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India, Iran’s Top Oil Customer, Rejects U.S. Oil Sanctions

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the west’s oil embargo against Iran will bring that country to its knees.  Among other related truths: Iran’s economy derives much of its revenue from oil sales; oil sanctions will cripple Iran; all Iran’s previous customers will abandon it seeing the justice in our cause; Iran will not be able to replace those customers with others; with unsold inventory, masses clamoring for food, and unable to fund it’s military and nuclear research programs, Iran will have no choice but to cry “Uncle.”

In case you detected a note of irony in my reference to Jane Austen above, let’s examine a few of the premises. Will Iran’s oil customers abandon it? So far Russia And China won’t. Yes, we’ve seen articles in the NY Times confirming that Chinese state buyers are searching for alternate fuel sources in case Iran’s oil spigot closes. But this is merely doing due diligence in order to anticipate China’s possible loss of Iranian oil. I see no fundamental change in China’s support for Iran.

Now, the Times adds a new ingredient to the dish. It reports that India is not only buying Iranian oil, but it has become Iran’s largest customer and plans to continue to be. It makes no promise that it will honor the oil embargo:

India’s determination to continue buying Iranian oil, despite sanctions and growing political pressure from the United States and Europe, has frustrated officials in Washington at a time when the forward momentum in the United States-India relationship has slowed…

The situation was exacerbated last week by news reports that India had become Iran’s top oil customer, while an Indian official announced plans to send a trade delegation to Tehran. In New Delhi, diplomats and analysts say India’s purchasing of Iranian oil is a matter of economic necessity, given its dependence on imported oil.

…Indian officials…caution against turning issues like Iran into diplomatic litmus tests…“This can’t be a test of our friendship,” said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to the United States. “Washington must realize that we are in a neighborhood where Iran is a factor.”

Alas, that is precisely what the U.S. will likely refuse to do.  In this sense, the U.S. approach to Iran, though marginally more pragmatic than Israel’s delusional one, is still based on mirages and faulty premises.  The U.S. believes that it can orchestrate a universal international cold shoulder to Iranian oil and that this in turn will force the Ayatollahs to come to their senses and give up their nukes (or their so-called desire to have them).

Let’s pour some bracing cold water on those assumptions: three of the world’s larger economies which use lots of oil are saying “Not so fast” to our gangbusters approach.  What will we do when we find that there are leaks in this magnificent boat we’re building?  Will we physically blockade Iran, closing the Strait of Hormuz and thereby forcing Iran to stop oil shipments?  If we do this, think back to how Israel reacted when Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran.  It was a causus belli and that’s one of the reasons Israel offered for initiating the 1967 War.  In Iran’s case, it would be far more justified in going to war because Tiran had no major trade importance for Israel, while Hormuz is critical for Iran.

And if we seal of Hormuz, Iran is likely to figure out other ways to export oil.  It has thousands of miles of borders with multiple countries.  Though it is much more efficient to export oil by tanker and water than by land, Iran might be able to maintain a semblance of oil trade by land.  If the price of oil skyrockets, then such a method of shipment would become even more effective.

Everything we’re doing now is designed to create a soft landing when we supposedly seal Iran off from its customers.  The price of oil will remain stable because we will have arranged for alternate source of oil for all of Iran’s current customers.  But what if it doesn’t happen?  What if we can’t find those alternate sources?  What if Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya can’t fill the gap?  What if the oil price goes through the roof?  What if the “coalition of the willing” becomes less willing to support the embargo?  What then?

In science, we learn that the simplest answer to a problem is more likely true than a more complex answer since the more parts there are the more likely one of them could prove wrong.  In politics, the converse is also true: the more complicated a policy is the more likely it will be to fail.  The west’s approach to its conflict with Iran is tremendously complex and based on multiple assumptions, any one of which can be wrong.  If the path we choose is to bomb Iran, it will likely make Iran more likely to get a nuclear weapon.  If we don’t bomb Iran and rely on sanctions like an oil embargo, but the embargo fails, then we’re left holding a bag full of holes.  In turn, this will make us look like fools and the Iranians like geniuses (even if they don’t deserve to be).

