Politics takes a break, but not war....
Iran's major crude oil customers are, in barrels per day: EU, 600,000; China, 550,000; Japan + South Korea, 550,000; India, 310,000; Turkey, 195,000; South Africa, 80,000. This 2.3 mbd total is essentially all the crude Iran exports. China has already refused to join the embargo.
The ban is being ignored by India, which is increasing its imports of Iranian crude; India is the world's fourth-ranking oil importer, and takes 12 percent of its oil from Iran. Brazil is, according to the NY Times, opposing Iran's quest for political and economic influence in South America. But the worldwide SWIFT network may offer a financial lifeline to Iran.
The Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran will support anyone fighting Israel:
“From now onwards, we will support and help any nations, any groups fighting against the Zionist regime across the world and we are not afraid of declaring this. The Zionist regime is a true cancer tumor on this region that should be cut off. And it definitely will be cut off.”
Jeffrey Goldberg warns of the rising risk of accidental war between Iran and Israel. Barry Rubin offers the best case why neither Israel nor America will attack Iran's nuclear facilities. A contrary view is put forth in an NY Times Magazine piece. AEI's Iran Tracker assesses the status & timeline for Iran's nuclear progress; as early as June Iran may have enough low-enriched uranium to rush towards building a bomb. Team Obama is accelerating upgrade of the Air Force's largest bunker buster, the 30,000 lb. Massive Ordnance Penetrator, designed to penetrate 200 feet of reinforced concrete with a 5,300 lb. explosive charge. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned elites in Davos that time is running out & that Israel will act if necessary. David Ignatius writes that the US thinks Israel will attack this spring. Israeli military intelligence chief Maj.Gen. Aviv Kochavi estimated that Iran will have enough low-enriched uranium to make four bombs, by end-2012.
ISRAEL'S "RED LINE" IS THE EARLIER OF IRAN's ABILITY TO UPGRADE ITS FORTIFICATIONS PAST ISRAELI CAPABILITY TO PENETRATE, OR IRAN's ABILITY TO BUILD A WORKABLE NUCLEAR "DEVICE." A "device" is not the same as a deliverable weapon, which means one that either can be carried as a bomb in a plane or as a warhead on a missile; but a device can be delivered by shipping container or van--sufficient for transfer to terrorists. Here is what Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this week: “The dividing line may pass not where the Iranians decide to break out of the nonproliferation treaty and move toward a nuclear device or weapon, but at the place . . . that would make the physical strike impractical.”
John Bolton explains why the US & EU are unlikely to press oil sanctions too hard on Iran, lest it imperil fragile economic recoveries. A Gray Lady front-pager reports that Israel thinks Iran's post-attack threats of all-out war are a bluff by the mullahs. But US intelligence now says Iran is ready to attack inside the US, with smaller scale plots, sanctioned by Ali Khamenei. The WSJ editors note that if a non-nuclear Iran plots terror attacks inside the US of A, what would a nuclear Iran do? Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Iran was working on an ICBM whose 10,000-kilometer (6,250-mile) range would make it capable of hitting the US when an explosion destroyed it and the base last year; the Tehran - New York City distance is 9,856 kilometers, or 6,124 miles.
SYRIA. The Financial Times recently reported that Syria's economy is reeling under international pressure--plunging oil & tourism revenues, inflating currency, soaring commodity prices. Fouad Ajami argues that Syrian thug-tyrant Assad is doomed. In another WSJ piece Ajami says that Russia backs Syria because if the regime falls it will energize liberal reformers inside Russia. Ajami notes that Syria under Assad Sr. modeled its Stalinist regime after the former Soviet Union.
And if Assad falls, Hezbollah's Lebanon position will weaken. Michael Totten sees sectarian strife unlocked by the crumbling Assad regime, which had held disparate groups together by pure force. Barry Rubin explains why Syria's regime likely will survive: ruthless, loyal gov't troops, weak opposition & indifferent Western nations.
Yet like the proverbial rat deserting a sinking ship Hamas founder Khaled Meshal is deserting Damascus, just as the Syrian civil war reaches the outskirts of the city; the WashPost front-pager quotes a Western diplomat: “In Syria, looking weak is a dangerous thing, and if they can’t control the Damascus suburbs, they do look weak.” One possible Hamas HQ relocation candidate: Turkey, itself on an Islamist path. Indicative of the peril Syria's regime feels is that Syria's First Lady & family were stopped by rebels while on the way to Damascus Airport, seeking to flee Syria (likely for London). Michael Totten sees almost no chance that Obama will help Syrian rebels; his fear of another Iraq quagmire & associated political risk will keep the US on the sidelines.
Counter-terrorism expert Daniel Byman says that Syria's revolt needs outside help to succeed. Charles Krauthammer suggests three kinds of outside help: (1) a total economic boycott; (2) an aid channel via Turkey; (3) seek a UN Security Council Resolution calling for Assad to step down. Of the last, CK--a frequent UN skeptic--sees a win-win: if the SC-Res passes it puts more pressure on Assad; if it fails due to a Russian veto, it weakens Russian - Arab ties. Failure in Syria could also, CK notes, hasten regime change in Iran.
Martin Peretz has an eloquent essay on the failure of the Arab Spring to produce moderate, democratic governments.
Bottom Line. An Israeli strike against Iran in 2012, which looked unlikely as recently as last fall, now looks increasingly likely. And Iran, facing the possible loss of its Syrian client, may feel the need to escalate its confrontation with the West.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, National Security, Foreign Policy, WMD, Nuclear Proliferation, Conservative Politics