And with Greece currently negotiating with creditors on how to avoid a default, soaring oil prices would severely impact the ability of EU countries to climb out of the economic ditch and is a further sign that the 2008 capitalist economic crisis is accelerating.

Commenting, Asia Times Online political analyst Pepe Escobar again warned: "According to the EU sanctions package, all existing contracts will be respected only until July 1--and no new contracts are allowed. Now imagine if this preemptive Iranian legislation is voted within the next few days. Crisis-hit Club Med countries such as Spain and especially Italy and Greece will be dealt a deathblow, having no time to find a possible alternative to Iran's light, high-quality crude."

"Not surprisingly," Escobar averred, "the losers lost in these Cold War tactics anachronistically applied to a global open market are the Europeans themselves."

"Greece," Asia Times pointed out, "already facing the abyss--has been buying heavily discounted oil from Iran. The strong possibility remains of the oil embargo precipitating a Greek government bond default--and even a catastrophic cascade effect in the eurozone (Ireland, Portugal, Italy, Spain--and beyond)."

Not that any of this matters to the Americans who are exacerbating the manufactured "Iran crisis," partially as a hammer to beat down their EU competitors--under the tattered flag of Western "unity"--while gambling that war and their delusional hope for "regime change" in Iran will bring them one step closer to energy hegemony in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Eyes Wide Shut

Which brings us back to Iran's "red line."

"Tehran has repeatedly said that it would close Hormuz only if--and we should repeat--only if Iran is blocked from exporting its oil," Asia Times warned.

"This would represent a deathblow to the Iranian economy--totally dependent on oil exports--not to mention the regime controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Regime change is the real agenda of Washington and its European poodles-- but that cannot be spelled out to global public opinion," Pepe Escobar noted.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Press TV that "in the absence of Iranian supply, oil prices will go up and they (the Western states) know it. However, Iran will never allow itself to be in a situation in which it cannot sell oil but other regional states can."

And how did the global godfather react to Tehran's warning? Why with more bellicose rhetoric of course! The United States and their "partners" have pledged to "do what needs to done" to keep the strategic waterway open, U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder warned.

The ambassador added: "These situations, the choices are very, very difficult. I have not looked at the exact military contingency plannings that there are ... But of this I am certain: the international waterways that go through the strait of Hormuz are to be sailed by international navies including ours, the British and the French and any other navy that needs to go through the Gulf; and second, we will make sure that that happens under every circumstance."

The Defense Department announced last week that it will maintain a fleet of 11 nuclear-armed aircraft carriers despite budget constraints, as a threat to Iran but also to geopolitical rivals China and Russia.

Russia Today reported that "with Washington's decision to deploy a second carrier strike group in the Gulf, the EU's attempt to pressure Iran economically could greatly increase the likelihood of all-out war in the region."

Ramping things up even further, Interfax reported Thursday that the U.S. "plans to deploy a third convoy of warships led by USS Enterprise to the Gulf in March."

"The country's second aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and its battle group entered the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz last Sunday, accompanied by UK and French warships."

Last Saturday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told sailors aboard the USS Enterprise, that "the ship is heading to the Persian Gulf and will steam through the Strait of Hormuz in a direct message to Tehran," the Associated Press reported.

While Iran reiterated its threat to close the narrow Strait, through which 20% of the world's oil passes, Tehran has done so as a defensive response to an aggressive military build-up along their borders, the assassination of scientists, terrorist bombings of defense facilities, surveillance overflights by U.S. and Israeli drones and economic sanctions by the West that could crater their economy.

"That's what this carrier is all about," Panetta blustered. "That's the reason we maintain a presence in the Middle East ... We want them to know that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency and it's better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy."

Yet despite Israeli threats to "go it alone," they do not possess the assets capable of mounting a decisive military offensive against the Islamic Republic.

On Thursday, Time Magazine reported that an unnamed "senior security official" told Netanyahu's cabinet last fall that the prospects for "success" were "not altogether encouraging."

"'I informed the cabinet we have no ability to hit the Iranian nuclear program in a meaningful way,' the official quoted a senior commander as saying. 'If I get the order I will do it, but we don't have the ability to hit in a meaningful way'."

Short of launching a preemptive nuclear first strike on Iran, the Israelis will heel when the master whistles. Only the United States has the requisite military assets capable of inflicting damage on the Islamic Republic, but they are well-aware of the risks an Iranian counterstrike would pose.

