Gasoline Riots in Tehran: Regime Change Imminent?

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[It’s Gettin’ Hot in Here…]

Less than a week ago, The New York Times reported widespread crackdowns on Iranian youth. On Wednesday, the Iranian government was the one feeling the heat.

Iranians are upset over government mandated gas rationing and are taking their frustrations out on local gas stations, banks and public buildings. Associated Press reporter Nasser Karimi reports that between twelve and seventeen stations have been damaged as well as car windows and other buildings, including banks.

The Iranian government clearly knew public reaction would be bad, but not this bad. They even delayed implementing the plan a number of times in trepidation. Most of the papers are reporting the government did not expect this level of widespread outrage. But the crackdown on youths may have been in anticipation of these popular outbursts. After all, young people in the age range of those rounded up are the prime demographic to commit reckless and violent acts in these sorts of unstable situations. Who better to target in a preemptive strike?

When rationing was officially announced, people scrambled to their local gas stations to get a final fill-up resulting in long lines, frustrations, and eventually riots.

Iran, while one of biggest oil producers in the world, lacks enough refineries. Foreign investment is required to increase production capacity but sanctions make that extremely unlikely. Kenneth R. Timmerman, Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran acknowledges that:

The Bush administration has won agreement from bankers in Dubai to stop clearing Iranian government financial transactions [and] the British government agreed to a U.S. request to put pressure on the HSBC bank to stop clearing Iranian government financial transactions as well. Since HSBC handles approximately 50% of Tehran’s remaining international business, this is an additional heavy blow.

Estimates vary and are difficult to verify but most experts agree that Iran imports more than 50 percent of its gasoline. This is a potential source of pressure for those anxious to see regime change but wary of using force. 

For example, the Hoover Institution’s Peter Schweizer suggests that the Bush administration cut off Iranian access to gasoline. Blocking imports arriving by tanker “would have a devastating and immediate effect on Iran’s economy, which is already plagued by high unemployment.” This may be the direction the U.S. is heading. Timmerman claims:

A British government proposal, being discussed as a draft United Nations Security Council Resolution, would ban Iranian government-owned ships and aircraft from international travel. According to Lloyd’s List of London, the proposed UNSC resolution, as currently drafted by Britain, would prohibit Iranian ships not only from landing at foreign ports but from transiting international waters. That is an extremely far-reaching sanction that would cut off an estimated 40% of Iran’s daily oil exports, at least in the short run.The British measure “would effectively strip Iran of the right of innocent passage, enshrined in the United Nationals Law of the Sea Convention,” Lloyd’s List wrote on June 27. 

A second option is undermining the Iranian economy with counterfeit currency. Schweizer notes, “This is not a weapon that should be used lightly, but in this case it is simply a tit-for-tat: Iran and its ally, Hezbollah, have been fingered for counterfeiting $100 bills. Counterfeiting Iranian currency would also provide a stern warning to other countries fond of counterfeiting U.S. currency.”

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