By Zhang Wenwen
BEIJING, Aug. 8 (ChinaMil) -- The US government re-imposed a wave of sanctions on Iran’s non-energy sectors including finance, metal, minerals, and automobiles on August 7, and sanctions on Iran’s oil industry and other fields were scheduled for early November.
Recently, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy conducted a military exercise in the Persian Gulf waters. Although the spokesperson of the Iranian military claimed this was a "routine military exercise" aimed at ensuring the safety of international sea routes, the military exercise reminded watchers of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s indication—if Iran is blocked from crude oil export, it may block the Strait of Hormuz.
The Strait of Hormuz has strategic significance to global energy supply. Located between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, the strait is shaped like the Chinese character "人" and is known as the "oil valve of the world". It is the only waterway that connects the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea and an important chokepoint for world shipping.
Middle East oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) all rely on the Strait of Hormuz to transport oil to the rest of the world. About one-third of the world's oil trade on the sea depends on the Strait of Hormuz. Once blocked, it will have a major impact on global oil prices and the world economic situation. Besides, the US military relies on the Strait of Hormuz to transport military supplies to its military bases as well as some of the Gulf countries.
In the face of Iran’s threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz, the US made a tough response. The US Defense Secretary James Mattis warned that the US would conduct military intervention if Iran blocks the strait.
Some analysts believe that the confrontation between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf area is unlikely to happen as the mainstream public opinion in Iran does not support escalating the contradictions with other countries, and its domestic media have kept a low profile on the recent military exercise.
However, the world has to be clearly aware that the US has posed a great threat to regional security and stability with the "big stick" of sanctions willfully waving in its hands. It has become more uncertain if Iran will withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal or if the arms race in the Middle East will intensify.
The US’ failure to keep its promise on the Iranian nuclear deal and sanctions against Iran will exacerbate the anti-American sentiments of the Iranian people, push various parties in Iran to give firmer support to a hard-line diplomacy, and further increase the possibility of the US-Iran confrontation.
At the same time, it is reported that the US government is getting in touch with a number of countries in the Persian Gulf area to establish a unified anti-Iran coalition, adding to the possibility of regional confrontation and conflicts.
The escalation of the US-Iran confrontation is the result of the unilateral withdrawal of the US government from the Iranian nuclear deal and the adoption of arbitrary sanctions. Re-imposing sanctions against Iran by the US lacks international legal basis. Hence, such a move has led to widespread criticism and resistance from the international community. Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, said on August 6 that the United Nations will continue to encourage countries to support the comprehensive agreement on Iranian nuclear issue.
As the US re-imposed sanctions against Iran in non-energy sectors, the European Commission announced on its website that the EU's latest anti-sanctions regulations came into effect on August 7 to protect the interests of its residents and companies.
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, issued a joint statement with foreign ministers of the UK, France, and Germany on August 6, saying that maintaining the comprehensive agreement on Iranian nuclear issue is a matter of respect for international agreements.
"The latest anti-sanctions regulations issued by EU will come into effect on August 7. The purpose is to protect European companies who are doing legitimate business with Iran from US extraterritorial sanctions." This joint statement once again highlights the divergence between the US and Europe on the Iranian nuclear issue.
Though Iran may not rashly take "closed-door" measures to block the Strait of Hormuz in the future, the confrontation between the US and Iran will surely become more complicated. It remains to be seen whether the two sides will spark an accidental conflict.
Disclaimer: The author is Zhang Wenwen. The article was published on the PLA Daily on August 8. It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online.