Emanuele Ottolenghi, 42, who has a Ph.D. in political science from Jerusalem University and taught Israel Studies at the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony's College, Oxford University, before moving first to the AJC-founded Transatlantic Institute and then to the neoconservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is an Iran hawk and an important advocate of the economic war currently being waged against Iran. -- On Tuesday this friend of Michael Ledeen urged readers of the Wall Street Journal not to "believe Iran's hype" about escalation in the Persian Gulf and instead to celebrate "the ultimate weapon in the Western sanctions toolkit," viz. Iran's being "squeezed out of the oil market without a significant long-term spike in oil prices." -- "Tehran, in other words, has no arrows left in its quiver," he said. -- "Iran's economy critically depends on oil exports. . . . Iran's fragile and deteriorating circumstances -- rampant inflation, currency in free-fall and high unemployment, just to mention a few problems Tehran cannot control -- make the regime very vulnerable to such measures. In particular, an oil embargo could destabilize the regime by unleashing a domestic backlash susceptible to revive a beleaguered internal opposition." -- BACKGROUND: The prospect of the collapse of the Islamic Republic has been a perennial object of delectation for neoconservatives like Ottolenghi. -- In his Iran: The Looming Crisis: Can the West Live with Iran's Nuclear Threat? (Profile Books, 2010), Ottolenghi wrote that "sanctions should be integrated into a broader effort aimed at helping Iran's domestic opposition to oust the regime." -- In October 2010, in a piece called “Free Iran,” he commiserated with the Iranians affected: “As the weight of economic sanctions begins to crush Iran's economy, it is more important than ever that we reach out to ordinary Iranians to let them know that our disagreement is with the regime, not the people, and that their freedom is the best guarantee for our security . . . For too long, Western democracies have spoken to the regime as if its oppressed subjects did not matter. The time has come to speak directly to the people of Iran and promise them that their human rights will be our cause too." -- Or, as Lewis Carroll put it: "'O Oysters, come and walk with us!' / The Walrus did beseech. / 'A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk, / Along the briny beach: / We cannot do with more than four, / To give a hand to each.' / The eldest Oyster looked at him, / But never a word he said: / The eldest Oyster winked his eye, / And shook his heavy head -- / Meaning to say he did not choose / To leave the oyster-bed. / But four young Oysters hurried up, / All eager for the treat: / Their coats were brushed, their faces washed, / Their shoes were clean and neat -- / And this was odd, because, you know, / They hadn't any feet. / Four other Oysters followed them, / And yet another four; / And thick and fast they came at last, / And more, and more, and more -- / All hopping through the frothy waves, / And scrambling to the shore. / The Walrus and the Carpenter / Walked on a mile or so, / And then they rested on a rock / Conveniently low: / And all the little Oysters stood / And waited in a row. / 'The time has come,' the Walrus said, / 'To talk of many things: / Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax -- / Of cabbages -- and kings -- / And why the sea is boiling hot -- / And whether pigs have wings.' / 'But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried, / 'Before we have our chat; / For some of us are out of breath, / And all of us are fat!' / 'No hurry!' said the Carpenter. / They thanked him much for that. / 'A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said, / 'Is what we chiefly need: / Pepper and vinegar besides / Are very good indeed -- / Now if you're ready, Oysters dear, / We can begin to feed.' / 'But not on us!' the Oysters cried, / Turning a little blue. / 'After such kindness, that would be / A dismal thing to do!' / 'The night is fine,' the Walrus said. / 'Do you admire the view? / It was so kind of you to come! / And you are very nice!' / The Carpenter said nothing but / 'Cut us another slice: / I wish you were not quite so deaf -- / I've had to ask you twice!' / 'It seems a shame,' the Walrus said, / 'To play them such a trick, / After we've brought them out so far, / And made them trot so quick!' / The Carpenter said nothing but / 'The butter's spread too thick!' / 'I weep for you,' the Walrus said: / 'I deeply sympathize.' / With sobs and tears he sorted out / Those of the largest size, / Holding his pocket-handkerchief / Before his streaming eyes. / 'O Oysters,' said the Carpenter, / 'You've had a pleasant run! / Shall we be trotting home again?' / But answer came there none -- / And this was scarcely odd, because / They'd eaten every one." ...
