On The Cusp Of War: Why Iran Won’t Fold

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Yves here. Glenn F sent along this story about recent events in the US-Iran conflict, many of which don’t appear to have been reported in the English language press. Interestingly, the article takes the position that it is the Saudis that have been doing their best and largely succeeding in suppressing these reports.

Going into the weekend, it looked as if the US was trying to turn down the Iran threat meter a notch. Both Iran and the Saudis said they didn’t want war but were prepared for one. Then a mystery rocket landed in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Oopsie. From the Wall Street Journal:

No major destruction was inflicted by the rocket, which landed near a museum displaying old planes and caused some damage to a building used by security guards, according to an official in the interior ministry.

The interior ministry official, who declined to be identified, said the rocket had landed around a kilometer from the U.S. Embassy inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, where many other diplomatic missions and Iraqi government offices are located.

No group claimed responsibility. But security officials said security forces had found and seized a mobile rocket launcher in an area of Baghdad where Shiite militias, including some with close links to Iran, have a presence.

But also note this:

The Trump administration last week ordered a partial evacuation of its diplomatic missions in Baghdad and Erbil citing increased threats posed by Iran and its allies in Iraq. The Iraqi government has varying degrees of control over an array of armed groups, some of which are closely affiliated with Iran.

I am in no position to judge the accuracy of the interpretation, so I hope readers, particularly from those who read the press in Middle East in the native language, can provide input. The piece depicts Iran as in the midst of a “strategic surge” but the US has acted in such bad faith so often in the early stages of conflicts that it’s sensible to wonder how much of this account is accurate. It is very frustrating to be dealing with an informational hall of mirrors.

By Yossef Bodansky, the Director of Research at the International Strategic Studies Association (ISSA) and Senior Editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs publications (including the Global Information System: GIS), was, for more than a decade, the Director of the US House of Representatives Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Originally published at Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis; cross posted from OilPrice

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, on May 14, 2019 — a week after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited Baghdad and reportedly met with a senior Iranian official — determined the course of his country’s current crisis involving the US and issued directives to the pertinent authorities.

Khamenei convened a closed meeting with “the heads of power branches”, key senior officers and officials, jurists and Majlis members. He discussed and analyzed the current situation, and then outlined Tehran’s next moves. Iran would do its utmost to avoid war with the US while relentlessly pursuing its ascent as a prominent regional power.

Throughout, he said, there would be no further negotiations with the US.

“Iran’s refusal to negotiate with the US,” Khamenei explained, stemmed from the realization that “negotiating with current US Government is toxic”. It was through negotiations that “the US seeks to take Iran’s strengths away”; meaning to have Iran unilaterally “surrender its defensive power” and “its strategic regional influence”.

Khamenei described a US offer to discuss the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles. “Reduce the range so you would not be able to hit our bases,” the US demanded, according to Khamenei. He emphasized that “talks on Iran’s strengths, including the missile power and regional influence [are] foolish”.

Khamenei was confident that “there was not going to be any war” between the US and Iran, and thus the confrontation would not be “a military one”. Khamenei stressed that “there will not be a military confrontation as neither Iran nor the US seeks war because the Americans know that the war will not be beneficial for them”. Under these circumstances, Iran would continue its surge relying on proxies — “the resistance” — as the main instrument for confronting all foes. “The resistance is Iran’s only absolute choice,” he emphasized. “The Iranian nation’s definite option will be resistance in the face of the US, and in this confrontation, the US would be forced into a retreat,” Khamenei explained. “Neither we nor they, who know war will not be in their interest, are after war.”

The Iranian nation was, he said, mobilized behind Tehran. Khamenei observed that “as a result of the US threats, hatred towards the US among the Iranians has increased by more than 10 times”.

Khamenei concluded by stating that “the Iranian military forces are more prepared and vigilant than ever.” He repeated that in pursuing its “policy of confrontation with the Islamic Republic too, the US will definitely suffer defeat, and [the outcome] will end up to our benefit.”

