Iran and the US - Confrontation, Oil Disruption and the Impact
(ASPO 5th International Conference on Peak Oil, Pisa 2006)
by Terence Ward
Here at San Rossore, we have heard projections and analyses about the future crisis facing global oil reserves. The gap between diminishing supply and rising demand now hinge on a crucial third factor: politics and conflict.
Violently intrusive tactics can generate chain reactions that are hard to anticipate, and even more difficult to control. Witness the $75 price for oil reflected from the escalation of violence between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, the bombing of Beirut, Southern Lebanon and the threat of extending strikes into Syria.
Iran is a more dramatic case in point. The recent UN Security Council referral pushes the US closer to military action. Hard-liners in the White House pointedly refer to Iran’s role in the conflicts of Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. The White House, the US Air Force and Israeli military planners are now preparing a bombing campaign that will usher in dramatic repercussions. PERSIAN CONUNDRUMS – IS THERE A SECRET WEAPONS PROGRAM?
• The most recent American intelligence estimate is that Iran could build a warhead sometime between 2010 and 2015.
• There is no evidence of a secret nuclear weapons program or its location, although Iran has been working on its nuclear program for 18 years.
• The recent US offer of negotiation was made because Russia and China were prepared to prevent passage of a UN resolution. According to a former NSC aide for the Bush administration, The President wants a guarantee that Iran will surrender before he talks with them. Iran cannot accept long-term restraints on its fuel cycle without a security guarantee. At stake,is a form of a mutual non-aggression pact with the US.
• US and Israeli evidence falls short of what would be needed to publicly justify preventative action. Israeli intelligence during Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to Washingon failed to provide Washington with specific evidence about secret sites in Iran.
• Describing the current US offer of negotiations, Giandomenico Picco who negotiated the end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988 said: “If you engage a superpower, you feel you are a superpower. Now the haggling in the Persian bazaar begins. We are negotiating over a carpet--the suspected weapons program--that we are sure exists, that we don’t want to exist. And if at the end there never was a carpet, it will be the negotiation of the century.” If a pre-emptive war takes place, it could well begin with false WMD promises like in Iraq.
• The question remains: What if both the US and Iranian presidents seek confrontation and war? OPPOSING VIEWS OF THE WAR’S OUTCOME
• American neo-con believe that after a massive bombing campaign, the Iranian people will rise in anger. The mullahs, humiliated with shame, will be subjected to a revolt that will overthrow the Islamic rulers.
• Iranian hard-liners believe the bombing will unite the people. Enraged with the destruction and loss of life, and infused with wounded national pride, they will rally behind their government. This will inject new life into the radicalism of the Islamic regime.
• Iranian exiles loathe and reject the hard-line regime, yet fear a conflict. Almost all of the 2 million in diaspora, wish for a collapse of the regime. Yet, they are certain that the bombing will, quite simply, create disaster by strengthening the hand of the hard-liners.
• “Nuclear nationalism” is the only tool left for the hard-liners. Fundamentalist popular fervor has long disappeared from Iran. Consider the report by the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Culture and Guidance –- less than 2% (1.4 % to be exact) of the population attend Friday prayers regularly. IRAN’S ENERGY ALLIANCES WITH ASIAN GIANTS
• China has signed a $100 billion long-term liquefied natural gas deal with Iran over 25 years. Currently China imports oil as well. Beijing will veto any UNSC motion for military action that will disrupt their future supplies.
• India has signed a long-term $20 billion gas deal to be delivered by a historic pipeline across Pakistan. India will not embrace a military strike.
• Russia supports the Iranian nuclear program. Billions of dollars of nuclear fuel and material will be sold to Tehran. Russia will veto UN military action.
• Shanghai Cooperation Organization is embracing Iran’s future membership, creating new alliances for Tehran among Asian giants reflecting the global Asia power shift.
• The Reality – energy alliances will force the US to attack alone. THE SCOPE OF ATTACK: THE COMING WAR
• Under the scenario of 1,000 targets, bombing could last 2 weeks. An earlier analysis by Patrick Lang—military head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency—estimates 1,000 military strike sorties at 450 targets. (NY Times, “Why Not a Strike on Iran” by David Sanger, 22.1.2006). Most recent estimates have doubled to 1,000 targets ranging from sea ports, missile defense systems, military bases, airports, industries, and 20 nuclear facilities. Any such attack will be considered in public opinion to be a war—not a strike. No media spin will change this perception in world public opinion.
