Revolution – Implications for Israel, for the Arab World, and the West


Since Iran became a radical Islamic Shiite state some 46 years ago, it has been recognized as a perpetrator of both regional and global terrorism. The proxy organizations that it has established have turned into terrorist armies. Hezbollah in Lebanon has, for all intents and purposes, taken control of the state.  Hamas in Gaza has been in control there for nearly nine years. The third proxy, the Houthis in Yemen, took control over all of Yemen, but last year lost half of the area under their control to the Saudis and other Arab countries. Up until a year ago, Iran was classified as the country that posed the biggest threat to the Arab world and the West alike, and, of course, to Israel.

The year 2015 will go down in history as the year when Iran's leadership managed to instigate a revolution. No, not in Iran, but in the world in general, and, in particular, among the major global powers.

The US and the EU countries, which had regarded Iran as a problem, began to regard it as a solution.

Iran is now seen as the country that will bring stability to Syria and Iraq and enable the U.S administration to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, and stabilize Yemen.

Russia and China also became swept up in this political excitement, together with the aforementioned countries, as well as with others who see Iran as a land of business opportunities for many years to come. China's president, who recently visited Iran, signed contracts to the tune of $600 billion over 10 years (2.5 trillion NIS). The European company Airbus receivied an order for 150 passenger jets for starters, out of 600 aircraft which will be ordered in the coming years. Russia has begun selling advanced model Sukhoi-30 fighter aircraft to Iran along with advanced weaponry and equipment, as have other European countries.

The Iranian arms and missile industry, which is already fairly well developed, will become a source of weapon sales to other countries in the coming years, competing with Israeli industry.

There is no sight of any sort of deal which would cause Iran to stop, or at least limit its support of the terrorist organizations it has established. Iran will continue to engage Israel with threats and terror attacks carried out by Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as the Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia. All this is happening without any sign of intervention from the United States, England, France or Germany, because in their eyes, Iran is the solution to their problems in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

For those who believe this is a good opportunity for Israel to strengthen its ties with those Arab states which are also under threat from Iran, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, it is important to clarify that the phrase “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, does not fly in Arabic. They have a phrase of their own: “My brother and I against my cousin, and my cousin and I against foreigners.”

Israel and Western countries will always be seen as foreign to them.

The relationship between Israel and the United States now has more importance than ever. The Iranians will now seek to exploit the situation. They have already increased their influence over countries adjacent to Israel, starting with the Palestinian Authority and then Jordan and even Egypt. Syria and Lebanon are already in very deep. Khomeini’s Islamic revolution was only Phase One of the Iranian missile. The second stage is penetration into Sunni Arab Muslim nations. And they will seek to direct the nuclear warhead which will be produced at some point, at Israel. They will want to use the Shiite warhead under construction since 1979 to strike a few countries. thus completing the revolution which Khomeini launched.

Israel's various new defense systems– the barrier wall and its components, the Arrow missiles, David's Sling and Iron Dome– are just part of the response Israel is preparing to deal with the “solution” that Iran has suddenly become.  The professional intelligence gathering performed by Israel and other countries will reveal the true face of Iran.

Hamas, which continues to build tunnels in Gaza, will eventually realize that it is digging the world’s largest terrorist  cemetery– for themselves. The Shiite Hezbollah will learn firsthand that Syria, which is predominantly populated by Sunnis, will not tolerate Assad, an Alawite, even if that will take many years. It will become clear that during a raging storm, the best place to be is in the eye of the storm. Israel will remain there safely until the countries surrounding us calm down.

Member of Knesset Avi Dichter is an Israel politican from the Likud Party. He is the former head of Shin Bet, Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Home Front Defense.

Lack of deal with Iran on nuclear talks alarms Russia


Russia expressed alarm on Friday that no date or venue had been agreed for a new round of talks between global powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

Iran, which denies Western accusations it is seeking to develop a capability to make nuclear weapons, said last week it had agreed to resume talks in January with six powers.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday there was no final agreement on when or where a meeting would take place.

“This alarms us, because the pause has dragged on,” the Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov, who is the Russian negotiator, as saying.

“As a nation and a member of the 'group of six' we are working actively to find a solution.”

The European Union, which represents the powers, said last week that it had proposed a date to Iran but Western diplomatic sources said on Friday that Iran had yet to respond.

One source suggested that the date the EU proposed was next Tuesday but said that was now unlikely.

