On the last day of 2011, US President Barack Obama Saturday signed into law measures penalizing foreign financial institutions doing business with Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi – the toughest sanctions imposed yet over Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon. In recent weeks Tehran has repeatedly warned that it would deem the signing of this measure an act of war and respond with drastic steps including the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.
The bill targeting anyone dealing with Iran’s central bank seeks to force other countries to choose between buying oil from Iran or being shut out of transactions with US financial institutions and banks. The new sanctions will begin taking effect in 60 days – the toughest not for at least six months, giving Tehran some space to cooperate with international demands to call off its nuclear weapon program. The president will have some flexibility in applying the measure.
DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report signs that rather than using this leeway to back down, Tehran appears bent on heading for a collision with the United States and its opponents in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
Just this Saturday, Dec. 31, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, one of the Revolutionary Guards heads, wrote on the Guards’ site: “Discourse about closing the Strait of Hormuz belongs to five years ago. Today’s debate in the Islamic Republic of Iran contains new layers and the time has not come to disclose them.”
This was published shortly after Iran announced the test firing of ballistic missiles targeting the strategic strait – and then, few hours later, contradicting itself by reporting that the missile test fire would only take place “in the coming days.”
Our sources report that Gen. Jazayeri’s comment was also made in answer to Israel’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, who said in an address to high school students in Beersheba Friday, Dec. 30, “A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to the region and world no less than to Israel. I think that with the appropriate international and Israeli disposition, which I will not spell out here, we can beat that challenge.”
The Iranian general likewise declined to elaborate on Tehran’s next moves.
After Obama signed the new sanctions, senior US officials stressed the administration intends to move forward with implementing the law in a way that doesn’t damage the global economy. “We believe we can do this.” They added: “The president will consider his options, but our intent—our absolute intent—is to do it in a timed and phased way.”
Earlier Saturday, Dec. 31, DEBKAfile reported Iran had managed by a media trick to close the Strait of Hormuz for at least five hours without firing a shot.