As Global Research analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya cautioned: "U.S. naval strength, which includes the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, has primacy over all the other navies and maritime forces in the world. Its deep sea or oceanic capabilities are unparalleled and unmatched by any other naval power. Primacy does not mean invincibility. U.S. naval forces in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf are nonetheless vulnerable."

Noting the findings of a Pentagon war game, Millennium Challenge 2002, Nazemroaya wrote that "even the small Iranian patrol boats in the Persian Gulf, which appear pitiable and insignificant against a U.S. aircraft carrier or destroyer, threaten U.S. warships. Looks can be deceiving; these Iranian patrol boats can easily launch a barrage of missiles that could significantly damage and effectively sink large U.S. warships. Iranian small patrol boats are also hardly detectable and hard to target."

During that $250 million war game, the "scenario hypothetically pitted the Blue Team (representing US warships) against a Red Team that launched a coordinated assault using swarming boats and missiles--the kind of tactics Iran might employ," The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Red Team commander, Lt. General Paul K. Van Riper, told The New York Times back in 2008 that "the sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack."

"The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes," Van Riper told the Times. "It is not a matter of size or of individual capability, but whether you have the numbers and come from multiple directions in a short period of time," the general cautioned.

"Iran's strategy of asymmetric warfare recognizes that, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has little chance of winning any face-to-face military contest with powerful enemies like the United States," the Monitor noted.

"Instead," journalist Scott Peterson averred, "Iran aims to 'exploit enemy vulnerabilities through the used of 'swarming' tactics by well-armed small boats and fast-attack craft, to mount surprise attacks at unexpected times and places' which will 'ultimately destroy technologically superior enemy forces,' writes Iranian military expert Fariborz Haghshenass in a 2008 study based on published doctrines of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)."

"Part of Iran's strategy includes decentralized decision-making."

A "former European diplomat" told the Monitor that "the entire [IRGC] structure--if you look at how air defense is organized, the land forces, the combination of the Basij [militia] and the [IRGC]--this is all geared toward what they call the Mosaic Strategy, where you have individual military units who have a great deal of independence to decide what they can do without referring back to the center."

"When the Red Team sank much of the Blue navy despite the Blue navy's firing of guns and missiles," the Times grimly observed, "it illustrated a cheap way to beat a very expensive fleet. After the Blue force was sunk, the game was ordered to begin again, with the Blue Team eventually declared the victor."

Nazemroaya warned, "Iran would react to U.S. aggression by launching a massive barrage of missiles that would overwhelm the U.S. and destroy sixteen U.S. naval vessels--an aircraft carrier, ten cruisers, and five amphibious ships. It is estimated that if this had happened in real war theater context, more than 20,000 U.S. servicemen would have been killed in the first day following the attack."

Undeterred by warnings from their own military experts, Washington and Tel Aviv are heading towards the edge of the cliff and seem eager to jump.

On Friday, Russia Today disclosed that the mysteriously "delayed" Austere Challenge 12 joint missile defense exercise with Israel "originally slated for this spring, will be scheduled for October 2012."

Amid conflicting reports that first had the Obama administration, and then the Israelis, postponing the exercise, allegedly because "a series of events," according to Inter Press Service, "impelled the Barack Obama administration to put more distance between the United States and aggressive Israeli policies toward Iran." On the other hand however, Debkafile averred that Netanyahu called it off "as a mark of Israel's disapproval for the administration's apparent hesitancy."

Well, it's on again.

As Russia Today reported, the drill will "signal a surge of American troops to Israel by the thousands" and Iranian authorities "fear that the exercise will try out more than just the missile capabilities of the allies. Also being put to the test is Iran's patience."

"Now after a brief delay," RT averred, "America will send thousands of troops and its anti-missile defense systems to Israel, albeit a few months later than planned."

"With the exercise back in the books, it could mean that an eventual war between the US and Iran is still in the works--and now the world has a timeline to see it through."

Indications are that Washington's timeline is shrinking as the Pentagon accelerates plans to rush new weapons into the deployment phase.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that "Pentagon war planners have concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn't yet capable of destroying Iran's most heavily fortified underground facilities, and are stepping up efforts to make it more powerful."

"The 30,000-pound 'bunker-buster' bomb, known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, was specifically designed to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and North Korea to cloak their nuclear programs."

However, "initial tests indicated that the bomb, as currently configured, wouldn't be capable of destroying some of Iran's facilities, either because of their depth or because Tehran has added new fortifications to protect them."