“It is our understanding that Iran has not responded to the Jan. 15 date,” the diplomatic source said.

The six powers – the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany – were therefore not planning for that, he source said.

Global powers, particularly in the West, want to rein in Iran's uranium enrichment work. Tehran says it is refining uranium for peaceful ends only but enrichment yields material that can be used to make nuclear bombs if processed further.

There was no breakthrough in three rounds of talks last year, the most recent in Moscow in June, and Israel has stepped up talk of pre-emptive attacks on Iranian nuclear sites, lending urgency to diplomacy.

Ryabkov said he hoped the talks will take place this month.

“When we parted in June after the Moscow round, we agreed that the process should continue without substantial breaks,” Interfax quoted him as saying.

SUSPECT SITE

Western diplomats and analysts say it is unclear why Iran has not agreed a date for new talks. Some suggest Tehran may want to wait until after its next meeting with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, next Wednesday.

IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in Tokyo on Friday he was not optimistic about the talks or getting access to a military base Western powers suspect has been used for atom bomb-related work.

“The outlook is not bright,” Amano said.

He was referring to negotiations to be held in Tehran on the framework accord the Vienna-based IAEA hopes will enable it to quickly resume its stalled investigation into suspected atom bomb research.

His remarks contrasted with a more upbeat assessment given by the IAEA after a meeting with Iranian officials last month.

“Talks with Iran don't proceed in a linear way,” Amano said. in Japanese comments translated into English. “It's one step forward, two or three steps back…So we can't say we have an optimistic outlook” for the Jan. 16 meeting.

Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant, has supported four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program but opposes further measures and has sharply criticised Western sanctions.

Russia has adamantly warned against attacking Iran and, while it says Tehran must cooperate and dispel concerns about its nuclear program, officials including Ryabkov have suggested Western fears it seeks nuclear weapons are overblown.

EU’s Ashton condemns ‘hateful’ Iran remarks on Israel


The EU foreign policy chief said on Saturday that comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called Israel a “cancerous tumor” with no place in a future Middle East, were “outrageous and hateful”.

Catherine Ashton’s language was unusually forthright for the West’s chief negotiator over Iran’s nuclear program.

Ashton “strongly condemns the outrageous and hateful remarks threatening Israel’s existence by the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said a statement by her spokesman.

“Israel’s right to exist must not be called into question.”

On Friday, Ahmadinejad told demonstrators in state-organized protests that “in the new Middle East … there will be no trace of the American presence and the Zionists”. As thousands of Iranians shouted “Death to America, death to Israel”, Ahmadinejad called Israel a “cancerous tumor” for its occupation of Palestinian land.

Earlier this week Iranian media reported that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said Israel would one day be returned to the Palestinian nation and would cease to exist.

Ashton is acting as chief negotiator for six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – that are trying to persuade Iran to scale back its nuclear program through economic sanctions and diplomacy. They fear Iran’s nuclear program aims at producing weapons, though Tehran says it serves peaceful purposes only.

Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator agreed at the start of August to hold more talks about Iran’s nuclear work, but there has been no sign of imminent progress in the decade-long dispute.

Ashton “calls upon Iran to play a constructive role in the region and expects its leaders to contribute to de-escalate tension and not to fuel it”, Saturday’s statement said.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the verbal attacks on Israel were “offensive and inflammatory.

Reporting By Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo

Khamenei dismisses sanctions, says Iran stronger than ever


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday dismissed harsher sanctions imposed on Iran this month over its disputed nuclear activity, saying the country was “100 times stronger” than before.

A European Union embargo on Iranian crude oil took full effect on July 1 – a joint effort with the United States to force Tehran to curb nuclear energy work the Western powers say is a camouflaged bid to develop bombs, which Tehran denies.

Prices of goods have soared and the Iranian rial has plunged in value as broader, deeper sanctions have been introduced this year targeting Iran’s financial and energy sectors.

“The Iranian nation, through life, wealth and loved ones, has stood up to all plots and sanctions and has advanced to the extent that today we are 100 times stronger compared with 30 years ago,” Khamenei told a women’s conference in Tehran in a speech that was published on his official website.

“These days Westerners are being sensational about sanctions but they don’t understand that they themselves vaccinated Iran through their sanctions imposed over the last 30 years,” he said. Iran’s Islamic Revolution a little over three decades ago toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

Iranian officials regularly shrug off sanctions, saying they have little or no effect on the country. But a combination of increasing unemployment, substantial price rises and rampant inflation is creating tough new challenges for the government.

