‘Massive’ Blockade Needed to Stop Iran Threat, Steinitz Says

A “massive” aerial and naval blockade of Iran, reminiscent of the 1962 U.S. quarantine of Cuba, is needed to stop the Islamic regime from pursuing nuclear weapons, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said.

The European Union’s ban on imports of Iranian crude and other economic sanctions “might not be sufficient” to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Steinitz, 53, said today in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.

The gravity of a potential nuclear-armed Iran is such that stronger action is needed, he said. A “massive blockade,” so that “no one can even go out,” stands some chance of success, he said.

Iran has threatened retaliation, such as blocking the Strait of Hormuz, transit point for about a fifth of the global oil supply, if its oil shipping is obstructed. Under international law, a blockade is an act of war unless authorized by the UN Security Council.

Steinitz said the U.S. had “good experiences in the past,” referring to the 1962 missile crisis when President John F. Kennedy declared that any ships carrying missiles to Cuba would be forced to turn back.

“It worked,” said Steinitz. “Sometimes it might work. You have to at least try.”

Steinitz, a member of the conservative Likud Party, has called repeatedly for tougher action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

EU Oil Ban

The EU agreed on Jan. 23 to ban oil imports from Iran starting July 1 as part of measures to ratchet up pressure on the country to give up activities that Israel, the U.S. and EU say are directed at giving Iran nuclear weapons capability. Iran said its nuclear program is peaceful, for electricity and medical purposes.

Iran’s Oil Ministry has played down the effects of EU sanctions on its economy, saying the move may lead to “heavy economic loss and damages” for Europe and that it has “no concerns” about finding new customers for its oil.

Steinitz said economic sanctions have taken their toll on Iran and cracks have begun to appear among Iran’s rulers.

“We know there are some doubts and some kind of internal debate already going on within the leadership on what to do and how much they are paying because they insist on accelerating the nuclear project,” he said. “They are already in severe economic difficulties so they are not totally insensitive” to pressure.

The EU measures include freezing the European assets of the Iranian central bank and Bank Tejarat, the last Iranian bank financing major trade with the EU, and banning trade in petrochemicals from Iran.

Suspicious Activities

Tensions over Iran’s nuclear program have increased since the Nov. 8 release of a International Atomic Energy Agency report citing “credible” evidence showing Iran worked on bomb components to lift the yield of a nuclear explosion.

Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed Iran during talks in Israel last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other officials. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other U.S. officials have warned Israel not to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, which might trigger retaliatory attacks as well as a naval confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today called for a “peaceful resolution” to the dispute and for Iran to keep open a critical shipping lane.

“The free passage of any ships in open seas should be respected and protected,” Ban said. “At the same time, I have been urging the parties to first of all try to defuse the tension. These rhetorics are not helpful.”

Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the seaway linking the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean, if nations block its crude oil sales.

“We can keep the Strait of Hormuz open and we will do what is necessary to achieve that,” Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told BBC Radio 4 on Jan. 23.

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