Editorial | Iran: stumbling into warBy
If Obama continues on his current path, he could well have a conflict. For this reason alone, he should change course
There are two possible outcomes of the barrage of words being launched against Iran: a war that starts inadvertently (what, one wonders, would be the reaction today if a British naval patrol in the Gulf were captured by the Iranians, as happened four years ago?); or a war that starts after an attack by Israel. A negotiated climbdown by both sides is the least likely option, although the venue for one still exists. The next round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany will be held in Istanbul. Failing any breakthrough there, western policy is caught in a cleft stick.
The British foreign secretary, William Hague, warned on successive days that the Iranian nuclear programme could trigger a Middle East cold war and that Israeli military action to forestall it would be unwise. And yet, if you do not believe that sanctions will deter Tehran from its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons (and this newspaper talked to senior US officials who do not), one judgment inexorably leads to the other. So competing voices in the US administration are both upping the ante and scurrying every month to Jerusalem to restrain Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu from doing what they have long promised to do. The latest visitor to Israel is Tom Donilon, Barack Obama’s national security adviser. Long before coming to power, Netanyahu said that Israel’s date with destiny lay with Iran, not the Palestinians. And there is no reason to disbelieve his intention to attack Iran.
One does not have to doubt the sincerity of Obama's extended hand to Iran at the start of his presidency, or the two personal letters he wrote to its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to worry about the direction in which his administration's policies are leading him now. Obama is no George W Bush. This president has not pulled out of Iraq, and started the drawdown in Afghanistan, only to start a conflict with a country with the power to mess up both Iraq and Afghanistan if attacked. But if he continues on this path, he could well have a conflict. For this reason alone, he should change course.
This is getting more difficult to do, because Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards are just as confident they can weather an attack and emerge stronger. Their latest step was to announce Iran has stopped selling crude oil to Britain and France in the hope of pushing up the price of oil, and therefore its revenues. A similar announcement last month to cut off exports to six European countries resulted in a jump in oil prices. The oil embargo will only reveal its full impact in July, when the sanctions come fully into force.
As it is, Iran has problems with China, which opposes sanctions but has long claimed it was being overcharged for Iranian oil and has cut its imports by half, and India, which is a ready buyer, but only pays in rupees because of the banking sanctions. Already Iran’s national currency has been sent into a tailspin and Iranians have begun to stockpile staples. Once again the wrong people are being sent the wrong message: to forestall this, Iran needs its own independent supply of nuclear energy.
A way out still exists: it means allowing Iran the ability to produce civilian nuclear energy as it is entitled to do under the non-proliferation treaty. To date, Iran has not broken the provisions of the NPT. The IAEA has a list of unanswered questions about suspected research into warhead miniaturisation and nuclear triggers, but nothing has been proved. The gap between suspicion and proof creates the space for negotiation which would cap the amount of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride that Iran could produce, limit the sites in which such enrichment could take place, and prevent enrichment to military-grade levels. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose “deviant current” is battling Khamenei for candidates in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, has offered to stop higher enrichment in exchange for fuel rods. At the moment Iran, Israel and US are watching who will blink first. In the Middle East, that is a dangerous activity.
from (author unknown)