The historian Percy Greaves believed that the attack on December 7, 1941 was neither unexpected nor unprovoked. As his wife, Betina Bien Greaves explained:
[Greaves] was the main counsel for the Republican minority on the Joint Congressional Committee that investigated Pearl Harbor from 1945 to 1946.He attended all its hearings, interviewed many Army, Navy, and Washington principals involved in the attack and in the investigations. He researched diplomatic documents, studied reports and accounts of the event published during the years that followed. He researched diplomatic documents, studied reports and accounts of the event published during the years that followed. This book [Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy] is not about the attack itself. It is about never before presented pre-attack and post-attack events, from the Washington point of view. Without name-calling, innuendo, or slander, Greaves simply presents the pertinent, significant and relevant facts which led the Japanese to attack and the political administration to want to cover-up its involvement..Burton Folsom Jr and Anita Folsom write in their new book, FDR Goes to War:
Roosevelt...employed the devious strategy of hindering all oil exports to Japan by adding layers of red tape and freezing Japan's financial assets in what has been called "a silent embargo"...The effect, by late 1941, was a trickle of oil actually going to Japan from the United States.Bottom line, the U.S. backed Japan into a corner. It was very unwise for the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor, but the irritation that caused the attack can be clearly seen.
What does this have to do with Iran? Well, we have already frozen some of their assets. On June 29, 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of Iran’s national police for providing support to the Syrian regime. The chief and deputy chief of Iran’s national police was also sanctioned.. As a result of the action, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the designees and any assets they may have subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen.
On December 20, 2011 U.S. Treasury announced the designation of 10 shipping and other companies and one individual based in Malta affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), as entities facing international sanctions for involvement in" Iran’s efforts to advance its missile programs and transport military cargoes."
“As IRISL and its subsidiaries continue their deceptive efforts to escape the grasp of U.S. and international sanctions, we will continue to take action—as we are today—to expose the front companies, agents and managers working with IRISL and work to stop this illicit business,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.
On December 1, 2011 Cohen told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations:
The Treasury Department’s increasingly powerful and disruptive sanctions are embedded in the dual-track strategy that the United States and our allies are pursuing to address Iran’s continued failure to meet its international obligations regarding its nuclear program. As Under Secretary Sherman describes in her testimony, the Obama Administration has presented Iran with a genuine opportunity for dialogue, creating a clear choice for Tehran. Iran’s leadership can choose to meet Iran’s international obligations, allowing Iran to deepen its economic and political integration with the world and achieve greater security and prosperity for the Iranian people. Or, Tehran can continue to flout its responsibilities and face even greater pressure and isolation...So what is the big deal? The United States is about to up the ante and dramatically financially isolate Iran. I am talking about the U.S. significantly cutting off Iran's access to oil revenues.
Our broad-based pressure strategy is aimed at persuading Iran to change its course and to make clear to Iran the consequences of its continued intransigent behavior. Among the most important elements of this strategy are targeted financial measures designed to disrupt Iran’s illicit activity and to protect the international financial system from Iran’s abuse. We have focused our efforts on exposing Iranian entities’ illicit and deceptive activities, an approach that has garnered support among foreign governments and led them to take similar actions, enhancing substantially the impact of our actions. Because these actions have highlighted the pervasive nature of Iran’s illicit and deceptive conduct and the reputational risks associated with Iran-related business, the private sector around the world has taken notice and has often taken voluntary steps beyond their strict legal obligations, further amplifying government actions.
The U.S. Congress just passed a bill that President Obama appears ready to sign that, if fully implemented, could substantially reduce Iran’s oil revenue.
In other words, the U.S. is backing Iran into a corner. The bill could impose penalties on foreign firms that do business with Iran's central bank. Since those that import Iranian oil use the Iranian central bank for the transactions, it would likely cut off that method of Iran selling oil.
Iran is reacting as you would expect most cornered governments would act. Iran’s first vice president Mohammad Reza Rahimid said that Iran could shut down the critical shipping lanes through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, if foreign sanctions are imposed on its oil exports.
The Strait of Hormuz is very important. About 33% of seaborne oil shipments (17% of world oil) go through the Strait of Hormuz. A blocked Strait would force tankers to take longer, more expensive routes that would most assuredly drive oil prices higher.
The thinking has always been that Iran wouldn't shut down the Strait of Hormuz because they use it for their own export of oil. Indeed, in an EPJ Daily Alert in November 2010, I reported:
This afternoon I attended a meeting where the speaker was Capitan Jeffrey Kline. Kline is the Program Director, Maritime Defense and Security Research Programs, Naval Postgraduate School. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Naval War College where he teaches, "Joint Analysis for the Warfare Commander"...Kline...pointed out that it might not be in Iran's interest to close the strait since Iran ships its oil through the Strait.But, if the United States makes it impossible for Iran to sell its oil, then a key factor that would stop Iran from blocking the strait would be removed.
Does Iran have the capability to block the Strait of Hormuz? I also put that question to Captain Kline. Here's how I reported it in the EPJ Daily Alert:
I thought I would ask Kline, who might have a pretty damn good idea,if the Strait could be closed by Iran. His answer was it could. When I asked him how long it would take, he said 3 or 4 days for Iran to position ships and lay mines. He did say that the blockade could eventually be broken, but it would depend upon international co-operation and that it would take "some time". He said that Iran has missiles onshore aimed at the strait that would have to be taken out,and that Iran had other sophisticated equipment in the area including drones that could listen in on ship communications. He said ship mine sweeping can also get "very tricky".According to AP:
The [Iranian] navy is in the midst of a 10-day drill in international waters near the strategic oil route. The exercises began Saturday and involve submarines, missile drills, torpedoes and drones. The war games cover a 1,250-mile (2,000-kilometer) stretch of sea off the Strait of Hormuz, northern parts of the Indian Ocean and into the Gulf of Aden near the entrance to the Red Sea as a show of strength and could bring Iranian ships into proximity with U.S. Navy vessels in the area.Bizarrely, the U.S. has warned Iran that it will not tolerate any disruption of naval traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, that's like stealing a bully's wallet and telling him to shut up and deal with it.
It may not have made any strategic sense for Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, but sometimes you push and push and you get a reaction. The U.S. got a reaction out of Japan. It was Pearl Harbor. The legislation that President Obama is about to sign is a spit in the face of Iran, if it is used to shutdown Iran's ability to sell oil. It may get a reaction out of Iran: The blocking of the Strait of Hormuz.
This is a very high stakes game. No one knows how it will play out. Governments are generally run by mad men, and it is mad men that will decide the next move here.