"The push boost the power of the MOP is part of stepped-up contingency planning for a possible strike against Iran's nuclear program," the Journal disclosed.

Having already spent some $300 million for 20 bombs, designed by military-industrial-complex heavyweight Boeing, the Pentagon sought an additional $82 million this month in a secret request to Congress.

Warning of the "grave consequences" of a U.S.-led attack on Iran, last week Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described "the scenario Russia and the global community could face if things in the Middle East, especially in Iran, get out of hand," Russia Today informed us.

"As for the chances that this disaster (a military attack against Iran) could occur, this question would be better addressed to those who keep mentioning this as an option that remains on the table," Lavrov said in a comment apparently intended for Israel and the United States. "The consequences will be really grave, and we are seriously concerned about this."

Pointedly, the Foreign Minister said "this will not be an easy walk, and it's impossible to calculate all of the possible consequences."

Earlier this month, Russia's Deputy Prime Minister and former NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, warned that "Iran is our close neighbor, just south of the Caucasus. Should anything happen to Iran, should Iran get drawn into any political or military hardships, this will be a direct threat to our national security."

Braggadocio aside, unlike the Millennium Challenge 2002 exercise, American forces will not have the luxury of a "do-over" if events really do spin out of control.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Terror Attacks, U.S.-Israeli War Games Raise the Prospects for War

Amid rising tensions over bogus Western claims that Iran plans to build nuclear weapons, upcoming American war games with Israel have the potential of escalating into a deadly confrontation.

A miscalculation, or deliberate provocation by the West designed to maneuver the Iranians into "firing the first shot," could have disastrous consequences far beyond the confines of the Persian Gulf.

That provocation wasn't long in coming.

Despite an agreement reached by Iran with the P 5+1 group of nations (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany), to restart talks in Turkey over the nuclear issue, the CIA-Mossad-MEK terror campaign took a dark turn this week; a sign that the imperialist powers, spearheaded by the United States, aim to scupper negotiations even before they start.

On Tuesday, an Iranian university professor, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, 32, a chemistry expert and director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was murdered after two assailants on a motorcycle attached magnetic bombs to his car.

Analyst Richard Silverstein wrote on the Tikun Olam web site Wednesday that "my own confidential Israeli source confirms today's murder was the work of the Mossad and MEK, as have been a number of previous operations I've reported here."

Silverstein averred that "the method recalls another series of assassinations that occurred of Fereidoun Abbassi Davani (who was seriously wounded) and his colleague Majid Shahriari (who was killed). Today's killing occurred two years to the day after the assassination of another scientist, Masoud Ali Mohammadi."

According to Fars News Agency, the blasts which killed Roshan "also wounded two other Iranian nationals in Seyed Khandan neighborhood in Northern Tehran."

The scientist''s driver, Reza Qashqavi, who was severely injured in the blast, "died of his wounds in Resalat Hospital a few hours later," Fars reported.

What makes Roshan's murder especially troubling is that according to political analyst Seyyed Mohamed Marandi, the "IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] officials had met him [Ahmadi Roshan] earlier."

Marandi charged that all of the Iranian scientists who had been targeted and then subsequently murdered in terrorist attacks "have had their names given by the IAEA to third parties," Press TV reported.

"It is obvious that Western intelligence agencies are carrying out these attacks, or if the Israelis are carrying them out, it is with the knowledge of the Europeans and Americans. Because these agencies are very closely aligned to one another, they cooperate extensively, they exchange information," Marandi said.

While no one has claimed authorship of the terrorist outrage, the Associated Press reported that IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz testified in closed session to the Israeli Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that America's proxy, Israel, was engaged in sabotaging Iran's nuclear program through a series of "unnatural acts."

"2012 is expected to be a critical year for Iran," Gantz told the committee, citing "the confluence of efforts to advance the nuclear program, internal leadership changes, continued international pressure and things that happen to it unnaturally."

Roshan was the fourth scientist killed in a series of assassinations since January 2010 and follows a series of attacks on defense and nuclear facilities.

In early November, a massive bomb blast at the sprawling Bid Ganeh missile base 25 miles west of Tehran killed upwards of 30 members of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including Major General Hassan Moqqadam, a senior leader of Iran's missile program.

Later that month, a huge explosion was reported at Iran's uranium conversion facility in Isfahan. Though Iranian officials denied an attack took place, The Times reported that "satellite imagery ... clearly showed billowing smoke and destruction."

