Iran is turning a wheel with four spokes to ratchet up tension in the region.

By refusing to permit inspectors from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, examine the key military nuclear site south of Tehran, the Iranian government once has again kicked sand in the face of the international community.

When the IAEA team arrived in the country, at Iran’s invitation, it seemed that at last Tehran’s claim that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only could be fully tested. Once again, though, the IAEA people became bogged down, with two days of frustrating meetings at which it quickly became apparent the Iranians were not about to accede to U.N. demands.

The second spoke is the movement of two warships through the Suez Canal and into the eastern Mediterranean. Leaving Egyptian waters, the vessels headed to Syria, where it is suspected they offloaded armaments for the Assad regime.

This third spoke to its brinkmanship wheel are joint force exercises carried out by Iran in the Gulf. The threat to block the Strait of Hormuz has to be taken seriously by all neighboring countries.

The final spoke on the dangerous wheel is the cutting off of oil supplies to France and the United Kingdom, in advance of the implementation of the EU’s decision to boycott Iranian oil. The cut-off itself is not serious — Iran sold the French and British relatively small amounts of crude.

It will, however, have political and propaganda resonance where the Iranian regime most needs it, on its very own streets.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knows that the one thing that would unite Iranians behind his crumbling government, the one element that could restore his weakening control of the political process, would be an outside attack on something Iranian. Whether it is an Iranian warship or warplane or even the suspect Parchin military nuclear site itself does not matter. Iranians are a proud people.

Such an attack would reunite them in anger, and few would admit that it was the suicidal maneuverings of their own government that had provoked this assault.

— Arab News, Jeddah,

Saudi Arabia, Feb. 23

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