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The Monitor's View

Sanctions on Iran's gasoline imports? That's war talk.

Congress is moving quickly to force Obama into blocking gasoline sales to Iran over its nuclear ambitions. A US naval blockade is the only real way to enforce that. And from Iran's point of view, that means war.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / April 23, 2010

In this post-9/11 age, the idea of preemptive war against a terrorist-prone country supposedly went out of favor after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

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Yet Congress is now pushing President Obama toward steps that could easily be interpreted as an act of war against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The House and Senate are moving quickly on a bill to force US sanctions on the sale of gasoline to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In theory, the measure would only punish US and foreign companies that export refined oil products to Iran which, despite being a major exporter of petroleum, lacks sufficient oil refineries.

But there’s a big problem: The only way to really enforce such a crippling sanction against the Iranian economy would be through an American-led naval blockade which, by international law, is an act of war.

In recent days, Iran’s regime has made it pretty clear that it is preparing to fight such a blockade, if it comes to that. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps began a five-day sea, land, and air military exercise April 22 in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. The war games may even extend to the Strait of Hormuz, the watery chokepoint through which a fifth of the world’s oil flows on giant tankers, and which is guarded by the US Navy.

History is instructive here: It was a US ban on the export of oil to Imperial Japan for its invasion of China that triggered the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. And a US naval blockade of Cuba in 1962 almost led to nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Also on April 22, the House of Representatives voted by a huge 403-11 margin to set a deadline of May 28 for an agreement with the Senate on the gasoline sanctions. In the Senate, too, patience with President Obama’s slow and often faltering approach to Iran is running thin.