Tensions between Western countries and Iran over its nuclear program continue to rise as sanctions threaten the country’s economy. Analysts are expressing concern a military confrontation could occur in the Middle East.
Iranian war games in the Persian Gulf amid threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The United States and Europe tighten sanctions to choke off Iranian oil revenues. Iran begins enriching uranium at an underground plant, as one of its nuclear scientists is killed in a bomb attack.
All signs, analysts say, that a military confrontation could be looming.
International Institute of Strategic Studies expert Mark Fitzpatrick. “I think Iran is feeling under increasing pressure. It is feeling, probably for the first time, sanctions that do have a real bite," he said.
Iranian analysts say a possible oil embargo is essentially a declaration of war, and for the government to survive it will fight back.
Sadegh Zibakalam of Tehran University said, “The only natural weapon that Iran has is to block the Strait of Hormuz.”
U.S. military and diplomatic officials have warned that Iran will not be allowed to block the strait. Patrick Clawson of The Washington Institute said, “And if they were to do that, I do not know if they quite realize that they would be crossing an American red line and that there would be military conflict.”
The United States has been pressing allies in Asia to reduce the amount of oil imported from Iran, and President Barack Obama recently approved tough sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank to pressure Tehran to abandon its nuclear program.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said, “And we are exploring ways to cut off the central bank from the international financial system and to reduce the earnings Iran derives from its oil exports.”
As a result, prices are up in Iranian markets as inflation has skyrocketed. Iran's currency is rapidly losing value.
The pressure is mounting, says analyst Patrick Clawson. “Iran is finding itself in a much more difficult situation than when just the Americans were applying the pressure," he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says there is evidence Iran is researching the development and delivery of nuclear weapons. But Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Iran has signaled it is willing to reopen negotiations with Western powers, but analysts say all the heated rhetoric could poison diplomatic efforts.
Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian American Council said, “I see the sabre rattling as reducing the space necessary on both sides to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
Iran’s nuclear program is expected to be the topic of a new round of talks between Tehran and Western nations in the coming months. Meanwhile, tensions intensify as sanctions continue to squeeze Iran’s economy.