By Per-Åke Westerlund, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)
Is US imperialism and/or Israel preparing a military attack on Iran? How would the Islamist dictatorship in Tehran respond? These questions came into focus again over the holidays following new sanctions announced by the United States and an Iranian navy exercise.
Both the regime in Iran and the White House have domestic reasons for the escalating war of words. The Iranian regime’s fear of mass protests similar to the demonstrations after the “elections” in 2009 has been reinforced by the Arab revolutions. New undemocratic “elections” will be held in March as the same time as the economic crisis deepens. The regime want to shift the focus onto U.S. imperialism, which has maintained an over 30-year-long blockade. Also in the US, Obama does not mind directing some of the attention abroad, after growing discontent in 2011, signified not least by the occupy movement. In addition, the president is under pressure from Republicans for being soft on foreign affairs, especially to Iran.
Acts of war against Iran would have disastrous consequences. It is one of the most militarised regions in the world. The U.S. has its Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain and all Persian Gulf countries have been part of a regional arms race in recent years. An attack on Iran would face mass opposition in the Middle East, including from Iran-backed organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Triggering the latest developments was a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency in November, which again assumed that Iran is secretly preparing nuclear arms production. For 10 years, Iran’s nuclear facilities have led to constant crises and speculation about war actions. The plants became public in 2002, but uranium enrichment was suspended, only to resume a short time later when Ahmadinejad became president in 2005.Rumors and concerns have already made oil prices rise 6% in the first week of January. A military conflict with the risk of affecting oil exports from the Persian Gulf could threaten the entire global economy. 40% of world oil exports pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the UN Security Council has since given various ultimatums to the regime in Tehran and adopted four rounds of sanctions.
Tehran has always maintained that the enrichment of uranium is for nuclear power, and some medical purposes. Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has never missed the chance to brag about Iran’s capacity to produce nuclear fuel with the help of their now 8,000 centrifuges.
The processing of uranium was, for a long time, 3.5% enrichment, but increased to nearly 20% in 2010. Uranium for use in nuclear weapons requires an enrichment of 90%.The IAEA and even the White House, since Obama’s accession to power, concedes that Iran is still not producing nuclear weapons, but warned that the risk has increased.
The sanctions so far have had effect on Iran’s economy but no impact on the regime’s plans for continued enrichment of uranium. Since Israel holds the possibility of a military attack on Iran, open pressure has increased on Obama.
Both the U.S. and Israel are also conducting a spy war, including murders of scientists, against the Iranian nuclear program.
On New Year’s Eve Obama launched new tougher sanctions against Iran. These were included in the new military budget for 2012.
The new sanctions aim directly at the oil revenues, which account for 60 percent of Iran’s economy. The goal is to stop all business with Iran’s central bank, the bank in charge of foreign trade and foreign currency. The previous blockade was limited to US trade, but now European companies and governments are forced to stop trading with Iran. It involves the purchase of oil, but also refineries processing oil from Iran and of course exports to Iran.
Under this pressure, the EU has in principle accepted an oil embargo. Today, EU countries, especially in southern Europe, import 450,000 barrels per day of Iran’s exports of 2.6 million barrels per day. Even Greece, buying with some credit from Tehran, has been pressed not to protest against a future blockade.
Obama’s new sanctions are to take effect in six months, but the decision gives the president the opportunity to cancel or postpone before it takes effect, especially if oil prices go up.
The Iranian regime has responded that it is easy to replace consumers who fall away. The hope is probably that China - already the largest importer of oil from Iran - and India will step in.
Iran is in severe economic crisis with sharp price increases and growing unemployment. The country’s currency lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar during December and early January. At the same time, there is a threat of new mass protests and increased workers’ strikes.
This explains the war rhetoric from Tehran. “Not a drop of oil will pass the Strait of Hormuz” if sanctions are implemented, declares Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi.
During a 10-day naval exercise Iran tested two new long-range missiles, Ghadr and Nour, with a reach of over 200 kilometres. In the past, the country tested Sejil-2 missiles that can travel ten times further.
Iran has also announced that enrichment of uranium also takes place in Fordo outside the holy city of Qom, in addition to the facilities already available at Natanz. The new plant is said to have special protection against air strikes.During the exercise, the Iranian commanders warned that the U.S. aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, based in Bahrain, could not pass the Iranian warships, but this occurred later without incident. Washington has responded that a closed Strait of Hormuz “will not be tolerated” referring to U.S. strategic interests. The fact is that even during the war between Iran and Iraq, 1980-88, the strait was open to oil tankers. Also Iran’s oil going to China and other countries pass this passage.
The threat of war against Iran is most likely to take the form of air strikes, and not a ground invasion. Israel has signaled that a military attack on Iran is not excluded. Defence Minister Ehud Barak said recently that “Iran could reach a stage, within nine months, where nothing can be done to stop the ability to build nuclear weapons” reported the Daily News.
The U.S. has publicly criticized and warned against the Israeli plans. An attack by Israel would, even more so than an attack from the U.S., be met by huge protests in the Middle East and globally.
The risk of war or war actions has increased and is not at all excluded, although it most likely that new attempts at negotiations will be conducted before any threats are implemented.
Socialists in Iran, the U.S. and globally must stand against all acts of war from the United States and/or Israel against Iran. Washington and Jerusalem act to protect their power and their profits, not out of concern for the people of Iran. The consequences of an imperialist war intervention can be seen in Iraq today. At the same time, opposition to the war does not mean any support for the oppressive regime in Iran. In order to achieve peace and democratic rights, this regime has to be overthrown by the workers, young people and all oppressed in Iran. In the U.S. resistance to war is also an opposition to war and profiteers, against Wall Street and the corrupt politicians. Struggle against war is a struggle for democracy and workers’ rule, against capitalism and imperialism.