So the simplest path is the best in this situation.  The simplest path is to put all our issues on the table with Iran and for them to put all theirs there as well.  Then talk things out and arrive at a similar Grand Bargain to the one then-Preisdent Khatami offered the U.S. in 2003 (and which George Bush spurned).  Simple is best.  By simple, I don’t mean easy and I don’t mean short.  Of course negotiations will hard and take some time.  But as Tom Pickering and Bill Luers argued in their recent NY Times op-ed, it’s the only reasonable way and the one most likely to work.

Returning to some of the delusional thinking on which U.S. (and Israeli) policy is based, the Daily Beast publishes a story about the development of Obama’s approach to Iran over the course of his presidency.  The authors note that when he came into office his chief spooks begged him not to cancel their covert campaign against Iran’s nuke program.  But  Obama supposedly genuinely wanted to give a try to diplomacy as a way of resolving conflict with Iran.  So what did he do?

In the first days of the administration, deputy CIA Director Steve Kappes and Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, went…to the new president.

Obama listened intently. He understood Cartwright’s concern [for not cancelling the covert operations], and yet his diplomatic strategy hinged on the Iranians believing that American outreach was genuine. The president mulled the question of whether covert activities might compromise his nascent effort to engage with Iran’s leaders. “He was trying to weigh the slowing down of our covert activities—when that meant Iran would be able to reprocess [uranium] faster—against the risk to the outstretched-hand policy,” recalls one adviser. “That was the tricky balance.”

In the end, Obama concluded that he could pursue boththe covert and diplomatic tracks—simultaneously. He told his advisers that a successful campaign to disrupt Iran’s nuclear plans, in fact, would buy more time for diplomacy.

I swear sometimes I think people who should know better take the Iranians for dunces.  If you were Ahmadinejad or Khamenei having faced the tortured relationship you had with the U.S., and you came across this sort of duplicitousness what would you think?  You’d think just what I think.  When you’re president of a superpower you can’t have your cake and eat it.  You’ve got to make a choice and stick with it.  If you try to have it both ways your interlocutor will see through you in a heartbeat.  The Iranians weren’t wrong to respond as skeptically as they did to Obama.  He was dicking them (pardon my language but Obama’s approach annoys the hell out of me and warrants it) around and they knew it.

Rhetoric like this, even if you take into account that it’s offered by an overtly Israel advocate like Eli Lake and therefore needs to be regarded with skepticism, also chills the bones:

Israeli officials now insist that Obama has undergone what they regard as a positive evolution in his views on Iran. “The rhetoric from the United States today is different from what it was a year ago,” says an Israeli in Netanyahu’s inner circle. “Today, when you listen to Obama … you get the feeling the Americans are ready to attack if worse comes to worst.” Another official privy to discussions on Iran at the highest levels in Israel says, “It becomes clearer and clearer that America is on the course of a growing conflict, growing friction, growing risk of a big conflict with Iran.”

You remember what I wrote above about Israel’s delusional approach to Iran?  First, no reasonable U.S. analyst believes that Obama is “ready to attack if worst comes to worst.”  And even if you count this statement as typical Israeli blowhard rhetoric, there’s no question that the assumptions behind it fuel Israel’s military thinking.  In other words, Israeli leaders believe Obama will help them finish off the job they begin, therefore they feel freer to start what they know they can’t finish.  Which means that if Israel attacks and Obama doesn’t intend to finish the job then he will have only himself to blame for not sending a stronger signal to Israel.

Alternatively, if the Israelis are right and Obama will come to their aid after they spark what could well become a regional war, then all bets are off.  This president will have sent himself, his presidency, and all the rest of us to hell in a handbasket.

Another portion of this article no doubt penned by Lake (there are two other authors as well) argues from an Israeli source that Obama should stop Iran from getting nukes because it will tarnish U.S. power and credibility:

Obama is also thinking more broadly—about a possible nuclear-arms race in the region and the reputation of the United States. One of the senior Israeli officials interviewed for this article says he has heard U.S. counterparts express concern that a failure to stop Iran could lead to an eclipse of American power in the Middle East. “You stand to lose a very wide area of influence that was yours for 60 years,” says the official. “If Iran did [develop nukes] in spite of America, how would Obama look? How would America look?”