Industry sources say Iran’s oil exports have declined in the wake of the EU crude ban and extensive U.S. diplomatic efforts to get Iran’s main customers to cut their imports.

The United States imposed sanctions in 1979, soon after the Islamic Revolution that overthrew its monarchy. Successive U.S. administrations have added to the embargo, effectively creating a near total ban on any trade between it and Iran.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of international sanctions specifically targeting Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy purposes only.

Six world powers and Iran have had several rounds of negotiations on how to defuse concerns over its nuclear ambitions this year but found no common ground for a deal.

Senior diplomats from the EU and Iran will meet on July 24 for technical talks to try to salvage diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-long standoff.

Reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Netanyahu urges action on Iran after meeting Putin


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday it was time to ramp up sanctions against Iran to try to curb its nuclear program after discussing the matter with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his first public comments on the inconclusive round of talks in Moscow last week between world powers and Iran, Netanyahu repeated Israel’s three core demands.

“I believe two things must be done now: strengthening the sanctions and also boosting the demands,” Netanyahu said, without mentioning the possibility of Israeli military action should diplomacy fail.

The international community must call for the cessation of all uranium enrichment in Iran, the removal of all enriched uranium from the country and the dismantling of the Furdow underground nuclear facility, he added.

At the Moscow talks, Russia, the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany set no date for further political negotiations.

Last month, and again in the Russian capital, world powers asked Iran to close the Furdow facility where uranium is being enriched to 20-percent fissile purity, and to ship any stocks out of the country, demands that come close to those of Israel.

Israel wants all Iranian uranium enrichment to stop, but is uneasy about the West’s current focus on halting only higher-percentage enrichment close to a level needed to produce material for nuclear bombs.

OIL EMBARGO

European governments on Monday formally approved an embargo on Iranian oil to start on July 1. Debt-ridden Greece had pushed for a delay because it relies heavily on Iranian crude to meet its energy needs, but EU governments said the embargo would go ahead as planned.

“We had an opportunity to discuss the negotiations under way between the international community and Iran,” Netanyahu said of his meeting with Putin.

“We agree that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran represents a grave danger, first of all to Israel, but also to the region and to the entire world,” he said.

Putin, in his own comments to reporters at Netanyahu’s residence, said they discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the situation in Syria “in great detail”. He did not elaborate.

Russia takes a softer tack than the Western nations and opposes any further sanctions against Iran. Putin has said Russia has no proof that Tehran, which denies it is seeking atomic weapons, intends to become a nuclear-armed power.

His trip to Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan is seen as an effort to increase Russia’s clout in the region at a time when the West and some Arab nations have criticized Moscow for opposing their efforts to force out Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The visit, officially billed as an opportunity to dedicate a memorial in central Israel to the Red Army’s battles against Nazi Germany in World War Two, began a day after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of Egypt’s presidential election.

The outcome of the poll in Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has raised concerns in Israel.

On Syria, Russia has brushed aside U.S. and Arab calls to stop sending weapons to the government there, saying it supplies only defensive arms. It has also used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Syria.

Assad has helped Russia keep a foothold in the Middle East by buying billions of dollars worth of weapons and hosting a maintenance facility for the Russian navy, its only permanent warm-water port outside the former Soviet Union.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Osborn

Iran agrees to discuss nuclear proposal in Moscow, EU officials say


European Union officials said on Monday that Iran has agreed to discuss a proposal from six world powers to curb its production of high-grade uranium at a meeting in Moscow next week in an apparent de-escalation of tensions ahead of the talks.

The development follows more than two weeks of wrangling between Iranian diplomats and Western negotiators over preparations for the closely-watched round of nuclear talks which had cast some doubts over what can be achieved in Moscow.

A tense exchange of letters between EU diplomats, who deal with Iran on behalf of the six powers, and Iranian officials had earlier appeared to suggest Tehran may be backtracking on its expressed willingness to discuss their most pressing concern – high-grade uranium enrichment even in broad terms.

But on Monday, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili agreed to focus on the six powers’ demands at the Moscow meeting, during a one-hour phone conversation with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“The Iranians agreed on the need for Iran to engage on the (six powers’) proposals, which address its concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program,” a spokesman for Ashton said.

Ashton heads talks with Iran on behalf of the six powers: United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain.

