European Union sanctions
European Union sanctionsIsrael news photo: EU

The European Union followed the lead of the United States Monday and approved tough energy sanctions on Iran, which already is feeling hard times.

Under Congressional pressure, the Obama administration last month agreed tougher sanctions than it managed to get support from the United Nations Security Council and barred more companies from investing or dealing with the energy sector in the Islamic Republic.

The 27 countries of the EU joined the bandwagon Monday in what may be a last-ditch effort to use non-military means to stop Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s unsupervised nuclear development. Israel and the West are convinced that Iran working to produce a nuclear warhead to be aimed at Israel.

The new EU sanctions are place “restrictive measures” in the energy sector and will take effect in several weeks after the details are published.

The European body already had agreed last month to place sanctions on “dual-use” items that can be used for Iran’s oil and gas fields as well as the nuclear program. The new list includes technical aid and new investment, as well as embargos on Iranian shipping and air freight companies operating in the European Union.

Iran previously has threatened to place counter-sanctions on the West, such as halting the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf, also known as the Straits of Hormuz, through which approximately half of the world’s energy flows in tankers.

Tougher American sanctions already are hurting Iran, The Washington Post reported Monday. It said that large Western insurance companies are cutting off Iranian shippers in order not be in possible violation of U.S. laws.

"Iranian-flagged ships are facing problems all over the world as they currently have no insurance coverage because of the new sanctions," the newspaper quoted Mohammad Rounaghi, deputy manager of Sea Pars, an Iranian company that provides services for international ship owners and maritime insurance companies. "Basically, most ports will refuse them entry if they are not covered for possible damages."

Earlier this month, the giant Lloyd's of London declared it would stop underwriting gasoline imports to Iran, which depends on foreign countries to refine much of its crude oil.

The sanctions have made Iran more dependent on China and Russia, which constantly have watered down American-backed sanctions in the United Nations.