THE EMBARGO THAT CAN'T WAIT
By Emanuele Ottolenghi
Wall Street Journal
January 17, 2012
Iran's recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz have elicited worldwide concern about escalation in the Persian Gulf. The unrest along the strategic waterway has raised the specter of war and spiraling oil prices; Hormuz is the obligatory daily transit point for nearly 20% of world energy resources. Concern about escalation is so high that the Obama Administration this week postponed a scheduled joint military exercise with Israel, lest Tehran misread the event as a provocation or pretext for further escalation.
Don't believe Iran's hype. The fierce rhetoric is a reflection of the regime's impotence as a Western-led oil embargo looms. The bluff is an implicit admission of how much the regime fears the ultimate weapon in the Western sanctions toolkit.
Iran is threatening to close the Strait because it knows it can be squeezed out of the oil market without a significant long-term spike in oil prices. Even conflict would have a negligible impact.
For some time already, oil markets have factored in unrest in the Gulf and the risks of conflict with Iran over its nuclear program. Habitual buyers of Iranian oil, such as China and India, are unlikely to sign up to an oil embargo but have already begun scaling down their dependence on Iranian supplies.
Saudi production capacity is expected to make up for the shortfall of Iranian oil. A closure of the Strait will be short-lived -- Iran's military capabilities are hardly formidable. Other Arab producers in the Gulf can divert oil to safer shores on the western side of the Arabian Peninsula if need be.
Tehran, in other words, has no arrows left in its quiver. Iran's economy critically depends on oil exports. The U.S. buys no oil from Iran, but Europe accounts for just under a fifth of Iranian oil exports. Iran's fragile and deteriorating circumstances -- rampant inflation, currency in free-fall and high unemployment, just to mention a few problems Tehran cannot control -- make the regime very vulnerable to such measures. In particular, an oil embargo could destabilize the regime by unleashing a domestic backlash susceptible to revive a beleaguered internal opposition.
With mounting domestic repression, division within the higher echelons of the ruling élites and a contentious parliamentary election scheduled for March 2, the economic shockwave of an embargo could gather the perfect storm inside Iran to send millions into the streets again to protest.
All this should encourage Western policy makers to speed up preparations to approve and begin enforcing the embargo. Instead, Washington and Brussels are delaying what might be the last chance to stop Iran's nuclear quest without recourse to force.
U.S. sanctions passed at the end of December create a gradual nine-month timetable for the Obama administration to target oil trade with Iran, with options for waivers to certain foreign companies and governments. The European Union is set to approve an oil embargo at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Jan. 23 -- but it would only come into force six months later.
The perfect should not be made the enemy of the good. A European embargo in June is better than no embargo at all. After all, until a few months ago, an oil embargo appeared unthinkable. There are understandable arguments for a delay. The European countries most dependent on Iranian oil -- Greece, Italy, and Spain -- are also the most fragile economically, and most contracts for 2012 have already been renewed. Giving them a six-month grace period to adjust and seek affordable alternatives would make sense if the oil embargo had been approved a few years ago, or even last year.
But now it is 2012, and there is little time left to stop Iran's nuclear quest. This month Iran confirmed the sudden acceleration of its nuclear program, with the activation of the underground Fordow Enrichment Plant near Qom. Last November, an IAEA report exposed the military dimensions of the program. All of this is clear evidence that Iran is edging closer to the bomb, while shielding the program from military strike with increasing effectiveness. Waiting until June could thwart those wishing to prevent an Iranian bomb peacefully, and only makes a military showdown in the Gulf more likely.
--Mr. Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (FDD Press, 2011).
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