People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 04

January 22, 2012



Iran-US: Rising Tensions


Yohannan Chemarapally


TENSIONS between Iran and the US are threatening to boil over. Statements threatening war against Iran are regularly emanating from Washington and its main ally in the region, Israel. The West, led by the US, has decided to impose more draconian unilateral sanctions. These include new sanctions that would drastically cut the export of Iranian oil and gas. The Iranian economy is dependent on energy exports. The Obama administration started piling up the pressure after the release of the last IAEA Report, which without providing any tangible evidence accused Teheran of engaging in clandestine uranium enrichment activity. The US defence secretary Leon Panetta said in last week of December that Iran could be in possession of a nuclear weapon within a year’s time. He pronounced that this was a “red line” that the US would never allow Iran to cross. The US, he said, would take “whatever steps necessary to deal with the situation”.


Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program is only for peaceful non-military purposes. Israel is an undeclared nuclear power that keeps on making threats to attack Iran. Nuclear armed US ships and submarines are lurking in the Persian Gulf, ready to go into action at short notice. The US has big military bases in neighbouring Bahrain and Qatar that could theoretically be deployed any time. In the Wikileaks cables, the Saudi King is on record exhorting the US to “attack Iran” and “cut off the head of the snake”.




The so called evidence provided by the IAEA has been challenged by Iran, which claims that much of it has been fabricated by the US and Israeli Intelligence agencies. An article in the influential Foreign Policy Journal “Time to Attack Iran” by Mathew Kroenig, who till recently was a special adviser to the US defence secretary, said that “a carefully managed US attack” on Iran would be able to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations without provoking an all out war engulfing the region. The anti-Iran hysteria in the US has in recent months been carried to absurd levels. Some months ago, the US government and media had given credence to charges that Iranian authorities had given a contract to a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US. In December, a US Federal judge ruled that Iran was involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York. The learned judge concluded that Iran provided “direct help to the al Qaeda specifically for the attacks”.   


 Iran, which is one of the biggest oil producers, has reasons to feel threatened by the latest developments. Top Iranian military leaders have warned that if the West implements new sanctions, Teheran retains the option of closing down the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf through which much of the oil from the region flows to the international market. The Straits of Hormuz is a 6.4 km wide channel between Iran and Oman, located at the mouth of the Gulf. One-third of the world’s tanker borne oil traffic passes through the narrow straits. Nearly all the liquefied gas from Qatar passes through the Straits of Hormuz.


Iran’s economy has already been severely affected after years of increasing sanctions imposed by the West. President Barack Obama signed new legislation on December 31 that would penalise companies doing business with the Iranian Central Bank. This law is aimed at countries like India which import oil from Iran. Much of Iran’s oil goes to China and India. The EU only imports around 18 per cent of the country’s exports. The country’s vice president, Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, issued a warning in late December saying that “not a drop of oil” will flow through the Straits of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on the Iranian oil sector. In the last week of December, the Iranian army carried out ten days of military drill in the Sea of Oman located near the Straits of Hormuz. The Iranian ships and air craft dropped mines in the Sea as part of the drill.


The Iranian navy chief, Admiral Habibullah Sayyari told the Iranian media that it would be “very easy” to close the Straits for shipping. “Iran has comprehensive control over the waterways,” he said. He added that Iran has no “hostile intentions” but the West, he said, “doesn’t want to go back on the plan to impose sanctions”. Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards told the Fars news agency that Iran will implement “defensive strategies to protect its vital interests”. Iran has on earlier occasions warned that in case it is attacked, the 32 US military bases in the region will be targeted along with the closure of the Straits of Hormuz. If hostilities break out, experts have warned that the price of oil will go through the roof. Iran had offered to resume negotiations on its nuclear program in an effort to stave off the latest round of sanctions. But after president Obama approved the new sanctions, the Iranian army fired a new mid range surface to air missile, designed to evade radars, during the naval drill in the Gulf. Teheran also announced on January 1 that Iranian scientists have produced the nation’s first nuclear fuel rod. The rods which contain natural uranium have been inserted into the core of Iran’s research reactor.   