• The US Navy reports that Iran has more than 700 undeclared dock and port facitlities along its Persian Gulf coast. The Iranian Navy recently conducted exercises in the Straits of Hormuz, the narrow channel linking the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. The Strait is regularly traversed by oil tankers, in which a thousand small Iranian boats simulated attacks on American ships in the exercise (New Yorker, Last Stand, by Seymour Hersh 10. 7. 2006).
• General Pace, head of the military Joint Chiefs, forced the White House to agree not to use nuclear devices. This rebellion by the military has infuriated the White House, which wanted to keep nuclear weapon use on the table to destroy the enrichment plant at Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran (New Yorker, Last Stand, by Seymour Hersh 10. 7. 2006). Ironically, the military leadership also pointedly warned the White House about possible political and economic repercussions of such a war.
• The irony is that war planners are not sure what to hit. American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities. Many sites are suspected to have been moved into population centers.
• Confirmation of efficiency of strikes in eliminating the nuclear program is virtually impossible. Good bomb damage assessment can only be done with people on the ground. Absent of capturing an Iranian nuclear scientist and documents its impossible to set back the program for certain.
• The air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force. Vice President Cheney represents the strategic bombing lobby in the Air Force—who think carpet bombing is the solution to all problems,” according to Seymour Hersch of the New Yorker. He writes: “Rumsfield and Cheney don’t want to repeat the mistake of doing too little. The Air Force, with their “bomber mentality,” still believe their plan assures that all distributed targets can be hit.”
• The Navy and the Marines no longer believe in “shock and awe” and are openly critical of the Air Force plan. They argue the tactic will not work. The commanders know that if it fails their troops will be on the ground.
• Unless Iran’s nuclear-weapon program is solidly and publicly provable, there will be an dilemma over premature timing. At present, IAEA and Pentagon analysts estimate at least 6-10 years before Iran would obtain nuclear weapon capability. A US/Israel strike risks being branded as a premature act. Like with Iraq, public debate may condemn the pre-emptive US/Israeli actors and redeem the Iranian regime, if such an attack occurs before all diplomatic options are exhausted.
• President Bush may decide to bomb before November elections to preserve his Republican majority in Congress using his “War on Terror” and “politics of fear” to silence Democrats. However, the risk of American public’s disaffection will be high. The current load of security commitments worldwide is already enormous and a pre-emptive war would leave America with little reserve power to deal with unexpected chain reactions. The other likely possibility is that Bush begins a bombing campaign shortly after the election knowing that he has two years to intervene with force to re-shape the Mid-east.CHAIN REACTIONS: IRAN’S RESPONSES AND THE IMPACT ON OIL
• The Iranian Government will attempt to hit directly at U.S. interests. The goals will be to disrupt oil flow to the West and Asia by blocking the Hormuz Straits, to engage in naval mining in the Gulf area, and to trigger an explosion of Shiite violence across Iraq as weapons are turned against US troops.
• Iran will cut off exports in the event of an attack sending oil prices soaring. Expect short term economic shocks. Projections range from from $120 – $160 a barrel. The global impact on oil prices will be volatile and dramatic. Oil supplies removed from markets for a timeframe, either by force majeure or by Iran’s decision will not only shock the global economy, but also encourage protests in numerous urban centers throughout the world.
• Retaliation by Iran in asymetric responses will be the rule, not the exception. Iran has agents throughout the Gulf and Middle East with the ability to strike at will. Hamas and Hezbollah should be expected to flair up like this present week in attacks against Israel. Warnings have been given to the Emir of Qatar during his private visit to Tehran in May.
