Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Undermining Iran an Arab or European Interest?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Is Undermining Iran an Arab or European Interest?

Article excerpt

THE UNITED States and Israel are seeking to damage Iran's economy in order to force it to give up enriching uranium, which both see as a challenge to their regional hegemony. Israel-itself a major nuclear power-claims that Iran's nuclear program poses an "existential threat" to it, which must at all costs be stopped, if necessary by force.

This confrontation poses a serious dilemma for the Arab world, and especially for Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Is a clash between Iran and the U.S./Israel bloc in the Arab interest? Or could it well be, on the contrary, a very grave danger?

The United States has put great pressure on international banks and energy companies to stop trading with the Iran, so as to starve its oil and gas industries-the main motors of its economy-of investment and technology. As early as 1996, the U.S. Congress passed a law punishing any major investment in Iran.

In addition to U.N. sanctions, America's own unilateral sanctions severely restrict access by Iran to U.S. equipment, technology and contractors.

These pressures have scored some notable successes. In May, Royal Dutch Shell and Spain's oil company, Repsol, both pulled out of-or at least have delayed investment in-one of Iran's biggest gas projects, the development of South Pars, the world's largest gas field, located in the Gulf between Iran and Qatar.

Israel's argument-which is little short of blackmail-is that if the international community fails to stop Iran's nuclear activities, Israel will have no choice but to strike. Its surprise attack last September on an alleged Syrian nuclear site near Deir ez-Zor could be interpreted as a warning to Iran of the long-range capability of the Israeli air force-and also of U.S. tacit approval for such aggressive Israeli methods.

Meanwhile, Israel is attempting to pressure Austria and Switzerland to cancel or postpone major gas deals they have made with Iran. The Swiss company, EGL, has signed a $42 billion gas supply contract with Iran, due to begin in 2011, while Austria's energy company, OMV, has reached agreement with Iran on a 23 billion euro investment in South Pars in exchange for liquid natural gas.

It is hardly surprising that Iran has reacted angrily to the U.S./Israeli campaign of sabotage and intimidation. U.S.-Iranian relations have sunk to a new low-with a constant danger of a clash between their naval forces in the Gulf-while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has redoubled his hostile rhetoric against Israel. …

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