The Obama administration has responded to Iranian statements on the Straits of Hormuz by immediately despatching two of its warships---the aircraft carrier the USS John C Stennis and guided-missile destroyer---the USS Mobile Bay towards the Straits of Hormuz. The US defence department issued a statement warning that any step to “inhibit freedom of navigation” through the Straits of Hormuz “will not be tolerated”.


Along with the threat of using military force, the US and Israel in the last couple of years, have been targeting Iranian individuals working for scientific establishments and the military for assassination and abductions. Iranian military and civilian installations have been targeted for terror attacks. In the last two years, two nuclear physicists were killed after the cars in which they were travelling were blown up. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani was also wounded after a bomb attack on his car. On November 12, an explosion in a Revolutionary Guard Base killed 17 people, including the man behind Iran’s missile program, Gen Hassan Teherani Moghaddam. The New York Times quoted experts speculating that the base was hit by a missile fired from a drone.  


In late November, the western media reported that another mysterious explosion had damaged a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Isfahan. The Iranian authorities have said that the incident at the Revolutionary Guards Base was a result of an accident. There has not been any news of a major explosion taking place near Isfahan in the Iranian media. But Israeli and US officials have been claiming credit for the alleged “acts of sabotage”. The Israeli interior minister, Dan Meridor, boasted: “There are countries which impose economic sanctions and there are countries who act in other ways in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat”. The Iranian authorities however are squarely blaming the CIA for the latest killing of a young Iranian nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, deputy head of Iran’s uranium facility at Natanz was blown up by a magnetic bomb attached to his car door. “We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA” said a statement from the Iranian foreign ministry. Teheran has asked the UN secretary general and the Security Council to condemn the latest killing. Earlier in 2010, the US and Israel subjected the Iranian nuclear facilities to the Stuxnet computer virus. The Stuxnet computer worm reportedly also damaged computers used in industrial machinery. The purpose of the cyber attack was to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.  


For some time now, the Obama administration has authorised the use of armed drones in the Iranian air space. The current tensions between Washington and Teheran escalated after the Iranian air force brought down a US RQ 170 Sentinel Stealth drone in the first week of December. The drone which can fly at 50,000 feet is among the most sophisticated in the expanding US drone fleet. The downed plane was proudly put on display in Iran. Teheran refused Washington’s demand for the return of the drone which it claimed had mistakenly strayed into Iranian territory. The RQ 170’s are mainly used for reconnaissance and are not used to target militants in Afghanistan. The CIA drones have been reportedly carrying out surveillance over Iran for the last two years to identify possible targets for attack.


The US think tank Stratfor, which has strong links with American military establishment, has reported that the Obama administration has been waging “a broad ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) campaign in Iran, particularly to map out Iranian nuclear sites, ballistic missile units and development efforts, its air defence networks and command and control nodes”. The RQ 170 was used for surveillance of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad. The Iranians got the drone virtually intact and proudly displayed their catch to the world. The American media has reported that the Obama administration initially considered a military incursion into Iran to retrieve the drone but better sense apparently figured that Iran would have no doubt considered such a move as an act of war.


 Meanwhile, all the Republican candidates vying to occupy the White House in 2012, barring the exception of Ron Paul, have said that they are prepared to go to war against Iran. Their main argument is that Iran is developing nuclear weapons that would pose an existential threat to America’s closest ally—Israel. President Obama playing to the gallery in an election year has reiterated that the military option against Iran is very much on the table. “No options off the table means that I am considering all options”, he said.


Iran, naturally, has not taken the latest threats lightly. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been put on a war footing. The country’s air force has been put on high alert and have since December been carrying out exercises and formed “rapid reaction units”. The Iranian government has repeatedly warned that any attack by either Israel or the US would trigger a prompt response which would envelop the entire region in flames. China the biggest buyer of Iranian crude has said that it was “against emotionally charged action” in the region. Russia warned the West against “cranking up the spiral of tension” saying that this would be detrimental to the efforts to get Iran back to the negotiating table.