Khamenei and official Tehran have every reason to be confident, given the reaction of the US, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States to the series of violent provocations against their oil infrastructure which began on May 6, 2019.

The first confirmed attack took place on May 6, 2019, in the Saudi Arabian port of Yanbu on the Red Sea. A number of powerful explosions rocked the port area and heavy black smoke billowed. Reportedly, an unmanned, remotely-controlled bomb-boat hit an oil loading pier, setting it and nearby facilities aflame. There were also unconfirmed reports that Yanbu was struck by rockets fired from the Red Sea.

Riyadh was able to suppress most reports through tight control over the electronic media.

On May 8, 2019, a small cargo ship carrying about 6,000 gallons of diesel, 300 tires and 120 vehicles burst into flames in the Sharjah Port in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All 13 crewmembers were rescued but the ship was completely destroyed. Arson or sabotage were suspected because explosions were heard, and the fire started at three spots almost simultaneously and spread rapidly.

Once again, the Saudis helped the UAE authorities to quickly suppress most reporting.

On May 12, 2019, four or five tankers were hit by underwater and/or near-waterline explosions near the port of Fujairah in the UAE. Fujairah is the distribution end of the key oil and natural gas pipeline-corridor aimed to alleviate the need for tankers to use the Strait of Hormuz. Two Saudi tankers suffered “heavy structural damage” in the attack. Additional strikes were launched against oil tanks in the main tank farm, but these were blocked by the protective facilities so that the damage was minimal or negligible. The expert assessment is that the attacks were carried out by highly-trained and well-equipped frogmen who most likely arrived from the Iranian side of the Gulf. The attackers were trained and equipped by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) Special Forces — particularly the Sepah Navy Special Force — an independent Takavar unit of the IRGC Navy based on the Greater Farur Island in the Persian Gulf — and the Imam Hossein [Marines] Brigade based in Bandar Abbas.

As before, even though multiple explosions were heard all over the area, the Fujairah authorities initially insisted that “there had been no fire or explosion at the port”. This time however, the perpetrators were ready. The HizbAllah-linked Al-Mayadeen news channel aired a detailed report with maps, as well as the names and hull numbers of the attacked tankers. They were accurate. Al-Mayadeen and other Shi’ite outlets were persistent, despite the initial denials by UAE officials, and ultimately the UAE had to acknowledge that “four commercial vessels” were hit by “acts of sabotage” at Fujairah. The next day, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih conceded that two Saudi oil tankers suffered “significant damage” in the “apparent sabotage attack”.

In the early morning hours of May 14, 2019, seven “suicide” bomb-drones — most likely the Iranian Qasef-1 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — struck two oil pumping stations in Dawadmi and Afeef, west of Riyadh. Fire broke out and put the stations out of order. Reconnaissance UAVs broadcast images of the strike to the Sanaa area. The drones were controlled from IRGC-controlled facilities at the Sanaa Air Base in Yemen. (Unconfirmed reports suggested that the UAVs were launched from the ABS airport in north-western, Yemen closer to the Saudi border.)

Saudi Arabia had to shut down its East-West Pipeline. The 1,200km/750 mile pipeline carries about five-million barrels of oil a day from the main oil fields in eastern Saudi Arabia to the port of Yanbu on the Red Sea.

The UAV images were broadcast in near-real-time on the Houthi-aligned Masirah TV. A Houthi military official announced that “seven drones carried out attacks on vital Saudi installations … in response to the continued aggression and blockade of our people and we are prepared to carry out more unique and harsh strikes”. In an interview with the HizbAllah-affiliated Al-Manar TV, Mohammed Abdulsalam of the Houthi Ansarullah Movement claimed responsibility and promised more strategic attacks on both Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “Following Saudi Arabia’s and the UAE’s flagrant disregard of our demand to stop the onslaught and persistence on the blockade of Yemen, Yemeni forces launched attacks against targets in the heart of these countries [that are] high on their agenda.” He also promised more strikes to come.

