Iran is often in the news, sometimes for its nuclear dealings and more recently for its sudden closure of cafes that were declared ‘un-Islamic.’ Though America’s presidential election and the Eurozone crisis have largely supplanted Iran’s front-page place in the news, the oil-rich country nonetheless continues to make waves in the international community.
Iran is currently midway through its first month of full economic sanctions, which were imposed by the US and the EU, and is starting to feel the impact. Its declining oil exports have already dropped to their lowest level since 1981, and Iran has fallen two notches overall on the OPEC top-exporters list. Previous, less comprehensive sanctions have contributed to this markedly as well, and the overall impact has caused the Iranian currency (the rial) to decline in value by over 40%.
All of these sanctions are a result of Iran’s nuclear program, which the West believes is geared towards manufacturing a nuclear weapon; Iran maintains that it is for peaceful civilian purposes only. Several claims have cast doubt on this contention. Though Iran has opened some of its facilities to international nuclear experts, it has refused access to others, and evidence has emerged of tampering with and ‘sanitization’ of certain suspected sites (namely Parchin). Iran has also flexed its conventional military muscle, testing long-range missiles that could be highly lethal if they were to carry nuclear warheads. These missiles are capable of striking US allies in the region, including Israel.
Recently, Iran has proposed closing the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow water passage through which around 40% of the world’s seaborne oil passes (about 20% of the total supply). The U.S. has responded by bolstering its presence in the Persian Gulf, sending minesweepers and several aircraft carriers. Other regional oil suppliers have begun their own countermeasures too. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have both dedicated themselves to building oil pipelines which avoid the Strait completely, thus eliminating the need to pass through waters which Iran could one day close. A further worry in the region, expressed in a report by the Pentagon, concerns Iran’s pan-Islamic aspirations. The country has repeated that the Arab Spring is inspired by its own revolution, and that it hopes to build ties with the Islamist movements rising to power in Egypt and Libya, among others.
The U.S. has consistently affirmed its goal of shutting down Iran’s nuclear program, but faces several obstacles. Any military engagement with Iran would stretch resources already depleted from years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. might also not be able to launch a military strike on its own terms, as Israel has hinted that it would consider an assault with or without the U.S., which is by far its most important military backer. There are also doubts that attacking the sites would attain any tangible results; it is possible that any weaponized nuclear materials may be too well-defended or fortified in a series of bunkers. The U.S., however, has refused to take military options off the table, and may chance a strike if it believes it can succeed. Iran has done little to deflect international ire, as it refers to Israel as ‘occupied territories’ and denies the Holocaust.
The situation in Iran is extremely complex, and much more has occurred in this protracted conflict. To read more about the crisis, click on some of the links below.
Interactive Guide to the Iranian Crisis (Council on Foreign Relations)
Iran’s Country Profile (CIA World Factbook)
Iran’s Morals Crackdown (Reuters)
Iranian Missile Tests Broadcast on State TV (The Telegraph)
U.S. Bolstering Persian Gulf Military Presence (USA Today)
By World Affairs Council Intern, Andrew Munson