Would he or America look any worse than we looked after North Korea, Pakistan or India got nukes?  This is one of the more idiotic arguments I’ve heard.  The only way in which our prestige will be diminished in this regard is if we bet the house on stopping Iran and fail.  And that IS what our policy is rapidly becoming.  The more we double down on this bet, the more likely Iran will dig in its heels and insist that it get what it wants.  THAT is what will really harm our status in the region and world.

Further, Israeli sources quoted in the article blame Obama for the opacity of Israel’s approach to war with Iran.  They claim that because Obama would not promise to go to war against Iran if sanctions fail, that Israel had to decide to go it alone and shut off the intelligence pipeline it had with the U.S. on these matters.  So there you have it, the president had the chutzpah to tell the Israelis he wouldn’t commit to war with Iran, which in turn guarantees an Israeli war with Iran.

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  • Omar February 13, 2012, 6:47 AM

    And conveniently – boom! An ‘Iranian’ attack on Israel’s diplomats in India. So, India, which rejects oil sanctions, is thanked by Tehran by them disrespecting their sovereignty.

    I don’t think so. False flag, anyone?

    • lifelong February 13, 2012, 7:17 AM

      It’s striking that Bibi wants to convince the world the biggest threat to Israel’s existence is coming from a country incapable of blowing up a car… Every accusation he levels, every war scenario they create, makes Iran look like more and more of a paper tiger.

      And if Hezbollah’s history is anything to go by, they’re the most efficient car bombers in the history of mankind. Safe to say it’s not them either.

    • Bob Mann February 13, 2012, 12:24 PM

      You think that Israel attacked its own embassies?

      • lifelong February 13, 2012, 1:23 PM

        Don’t know, and don’t care. Point is, nobody’s dead.

        Iran/Hezbollah, like most governments, don’t waste their time injuring people.

        • Amir G February 13, 2012, 1:41 PM

          [comment deleted--off topic]

        • Benjamin February 13, 2012, 3:15 PM

          To those who say the attack was a false flag, I would like to ask for evidence of it. And Lifelong, I suppose the AMIA bombings and recent plots in Azerbaijan and Thailand were false flags as well?

          • lifelong February 13, 2012, 4:02 PM

            AMIA is a good example you bring up. Maybe it was Hezbollah, but where’s the evidence to prove their involvement? It shouldn’t be surprising at all that the latest source of the ‘evidence’ implicating Iran is none other than the MEK themselves (known to be sharing a bed of convenience with the Mossad).

            So here’s a question for you: why does today have to be either Iran or the Mossad? Why can’t it be anyone of the MANY Muslim and Christian groups that seek harm to Israel?

          • Benjamin February 13, 2012, 4:20 PM

            Well. Um. No. The Argentinian government seems to believe that it was connected to Iran and Hezbollah. Due to a lack of time and language proficiency I can’t exactly certify or research it heavily. If someone knows the language well enough to do the research, it’d be appreciated (I don’t trust translation programs). So in essence, I suppose I need to put my faith in the prosecutors, which probably isn’t enough for many people.

            I brought up the previous attacks/foiled plots as a counterpoint to your assertion regarding attacks.

            You’re right about it possibly being a third-party that was behind the attack. As no one has taken responsibility for the attack, no evidence has been gathered regarding other attackers, and no other leads are being pursued, I’m not exactly sure which Muslim or Christian terrorist group could have carried out the attack.

            I apologize if this is going off topic from the main thrust of the article.

          • Richard Silverstein February 14, 2012, 12:06 AM

            This is OFF-TOPIC.

  • Omar February 13, 2012, 3:57 PM

    Binyamin Netanyahu and his minions run Israel like a brothel. I defy anyone here to suggest that this greasy used car salesman of a politician is above staging such an attack or – at the very least – blaming it on the Iranians when he has no basis to do so. I think he has it in him to authorise much worse, do you not?

    I would also suggest that you check the story of the attack in Tbilisi as told by the driver of the booby-trapped car. That attack was foiled when an explosive device was apparently found underneath his car. He found it because he happened to check underneath the car after he parked it. Judge Judy would raise an eyebrow at that. He happened to be checking underneath? Pull the other one. It’s got bells on.

