The European Union has agreed to an “unprecedented” set of sanctions against Iran, banning the importation of Iranian oil to its member states while also imposing currency and commodity sanctions on Iran’s central bank. But far from forcing Iran into a corner, the latest sanctions leave a backdoor open to the regime, affording it more time and cover to pursue its nuclear objectives.
Three of the weakest economies in Europe will be hit hard by the oil embargo. Italy, Greece, and Spain import 68% of EU oil from Iran. All three nations are in the midst of a sovereign debt crisis that won’t be improved by the scramble to replace the supply of oil from Tehran.
The EU also agreed to ban sales of petrochemical supplies to the Iranians as well as freezing the assets of Iran’s central bank. Gold, silver, and other commodity deals will also be banned.
But, as proof that these tough sounding sanctions will have the bite of a toothless lion, the ban is not scheduled to take effect for several months — July 1 — as EU nations need time to replace the oil imported from Iran with other sources of supply. This will give the Iranians plenty of time to find other buyers for their oil — if they don’t close the spigot to Europe immediately. The official Fars News Agency quoted one Iranian official suggesting that Tehran should halt sales to Europe now “so that the price of oil soars and the Europeans … have trouble.”
The Iranians have also once again threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, but most analysts see that as a bluff since Iran doesn’t have the firepower to stand up to the US Navy, which would almost certainly be called upon to keep the Strait open.
Some states, such as Greece, pleaded with the EU not to impose any oil sanctions at all, or at least, radically alter the terms of the ban. The Greeks import about 20% of their oil from Iran on extremely favorable terms and covering the shortfall and getting the same deal from other oil producing states will almost certainly prove to be impossible. Considering the precarious nature of the Greek economy and an angry, restive populace, civil unrest is not out of the question if gasoline prices skyrocket.
Thus, another round of sanctions against Iran, designed to bring Tehran back to the negotiating table in order to convince the regime to halt its uranium enrichment program, continues to reveal the paralysis of the world community in the face of a determined, radical, terrorist state that is undeterred in its drive to possess the ultimate guarantee against mocking the prophet. The thought of the most powerful weapon on Earth in the hands of the most irresponsible nation on the planet doesn’t seem to elicit much in the way of urgency on the part of any nation in the world — except Israel, of course. And Prime Minister Netanyahu appears to be in a wait-and-see mode as far as sanctions are concerned — at least for the moment. Washington has warned Israel several times not to attack Iran on its own, but the Israeli government doesn’t seem confident that the sanctions will halt Tehran’s drive to possess nuclear weapons.
There have been 4 rounds of sanctions against Iran passed by the United Nations. Each round in itself is severely underwhelming. Beginning in December 2006, the Security Council banned the sale of nuclear related materials and froze the assets of some regime officials. In March 2007, the UN expanded the asset freeze and slapped an arms embargo on Iran. In March of 2008, the asset freeze was extended again, and member states were authorized to monitor ships and planes headed for Iran as well as individuals involved in the nuclear program.
The last round of international sanctions passed in June of 2010, froze the funds of individuals and businesses connected to the Revolutionary Guards and went after the financial sector of the Iranian economy.
In addition to international sanctions, about a dozen individual states — including the US, the EU, Japan, and Australia — have added their own national sanctions on everything from penalizing companies that do business with Iran to preventing the sale of oil and gas equipment to replace Tehran’s aging oil infrastructure.
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