The group, known as P5+1, because it consists of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, aims to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear work, because of suspicions it aims to produce weapons. Iran denies that.

In the immediate term, they want Tehran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, because production of such material represents a major technological advance en route to making weapons-grade material.

They put forth a proposal on how to achieve this at a round of talks in Baghdad in May, in which Tehran would stop production, close an underground facility where such work is done and ship any stockpile out of the country.

In return, they offered to supply it with fuel for a reactor in Tehran, which requires 20-percent uranium, and to ease sanctions against the sale of parts for commercial aircraft to Iran.

No agreement was reached in Baghdad but the seven countries agreed to continue discussions on June 18 and 19 in Moscow.

Tensions flared up soon after the meeting in the Iraqi capital, when Iranian officials asked for preparatory meetings with experts. P5+1 negotiators were reluctant to agree without explicit agreement from Tehran that high-grade uranium would be discussed, diplomats said.

Tehran, in response, had accused the powers of failing to honor agreements reached in previous negotiations and trying to scupper talks.

But a diplomat with knowledge of the issue said that Iran was no longer demanding an experts’ meeting.

“They are prepared to go to Moscow and address our proposals,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and John O’Donnell; Editing by Jon Hemming

Bibi praises EU oil sanctions on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Monday a European Union decision to place sanctions on Iranian oil exports, but said it was unclear if the move could thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

“I think this is a step in the right direction,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of his Likud faction in parliament.

“For now, it is impossible to know what the result of these sanctions will be. Heavy and swift pressure is needed on Iran and the sanctions must be evaluated according to their results.”

Netanyahu said that despite world pressure so far “Iran is continuing undeterred to develop nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen in recent weeks over Iran’s atomic program which Israel views as a threat to its existence and which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.

Israel has been keen for Western nations to intensify sanctions against Iran to try to persuade the Islamist regime to halt its nuclear program.

The United States has led Western pressure on Iran to curb uranium enrichment that might provide material for weapons.

Washington’s ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, was quoted as saying last week that the Obama Administration was ready to move beyond sanctions if Iran’s suspected atomic weapons ambitions were not curbed.

But Washington was keen to coordinate with Israel, and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey paid a visit last week which Israeli officials said was to coordinate strategy. Dempsey has said he was not sure if Israel would give him advance warning if it decided to strike Iran.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Stamp

Iran slams EU oil embargo, warns could U.S. targets worldwide


Iran accused Europeans on Monday of waging “psychological warfare” after the EU banned imports of Iranian oil, and President Barack Obama said Washington would impose more sanctions to address the “serious threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program.”

The Islamic Republic, which denies trying to build a nuclear bomb, scoffed at efforts to choke its oil exports, as Asia lines up to buy what Europe scorns.

Some Iranians also renewed threats to stop Arab oil from leaving the Gulf and warned they might strike U.S. targets worldwide if Washington used force to break any Iranian blockade of a strategically vital shipping route.

Yet in three decades of confrontation between Tehran and the West, bellicose rhetoric and the undependable armory of sanctions have become so familiar that the benchmark Brent crude oil price edged only 0.8 percent higher, and some of that was due to unrelated currency factors.

“If any disruption happens regarding the sale of Iranian oil, the Strait of Hormuz will definitely be closed,” Mohammad Kossari, deputy head of parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, told Fars news agency a day after U.S., French and British warships sailed back into the Gulf.

“If America seeks adventures after the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, Iran will make the world unsafe for Americans in the shortest possible time,” Kossari added, referring to an earlier U.S. pledge to use its fleet to keep the passage open.

In Washington, Obama said in a statement that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community’s commitment to “addressing the serious threat presented by Iran’s nuclear program.”

“The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran,” Obama said.

The United States imposed its own sanctions against Iran’s oil trade and central bank on December 31. On Monday it imposed sanctions on the country’s third-largest bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat and a Belarus-based affiliate, for allegedly helping Tehran develop its nuclear program.

The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran a nuclear bomb next year.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner: “This new, concerted pressure will sharpen the choice for Iran’s leaders and increase their cost of defiance of basic international obligations.”

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, reiterated Washington’s commitment to freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz. “I think that Iran has undoubtedly heard that message and would be well advised to heed it,” she said at a meeting of the board of governors of the American Jewish Committee in New York.

CALLS FOR TALKS

Germany, France and Britain used the EU sanctions as a cue for a joint call to Tehran to renew long-suspended negotiations on its nuclear program. Russia, like China a powerful critic of the Western approach, said talks might soon be on the cards.

