Blair isn’t so keen on an attack on Iran, his rhetoric even after the sailors were captured has been remarkably low-key, and a move against Iran could threaten his already-shaky political standing. The Shatt al-Arab waterway is always a difficult navigation point, even aside from political tensions, and this kind of move has happened before and blown over in a few days. However, it’s likely the Cheney gang is pushing Britain to escalate, to make this Tonkin Gulf II (the false claim of a North Vietnamese attack used to justify the Viet Nam war in 1964), though it doesn’t appear Blair/Brown are biting yet. But, once again, having said all THAT, things are very tense could easily spin out of control. So we need to keep up the pressure.
The UN Security Council resolution passed last week was the result of heavy U.S. pressure, but also an example of the limitations of U.S. diplomacy when imposed by a shoot-first-negotiate-later U.S. regime. The pressure was enough to force opportunistically vacillating Russia and China to toe the line, as well as to push the Council’s Non-Aligned members - Indonesia, Qatar and even South Africa - to give in as well. But the final text was far weaker than the harsh sanctions the U.S. wanted, and getting the others on board required significant concessions in Washington’s position.
The resolution does not impose broad economic sanctions similar to those imposed on Iraq, with the inevitably devastating consequences. The most dangerous immediate aspect of the new sanctions resolution is that it broadens the range of Iranian institutions and individuals subject to the "targeted sanctions," including not only those alleged to be involved in Iran’s nuclear enrichment programs, but as well leaders of the Revolutionary Guard and other military officials whom the U.S. claims are somehow connected to Iran’s support for Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi militias. The resolution forbids Iran to export weapons, and freezes the assets of several dozen individuals and institutions, of whom about 1/3 are involved with the nuclear program, and 2/3 with the Revolutionary Guards and others. But U.S. efforts to impose travel bans, a full embargo prohibiting all countries from buying Iranian weapons, and a denial of bank loans, grants and credits from all international banks and financial institutions, failed - all those punishments are merely "encouraged," not enforced.
South Africa failed in its effort to discard the imposition of military and financial sanctions. But the non-aligned effort to demand a call for a nuclear weapons-free zone across the Middle East had achieved partial success. The U.S. and the other permanent members of the Council (who not only hold Council vetoes but are also the five "legal" nuclear weapons states under the Non-Proliferation Treaty) agreed to include the nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) language, but undermined its significance. It is included only as part of the preamble, rather than an enforceable operative paragraph, and even more fatally, it refers only to an earlier call for a NWFZ made by the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA), rather than calling for such a move itself. That is significant because Israel, the only nuclear weapons power in the Middle East, is not a signatory to the treaty creating the IAEA and therefore not subject to its mandates. A Council resolution calling directly for creation of such a nuclear-free zone (such as the one the U.S. drafted as part of the resolution ending the 1991 Gulf War) is binding on all countries, including Israel. A call from global civil society demanding a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East as the basis for resolving the current tensions could be based on a call to enforce that early Council resolution.
Aside from the political posturing, the greatest actual danger from the new resolution may be that it is already strengthening U.S. efforts to enforce compliance with Washington’s unilateral economic sanctions against Iran on other countries around the world. The model may be the U.S. embargo against Cuba -ostensibly imposed only by the U.S. itself, but designed to force other countries to abide by it as well. In the case of Cuba, this means a U.S. law that prohibits any ship docking at a Cuban port from coming to any U.S. port for six months. Faced with that choice, how likely is it that profit-driven shipping companies will bother calling at Cuban ports at all? Similarly, U.S. Treasury Department officials are already pressing banks all around the world to refuse to deal with Iran, on threat of losing U.S. business access.
Phyllis Bennis’ new book is Challenging Empire: How People, Governments, and the UN Defy U.S. Power, just published by Interlink.