U.S. officials, as is their wont, responded in typical fashion--they blamed the victims.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said she had "no information one way or the other" about the scientist's murder, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced Iran for their "provocative rhetoric" and issued a categorical denial that the U.S. was organizing terrorism inside the Islamic Republic.

However, in an interview with the Hebrew-language Ma'ariv daily, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that "Washington is preparing to undertake any measure to thwart Iran's nuclear program," Xinhua reported.

"We've said and I say again that all options are open ... President (Barack) Obama clearly and consistently says that he will do everything and resort to all necessary means to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons, and he means every word," Shapiro said.

Shapiro's statement, if not quite an open admission, is a sign of Washington's boundless hypocrisy as it supposedly wages a so-called "War on Terror" while organizing terrorist attacks on governments it has targeted for regime change.

Iran, and China, Strike a Defiant Note

With a new round of economic sanctions targeting Iran's ability to sell its oil on international markets signed into law by President Obama last week, and with the European Union threatening to do the same, it was unlikely that the Iranian government, or their principle trading partner, would sit idly by and allow the West to damage their respective economies.

Although The Washington Post reported Tuesday that "a senior U.S. intelligence official" said that "the goal of U.S. and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse," the quote was quickly yanked from their web site.

The Post claimed the earlier account was "incorrectly reported" and that "an updated version clarifies the official's remarks," a fallacious climb-down that revealed far more than Washington intended to say the least!

The European Union announced that a meeting of foreign ministers would be held January 23, a week earlier than originally planned, to finalize an agreement on a comprehensive oil embargo.

While the EU and some Asian oil-buying nations are caving-in to Washington's demands, America's geopolitical rival and largest creditor, China, has rejected calls to put the squeeze on Tehran.

With U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in Beijing this week, The Washington Post reported that the former Kissinger Associates henchman in Obama's cabinet "is expected to press China's leaders to reduce the country's oil imports from Iran."

He is unlikely to find a receptive ear, however.

China's vice foreign minister responsible for U.S. relations, Cui Tiankai, said on Monday that "the normal trade relations and energy cooperation between China and Iran have nothing to do with the nuclear issue. We should not mix issues of different natures, and China's legitimate concerns and demands should be respected."

Having blasted the new sanctions regime imposed last week, China, the third largest buyer of Iranian crude, said new restrictions would not affect business in the least.

The Associated Press reported that "about 11 percent of China's oil imports in 2011 came from Iran, or about 560,000 barrels per day, a flow that increased in the latter half of the year, according to oil industry analysts Argus Media."

"The daily average for November was 617,000 barrels," AP reported, "close to a third of Iran's total oil exports of 2.2 million barrels a day, Argus said," a sign that China is hardly intimidated by U.S. threats.

Rejecting U.S. and European claims that normal business relations with the Islamic Republic provided financial support for its nuclear program, Cui declared that "argument does not hold water."

"According to this logic," the vice minister said, "if the Iranians have enough money to feed their population, then they have the ability to develop nuclear programs," Cui told reporters. "If that is the case, should we also deny Iran the opportunity to feed its population?"

Cui's pointed remark was an obvious jab at the U.S. sanctions regime which targeted Iraq for more than a decade prior to the 2003 invasion. Sanctions, which former UN official Dennis Halliday called "genocide" back in 1999, were estimated to have caused the death of upwards of 1.7. million people, including some 500,000 children, a "price" which former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said was "worth it."

Undeterred by American threats, Press TV disclosed Sunday that "a senior Iranian lawmaker says the aim of the upcoming naval drills by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) is to prepare for the potential closure of the strategic Hormuz Strait."

Iranian naval officials announced January 5 that they "would be holding a major military maneuver in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz in February."

"IRGC's Naval Commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi said the drills, the seventh in a series of military exercises dubbed the Great Prophet, will be different compared to previous naval maneuvers held by the IRGC," Press TV reported.

Pointedly, the deputy head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Esmail Kowsari, said that "the military maneuver has been designed to prepare the armed forces for receiving the order to shut down the strait within the shortest time possible."

The semiofficial Iranian news outlet also reported Sunday that the "Commander of Iran's Ground Forces Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan announces plans to hold a massive military maneuver in the near future."

"In line with the global developments and their own interests," Pourdastan told Press TV, "Western countries are, today, using soft war [tactics] as the core of their strategy and it is [only] natural for us to have a defense [tactic] when the enemy starts a war."

