12/29/2011, 00.00
IRAN – SYRIA
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Rising tensions with Tehran could lead to war

by Paul Dakiki
Iran threatens to shut the Strait of Hormuz, where 40 per cent of the world’s tanker-borne oil transits. The United States and the European Union ponder whether to tighten sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. Some US senators and scholars urge Washington to attack. Questions are raised whether Italian aid is for Syrian refugees or Syrian rebels.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Tensions between Tehran and the rest of the world are rising every day, so much so that some analysts believe a war is inevitable next year. The latest episode in this confrontation is the exchange of threats between Iran and the United States and the European Union over the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned on Tuesday "not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz" if the West broadened sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Admiral Habibollah Sayari, commander of the Iranian Navy, said on Wednesday, "Shutting the strait for Iran's armed forces is really easy—or as we say in Iran, easier than drinking a glass of water."

The Strait of Hormuz is a strategically important for world trade, linking the Gulf and its petroleum-exporting states to the Indian Ocean. About 40 per cent of the world's tanker-borne oil passes through it; that is approximately 15.5m barrels of oil and 2m barrels of oil products each day,

For this reason, the Pentagon yesterday said, “Interference with the transit or passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated."

Bahrain-based U.S. Navy 5th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Rebecca Rebarich explained that the Navy “maintains a robust presence in the region” and will protect the region’s “vital links to the international community."

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero yesterday said that the Strait of Hormuz was an international strait and "therefore all ships, no matter what flag they fly, have the right of transit passage."

Tehran’s threats appear to be retaliation against fresh Western sanctions following a UN report that said Iran had carried out tests related to "development of a nuclear device".

For many years, the United States and the European Union have accused Iran of developing a military nuclear programme, a charge Tehran rejects, insisting on the peaceful nature of its programme.

Next month, the European Union will determine whether to tighten its sanctions against Iran by following the United States in penalising Iranian oil exports and related financial transactions.

Since Iran relies on crude sales for about 80 per cent of its public revenues, more sanctions would further aggravate the country’s already faltering economy.

China and Russia, which are important trading partners for Iran, are opposed to tougher sanctions.

The tightening of sanctions appears to parallel the growing possibility of air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Sources in the Middle East say that US President Barack Obama and Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barack discussed this possibility when they met in Washington on 16 December.

Some US senators (like Joseph Lieberman) have called for an attack against Iran next year.

US and NATO policy to isolate Syria is also designed to reduce the impact of possible Iranian reactions in the Middle East.

In the next issue of Foreign Affairs (Jan-Feb 2012), nuclear issues expert Matthew Kroenig wrote, “With the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down and the United States facing economic hardship at home, Americans have little appetite for further strife. Yet Iran’s rapid nuclear development will ultimately force the United States to choose between a conventional conflict and a possible nuclear war. Faced with that decision, the United States should conduct a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, absorb an inevitable round of retaliation, and then seek to quickly de-escalate the crisis. Addressing the threat now will spare the United States from confronting a far more dangerous situation in the future,”

There are also doubts about Italy. On 16 December, an Iranian news agency said that an Italian plane landed in Beirut, ostensibly carrying “humanitarian aid” for Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon. Some believe instead the aid is for Syrian rebels, and ask: Why carry humanitarian aid in a military plane?
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