Is the Iran oil embargo another staggering step towards war?
The EU's Iran oil embargo had been expected but that doesn't mean it won't significantly up the temperature.
Julian Borger at The Guardian has a lengthy essay on what this means and how the EU action might lead Iran to indulge in " ... harassment of the oil trade that would drive the price of crude up and keep it up, very much to Iran's benefit, but fall short of a casus belli for war. However, exercising such options requires subtlety and fine judgment on all sides and that is by no means a given. "
As if to underline Borger's point the price of crude jumped to $111 per barrel on the announcement. But it is the last sentence in the preceding paragraph that is the crucial one. "Subtlety and fine judgment" are two terms you would not apply to the players in the crisis.
The Iranian regime has not shown "fine judgment" in the international arena since it came to power.
Nor are "subtlety and fine judgment" terms you would apply to the country most vocally concerned about Iran's drive to acquire a nuclear capability, Israel.
And subtlety and fine judgment have never been associated with Rick Santorum, Republican presidential candidate, who is making the running in hawk-like posturing in his party's primaries.
Given the volatility of the Iranian regime, the sensitivity of Israel and the crude cynicism of American presidential politics it is possible to imagine a conflict growing out of a mis-calculated word or ineffective gesture.
The irony is that while the sanctions are meant to hurt Iran sufficiently to make the regime back down from developing a nuclear weapon and return to negotiations about its genuine nuclear needs, the countries that will suffer most will be euro zone nations that are already in profound difficulties.
20 percent of Iranian oil is sold to the EU, the bulk of that is purchased by Greece, Italy and Spain. Thierry Coville, Iranian specialist at the Paris think tank IRIS, told Liberation that 15 percent of the three nations' oil comes from Iran. Greece and Spain are in recession - Italy may be, it's not clear - finding a path to growth with the inevitable higher price of fuel was already difficult, now it will be that much harder.
Coville added that the trio didn't really have much say in the EU's decision. The embargo was insisted on by Britain and France
Coville adds, "Paradoxically, this embargo may be doing Tehran a service in the sense that it may incite it to further develop its efforts (for its economy) to be less dependent on oil."