On Monday, Fars News Agency reported that IRGC Commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, reiterated his earlier warning that "any enemy move, even the slightest aggressions, against the Islamic Republic would be reciprocated with a destructive response and will endanger the interests of the aggressor all around the world."

Mounting U.S.-NATO Threats

Iran's announcement that they will hold new naval exercises, followed a report by The Daily Telegraph that the UK will deploy "the HMS Daring, a Type 45 destroyer," and this "will send a significant message to the Iranians because of the firepower and world-beating technology carried by the warship."

In November, The Guardian disclosed that "Britain's armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran."

In a controlled leak, Ministry of Defence officials told The Guardian that "military planners are examining where best to deploy Royal Navy ships and submarines equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles over the coming months as part of what would be an air and sea campaign."

During the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, Diego Garcia was used by the the U.S. Air Force as a launch pad for B-2 stealth bombers during the initial phase of Washington's "shock and awe" campaign over Baghdad.

It now appears those contingency plans have moved off the drawing board with the deployment of the HMS Daring towards the Persian Gulf.

The Telegraph disclosed that the ship "has been fitted with new technology that will give it the ability to shoot down any missile in Iran's armoury. The £1 billion destroyer, which will leave Portsmouth next Wednesday, also carries the world's most sophisticated naval radar, capable of tracking multiple incoming threats from missiles to fighter jets."

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond warned Iran that "any blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would be 'illegal and unsuccessful'."

According to the Telegraph, naval sources have said that "more British ships could be sent to the Gulf if required. The second Type 45, HMS Dauntless, will also be available to sail at short notice."

As Global Research reported in December, the United States has significantly increased military aid to Israel in preparation for an all-out war with Iran and that "the Pentagon dispatched some 100 military personnel to Israel from US European Command (EUCOM) to assist Israel in setting up a new sophisticated X-band early warning radar system as part of a new and integrated air defense system."

Although "casually heralded as 'military aid,'" Michel Chossudovsky wrote, "the project consisted in strengthening the integration of Israel's air defense system into that of the US, with the Pentagon rather than Israel calling the shots."

In a new development, Russia Today reported last week that "thousands of American troops are being deployed to Israel, and Iranian officials believe that this is the latest and most blatant warning that the US will soon be attacking Tehran."

"Under the Austere Challenge 12 drill scheduled for an undisclosed time during the next few weeks," RT disclosed, "the Israeli military will together with America host the largest-ever joint missile drill by the two countries."

An anonymous Israeli official told the Associated Press "the drill would test multiple Israeli and U.S. air defense systems against incoming missiles and rockets. Israel has deployed the 'Arrow' system, jointly developed and funded with the U.S., designed to intercept Iranian missiles in the stratosphere, far from Israel."

While U.S. and Israeli officials have called the drills "routine," RT reported that "following the installation of American troops near Iran's neighboring Strait of Hormuz and the reinforcing of nearby nations with US weapons, Tehran authorities are considering this not a test but the start of something much bigger."

Iranian fears are fully justified.

With the United States and NATO ringing Iran with military bases and with the U.S. beefing-up arm sales to its regional allies, including recently announced plans to sell some $30 billion of advanced F-15SA war planes to Saudi Arabia and "bunker buster" bombs to the UAE, the stage is set for a confrontation.

In this context, the murder of an Iranian scientist just as a new round of talks were announced, is a clear sign that Washington is hell-bent on imposing its control over the Persian Gulf--through aggressive war--as part of long-standing plans to ensure imperial hegemony over the energy-rich regions of of Central Asia and the Middle East.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tensions Rise as U.S. Imposes 'Nuclear Option' on Iran's Economy

Reacting to American threats to crater their economy, Iran's first vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimi said last week that the Islamic Republic would retaliate by blocking all oil shipments through the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Following a sustained covert terror campaign by the U.S. and Israel, Rahimi declared: "If they impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz."

On Saturday, President Obama took that step and signed crippling sanctions legislation as part of the Pentagon's massive $662 billion 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

It should be noted that the NDAA, which threatens war on Iran, also calls for the indefinite detention of so-called "terrorist" suspects by the military, including American citizens, who can now be held without charge or trial.

Dubbed the "nuclear option" by critics and supporters alike, the legislation passed with overwhelming support from "conservative" Republicans and "liberal" Democrats in Congress and targets foreign corporations that do business with Iran's Central Bank.