Indeed, also on May 14, 2019, the Houthi forces fired a Badr-1 ballistic missile at an Aramco oil refinery in Saudi Arabia’s Jizan Province. The next day, Al-Mayadeen broadcast an extensive report about recent Houthi strategic strikes against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and insisted that the number of such attacks was larger than publicly admitted. “We have received special information showing that the Yemeni forces in Sanaa have launched over 10 undeclared military operations against vital targets in the depth of Saudi Arabia,” Al-Mayadeen said.

Throughout, there has been a marked escalation of the shooting and sabotage clashes with Shi’ite jihadists in eastern Saudi Arabia, especially the Qatif area, and neighboring Gulf States. In principle, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi acknowledge clashes only when the security forces suffer fatalities. Other incidents are concealed.

However, these incidents were sufficient for Riyadh to secretly declare an emergency in the entire al-Sharqiyah (eastern) region. According to Saudi opposition leaders, Riyadh ordered full mobilization of all Ground Forces and National Guard units. They published an order issued by Col. Mohammed bin Nasser al-Harbi, a Ground Forces commander in al-Sharqiyeh, that all forces be put on high alert within the next 72 hours. As well, National Guard Forces were dispatched to al-Sharqiyeh from central Saudi Arabia in order to protect oil wells, refineries and oil ports. All military and Guard leave was cancelled.

Official Tehran denied any association with the “mischief” across the Gulf, and even hinted at Israeli false flag provocations aimed to drag the US into war against Iran.

However, as located and translated by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), several Iranian senior journalists from IRGC-affiliated organs identified the perpetrators in their Tweets. On May 12, 2019, Amin Arabshahi, the director of the IRGC-affiliated Tasnimnews agency in Khorasan Province, tweeted about the importance of Fujairah as “the sole lifeline for the export of oil from the UAE and Saudi Arabia”, and added that “the guys of the Islamic Resistance set fire” to the port. The US “should know that the war started years ago. We are in its final moments.”

Also on May 12, 2019, Hamed Rahim-Pour, the editor of the international section of the IRGC-affiliated Khorasan Daily, noted that “all our options are on the table” in the aftermath of the attacks on both Yanbu and Fujairah. The oil exported through these two ports was meant “to replace Iranian oil! They received such a blow that they didn’t understand where it came from!”

On May 14, 2019, he addressed the coming escalation. “The scope of the [US] war against Iran should not be defined only by gigantic US aircraft carriers, or [its] strategic bombers stationed in Qatar, or the F-35 fighter planes. The range and scope of the possible war against Iran may be defined by quiet infiltrations at Fujairah, Yanbu, and Golan, and dozens of other points in the region.”

Also on May 14, 2019, Hesameddin Ashena, a senior political adviser to Iranian Pres. Hassan Rouhani, responded to a Tweet from US Pres. Donald Trump. “You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead. That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache. Good luck in 2020!”

Ultimately, and even if for only a short time, Iran and its proxies were able to shut down completely the oil exports of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States from non-Strait of Hormuz venues. With the viable Iranian threat to shipping via the Strait of Hormuz undisputed, Tehran had proven its point: Iran could shut down the export of oil from the entire Arabian Peninsula.

Tehran’s overall approach is based on the “war on oil” doctrine adopted in the Summer of 2005. Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, then the Expediency Council Chairman and Iran’s most influential strategist, articulated the importance of a national oil war strategy. He called for a comprehensive war plan — a “Big Bang” strategy — which would drastically alter the strategic posture in the Middle East and the global confrontation with the US-led West, by depriving the West of stable oil supplies. The “war on oil” was adopted as the national strategy by then Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.

The strategy is still valid.

The strategy was based on a three tier/ring approach.

The first Tier/Ring — The Core — aims to attack and disrupt the production and transporting of oil and gas in the areas immediately surrounding Iran. Tehran planned on implementing its contingency plans through various forces, from overt and covert acts of war by Iranian forces to a myriad of terrorist strikes and covert operations by a web of both Shi’ite and Sunni Islamist-jihadist groups. The main missions of the Iranian forces and their proxies included blocking the Strait of Hormuz and destroying oil installations in the Persian Gulf, sinking tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, shelling oil installations in the eastern parts of the Arabian Peninsula (should terrorism fail), and covertly assisting Iraqi forces in destroying Iraq’s energy infrastructure.

