A whiff of gunpowder is in the air. It was the recent Iranian threats to close the Persian Gulf that made the apprehensions grow and exacerbated the situation to the point when an unintended spark may fuel the fire even if nobody wants it to be sparked and fuelled. The world history is full of such examples, it’s enough to remember WWI to confirm the fact.
Vice-President of Iran Mohammad-Reza Rahimi made the statement on December 27 saying Iran may close the Strait of Hormuz for shipping in response to toughening economic sanctions. The statement was repeated immediately afterwards by Iran's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari at the Velayat – 90 maneuvers. The Admiral said the mission was an easy one and the oil transit was under full Iranian control.
The Strait is a critical oil choke point. The transit is about 17 million barrels a day what corresponds to 20% of world oil trade and 35% of oil sea transit. Iran controls all big islands in the Gulf. It’s navy possesses significant mine laying and anti-ship capability. US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Dempsey said Iran was capable of closing the Gulf for some period of time.
The blockade would mean war with the USA. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said it unambiguously on January 8. Meanwhile, the ratings agency Standard and Poor has issued reports that predict Iran will engage in «low-level provocation» in response to sanctions by disrupting shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
On February 20-21 a team of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts visited Iran and was refused access to Parchin, the key military site. Two days of talks produced no progress. The inspectors' evaluation of their fruitless visit results will be taken into account while preparing the next IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program, expected by the end of February. The last November 2011 report said there was «credible evidence showed that Iran has engaged in projects and experiments relevant to the development of nuclear weapons». IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano commented back then: «The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device». If the new report comes to the same conclusions the calls to attack Iran now till it hasn’t gone nuclear will become much louder and exert corresponding pressure on US decision makers.
Seeking to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons, President Barack Obama has focused on coordinating international economic pressure against it. The President pins great hopes on the financial leverage – sanctions against the Iranian central bank assets. But he also warned in the January 24 State of the Union address: «Let there be no doubt: American is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal». I can hardly imagine President Obama openly making a threat he is not prepared to carry out.
The calls to arms enjoy wide scale media support. Sean Hannity, a Fox News show anchor, said on February 7 President Obama «ought to be dropping bunker buster bombs on Iran's nuclear sites». On the February 12 former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox channel: «I think we're going to have to be prepared to use military force». In January-February’s issue of the Foreign Affairs Kroenig wrote in his article «Time to Attack Iran,» that a military strike offers the least damaging option. «A military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States». He also added that the worst option would be to allow Iran to gain nuclear capability and then attempt to deal with it.
All the Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have committed themselves to war and regime change in Iran, should they be elected. The Congress is bipartisan and nearly unanimous in its hostile stance towards this country. There is immense pressure by Israel on congressmen and the Obama administration to get «real tough» including military confrontation.
Despite a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Americans seem to endorse the politicians’ aggressiveness. According to the recent Pew Research Center poll conducted in February, 58 percent of the surveyed said the USA should use military force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Only 30 percent said no.
Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Nikolai Makarov told reporters on February 14 a decision by the U.S. and Israel on whether or not to launch a military attack on Iran will be taken before the summer. «Iran, of cause, is a sore spot. Some kind of decision should be taken, probably nearer to summer», – he said.
And the USA will not be stopped by fear of oil prices hikes. Their Middle East import is of limited nature and President Obama has made a decision to unfreeze the Alaska oil deposits. The ones to suffer will be Europe, India and China.
THE STRIKE SCENARIO
By and large there are three possible major scenarios for the military campaign:
– preventive (one week) to strike nuclear and military targets;
– intermediate (4-5 weeks) – the one that goes further to include elimination of civil control and all industrial assets;
– full scale air-land battle with part of territory captured – a low possibility in the election year when only a short, no losses victorious campaign may boost the Supreme Commander-in-Chief’s chances for re-election.
In any scenario the initial phase of the US attack will be targeted at the Iranian military assets to leave it with no hit back capability. The first targets will be anti-access/area denial assets, air defense systems, ballistic missile sites, navy bases and warships in the Persian Gulf and the most important headquarters of the Iranian armed forces to be wiped out. Aircraft are to be struck on the ground, ships sunk till they sail from bases. With resistance potential dwindled to no significance level the air campaign against nuclear sites will start. This time the primary targets will be the fuel-enrichment plant at Natanz, a collection of below-ground facilities used to produce enriched uranium, the recently IAEA detected Fordow uranium enrichment plant built rather deep into a mountain and thus hard to strike, Parchin, the suspected weapons grade enrichment facility, centrifuge factories outside Tehran, the uranium conversion plant at Isfahan, a heavy-water facility being constructed at Arak.