Under the guise of "punishing Iran" for an unproven nuclear weapons program the bill is designed to "collapse the Iranian economy" according to its chief sponsor, Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk.

As pointed out by numerous analysts and proliferation experts, Iran's research related to nuclear weapons ended more than a decade ago. Even the highly-politicized report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November under pressure from Washington, was forced to concede that Iran has not diverted material into a covert weapons program.

Two days after becoming law, Iran's currency hit a record low against the U.S. dollar.

According to the Associated Press the riyal "hovered around 16,800 riyals to the dollar, marking a roughly 10 percent slide compared to Thursday's rate of 15,200 riyals to the dollar. The riyal was trading at around 10,500 riyals to the U.S. dollar in late December 2010."

"The sanctions target both private and government-controlled banks--including central banks--and would take hold after a two- to six-month warning period, depending on the transactions," Reuters reported.

"Foreign central banks which deal with the Iranian central bank on oil transactions could also face restrictions," AFP disclosed, "sparking fears of damage to US ties with key nations such as Russia and China which trade with Iran."

The new law would make it virtually impossible for Iran to collect payments for energy exports severely damaging its already-fragile economy while setting the stage for a military confrontation.

In the event hostilities break out, energy analysts have warned that the price of oil could spiral to $250 barrel and would have a devastating effect on the crisis-ridden global economy.

Reflecting the skittishness of global energy markets, "crude futures headed for a third yearly advance on speculation escalating tension in the Middle East may disrupt supplies," Bloomberg News reported, and "surged to $101.77 a barrel on Dec. 27, the highest intraday price since Dec. 7."

Hair-Trigger Alert

American threats have been taken seriously by the Tehran government.

Iran is currently conducting a 10-day naval exercise in the Persian Gulf and officials have said they would react forcefully should the United States threaten their ability to conduct operations in defense of their territorial sovereignty.

Last week, Iran's Naval Commander, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, reiterated that the country's naval forces "can can readily block the strategic Strait of Hormuz if need be," Press TV reported.

"Closing the Strait of Hormuz is very easy for Iranian naval forces," Sayyari said. "Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic water way."

In response, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson George Little said "that any interference by Iran in the strait would 'not be tolerated,' stressing that the region was 'an economic lifeline for countries in the gulf'," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Iranian officials fired back. Hossein Salami, a senior commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps said that "Americans are not in a position whether to allow Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz."

"Any threat will be responded by threat," Reuters reported. "We will not relinquish our strategic moves if Iran's vital interests are undermined by any means."

Iran claimed Sunday that its naval forces had successfully test-fired a new medium-range surface-to-air missile during the exercises in the Strait of Hormuz.

Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi, the spokesperson for the exercises, claimed that the missile was "designed and manufactured by Iranian experts, [and] is equipped with state-of-the-art technology and an intelligent system that enables it to target radio emission sources and thwart jammers," according to Press TV.

"On Friday," Xinhua disclosed, "Mousavi said that the country's naval units will fire different long- and short-range land-to-sea, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles during the power phase of the exercises in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, starting Saturday."

"He added that Iran's submarines will also hit the pre-determined targets," Xinhua reported, "using domestically-manufactured torpedoes, during the exercises."

On Monday, the last day of the maneuvers, Deutsche Welle reported that the Iranian navy "test-fired a cruise missile with stealth technology in a move sure to ratchet up tensions with the West."

While claims that new Iranian missiles are stealth-equipped cannot be independently verified, it should be noted that prior to the intact capture of an advanced RQ-170 Sentinel spy drone flown by the CIA in early December, Western security experts had downplayed Iran's technological capacity to employ sophisticated electronic warfare tactics.

According to reports, "Iran on Monday successfully tested a 'Ghader' surface-to-surface cruise missile on the last day of war games near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.

"The 'Ghader,' which means 'capable' in Farsi, is an upgraded version of an existing missile that had a range of 200 kilometers (125 miles) and could travel at low altitudes."

Deutsche Welle observed that the "war games and the missile firing are seen by political analysts as a practice run for closing the Strait of Hormuz if the West were to block Iran's oil sales."

Reiterating that message, a senior Iranian lawmaker, Kazem Jalali, told Press TV Monday that "if faced with a threat Iran will definitely use the defensive potential of the strategic Strait of Hormuz."