The special training programs which were established in Winter 2005-06 to facilitate implementation of the “war on oil” have vastly expanded since then.

The region’s states are cognizant of the Iranian designs and Tehran’s determination to implement them. Even Iran’s closest allies are concerned about the consequences of a major escalation in a clash with the US. Hence, on May 12, 2019, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani went to Tehran on what was supposed to be a secret visit. According to Qatari senior officials, he came “to help head off the deepening crisis between the US, Iran and regional powers”. He offered Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to “open new avenues to resolve the growing crisis between Iran and the United States and ease the volatile situation” before it was too late.

Acknowledging the importance of the new bloc created between Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Thani promised to work out modalities for preventing the US from using the Al-Udeid air base. He pleaded for time to defuse Washington, and urged Iran to refrain from escalating the war on oil in the near future — particularly in the Persian Gulf area.

For Tehran, however, there remains an unresolved issue: How to handle the US forces deployed throughout the Middle East, and not just in the Persian Gulf area.

Indeed, US forces take an active part in blocking the advance of Iranian and Iran-Proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, and, increasingly, Yemen. US forces train and equip local proxies which clash with Iran’s Shi’ite militias. In many cases, the US provides heavy artillery and air support to proxy forces in both Syria and Iraq when they confront Shi’ite militias.

The question arose in early April 2019, once Tehran committed to escalating the confrontation with Saudi Arabia, including toppling the House of al-Saud. Until the Spring of 2019, the Iranians and their proxies were extremely cautious when confronting US forces, but the anticipated assertiveness necessitated a new policy.

By mid-April 2019, the multitude of the Iranian and Iran-proxy operations envisaged by Qods Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his staff strongly suggested the possibility of localized friction with US forces throughout the greater Middle East. Having consulted with the top leadership in Tehran, Soleimani authorized Iranian and Iran-proxy forces to clash with US forces if they operated as a trip-wire aimed to prevent Iranian operations and Iran’s ascent, and if the US forces actively supported (especially by artillery and air strikes) local anti-Iran forces.

The reverberations of this decision were the crux of the intelligence warnings the US received from Israel.

By early May 2019, Tehran became even more confident in its ability to withstand localized fighting with US forces. On April 28-29, 2019, the Turkish military killed a US soldier in Kobane, northern Syria. He was a member of the 101st Airborne Division. He was killed while with the US-sponsored, predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish military attacked the Kurdish positions. The next day, the US only rushed to conceal the incident and did not even protest the Turkish attack on the Kurdish forces.

Hence, Soleimani and IRGC Commander Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami decided to further revisit the restraining orders on the Iranian and Iran-proxy forces. Given the high stakes involved — the strategic Iranian surge to regional prominence throughout the greater Middle East — Soleimani and Salami concluded that the risk of friction and localized clashes was warranted. Khamenei agreed with the IRGC commanders and endorsed their audacity. With a stronger mandate from Khamenei, Soleimani has been traveling in Iraq and Syria since early May 2019, coordinating with his allies and proxies the next moves.

In lieu of Khamenei’s instructions, the Iranian surge seems likely to keep expanding and escalating.

Tehran is capitalizing on the need for Iranian and Iran-proxy forces in Idlib as the Syrian offensive escalates. Tehran is also emboldened by the growing vulnerability and coming implosion of Saudi Arabia as a result of the new purges by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Sa’ud. Indeed, Saudi opposition officials concluded after May 10, 2019, that Saudi Arabia could not face Iran successfully.

A study by current and former Saudi senior officials stated that “Saudi Arabia is not prepared for an international confrontation with Iran, because the economy, military, and internal front [the tribal population] are not in the support of the government.” Tehran obtained a copy of the study. Hence, as Iran is getting more audacious and assertive, the likelihood of a clash with US forces is growing.

