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Blockade Iran?

Posted on October 2 2009 6:57 am
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How do we deal once and for all with Iran’s continuing nuclear threat?  The image above is already out of date regarding the Iranian enrichment facilities that we know about, as it does not include Qom.

Some pundits, including Bill O’Reilly, have advocated a naval blockade of Iranian ports to stop the import of finished petroleum products on which the regime is dependent.  They see this strategy as the least bad choice in dealing with Iran’s march toward developing nuclear arms.   Iran has limited domestic oil refining capacity and imports 40% of its benzene.  Cutting off benzene and other key products, the argument goes, would cripple the Iranian economy.

The blockade advocates compare the action to President Kennedy’s decision to blockade Cuba, which ended the 1962 nuclear missile crisis precipitated by the Soviet Union’s installation of nuclear missiles on the Communist island.

However, there is a big difference.  Cuba is in our backyard and it is relatively easy to surround the small island with a naval blockade.   Iran will be playing in its own backyard.  At minimum, it will use its demonstrated missile capability to strike at our ships as well as at Israeli cities.   In order to protect our ships, we will have to divert scarce military resources including air protection  from other locations.  We will be, for all intents and purposes, engaged in a third major war in the Muslim world while we are still trying to figure out how to turn things around in one of them — defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

In retaliation, Iran will also likely close the Strait of Hormuz, which  connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.  Hormuz, according to the U.S. government Energy Information Administration,  is the world’s most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow, which is estimated at roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (or 20 percent of oil traded worldwide).

The result will be skyrocketing oil prices – perhaps to over $300 0r $4oo a barrel — that will deliver a crippling blow to the global  economy, including, of course, our own.  And who can predict what Russia will do if it feels threatened or wants to use the blockade as an excuse to cause trouble?  

Finally, the blockade is very likely to be counter-productive, much as a direct attack by Israel or by the U.S. on Iran’s known nuclear facilities would be.  Such military actions will not be definitive enough to end Iran’s nuclear threat, because its plants are most likely dispersed and well hidden throughout the country.   And such military actions will hand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his mullah friends the perfect rallying cry that will unify the country against the West and the Zionists.  They will also use the blockade or attacks as an excuse to declare martial law and wipe out any remaining traces of dissent. 

Unfortunately, however, the course that President Obama has embarked on — more negotiations and possible sanctions down the road — is only giving Iran more time to advance its uranium enrichment and nuclear weaponization programs.   Given Russia and China’s enormous economic stake in Iran as a trading partner and as a source of oil, they will impede any efforts at effective UN sanctions.   So I certainly understand the call for more direct military action.  And if we do nothing, Israel will most likely go ahead with its own attacks on the facilities, setting off the chain reaction that I described above or worse.

There are obviously no easy alternatives.  Too much time has passed and Iran is too far along to be readily stopped.  On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iranian regime under its present leadership is an unacceptable risk to peace and stability in the region.  And, because Iran will be able to pass on a nuclear device to its Islamic terrorist networks, a nuclear-armed Iranian regime under its present leadership is an unacceptable risk to international peace and security.

Therefore, the only realistic solution is to work much more actively with the opposition forces in Iran to change its regime from within.   Assuming the failure of the present negotiations, which is a given despite some phony gestures of conciliation at the October 1st negotiating session, we should announce that the United States will refuse to deal with Ahmadinejad or his government because it is illegitimate and that henceforth neither Ahmadinejad nor any member of his Cabinet will be provided visas to visit the United Nations or for any other reason.   If they try to enter the country, they will be subject to arrest.  We should ramp up economic sanctions to the maximum extent with our allies.  Indeed, France and the United Kingdom these days seem to be more willing to take strong action against Iran than Obama.

The next time there is a street protest, we should indicate our support for the protesters  in unambiguous terms.  And, most importantly, we should provide whatever technological, financial, logistical and other assistance is required by the internal opposition to mount effective defiance in the name of freedom against the regime.  Covert assistance from our elite Special Forces to insurgents who may know where some of the hidden nuclear facilities are and who can infiltrate and disrupt them should be part of this plan, if at all feasible.  

Getting the regime into friendlier hands as soon as possible is probably the best that we can hope for at this late stage without precipitating a major war and world economic catastrophe.

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