"Iran has warned," Press TV noted, "that in case Western threats of imposing an oil embargo on the Islamic Republic materialize, it reserves the right to respond by choking the oil flow through Hormuz, arguing that the free flow of oil must be for all or for none."

Robert Naiman, the policy director at the Just Foreign Policy think-tank, told Russia Today that "Tehran had to call navy maneuvers at this time as otherwise it would have been perceived as a country unable to defend itself. The embargo on Iran's oil exports proposed by the US necessitates an active response."

"It is understood in the international political discourse that an embargo is an act of war. If it really is the policy pursued by the US and Western Europe to try to cut off Iran's oil exports, then that is an act of war. It would not make sense for Iran to roll over," Naiman told RT.

As analyst Peter Symonds pointed out on the World Socialist Web Site, "Having waged wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq and backed the NATO bombing of Libya, the US is now deliberately and recklessly raising tensions in the Persian Gulf by threatening severe penalties against any foreign company doing business with Iran's central bank, thereby effectively blocking Iranian oil exports."

"The media is silent on Washington's rank hypocrisy in demanding an end to Iran's nuclear programs," the socialist critic noted, "while fully backing the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East--its ally Israel, which is notorious for its wars of aggression."

"The glaring double standard," Symonds observed, "only underscores the fact that Obama's belligerence towards Iran is no more about the 'nuclear threat' than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were about 'terrorism' and WMDs."

U.S. Arms Sales

In the face of escalating Western threats, Tehran Times reported Friday that Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that "Iran is ready to resume negotiations with the 5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany)."

According to the paper, Salehi's remarks came during a meeting with China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhai Jun on Thursday.

"The Chinese vice foreign minister," Tehran Times averred, "emphasized that the dispute over Iran's nuclear issue should be resolved through negotiations, adding that Beijing is opposed to the adoption of new sanctions on Tehran."

Bloomberg News reported Monday that "the country's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, plans to send a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, which may be followed by a new round of talks, Mehr reported on Dec. 31, citing Iran's ambassador to Germany, Alireza Sheikh Attar."

"The EU," Bloomberg reported, "continues to pursue a 'twin-track approach' and is 'open for meaningful discussions on confidence-building measures, without preconditions from the Iranian side'," EU spokesperson Michael Mann said last week.

Despite Iran's willingness to renew direct talks, the Obama administration announced a $30 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and agreed to sell 84 advanced F-15SA fighter jets to the repressive House of Saud.

"Though the White House said the deal had not been accelerated to respond to threats by Iranian officials in recent days to shut off the Strait of Hormuz," The New York Times reported that "its timing is laden with significance, as tensions with Iran have deepened and the United States has withdrawn its last soldiers from Iraq."

Andrew J. Shapiro, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs told the Times that "this sale will send a strong message to countries in the region that the United States is committed to stability in the gulf and the broader Middle East."

However, when the global godfather speaks of "stability," what the U.S. means is the maintenance of a system of exploitation and resource extraction controlled by American multinationals, backed by the threat of covert and overt aggression by Washington.

Accelerating the encirclement of Iran by U.S. allies, Reuters reported that the "United States has signed a $3.5 billion sale of an advanced antimissile interception system to the United Arab Emirates, part of an accelerating military buildup of its friends and allies near Iran."

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that the deal "is an important step in improving the region's security through a regional missile defense architecture."

The sale of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD), manufactured by mega merchant of death Lockheed Martin, is described as "the only system designed to destroy short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles both inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere."

"The United States," Reuters disclosed, "under the government-to-government deal, will deliver two THAAD batteries, 96 missiles, two Raytheon Co AN/TPY-2 radars plus 30 years of spare parts, support and training with contractor logistics support to the UAE," the Pentagon spokesperson said.

In another pending arms sale, Reuters reported that the Obama regime "formally proposed in November to sell 600 'bunker buster' bombs and other munitions to UAE in an estimated $304 million package to counter what the Pentagon called current and future regional threats."

Sale of these munitions are widely believed to be essential should the U.S., Israel, NATO and their regional Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, decide to attack Iran, and would be deployed for targeting "hardened" command-and-control sites in the Islamic Republic.

As analyst Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya pointed out on Global Research, Washington's long-standing plans for "regime change" in the Middle East and North Africa are part of an ongoing cold war between Tehran and Washington and that the "destabilization campaign being waged against Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are also a critical front in this cold war."

"The Obama Administration has used 2011 to unleash Washington's so-called 'Coalition of the Moderate' against the Resistance Bloc," Nazemroaya wrote, "which pins together all the countries and forces united by their opposition to U.S. and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region."

