When in doubt, Iran takes a hostage.
Iran is continuing its game of cat-and-mouse with the United States — and the world community — as new sanctions take a toll on that country's economy.
Just days after ending its war games in the Strait of Hormuz, a process that included an empty threat about closing the strait to international shipping, Iran sentenced an American citizen to death for allegedly spying.Former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati denies the charges and maintains he was in Iran to visit relatives.
The United States has demanded Hekmati's release, a move that appears unlikely in view of the tensions between the two nations.
The United Nations, led by the U.S., has directed sanctions against Iran, including an effort to cut off its oil sales. They hope to coerce Iran into abandoning its nuclear weapons-building program by creating so much pressure that the country's leaders will feel they have no choice.
The sanctions already are having an effect on everyday life in Iran, mostly through a devaluation of Iranian currency. But sanctions that fall on ordinary people often have no effect on a country's leaders, raising doubts about the wisdom of this tactic. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ignored years of international sanctions.
Iran, however, is worried about parliamentary elections that will be held in March, fearing public dissatisfaction with both everyday life and a lack of choice among candidates will make a joke of the process.
That's why it's pushing back on small issues, like Hekmati, and big issues, like oil.
Iran is in the position to stop or slow shipping traffic — at least temporarily — in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil supply flows. That poses a problem because oil is highly price-sensitive.
Any kind of confusion about supply or confrontation between nations could send oil prices skyrocketing. Oil now costing $100 a barrel could jump $50 a barrel overnight, and that would be disastrous for the world economy.
The faceoff is, of course, one more reason why the U.S. ought to do all it can to develop its domestic energy resources. But that's a long-term solution that will have no effect on the ongoing international intrigue.