US pushes toward more biting Iran sanctions
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday targeted Iran's oil industry amid a raft of new sanctions. Israel and Britain, meanwhile, prepared for military action.
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Also on Wednesday, Israel released details of a joint air force exercise with Italy over the Mediterranean Sea that mimicked a long-distance strike, such as that which might be used on Iran. The squadron commander said, "We simulated a common enemy," according to The Jerusalem Post.Skip to next paragraph
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Iran reacted immediately and predictably, with Gen. Mohammad Hejazi, Iran's deputy head of the general staff, vowing a "crushing response" to any "illegal and adventurist action against the Islamic Republic."
"Our forces can powerfully and mightily protect security of Iran's waters and coasts and enemies are well informed of this fact," Hejazi told the Fars News Agency. "[T]hese threats by the world arrogance [US and Israel] have no credibility or value to us."
Likewise, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday that Iran was "always ready for war."
"Iran has always been threatened by Israel. This is not new for us," Mr. Salehi told the Hurriyet Daily News in Istanbul during an Afghanistan security summit. "We are very confident of ourselves. We can defend our country."
Britain braces for military action against Iran
Further signals of confrontation with Iran came from Britain on Wednesday, where the Guardian reported that the Ministry of Defence had been "stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran," because "the US may decide to fast-forward plans for targeted missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities."
British officials said President Barack Obama "has no wish to embark on a new and provocative military venture" before the US election next year, but "warned the calculus could change because of mounting anxiety over intelligence gathered by Western agencies, and [Iran's] more belligerent posture."
Some of that intelligence may be made public next week, when the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is set to release its latest quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program.
The IAEA has for years confirmed no diversion of safeguarded nuclear material in Iran, but said that continuing concerns about "alleged weapons studies" – designs that Iran says were fabricated by a hostile intelligence agency – have prevented the IAEA from declaring Iran's program to be entirely peaceful.
UN Security Council resolutions, backed up by four sets of sanctions, have ordered Iran to halt uranium enrichment – which Iran says is only for peaceful production of nuclear power – until the weaponization concerns are resolved.
The report next week is expected to spell out, for the first time, details of those alleged studies. The Guardian quoted a Western official predicting: "This will be a game-changer in the Iranian nuclear dossier."
Dangerous game of escalation
Analysts say they have seen such escalations before, often building up to new sanctions on Iran, and not to war.
"What's happening now between Jerusalem and Tehran is a war of signals and public threats," wrote Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz today, noting that these events "recall the eve of a war."
"Almost anything goes in this war of news.... At least some of these moves are part of a carefully orchestrated campaign whose purpose is not necessarily an Israeli attack," they say, adding that it might be aimed instead at imposing "paralyzing sanctions" on Iran.
"But this is a dangerous game," the Israeli writers warn. "A few more weeks of tension and one party or another might make a fatal mistake that will drag the region into war."
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