• Oil and gas facilities in Qatar will be vulnerable to retaliatory strikes that could disrupt oil supplies and seriously panic financial markets. Attacks in the Gulf will occur in manners unforeseen by current defense planning. The intelligence level of Iranian operatives is a level above their Arab counterparts. Qatar will be extremely vulnerable as the site of US regional headquarters of Central command (re-located from volatile Saudi Arabia). Qatar’s vast off-shore gas field installations (shared with the Iran’s Pars-1 field) will also be exposed to retaliatory strikes as will Saudi Arabian oil installations in Aramco.
• Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company will become a target: collection stations of Abqaiq, the terminal at Ras Tanura, the pipelines to Yanbu and Jubail, and the headquarters in Dhahran will all be targets. The largest oil field in the world, the Ghawar field, could be hit as well in a symbolic strike. Saudi complicity against Iran makes this all the more likely.
• America’s $500 billion investment and 3 years of sacrifice in Iraq will be at grave risk. Shia politicians—under pressure by mass public demonstrations—will demand the withdrawal of US forces. Upon the news of the first bombings, Shia militias can be expected to attack coalition forces. The current Shia-US alliance prevailing in Iraq will be threatened. Moqtada al-Sadr—head of the al-Mahdi militia—has publicly stated this threat during his most recent visit to Tehran.
• The possibility of a Chernobyl disaster may expose millions of Iranian civilians to nuclear fall-out, as well citizens of Bombay, Dubai or Baghdad. A nuclear blast could vent radiation for miles. The panic prior to the attack could lead to startling exoduses out of these population centers as the threat builds. Should the US not give an ultimatum, then planners will place millions at risk.
• Television coverage by international media will unleash a wave of negative public reaction. The risks of significant collateral damages on civilian populations would be high given the fact that many nuclear plants are close to cities. The exposure of innocent civilians to radiation will provoke TV debate on this action. This is a neglected consideration in discussions about Iran. The convergence of these factors will be grave. Global perception will reflect the further decline of America’s moral standing in the world.
• An attack will be portrayed in the world as an “anti-Islamic” and stimulate Islamic extremists from Pakistan to Indonesia to Europe. US allies with Moslem populations will experience turmoil on an unprecedented global scale. In Pakistan, mass rioting could topple Musharraf’s tentative hold on power and place nuclear warheads into the hands of Islamist Wahhabi extremists in the Pakistani military and ISI (the primary strategic fear of Iran). Such an event may trigger a response from India. SIESMIC DEMOGRAPHY – SHIA / SUNNI DIVIDE AND MIDDLE EAST OIL
• The largest bulk of oil reserves on earth lie under Saudi Shia lands.
The Shia of Saudi Arabia would love to have the same control over their oil revenues as their Shia brothers in Iraq. Long oppressed by the Sunni Wahhabi rulers, these Shia go on pilgrimage to Iran and will react in subtle and overt ways if Iran is attacked. Bahrain is over 95% Shia and has experienced unrest before along the Shia/Sunni divide. Dubai is a large center of Persian-speakers and Iranian influence. Kuwait is also 30% Shia. In Aramco and KOC, the Shia vastly represent the local skilled labor force. An incident like the attempt on the Abqaiq collection stations by al-Qaeda operatives is not out of the question.
• The Saudi and Jordanian monarchies openly speak of a radical “Shia crescent” across the Middle East. Both ruling families would support such a strike against Iran. Shia-governed Iraq strikes fear in the heart of Saudi leadership because they know it emboldens Shias in the Saudi oil-rich Eastern Province of al-Hassa. The emergence of Iran as a regional power is their principal concern, not Israel. The links between Hamas and Hezbollah also worry them greatly.
• Southern Lebanon is a land of Shia majority. Syria’s leadership, Bashar al-Assad is also of the Alawite Shia sect. The alliance between Hezbollah and the Syrian regime are strong. Iran has provided monetary and military assistance to Hezbollah for decades, so it should be expected that southern Lebanon will become a flashpoint if a conflict breaks out.
• Many Sunnis view the US and Shia cooperation in Iraq as a conspiracy against them: a "Wahhabi containment policy." The profound conviction among much of the Arab world today, including the Saudi royal family, is that the U.S. plans to do the same to Saudi Arabia that they have engineered in Iraq. Like Iraq, the theory goes, Saudi Arabia would be divided into three parts. The moderate Hashemites of Jordan would regain their historic control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina; autonomous Saudi Shia would control the oil-laden Eastern Province; and the Wahhabis would be left baking in the sands of the Nejad Desert.