    As to motive – why would the Iranians risk their relationship with India when they have so few supporters in the international community? India is vital to Iran. I can’t see the Iranians destroying that relationship for the sake of murdering some minor attache.

    Of all the places to attack Israeli interests – and it makes sense for the Iranians to defend themselves since it is Israel that is murdering Iranian citizens in Iran and funding terrorists there – why choose India? Why not Latin America, since we are endlessly regaled with monstrous tales of growing Iranian influence there? Why not the petty torture state of Jordan?

    No doubt though, Israel’s staunch supporters will continue to behave like Pavlov’s dogs, responding predictably and with full reliability to any act of carnage.

    So let’s go to war with Iran. I would tentatively suggest, though, that if that is the way we want to go it would be more efficient to simply gather the accumulated wealth of the Western world in some large open space – perhaps the Sahara or el-Rub’ el-Khali – and just set it all on fire. Then we could blow up your White House and my Palace of Westminster and collectively dance in the ruins of the West, safe in the knowledge that Poor Little Israel is better off for it.

  • Joel February 13, 2012, 4:10 PM

    Israel didn’t need a pretext to attack Syria’s nuclear plant. Israel just blew it up. Same went for Iraq’s nuclear plant.

    Omar. Do you look under your bed at night for alligators?

  • lifelong February 13, 2012, 5:00 PM

    @Benjamin: the prosecutors have made an ‘accusation’, very much like today where Bibi is also making an ‘accusation’. Thankfully justice systems function on evidence, making all these accusations meaningless.

    Anyway, maybe it was Hezbollah, maybe it wasn’t. We’ll never know since the police apparently threw the head of the bomber away…

  • Editorsteve February 13, 2012, 8:33 PM

    Not a lot of logic here, except Richard’s obvious, that it’s time to sit down. But understand that the Europeans (within range of Iranian missiles that have little reason to exist except to carry a nuclear warhead), and not the US, were the original sanction hawks, bested only recently by the US congress. The sanctions have hurt, clearly pushing Iran to consider real negotiations — but not yet to obey the NPT, the treaty Iran has signed and repeatedly violated. The ball is in iran’s court… And yes, Israel has forfeited the right to play — Iran has plenty of NPT violations on the record but no proof Iran is currently working on a bomb. So Bibi should sit down and shut up.

  • David February 14, 2012, 12:09 AM

    First, I seriously doubt that anyone anywhere believes anything Netanyahu has to say. All of his talk is either evasion or lies and it is so evident to me that I can’t imagine anyone believing otherwise.

    Second, Iran violated NPT and this becomes a cause celebre. Israel violates international law, maritime law, human rights agreements, agreements on asylum etc. ad nauseum, but nobody threatens any retribution at all, not the US, the EU, nobody. It is just so exasperating.

    All off topic, but there it is. Thanks for the article.

    There, I’m done.

  • Arie Brand February 14, 2012, 2:38 AM

    The fact that Israel successfully hoodwinked American inspectors of its nuclear program for years might be one reason why it has no confidence in an inspection of Iran’s program. Ben-Gurion, after initially rejecting rather rudely Kennedy’s proposals for inspections, finally gave in.
    He ultimately allowed an inspection, partly to undercut the “newly emerging anti-nuclear community inside Israel” but mainly in return “for the Kennedy administration’s decision in mid-1962 to authorize the sale of Hawk surface-to air missiles to Israel.”

    But there were not going to be spot checks. Visits had to be announced well in advance. And Ben-Gurion took no chances. Seymour Hersh wrote in The Samson Option:

    “The Israeli scheme, based on plans supplied by the French, was simple: a false control room was constructed at Dimona, complete with false control panels and computer- driven measuring devices that seemed to be gauging the thermal output of a twenty-four-megawatt reactor (as Israel claimed Dimona to be) in full operation. There were extensive practice sessions in the fake control room, as Israeli technicians sought to avoid any slips when the Americans arrived …
    The American team, following a pattern that would be repeated until the inspections came to an end in 1969, spent days at Dimona … but finding nothing. They did not question the fact that the reactor core was off-limits and gave no sign that they were in any way suspicious of the control room.”