By May 15, 2019, Tehran was emboldened not only in its ability to confront the US militarily, but also to withstand political-economic US pressure.

This is because of the latest developments in Sochi, Russia. On May 13, 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hosted in Sochi the People’s Republic of China (PRC) State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. Lavrov and Wang Yi resolved “to strengthen the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination between the two countries.”

A key issue was addressing the brewing US-Iranian crisis in the Persian Gulf. Russia and the PRC decided not to permit the US to topple the mullahs’ Administration in Tehran. Both countries agreed that their long-term interests demanded the preserving of a friendly loyal Iran as a crucial element in the New Silk Road and the consolidation of the Eurasian Sphere. According to Russian and PRC senior officials, in the secret part of their talks, Lavrov and Wang Yi decided to give Iran “guarantees” of support in the event the US moved to strangle Iran and attempt a “regime change”. “The bottom line,” the senior officials asserted, was that “Russia-China will not allow Iran to be destroyed.” Significantly, Lavrov consulted with Pres. Vladimir Putin before committing to the joint guarantees with Wang Yi.

According to the PRC senior officials, before leaving Beijing, Wang Yi was provided with expert studies about Iran. A study of Iran’s economy concluded that “self-sufficiency helps Iran counter sanctions” and thus there was no danger of imminent collapse. A study by the PRC’s PLA General Staff and Military Intelligence concluded that “the US cannot afford war against Iran, but it likely to play intimidation”. The authors warned that “Washington does over-estimate its control over this risky process and seriously underestimates the determination of countries to defend their core interests”. Another military study warned that Beijing should “not underestimate US warlike tradition as it is essentially a dangerous nation”.

Hence there was the danger of an eruption of violence unless the US was contained and restrained.

These studies convinced the Forbidden City to join the Kremlin in adopting a strong policy to guarantee Iran’s survival. Iranian leaders were immediately notified on the Russian-PRC “guarantees”.

On May 14, 2019, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had meetings in Sochi with Putin and Lavrov. They held lengthy and largely unfriendly discussions on a host of issues on which both countries strongly disagree. According to Russian senior officials, both Putin and Lavrov expressed Russia’s strong opposition to the US activities in the Persian Gulf and reiterated the Russian and PRC commitment to the Administration in Tehran. Pompeo shrugged off the Russian position and emphasized the US resolve to address the Iranian threats resolutely. After Pompeo left Sochi, Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov quipped that the discussion on Iran was “interesting”.

Meanwhile, Tehran’s take on the reports from Sochi was that the US would not abandon the confrontation with Iran but that Russia and the PRC would prevent an Iranian defeat even if there were major setbacks. Under such conditions, Iran could be more assertive, even at a higher risk of escalation.

Hence, on the night of May 15, 2019, senior commanders made sudden assertions in closed meetings with senior officers about Iran’s readiness for an imminent fateful war.

Iranian Defense Minister Brig.-Gen. Amir Hatami conveyed confidence. “Today the Islamic Republic of Iran stands at the peak of defense-military preparedness to counter any threat or act of aggression,” he said. He believed that US setbacks in the Syria-Iraq theater were the reason for the sudden crisis. “The defeat of the recent takfiri-terrorist current in the region, in particular in Iraq and Syria, dealt a heavy blow to the image of … the US and the regional governments sponsoring terrorists, and after this malicious plot failed the Americans embarked on waging a severe, all-out war on our nation through using economic tools.” Once sanctions failed, the US moved to a military confrontation. Whatever the cost, Hatami concluded, “the Iranian nation” would “defeat the American-Zionist front”.

IRGC Commander Salami saw an historic turning point in the current crisis and war. “We are on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy,” he said. “The Islamic Republic is at the most decisive moment of its history because of enemy pressure.” He dwelt on this aspect. “This moment in history — because the enemy has stepped into the field of confrontation with us with all the possible capacity — is the most decisive moment of the Islamic Revolution,” Salami reiterated. “This war is not against the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it’s against the Iranian nation.”