Iran, however, said new sanctions made that less likely. It is a view shared by some in the West who caution that such tactics risk hardening Iranian support for a nuclear program that also seems to be subject to a covert “war” of sabotage and assassinations widely blamed on Israeli and Western agents.

The European Union embargo will not take full effect until July 1 because the foreign ministers who agreed the anticipated ban on imports of Iranian crude at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalize the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier. The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should go ahead.

Curbing Iran’s oil exports is a double-edged sword, as Tehran’s own response to the embargo clearly showed.

Loss of revenue is painful for a clerical establishment that faces an awkward electoral test at a time of galloping inflation which is hurting ordinary people. But since Iran’s Western-allied Arab neighbors are struggling to raise their own output to compensate, the curbs on Tehran’s exports have driven up oil prices and raised costs for recession-hit Western industries.

A member of Iran’s influential Assembly of Experts, former Intelligence Minister Ali Fallahian, said Tehran should respond to the delayed-action EU sanctions by stopping sales to the bloc immediately, denying the Europeans time to arrange alternative supplies and damaging their economies with higher oil prices.

“The best way is to stop exporting oil ourselves before the end of this six months and before the implementation of the plan,” the semi-official Fars news agency quoted him as saying.

‘PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE’

“European Union sanctions on Iranian oil is psychological warfare,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. “Imposing economic sanctions is illogical and unfair but will not stop our nation from obtaining its rights.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the official IRNA news agency that the more sanctions were imposed on Tehran “the more obstacles there will be to solve the issue”.

Iran’s Oil Ministry issued a statement saying the sanctions did not come as a shock. “The oil ministry has from long ago thought about it and has come up with measures to deal with any challenges,” it said, according to IRNA.

Mehmanparast said: “The European countries and those who are under American pressure, should think about their own interests. Any country that deprives itself from Iran’s energy market, will soon see that it has been replaced by others.”

China, Iran’s biggest customer, has resisted U.S. pressure to cut back its oil imports, as have other Asian economies to varying degrees. India’s oil minister said on Monday sanctions were forcing Iran to sell more cheaply and that India planned to take full advantage of that to buy as much as it could.

The EU measures include an immediate ban on all new contracts to import, purchase or transport Iranian crude and petroleum products. However, EU countries with existing contracts can honor them up to July 1.

EU officials said they also agreed to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank and ban trade in gold and other precious metals with the bank and state bodies.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “I want the pressure of these sanctions to result in negotiations.”

“I want to see Iran come back to the table and either pick up all the ideas that we left on the table … last year … or to come forward with its own ideas.”

Iran has said it is willing to hold talks with Western powers, though there have been mixed signals on whether conditions imposed by both sides make new negotiations likely.

IAEA INSPECTORS VISIT

The Islamic Republic says it is enriching uranium only for producing electricity and other civilian uses. The start this month of a potentially bomb-proof – and once secret – enrichment plant has deepened skepticism abroad, however.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed plans for a visit next week by senior inspectors to try to clear up questions raised about the purpose of Iran’s nuclear activities. Tehran is banned by international treaty from developing nuclear weaponry.

“The Agency team is going to Iran in a constructive spirit, and we trust that Iran will work with us in that same spirit,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in a statement announcing the January 29-31 visit.

Iran, whose regional policies face a setback from the difficulties of its Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has powerful defenders in the form of Russia, which has built Iran a reactor, and China. Both permanent U.N. Security Council members argue that Western sanctions are counter-productive.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, classifying the EU embargo among “aggravating factors”, said Moscow believed there was a good chance that talks between six global powers and Iran could resume soon and that Russia would try to steer both Iran and the West away from further confrontation.

His ministry issued an official statement expressing “regret and alarm”: “What is happening here is open pressure and diktat, an attempt to ‘punish’ Iran for its intractable behavior.

“This is a deeply mistaken approach, as we have told our European partners more than once. Under such pressure Iran will not agree to any concessions or any changes in its policy.”

But that argument cuts no ice with the U.S. administration, for which Iran – and Israel’s stated willingness to consider unilateral military action against it – is a major challenge as Obama campaigns for re-election against Republican opponents who say he has been too soft on Tehran.

