On Sunday — only days after Iran failed to offer concessions in negotiations over its nuclear program — the European Union imposed a ban on Iranian crude-oil imports, denying Iran a massive market for its most valuable commodity.
The move will prevent Iran from selling its oil to vital European markets. It was coupled with an EU ban on providing insurance to ships carrying Iranian oil, a prohibition which according to Bloomberg News, “affects 95 percent of the world’s tankers.”
Rising economic pressure on Iran’s wobbly economy could cause heavy doses of pain to its insulated Mullah rulers. After all, Iran’s combined energy-sector business totals roughly 80 percent of the country’s exports and nearly half its overall government revenue.
Like clockwork, Iranian central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani announced that “we are implementing programs to counter sanctions and we will confront these malicious policies,” adding that his country has accumulated $150 billion in foreign reserves.
Though members of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany — will meet with Iranian officials on Tuesday in Istanbul, at this point, diplomacy has died. Iran’s leaders appear willing to bear great suffering in order to build a nuclear weapon.
Iranian minister of parliament Ibrahim Agha-Mohammadi said Monday that the body’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee had prepared a bill “that stresses the blocking of oil tanker traffic carrying oil to countries that have sanctioned Iran.”
There is one final step short of military strikes that might influence Iran’s rulers. The U.N. Charter permits a full embargo against a country that brazenly violates U.N. resolutions, enabling the U.N. Security Council to enact a “complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.” However, the odds are heavily against an exhaustive embargo, largely because of the authoritarian alliance among Russia, China, and the Islamic Republic.
Absent pressure from Russia and China — Iran’s major enablers in the Security Council — Tehran will continue enriching uranium.
The Obama administration could begin preparing a blueprint for a coalition of governments that would support a military option within a defined timetable. In addition to Israel, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have also maintained that a military option should remain on the table.
The U.S. presidential election is likely to impede any major action on Iran before November, and time is on Iran’s side.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.