Meanwhile, Qods Force Commander Soleimani continued to travel around, consulting with his commanders — both Iranians and proxies — and preparing them for the next phase of the strategic surge of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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  1. California Bob

    Trump’s opened a two-front war (with Iran and China), probably inadvertently. I think he secretly (or not) admires Hitler; he should ponder how that worked out for The Fuhrer.

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Actually, we might look at home. The late Richard Nixon was a likely Trump role model as we were reminded recently by Historian Danny Sjursen. He opened fronts in Cambodia & Laos and was messing with China as well. Nixon too seemed to think that the Constitution did no apply to him.

      1. fajensen

        I think Donald Trump is too much of a narcissist to have any role model. I’d bet that the Donald Trump knows into the very core of it’s being that Big Bang and Creation happened *only* so that Donald Trump could exist and flood the universe with the Golden light of it’s Presence!

        1. SufferinSuccotash

          I doubt if Donnie has a clue about what Nixon was up to in the early 70s. Thanks in large part to Kissinger, Tricky Dick at least had the semblance of a strategy. The Cambodia & Laos capers were part of a plan to withdraw from Vietnam by “backing out of the saloon with guns blazing” while simultaneously launching an opening to China and exploiting the Sino-Soviet split. Very brutal and deeply cynical, but it was a strategy of sorts. What we have now, thanks to the “four B’s” and the Tweetster In Chief, is more in the nature of a dumpster fire.

      2. dearieme

        He opened fronts in Cambodia & Laos: hardly, the North Vietnamese were there first.

        The JFK/LBJ war in Vietnam was dire but there’s no need to embellish its awfulness by adding false info.

    2. charles 2

      Or maybe it is just one front: I.e. making globalisation difficult for the Chinese :
      by pushing non Chinese Asians countries to de-integrate their supply chains with China and
      by cutting its supply of oil though shortages induced by tensions in the Gulf.
      The US knows that it can’t be the sole superpower anymore any longer, so the strategy is to reverse globalisation so that no other global superpower (a Russian-Chinese with a dominating Persia in the Middle East) can emerge.
      Far too early to say if the strategy will be successful or not.
      As far as I am concerned, the silver linings would be that a long period of oil shortage could finally be the trigger to switch industrial infrastructure worldwide away from liquid and gaseous fossils, and that less globalised supply chain would be more robust to shocks, but if these silver linings were the ultimate goals, I could think of less adversarial ways to achieve that globally, with less money wasted on the military…

      1. jackson

        The benefits of joint pricing mechanisms are also enormous. Currently, Iran has no choice because of the sanctions but to sell its oil – including from the shared fields – at massively reduced pricing that is comprised of its official selling price (OSP) minus the sanctions discount minus the incremental risk discount. This has resulted in Iran offering ‘cost, insurance, and freight’ cargoes for ‘free on board’ pricing, with the difference between the two covered by Iran. “Under this new agreement, Iranian oil from these shared fields will be sold based on Iraq’s much higher three month moving average OSP pricing for cargoes, with no discounts at all, and the three month moving average for the effective spot market that Iraq has created and now controls,” said the oil source.

      2. Douglas

        What happens to “Trump” when China has enough and stops buying American commodities?

        What happens when China buys Oil from Venezuela, Coal from Australia, Beef from Argentina, Soybeans and Wheat from Brazil and Pork from Spain?

        What happens when China cuts off all supplies of Rare Earth Metals?

        What happens when China, as part of their “Belt and Road” initiative, builds a Cracking Refinery in Venezuela to upgrade Venezuela Heavy Crude to the equivalent of Texas Light Crude?

        U.S. Manufacturing cannot find alternate sources for the millions of components and assemblies that are imported from China.

        Without China U.S. Manufacturing collapses for 5 to 10 years. Without Rare Earth Metals, the U.S. Electronics, Battery, Solar and Windmill industries collapse until US Mines are re-opened and refining plants are re-built and start refining U.S. Rare Earth minerals.

