Last Sunday, February 19, I opened the New York Times homepage to check in with the rest of the globe and found the startling headline: “Iran Halts Oil Exports to Britain and France.” Agog, I anxiously clicked the link and hurried through the article, eager to hear of the potential ramifications of Iran’s bellicose ruse and anticipating the many possible reactions from the West. What I found, however, were not flared passions or irate diplomats, but a general indifference to Iran’s gimmick and an assurance from British and French spokespeople that Iran’s embargo will have no practical ramification on the price of oil in Europe. It would therefore seem that this maneuver was symbolic more than anything else – another severing of ties between Iran and the global community in the uneasy build up to confrontation regarding its nuclear program.
The details of the incident go something like this: on Sunday, the Iranian government ceased the exportation of oil to Britain and France as an act of retaliation against the European Union’s pledge to ban oil imports from Iran, a move scheduled to go into effect on July 1. Redolent of an anxious teenager who breaks up with his girlfriend for fear of her doing so first, Iran’s decision was a lame knee-jerk reaction to a publically scheduled fate. Not only was Iran’s not-so-preemptive reprisal sophomoric, it was also immaterial. As it turns out, France receives a trifling three percent of its oil supply from the truculent Islamic Republic, and pundits argue whether Britain receives zero or one percent of its supply from Iran.
On the other hand, Italy and Spain receive 13 percent of their oil from Iran, and Greece a troubling one-third, which is perhaps the reason why Iran did not cease distributing its petroleum to these countries. Iran displays its true colors – that is, its calculating cynicism and brazen self-interest – by distributing oil to the EU countries that ask for it in lucrative quantities, while withholding it from the countries that have already moved to alternative sources.
Of course, Britain and France, two of the most vocal critics of Iran’s nuclear program and among those refusing to rule out preemptive military action as a means to take it offline, are more conspicuous candidates for Iran’s enmity. Nonetheless, all of the EU states have pledged to uphold the sanctions put in place against Iran, which entails ceasing any petroleum imports, and not all have received the same treatment in return. In truth, it seems that Iran’s recent maneuver was an empty gesture meant to scorn countries not on the basis of their threat to the Iranian economy or because they are in league with the United States and Israel, which could be said of any EU country, but instead because they are already unprofitable and therefore irrelevant.
It is important to notice that this was an act of cynical self-interest from a country that many people claim is irrational, a country that is said to be willing to cast away the fundamental instinct for self-preservation in the name of crazed religious and political ideals. Of course, Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon would be a tremendous source of woe for the West regardless of its intention to use it, and the risk is certainly not one that Israel is willing to take. But it must be noted that Iran is still picking its battles with an eye on the bottom line.
On Monday, February 20, China rebuked Iran for its refusal to export to Britain and France. Iran’s reaction to China’s admonishment will be a telling indication of whether or not the Islamic Republic is willing to disregard its self-interest in order to pursue a political ideal, considering 70 percent of its petroleum (which accounts for an astonishing 50 percent of GDP) is sold to Asia. If and when Iran ceases exporting petroleum to China in the name of political sovereignty and its spurious pursuit of clean energy, then we can claim that it is a country for which mutually assured destruction would not suffice as an argument against employing a nuclear weapon. Until that time, we cannot, in good faith, label Iran an irrational actor. We must instead be content with labeling it a rogue dictatorship that is fortunately unequipped for the petulant brinksmanship it is attempting to provoke, and invariably heading for a demise of one kind or another.