Sanctions prepare ground for war against Iran

On July 1, US President Barack Obama signed into law a new bill that imposes unilateral US sanctions targeting foreign companies that sell petroleum products to Iran. On July 26, the European Union followed suit. New EU sanctions include a ban on the sale of equipment and services to Iran’s energy sector. On June 15, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith announced Canberra would also impose extra sanctions, targeting banking, shipping and construction operations.

The latest round of US and EU sanctions followed a 12-2 UN Security Council vote on June 8 to impose a “modest tightening of sanctions” against Iran. UN Security Council resolution 1929 — which was opposed by Brazil and Turkey — is the fourth round of UN sanctions targeting Iran under the pretext of pressuring Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program. But the real target of the US-EU sanctions policy is Iran’s vast underground oil and natural gas reserves and Tehran’s independent foreign policy. Iran has been in the cross-hairs of US foreign policy ever since the 1979 Iranian revolution overthrew the US-installed Shah. Of particular disdain to the US rulers is the support given to the Hamas and Hezbollah resistance movements, which have successfully resisted Israeli occupations in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.

No proof of weapons program

Iran’s semi-theocratic capitalist regime, which is a signatory of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has always denied that it is developing nuclear weapons, asserting that its nuclear program is solely for electricity generation and the production of medical isotopes. The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is actively monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, has consistently reported that there has been no diversion of nuclear material to any military purposes. In September 2009 the IAEA released a report stating, “The IAEA reiterates that it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon program in Iran”. By contrast, the three nuclear-armed states that have not signed the NPT — India, Pakistan and Israel — have never been subject to UN sanctions for their possession of nuclear weapons. On May 24, the British Guardian published declassified South African documents revealing attempts by the South African apartheid regime to buy Israeli nuclear weapons in the 1970s. Yet Washington maintains the charade that Israel poses no nuclear threat to its neighbours, while demanding from the UN Security Council ever harsher measures against Iran.

According to the June 10 Washington Post, Obama claimed that “[the UN] sanctions do not close the door on diplomacy”. The Post reported Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying, “We think that the sanctions send a kind of message to the entire Iranian leadership, which is quite diverse in their assessments and reactions, that there is still an opportunity for you to participate and to work with us.” But the hypocrisy of these statements is demonstrated by the Obama administration’s recent sinking of an initiative by the presidents of Turkey and Brazil to secure a diplomatic resolution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.

On May 17, Tehran accepted a proposal from Turkish President Recep Erdogan and Brazilian President Lula da Silva that would have required Iran to transfer 1200 kg of low enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for approximately 120 kg of medium enriched uranium fuel rods for use in the production of medical isotopes. The deal, which had previously received Obama’s backing following the 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12, was promptly rejected by the White House. On May 18, Clinton told the US Senate’s foreign relations committee that the agreement was a “ploy”.

Pretext for war preparations

The rejection of this deal by the Obama administration demonstrates Washington’s determination to impose sanctions on Iran irrespective of Tehran’s willingness to make compromises on its rights under the NPT to enrich uranium for non-military purposes. As with Washington’s claim that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” — the lie used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq — Washington is seeking to portray Iran’s nuclear energy program as aimed at producing nuclear weapons in order to prepare the ground for a “regime-change” invasion of Iran.

The Glasgow-based Sunday Herald reported on March 14 that “hundreds of powerful US ‘bunker-buster’ bombs are being shipped from California to the British-controlled island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for a possible attack on Iran.” The substantial military equipment dispatched, according to a US Navy cargo manifest obtained by the Herald, included 387 “bunker busters” used for blasting hardened underground structures.

Diego Garcia was illegally excised from Mauritius by Britain in 1965. Under an agreement between Britain and the US in 1971, 2000 native islanders were forcibly evicted from Diego Garcia, and transferred to the Seychelles and Mauritius, to make way for a massive US military base. About 50 British military staff are stationed on the island, with more than 3200 US personnel. Diego Garcia was one of the launching pads for air strikes during the 1991 Iraq war and 2003 invasion of Iraq. “They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran”, Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, was quoted by the Herald. “US bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours.”

On June 19, British Arabic-language newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that more than 12 US warships and at least one Israeli warship crossed the Suez Canal towards the Red Sea the previous day. Retired Cuban president Fidel Castro expressed his alarm at the US-Israeli naval presence in his column “Reflections of Fidel”, published in the Cuban daily Granma: “I do not harbour the slightest doubt that as soon as the warships of the United States and Israel take up their positions — together with the rest of the U.S. military vessels located in the vicinity of the Iranian coasts — and attempt to inspect that country’s first merchant ship, a rain of missiles will be unleashed in both directions. That will be the precise moment when that terrible war will begin.”

There have also been reports of a build-up of US and Israeli troops in Azerbaijan, on Iran’s north-west border. Iranian Revolutionary Guards provincial commander Brigadier-General Mehdi Moini told Press TV on June 15: “The presence of US and Israeli forces along Iranian borders is the reason behind Iran’s military movements in the region.”

The steady barrage of corporate media reporting on White House statements claiming that Iran is emerging as a “nuclear threat” have begun to mould public opinion inside and outside the US in favour of an attack on Iran. In answering the question, “Do you approve of Israel taking military action against Iran to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons?” 56% of US respondents in a July IBD/TIPP poll agreed, while 30% disagreed. A Pew Research poll of 22 countries in June, found that a majority in 16 of the countries preferred a military strike over “tolerating a nuclear Iran”. In the US, 66% preferred a strike, while 24% objected to it.

In testimony to the US Senate foreign relations committee in May 2009, Nicholas Burns, former US ambassador to NATO (2001-05), who was George W. Bush’s lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program, dismissed the idea that Iran’s nuclear program could be stopped simply through air strikes: “Some continue to argue that the only way to halt Iran’s accelerating nuclear research effort is through American or Israeli air strikes. But, there is no convincing scenario where such use of military force would work effectively to end the Iranian nuclear program. Even worse, air strikes would undoubtedly lead Iran to hit back asymmetrically against us in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider region … An America that is already waging two difficult and bloody wars should be wary of unleashing a third.”

With 62% of Americans opposed to the US war in Iraq, according to a June CNN poll, and 56% opposed to the Afghanistan war, it remains to be seen whether the US imperialist rulers would be able to garner the public support needed to open a new front in their “war on terror”.