        Without U.S. chips, China switches to using it’s home grown Arm, x86 [AMD Ryzen], and RISC chips. China can withdraw from any patent treaties and make reverse engineered chips to replace any Qualcomm cellular modem chips or any DDR4 memory chips. China already has the factories that make many of the components that Trump is trying to block. China can just take over the factories.

        The U.S. can damage China’s economy for 6 months to a year and China can damage the U.S.’s economy for 5 to 10 years. In any Trade War, the U.S. looses.

  2. Mark

    I would love to know more about the author’s sources. Who provided the details of ‘secret’ meetings between foreign ministers, or the verbatim quotes of what Iranian officials and commanders said during command briefings, or who provided confirmation about the attacks on oil infrastructure and was able to identify the attackers so clearly. It is also quite interesting that buildings like the Kremlin or the Forbidden City expressed their opinion and a policy to the author.
    Please do not infere that I know more than the author, yet the details, scope and certainty of the article read more like a review of several years of archive study or a Tom Clancy novel rather than current affairs reporting.

    1. nechaev

      indeed. I would treat the entire article with great caution. The only sources cited that i could find were in the sentence “However, as located and translated by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute)….”. During the Gulf War MEMRI was notorious as a propaganda spigot created by the Intelligence wing of the Israeli Defence Forces. CAVEAT EMPTOR!

    2. nechaev

      Hi, my reply to Mark seems to have been rejected or swallowed or otherwise momentrarily vanished. I just want to emphasize that the only source noted in the article above is MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, which had an unsavoury role in Gulf War propaganda dissemination and which at that time was revesled to be a creation of the Israeli Defence Forces intelligence wing. The fact that the author does not identify MEMRI as a tainted source says something about his intentions imho. More details about the MEMRI are contained in a fairly useful wikipedia entry on the subject which i won’t bother to link to

      1. Cresty

        I have similar objections. The broad strokes in this article are good, but the details are not all aligned with the truth, and it has the think tank stink.

        Yes, Iran has the capacity to stop the flow of oil from the persian gulf and destroy refinery and pipeline infrastructure.

        But the unreported incidents are unreported, and so we have no idea if they are true or false. Various “resistance” outlets have denied various pieces of evidence cited here.

        Iran is aware a war would be devastating and seemingly wants to send enough signals that the cost will be high. Thse are addressed to those, like Trump, being shoved towards a pointless war (for anyone but Saudi) by neocons and the alliance for permanent war.

  3. kimyo

    to me the biggest takeaway of the above is that, without employing a single nuclear weapon, iran can easily make the vast majority of americans miserable for years, if not worse.

    ps: say that green zone rocket had killed 100 servicemen – what’s the first emotion that flits across bolton’s face?

  4. Geo

    Thanks for the in-depth info. Lots to digest and research.

    the US has acted in such bad faith so often in the early stages of conflicts that it’s sensible to wonder how much of this account is accurate. It is very frustrating to be dealing with an informational hall of mirrors.

    It’s depressing to say but I when I read anything from domestic official sources or the media I can’t help but think it’s mostly lies. Not under the illusion that foreign actors are all righteous and benevolent, but as you said, our nation’s track record with the truth in these scenarios is pretty tainted at this point. Just as we found out with Saddam and Qaddafi, these leaders have little reason to poke the dragon, and a lot of reason to build up defenses.

