Here at The Glittering Eye I’ve written repeatedly that regardless of what Sy Hersh and his unidentified sources say and however loud the saber-rattling from the Bush Administration I think it’s extremely unlikely that either Israel or the U. S. will bomb or invade Iran in the foreseeable future. I believe those who think otherwise are badly misreading the political situation both in Israel and the United States. I’ve also made the observation that all bets were off if the Iranians did something stupid. This is exactly the sort of thing I had in mind:
TEHRAN, Iran – The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said the country would impose controls on shipping in the vital Gulf oil route if Iran was attacked, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
Fear of an escalation in the standoff between the West and Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, have been one factor propping up sky-high oil prices. Crude hit a record level on international markets near $143 a barrel on Friday.
Speculation about a possible attack on Iran because of its disputed nuclear ambitions has risen since a report this month said Israel had practiced such a strike, prompting increasingly tough talk of retaliation, if pushed, from Tehran.
“Naturally every country under attack by an enemy uses all its capacity and opportunities to confront the enemy,” Guards commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari told Jam-e Jam newspaper in some of the toughest language Iran has used so far.
“Regarding the main route for exiting energy, Iran will definitely act to impose control on the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz,” he said of the Gulf waterway through which about two-fifths of all globally traded oil passes.
Let’s engage in a little thought exercise. Imagine that Israel attacks Iran’s Natanz nuclear research facility. I don’t believe for a minute that this will happen but let’s pretend. Let’s further imagine that Iran is as good as the Revolutionary Guards commander’s word and they move to control, i.e. eliminate or restrict shipping in the Gulf. What happens then?
Neither the Gulf nor the Strait of Hormuz belongs to Iran (whatever the Iranians might believe). I suspect that other Gulf nations would protest to the United Nations Security Council, possibly at the urging of the United States. If it’s prudent the United States would request and receive permission to use military force to re-open the Gulf and keep it open. They’d receive it because France and China in the near term are at least as dependent on the oil that’s shipped through the Gulf as we are, possibly more so. Despite its ties to Iran Russia, isolated, would abstain.
Within 72 hours of the United States actually going into action the Iranian Air Force would have ceased to exist as an effective fighting force and we’d have control of the air. We’d use that to punish Iranian ships, shore batteries, and command and control. If Iran mined or otherwise blocked the Strait of Hormuz, our navy would remove the obstructions. The harder Iran attempted to harrass shipping with missiles, the more we’d go after Iranian command and control.
Iran’s leadership would be on the horns of a dilemma. They could unwillingly accept the status quo which would leave them effectively blockaded or they could retaliate. If they retaliated, they’d have provided a darned good prima facie for removing the Iranian regime.
Note that up to this point I haven’t mentioned any use of U. S. ground troops. Everything I’ve described is well within U. S. air and naval capabilities and at this point those forces are largely sitting Iraq and Afghanistan out. We’ve got plenty of excess capacity for that sort of activity.
The key point here is that the Iranians are not in a position of strength. They’re in a position of strength as long as they don’t attract U. S. air and naval attacks.
So far the mullahs in Iran haven’t been that stupid. So far they have played the game of brinksmanship very cannily and their smartest move is to continue to do so. Even if they were provoked drawing the rest of the world into the conflict by closing the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz would be stupid. I don’t believe they’ll do it.