• This Shia/Sunni divide will provoke regional conflict, re-defining the Middle East. Iraqi leadership may soon find themselves supporting Iran, with Syria. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan would support the US action, yet anger among their population may become unmanageable. Recent Shia electoral victories in Saudi Arabia are a potent sign for the future.
• Iran and Saudi Arabia could well become open adversaries placing the largest global reserves of oil at risk for the foreseeable future. Iraq is and will continue to be the open battleground. Access to Gulf oil exports will also be affected by this tension.
• Saudi Arabia with Israel have entered a strange alliance by mutually pushing for the US to attack Iran. They are united with Egypt and Jordan against the Shia. The conflict in Lebanon will only heighten this brewing sectarian conflict across the Middle East AFTERMATH – THE WIDENING GYRE
• The bombing of Iran will surely trigger chaos, provoking oil shortages and a global recession. The conflict will inflame the region with untold consequences. Look to Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Gulf countries as immediate flash points.
• A preventive war without UN approval could mark the end of the UN era. Will the U.S. and its allies have the legitimacy to formulate and help implement a new set of international governance rules after having emptied from their content the rules of international law established sixty years ago?
• Iran’s clerical regime includes three pragmatic factional power blocs willing to engage in an opening to the USA: Mehdi Karroubi , Mostapha Moin, Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Leader of the unelected Guardian Council. They all continue to openly criticize the President who is increasingly viewed as a loose cannon. His Messianic claims have proved more controversial in Iran itself than in the West. Among the President’s critics, the “dealmaker” Rafsanjani may be a significant figure, for he represents the business class and the unelected clerics. These three factions in contrast to Ahmedinejad, do not thrive on a siege mentality or on provoking a clash with the West.
• After the catastrophe of war has run its course and hostilities cease, the end result will surely be political negotiations between the US and Iran. Tragically, these negotiations should occur sooner than later to prevent the disaster.LOOKING AHEAD: A FRAMEWORK FOR PEACE AND OIL SECURITY
A recent Trilateral Commission Report--Is There a Plan B?--prepared for the plenary meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Tokyo, April 22-24, recommended US-Iran negotiations with the goal of The Grand Bargain which could take shape in the following framework:
1) Regional Middle East Nuclear Council would engage all countries with nuclear weaponry: The United States, Russia, Israel, Iran, China, India, Pakistan, Japan, the UK and France. IAEA inspections will become accelerated with open, transparent, unrestricted access in all countries.
• Israel would be provided with a comprehensive security package both by the United States and such as defined within NATO’s Article 5 Charter.
• Iran would be offered explicit US security guarantees.
• This security umbrella would re-define Middle East.
2) Middle East Marshall Plan (with an economic dimension) would provide Palestine, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt and Algeria access to WTO, World Bank funding and Aid to promote security and enhance the chances of a gradual transformation towards more democracy.
3) Regional Middle East Energy Council would deal with the region’s second rarest resource: oil and gas. Regional pipelines, oil security, technology-sharing, reservoir depletion and monitoring, all will be discussed. Such a council would include Saudia Arabia, the United Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, Iraq, and Iran.
4) Regional Middle East Water Council would deal with the region’s rarest resource. Such a council may serve to diffuse potential conflicts—“water wars.” Potential members would be: Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Inter-dependency is lacking in the Middle East (the Arab league is not simply capable of dealing with such a critical issue as water, without Turkey or Israel’s presence).
CONCLUSION – A Personal Word
Before engaging in this tragic confrontation that will consume thousands of innocent lives and threaten the global economy, both Presidents Ahmedinejad and Bush would do well to listen to the words of the Persian poet Saadi:
Children of Adam all come from the same source,
When one is wounded, all share the pain,
He who cannot feel the pain of others,
Cannot call himself Son of Man.
They should also consider the sage advice of another Persian poet, Rumi, the best-selling poet in America today. Seven centuries ago, he wrote:
Out beyond the idea
Of right-doing and wrong-doing
There is a field.
I’ll meet you there.