Sanctioning Iran: Cut Off Their Supply of Gasoline

Old joke:

Q: How do you know when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is lying?

A: When his lips are moving.

It’s no secret that Iran is engaged in a massive program to produce enriched uranium. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims the uranium is strictly for “peaceful purposes” such as nuclear power reactors and nuclear medicine. Fair enough, except that Iran is enriching uranium far beyond the 3-4% U-235 needed to fuel nuclear reactors. Iran claims the ability to enrich uranium to 20% U-235 and, experts say, once you can enrich uranium to 20% U-235 all it takes is additional time to enrich it to the 90% level required for a nuclear weapon.

Iran, among all countries of the world, probably has the least pressing need for energy alternatives to oil. Iran’s proven reserves of oil are the third largest in the world. Its natural gas reserves are #2. When Ahmadinejad claims his country’s nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, you know he’s lying.

For obvious reasons, most of the rest of the world are deeply concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and, short of war, are looking for ways quickly to curtail it. Most of the talk centers around ‘sanctions,’ cutting Iran off from trade, travel, finance, and other benefits of the global economy.

The simplest sanction to apply: cut off Iran’s supply of gasoline. Gasoline? Isn’t Iran sitting on an ocean of oil? Yes, but Iran’s refining capacity is far below its domestic demand for gasoline. Iran, while exporting 4 million barrels of oil daily, must import 40% of the gasoline consumed by its citizens. The US is leading an effort to cut off Iran’s supply of gasoline and it appears it is having an impact. French refiner Total SA, for example, announced Monday that it would stop supplying gasoline to Iran. As usual, the French are not doing this out of a spirit of cooperation but rather because Total has key interests in the US and has, no doubt, been told by the Obama administration to play ball or pay the price.

A gasoline shortage in Iran would have a major impact on the stability of the Ahmadinejad government. Iran is not a backward Arab Islamic theocracy. First, Iranians are Persians, not Arabs and second, although Ahmadinejad quotes the Prophet when it suits his purposes, the Iranian government is quite secular. The Muslim clerics get significant press (when it suits Ahmadinejad) but lack the power they have in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Third, Iran’s population is among the best educated in the Middle East, with a literacy rate of over 80% (including women). Iranians are not the suckers for propaganda and theology that characterize most Middle Easterners.

Green Movement Rally - Tehran

Very much under-reported is Iran’s Green Movement, which is bent on ousting Ahmadinejad and his cronies. The Green Movement is not an environmental cause but rather a continuation of the protests after Iran’s recent questionable re-election of Ahmadinejad. Green was the color of Mir Hossein Mousavi’s Pro-Reform opposition party.

Membership in the Green Movement is not reported, but the Movement has staged rallies attended by over half a million Iranians. About 30 deaths have been reported during Green protests against the Ahmadinejad regime.

Rationing gasoline in an oil-rich country like Iran would have a serious impact on domestic stability. Along with the Green Movement, the rest of Iran is going to be asking Ahmadinejad a pointed question: How is it that we’ve got more oil than almost anyone in the world but we have no gasoline? Why the hell are you building nuclear enrichment facilities when you should be building refineries?

Ahmadinejad has said that Iran will have no trouble meeting domestic needs if there is a gasoline embargo. Again, his lips are moving.

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