"The two camps that are becoming more and more visible in the MENA region are falling along the lines of what Washington, Tel Aviv, and NATO planned on forming after the 2006 Israeli defeat in Lebanon as a means of tackling Iran and its allies," Nazemroaya observed.

"In 2007, the United States of America, represented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, held a meeting in Cairo under the 'GCC + 2' formula with the Gulf Cooperation Council--Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the U.A.E., Oman, and Qatar--plus Egypt and Jordan to form a strategic and all encompassing front against Iran, Syria, and their regional allies.

"This 'Coalition of the Moderate' formed by Washington was a direct extension of NATO that also included Israel and Turkey as important and central participants," Nazemroaya wrote.

In this context, stepped-up sales of advanced weapons systems to so-called "moderate" regimes are, contrary to American propaganda, not the result of a supposed "threat" from Iran but precisely are intended to hasten "regime change," either through National Endowment for Democracy (NED) sponsored "color revolutions" or overt military aggression.

Last week, Antifascist Calling disclosed, citing reports from the Israeli, Russian and Turkish press, that the U.S. has doubled the "special aid" it gives to Israel for long-range anti-ballistic air defense systems and associated radars.

The $235.7 million deal approved by Congress, Israel National News noted was "for the Arrow 3 anti-ballistic long-range air defense system, for the program to improve the basic capabilities of the Arrow systems, and for the David's Sling mid-range anti-missile system."

And as The Jerusalem Post reported, the arms sale comes on the heels of Israeli plans "to hold the largest-ever missile defense exercise in its history this spring amid Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear weapons."

Defense correspondent Yaakov Katz disclosed that "Lt.-Gen. Frank Gorenc, commander of the US's Third Air Force based in Germany, visited Israel to finalize plans for the upcoming drill, expected to see the deployment of several thousand American soldiers in Israel."

The Jerusalem Post noted that "the drill, which is unprecedented in its size, will include the establishment of US command posts in Israel and IDF command posts at EUCOM headquarters in Germany--with the ultimate goal of establishing joint task forces in the event of a large-scale conflict in the Middle East."

"The US," Katz reported, "will also bring its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and shipbased Aegis ballistic missile defense systems to Israel to simulate the interception of missile salvos against Israel," and that the "American system will work in conjunction with Israel's missile defense systems--the Arrow, Patriot and Iron Dome."

Although "casually heralded as 'military aid,'" Global Research analyst Michel Chossudovsky observed that "the project consisted in strengthening the integration of Israel's air defense system into that of the US, with the Pentagon rather than Israel calling the shots."

Advanced ballistic missile early warning radar systems have also been installed in Turkey and, as with the Israeli deployment, the U.S. is clearly in the driver's seat.

In late December, Hürriyet Daily News reported that "NATO's Malatya-based ballistic missile early warning radar system ... will become operational next week, before the end of this year," a "senior Turkish official" said.

"The agreement signed between Ankara and Washington calls for the deployment of a U.S. AN/TPY-2 (X-band) early warning radar system at a military installation at Kürecik in Malatya as part of NATO’s missile defense project," Hürriyet reported.

Similar to the Israeli agreement, Hürriyet disclosed that "a Turkish senior commander is to be posted at NATO's headquarters in Germany, where the intelligence gathered through the radar system will be processed."

Global Energy Hegemony

The precipitating factor propelling Washington's machinations against Tehran is the severe economic decline of the United States vis-à-vis their imperialist rivals, above all China and Russia.

American aggression in the context of the current global economic crisis, has nothing whatsoever to do with moves to stop nuclear proliferation, let alone advance the cause of "freedom and democracy" in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter.

Rather, belligerent threats and U.S. state-sponsored terrorism against the Islamic Republic are part and parcel of Washington's long-standing strategic goal of hegemonic control over the energy-rich regions of Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Dialing-up tensions, the United States is gambling that a war with Iran, particularly during a critical election year with all major candidates from both capitalist parties (Ron Paul being a notable exception) outbidding one another in terms of their bellicose rhetoric, hope to divert attention from ongoing attacks on the standard of living and democratic rights of the working class by kleptocratic American elites.

Imperial military adventurism for control over the world's energy supplies however, raises the specter of an unintended conflict with rivals China and Russia, who also face renewed threats from Washington, a confrontation that could have unintended and potentially catastrophic consequences.