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October 8, 2010

Israeli Official’s Call for Imminent Iran Blockade is Really a Call for War

Hyperbole reached new heights this week when Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations on Monday that a blockade will be necessary in two to six months to give “Iran a deadline to change its behavior.”  Steinitz, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and a former protégé of the Prime Minister, has always been known as hawkish; given his role as a government minister and his ties to Israel’s leaders, his latest remarks should not be ignored.  Never mind the absurd justification Steinitz offered, in which he likened such a blockade to that of  Cuba in 1962—Cuba, an island nation that, unlike Iran, actually possessed nuclear weapons in its territory at the time of the embargo.  And never mind that Steinitz demanded that Iran “become open for inspection,” when in fact the IAEA constantly has inspectors in Iran looking at the country’s nuclear facilities.  Instead, what is most concerning is that this call mirrors a Congressional resolution introduced in 2008, which suggests that a blockade may actually have support among US lawmakers.
Calls for a blockade are not new.  In the past it was seen as an option for dealing with Iran’s nuclear program by commentators who believed sanctions were not enough or would inevitably fail.  They claim that a blockade is simply the “next logical step.”  However, what these pundits fail to mention is that a blockade is an act of war.  Such an act against Iran by the United States or any state in the international community could likely lead to open violent conflict between US and Iranian forces as Iranian warships try to force their way through the blockading force.  Furthermore, such a blockade would seek to destroy Iran economically, punishing Iranians who have nothing to do with the nuclear program and destroying America’s image with the Iranian people.  Finally, a blockade would convince Iranian leaders they have nothing to gain from negotiating a deal with the West and provide an incentive to push for an actual nuclear device, ending all hopes for a compromise that would avoid a calamity in the region.
Sadly, some congressional leaders seem to ignore the obvious drawbacks of such an action as they stumble over themselves trying to assert their hawkish credentials.  In 2008, Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman introduced a resolution in Congress demanding that George Bush initiate an effort to inspect or quarantine “all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.”  Although the resolution was ultimately blocked, more recent legislation by Republican Representative Louis Gohmert provides explicit endorsement for Israel to use “all means necessary” against Iran, effectively green lighting a blockade or military strike.  Finally, both Republican Senator Lindsay Graham and Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman recently signaled that military action against Iran was, from their perspective, becoming more likely.  This call for a “blockade” that is just short of military strikes but would likely be the opening salvo in a US-Iran war will, in the short term, probably be picked up by some of these same leaders as the next necessary step against Iran.
The disastrous results of a war with Iran have been described ad nauseum, but the disturbing part about the Finance Minister’s comments is that he does not acknowledge that a blockade would have the same effect as a military strike.  But this isn’t a pattern that should surprise any of us.  First diplomacy was ruled dead after an artificial twelve week timeline; now calls are beginning for the 12-week-old sanctions regime to be ruled a failure; next, it’s the naval blockade that would lead to war.  About the only thing that Minister Steinitz’s Cuba comparison is good for is this: one can only hope that United States officials take a page from President Kennedy’s playbook and talk with Iran before it’s too late.

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