Iran Sanctions Should Target Oil Exports

The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report makes perfectly clear that Iran is close to achieving a nuclear weapons capacity. The response of the international community must be just as unequivocal.
In his December 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, President Obama called for sanctions “tough enough to actually change behavior.” Since it is now apparent that current sanctions have not affected Iran’s determination to pursue nuclear weapons, the United States must lead a coalition of responsible countries to implement sanctions that target the regime’s economic heart: oil exports.
Foreign oil companies, shipping companies, insurance providers, banks, oil traders and anyone else involved in purchasing, transporting, financing or refining Iranian oil should find our banking system, capital markets, ports, insurance industry and commerce closed to them.  Those dealing in oil should be forced to choose between the U.S. and Iran. 
Such sanctions need not disrupt global oil markets.  When Libya’s 1.3 million barrels per day of exports were halted by their revolution, increased supply by Saudi Arabia and coordinated sales from the strategic petroleum reserves of the U.S. and our allies calmed the market and brought down prices. 
Saudi Arabia alone could replace most of Iran''s 2.4 million barrels per day of exports from its spare production capacity.  
The strategic petroleum reserves of the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, and Korea are almost 1.6 billion barrels - more than 20 months’ worth of Iranian exports – with the capacity to deliver over four million barrels per day within 30 days.  Private industry oil stocks add another 2.5 billion barrels, bringing total reserves to almost five years’ worth of Iranian exports. 
America must lead with such harsh sanctions because a nuclear-armed Iran poses a serious risk to our security.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s pledge to wipe Israel off the map is well known, but experts on Iran understand that the Iranian regime considers America, not Israel, its main adversary.
Ayatollah Ali Khameini, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has said that conflict with America is “natural and unavoidable” and ascribes many of Iran’s problems to sinister American plots.  Chants of “Death to America” nearly always accompany the chants of “Death to Israel” at regime-led rallies.
That Iranian missiles cannot yet reach America is irrelevant.  If Iran were to attack the U.S. with a nuclear weapon, it would most likely do so with maximum deniability to reduce the chance of retaliation.  Intercontinental missiles have clear return addresses, unlike a nuclear bomb onboard a cargo ship that explodes in an American port.
Even if Iran dared not attack the U.S., the nuclear proliferation in the Middle East provoked by an Iranian nuclear weapon capacity would increase the odds of a nuclear or radiological attack by Islamic terrorists.
According to a 2009 Government Accountability Office report, officials in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) “acknowledge that both the new and current-generation portal monitors are capable of detecting certain nuclear materials only when unshielded or lightly shielded.”  The report also notes the testing standards did not reflect the kinds of shielding a terror operation would likely use. A 2010 GAO report found that DNDO admitted that the screening method they were using was “technologically immature.”
The Iranian regime values its own survival -- but not much else -- more than its nuclear program. Sanctioning those who deal in Iranian oil will not cut off their exports completely, but the reduced volumes and deeply discounted price they will have to offer will significantly reduce Iran’s oil income. If the regime’s income is halved, it might not survive.
Empty oil tankers bypassing Iran on their way to fill up at Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Emirati ports will concentrate the minds of Iran’s leaders unlike any other action we can take short of an act of war.