    • editorsteve February 14, 2012, 12:42 PM

      I’ve related the “double control room” story in another thread. No, the reason Israel has “no confidence” in the IAEA inspection system is that Iran has repeatedly harassed inspectors, not declared sites that were later exposed, denied the inspectors the right to visit certain locations and interview certain people, moved nuclear materials without proper notice to inspectors, and on and on. The latest NPT violations were just a few weeks ago. All that said, IAEA is at declared commercial-fuel sites and doubts (on good grounds) that there has been any diversion from them.It’s not a matter of confidence. Iran has been violating the NPT. Easiest way to get out of trouble with the international community is to stop violating the NPT. And the international community in exchange should protect Iran’s sovereignty and make sure Israel and US do, too.

      As for David’s note that Iran gets a license to violate the NPT because Israel’s hands are not clean, did your mother ever tell you that two wrongs don’t make a right? The whole region is rife with human rights violations, and the Israelis use THAT as a justification for what THEY do. It’s gotta end somewhere.

      • David February 14, 2012, 1:03 PM

        The “whole region” is not a self-declared Western style state purportedly sharing “values” with the West. It is clear to me that Israel is quickly becoming another regional military dictatorship of some kind, despite its high-minded declarations, but that is besides the point. In the context of these Western pretensions, Israel is more liable for Western style criticism. In short, they asked for it.

        Second — Israel’s record of violating laws, resolutions, agreements and rights is very large, incommensurate with any other state I would guess anywhere. The sheer volume of offenses creates a different sort of computation and Mom’s arithmetic can’t provide the right answer..

        I think your other ideas are pretty good.

        • Joel February 15, 2012, 5:51 PM

          David said: “a self-declared Western style state purportedly sharing “values” with the West.”

          David. If you woke up tomorrow and found that your citizenship had been revoked and that you had to move and spend the rest of your life living and working somewhere in the Middle East. What country would move to? Honestly.

          • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2012, 12:51 AM

            Do you honestly think he would say: Israel? Are you joking? There are many interesting countries in which one could live in the ME without even stepping foot in Israel. You really are an Israeli Neanderthal.

          • Joel February 16, 2012, 4:19 AM

            Richard says: “There are many interesting countries in which one could live in the ME without even stepping foot in Israel”

            Okay. Than please name some of these ME countries that you would consider living and working in the rest of your life other than Israel.

          • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2012, 5:53 PM

            I didn’t say I would live permanently in any ME Country including Israel. But there are many places I would like to visit and some in which friends do live permanently & quite happily. Among them Turkey, Egypt, Dubai, and the Emirates. Once there is a more tolerant govt I would love to visit Iran. Yr notion that Israel is the only possible place in the region anyone could possibly want to live in is racist & typically chauvinist.

          • David February 16, 2012, 10:31 PM

            Palestine.

            You do not make your point any better in this manner. I would definitely not choose Israel. Not the Israel I know from visits.

          • David February 16, 2012, 10:34 PM

            Actually, you make my point. Israel pretends to be a Western styled democracy, but it is racist. It pretends to share values but treats Palestinians like slaves were treated long ago in this country. Thanks.

  • Clif Brown February 14, 2012, 12:03 PM

    Would you put up with someone dictating to you what you can and cannot do? So it is with countries, where pride is at least as much in play. What the Iran discussion never mentions is that no country tolerates another telling it what it may and may not do – this is an open invitation to do precisely what is being denied.

    If Iran wants a nuclear weapon, it will get one as will any other country given the incentive to do so – and patronizing reprimands are a wonderful incentive, especially when voiced by the Hypocrite of the World, the United States, that makes not a peep about Israel’s arsenal of nukes. The message – loud and clear – is that some are permitted (the good) and some are not (the bad).

    Is there any country that sees itself as the bad? Is there any country that doesn’t expect respect on the international stage? Iran is no exception.

    • editorsteve February 14, 2012, 1:02 PM

      If I agreed to do something, and then reneged on the agreement, I’d have no choice but to “put up with” the scolds.

      Dammit, Iran didn’t have to sign the treaty! It then could develop nuclear weapons without violating what it signed. But it also would have to forego civilian uses. This is the route Israel took.

      What Clif is saying is that treaties don’t matter! That’s just as illogical as when Bibi says it, or George W. Bush.