Additional reporting by Robin Pomeroy and Mitra Amiri in Tehran, David Brunnstrom in Brussels, Adrian Croft in London, John Irish in Paris, Alexei Anishchuk in Sochi, Ari Rabinovitch and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Nidhi Verma in New Delhi, Steve Gutterman in Moscow, Rachelle Younglai and Andrew Quinn in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; writing by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Robert Woodward and Mohammad Zargham

Iran says sanctions to fail, repeats Hormuz threat


Iranian politicians said on Tuesday they expected the European Union to backtrack on its oil embargo and repeated a threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz shipping lane if the West succeeds in preventing Tehran from exporting crude.

A day after the EU slapped a ban on Iranian oil, Iran’s tone appeared defiant, even skeptical, with Tehran insisting that, with the EU faced with its own economic crisis, it needs Iran’s oil more than Iran needs its business.

The ban is expected to take full effect within six months.

“The West’s ineffective sanctions against the Islamic state are not a threat to us. They are opportunities and have already brought lots of benefits to the country,” Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi told the official IRNA news agency.

Speaking in London, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain Prince Mohammad Bin Nawaf said the region was witnessing “a very difficult and a very tense situation”.

“We are seeing every day an escalation in the rhetoric and this definitely does not help in stabilizing the area,” he told a briefing.

“I think the next couple of weeks will be very critical for the whole region. Hopefully, Iran will adhere to the proposals presented to them.”

He said Iran’s threats to block the strait of Hormuz would have grave consequences on the Islamic Republic and the region.

“It will be very difficult to maintain such a blockade against the export of oil but the ramifications of such a decision would be very grave and definitely would escalate the whole situation and God knows where it would lead.

“Definitely the Iranians will pay a very heavy price if they gamble and take such a decision,” the Saudi envoy said.

The EU wants to press Iran into curbing its contested nuclear program and engage in talks with six world powers.

“The global economic situation is not one in which a country can be destroyed by imposing sanctions,” Moslehi said.

A spokesman for the oil ministry said Iran had had plenty of time to prepare for the sanctions and would find alternative customers for the 18 percent of its exports that up to now have gone to the 27-nation European bloc.

“The first phase of this (sanctions action) is propaganda, only then it will enter the implementation phase. That is why they put in this six months period, to study the market,” Alireza Nikzad Rahbar said, predicting the embargo could be rescinded before it takes force completely.

“This market will harm them because oil is getting more expensive and when oil gets more expensive it will harm the people of Europe,” state TV quoted him as saying. “We hope that in these six months they will choose the right path.”

EMBARGO PLANS

The embargo will not kick in completely until July 1 because the bloc’s foreign ministers who agreed the ban at a meeting in Brussels were anxious not to penalize the ailing economies of Greece, Italy and others to whom Iran is a major oil supplier.

The strategy will be reviewed in May to see if it should proceed.

Iran, which denies international suspicions that it is trying to design atomic bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program, has scoffed at efforts to bar its oil exports as Asia lines up to buy what Europe rejects.

Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the Danish ambassador on Tuesday to complain about the EU’s “illogical decision”, accusing Europe of doing the bidding of the United States.

Emad Hosseini, spokesman for parliament’s energy committee, said that if Iran encountered any problem selling its oil, it would store it, adding Tehran retained its threat to shut the Gulf to shipping.

The United States, which sailed an aircraft carrier through the strait into the Gulf accompanied by British and French warships on Sunday, has said it would not tolerate the closure of the world’s most important oil shipping gateway.

Fitch Ratings issued an assessment of the embargo’s market impact saying it would likely cause an oil price increase.

“However, prices may not necessarily increase markedly from current levels as some of the risks related to the EU ban on Iranian oil appear factored in already,” it said.

The embargo decision had no discernible impact on oil prices as it was a move that had been flagged well in advance and the threat to close Hormuz seemed remote. Brent crude down slightly at $110 per barrel on Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that the EU sanctions underlined the strength of the international community’s commitment to “addressing the serious threat” presented by Iran’s nuclear program.

“The United States will continue to impose new sanctions to increase the pressure on Iran,” he said in a statement.

Washington applied its own sanctions to Iran’s oil trade and central bank on December 31 and on Monday extended them to the third largest Iranian bank, state-owned Bank Tejarat, and a Belarus-based affiliate for allegedly helping Tehran’s nuclear advance.

The EU sanctions were also welcomed by Israel, which has warned it might attack Iran if sanctions do not deflect Tehran from a course that some analysts say could potentially give Iran the means to build a nuclear bomb next year.

Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul in London