The first use weapon will be sea borne cruise missiles, added by air borne cruise missiles and other stand-off precision guided munitions, including bunker busters. The delivery means are surface ships and submarines, aircraft carriers strike wings, B-52 and B-2 strategic bombers, Trident-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads launched according to the Prompt Global Strike concept. The Ohio class strategic submarines (there are four of them in the US Navy inventory each armed with 154 long range cruise missiles to strike inland ground targets) will be a formidable addition to the first strike precision guided capability.
Special Forces units – which may jolly well be operating within Iran right now – would be there to accomplish search-and-destroy missions, provide ground guidance for strike aircraft and incite internal uprisings.
Most probably there will be no large scale land forces operations on the Iranian soil to avoid human casualties in the election year.
Iran has a rather weak air force and anti aircraft capability, almost all of it is 20-30 years old, it lacks modern integrated communications and intelligence. The Iranian ground and air forces force will have to fight without protection from air attack. Army armor, air defense systems and aircraft will be hit from air in n attempt to bring to nought its resistance potential.
The US military presence in the region will further expand in the first week of March when three US aircraft carriers and their strike groups plus a French aircraft carrier arrive in the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
The USA is going to attack a Muslim country of about 77 million people, with asymmetric response capability. The action presupposes facing consequences.
An attack without adoption of a correspondent UN Security Council resolution is a flagrant violation of international law as specified by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which Iran (unlike Israel, Pakistan and India) is a signatory. The International Atomic Energy Agency has not formally found Iran to be in violation of the NPT. Similarly, the US intelligence establishment has not found Iran to be currently developing a nuclear weapon, or even making a decision to do so in the future. The last declassified US National Intelligence Estimate made public on January 31 2012 by General Clapper concluded there is no solid evidence Iran is actively developing a nuclear weapons program.
As practice shows no matter high precision munitions are used significant civilian casualties are unavoidable as «collateral damage».
Global oil prices are all but sure to skyrocket. It would send the price of a barrel up to $300 which would bring a complete collapse of the fragile world economy.
Iranian subversive groups may strike the US territory as alleged in the above mentioned General Clapper's intelligence report. It will scare investors away at the time they are needed most and engender dollar fluctuations to put in question tenuous signs of modest shoots US economic recovery.
A U.S.-led attack may be a spark of a much wider scale conflagration that could spread across the region, with terrorist attacks, political subversion in the Arab Gulf states, suicide attacks on American warships and oil tankers, and missile attacks on such critical targets as the coastal desalinization plants that supply the Gulf states with water. Just imagine the Shiites following the Iran’s call for action. And it would also inflame the outrage of Muslims worldwide and help extremists to boost their recruitment efforts.
Even a successful war would not end Iran's capability to build nuclear weapons. It already has expertise to enrich uranium. It would merely delay the process for a few years. The resulting destruction and mass casualties would strengthen the resolve of Iran to build nuclear weapons in a secure (deep mountain hid) place to deter the United States from attacking again in future. In turn, it will provoke others. For instance, Saudi Arabia has already let know it will respond with nuclear capability of its own. No doubt there will be other countries to follow the example. A chain reaction will follow putting an end to NPT and destroying the whole global non-proliferation regime that the USA supports so much.
An attack on Iran will unite Iranians against the US and its allies. A great majority of population of the country support the country’s insistence on its legitimate right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. Therefore, combat action may ill not lead to an uprising against the regime change as expected but rather unite the population behind it, including those who protested against the government on the streets in 2009.
Iran may leave the NPT. In this case there will be no justification for strikes and sanctions. Nobody called for strikes when Israel, India, Pakistan and even North Korea (left NPT in 2003) were on the way to become nuclear states.
US saber rattling has an alternative. It could be a «step-by-step» process to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, a move that could potentially restart talks between six major world powers and Iran. Speaking at a press conference in The Hague on February 15 on a two-day visit to the Netherlands, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said anything that might undermine cooperation between the IAEA and Iran, including sanctions, should be avoided. He noted «The important thing is that whatever is being announced and done in the nuclear area must have the full control of the IAEA». The Russian foreign minister also expressed support for the resumption of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. He said «We would like to encourage the Iranians to work with the agency, we encourage strongly for them to continue dialogue on specific suspicions». Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic has expressed its readiness to resume talks with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which include Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, plus Germany known as the 5+1 group. As one can see there is a hope that should be given a chance. Or the US powerful political segment prone to war mongering will make it be a hope against hope and plunge the Middle East region into the quagmire of military adventure with unpredictable results instead of giving talks an opportunity to succeed. Besides there is a great chance the war unleashed the world will find out there was no solid proof Iran really strived to become nuclear the very same way it happened in Iraq in 2003 when no weapons of mass destruction were found.