In a surprisingly swift move on Thursday night that could have wide-ranging implications, the U.S. Senate passed a bill containing broad unilateral sanctions to punish foreign companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand its domestic refinery capabilities.
"This means that no president can lift the embargo without certifying to Congress that Iran has met a laundry list of demands that no president in his right mind will certify," (Patrick Disney, the assistant policy director of the National Iranian American Council) told IPS.
Furthermore, "crippling sanctions," as broad-based gas sanctions are often called, is a potential checklist item on a path to military confrontation with Iran. But some think imposing and enforcing the sanctions themselves could be tantamount to war.
"Even half of the people that proposed (gas sanctions) say the only way to really impose that is a naval blockade," said (Richard Sawaya, the president of USA*Engage, a group that opposes unilateral sanctions).
"Well, that’s an act of war!"
When this article appeared Friday, January 29, I thought it was premature to start talking about a naval blockade, but within 24 hours the other shoe dropped.
Tension between the US and Iran heightened dramatically today with the disclosure that Barack Obama is deploying a missile shield to protect American allies in the Gulf from attack by Tehran.
The administration is deploying two Patriot batteries, capable of shooting down incoming missiles, in each of the four Gulf countries.
General David) Petraeus said the US is keeping cruisers equipped with advanced anti-missile systems in the Gulf at all times to act as a buffer between Iran and the Gulf states.
Of course US officials are spinning the deployment of Patriot and Aegis missile systems around Iran as purely defensive, and US media have swallowed this story without a burp.
But a purely defensive interpretation of so many Patriot batteries and Aegis missile cruisers may not impose itself quite so easily upon the semi-autonomous Revolutionary Guards, who supposedly control the development of nuclear weapons in Iran. From their point of view, something very close to war with the United States has already begun.
Several top commanders in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have been killed in a suicide bombing in the volatile south-east of the country. Iranian state television said 31 people died in the attack, in the Pishin region of Sistan-Baluchistan, and more than 25 were injured.
"We consider the recent terrorist attack to be the result of US action. This is a sign of America’s animosity against our country," (Parliament Speaker Ali) Larijani said, quoted by AFP.
US policy-makers apparently assume that Iran will passively await more and more stringent sanctions and eventually surrender to Western demands for de facto control of Iranian nuclear development, because dead-end resistance against the combined air power of Israel and the United States is contrary to Iran’s self-interest, to say the least.
But are the Iranians really as calculating and self-interested as the very calculating and self-interested people who surround Obama assume? Or are they making the same mistake which Jacob Burckhardt once ascribed to imperial Venice?
Like many other over-clever people, the Venetians assumed that their opponents were incapable of self-destructive and irrational action.