  5. The Rev Kev

    An excellent article this. It brings together a lot of threads that have been winding their way through the news along with a few more important nuggets of information. I would add another possible viewpoint about what has been happening lately. It may be that Iran has decided to undercut those countries which are really pushing for a war against Iran to stop them. They are the real schwerpunkt for the motivational support of any upcoming war. Stop their support and you stop the war.
    In this case the countries demanding a war are Israel, Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf countries. Iran is not stupid enough to attack Israel – well, not directly that is going by past precedence. However Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are another mater, particularly the former. Their wealth depends on oil and their economy is not exactly the most stable at the moment what between the scores of billions that the Yemen war is sopping up and the constant drain on the Saudi treasury. Through the attacks on the oil facilities and the shipping, they have now given them the message that if there is a war then Saudi Arabia is toast and perhaps the Saudi Monarchy as well. Attacks will be made on oil and water filtration installations and all shipping shut down. In short, a nuclear option that will effect the whole world economy. That benefits nobody but nobody.
    They do not even need the latest and greatest missiles to do this with. In terms of range I believe that the V2 of WW2 would be enough to get the job done. Trump may rage but I doubt that he would risk plunging the world into World Depression 2.0 if the countries pushing for this war back off. After all, he wants to win next November and crashing the world economy, including that of the US, would not be a real vote winner here. If this gambit by the Iranians works remains to be seen.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Looks like I will have to reassess my comment. Not about all the listed attacks in that article but the core message about Iran declaring open season on American soldiers. The wording seemed strange when I first read it and I put it down to translation difficulties. But based on what has been said above, this must have been the message that Netanyahu passed to Trump that made him go on an escalation binge. Probably find that the original message was that if the US attacks Iran, then they would go after US soldiers in the region but it was modified to make it sound like that they would start attacking US troops first. I would guess that Netanyahu has Trump’s psychological profile down pat and knows his trigger points.

  6. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    A review of the papers on this morning’s Business Breakfast, 04:30 GMT, on the BBC was revealing. A hack masquerading as an “expert” on the Middle East mentioned the “attacks” on Saudi ships and KSA’s call for a Gulf Cooperation Council, adding that KSA is the voice of moderation and reason in this flare-up. The BBC interview replied that this was an important point to make and allowed KSA’s narrative to proceed unchallenged.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    Interesting observations if true, and they certainly do make sense of a lot of the things that have been happening.

    I see it hasn’t dissuaded Trump though, this morning he is reported as doubling down on his threats to Iran. A big fear now is that Iran does not seem to be in the mood to give Trump the sort of symbolic ‘win’ he can use to climb down gracefully (and sack Bolton). The Saudi’s can probably be scared into stepping back, but the Israeli’s and the neocons want a hot war.

    Its easy to see this gradually ratchet up step by step into an uncontrolled region wide conflict.

  8. jackson

    A Shau Valley was overrun in 1966 and the US never took it back. More importantly, you need to understand unconventional warfare. Vietnam proved you could win all the “battles” and get higher body counts and still lose the war. Have we “won” in Afghanistan?! No. It’s unwinnable. You can’t win when you’re on the side that’s even more hated and corrupt than the “enemy.” (Artillery support by the ARVN was often “pay to play.” “Where’s the f’ing artillery?!” “The ARVN colonel, he say nobody pay…” How can you deal with that kind of war?!)

    And you can’t stay forever. The indigenous know that. And they think in decades and decades, not this quarter.

  9. Edward

    According to Wikipedia:


    Yossef Bodansky (born in Israel[1]) is an Israeli-American political scientist who served as Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the US House of Representatives from 1988 to 2004.[2] He is also Director of Research of the International Strategic Studies Association and has been a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). In the 1980s, he served as a senior consultant for the Department of Defense and the Department of State.[2]

    I think the basic question here is whether Bodansky is presenting a neutral analysis or has an agenda. I am not familiar with his track record and don’t know. I do know that MEMRI is a Zionist outfit that has been guilty of mistranslations that serve Israeli interests.

  10. Judith

    I haven’t read the above article. But Jerri-Lynn yesterday linked to a piece by Patrick Cockburn that can provide an understanding about the rocket in Baghdad (and the entire piece provides additional support for his thesis):

    “In its escalating confrontation with Iran, the US is making the same mistake it has made again and again since the fall of the Shah 40 years ago: it is ignoring the danger of plugging into what is in large part a religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

    I have spent much of my career as a correspondent in the Middle East, since the Iranian revolution in 1979, reporting crises and wars in which the US and its allies fatally underestimated the religious motivation of their adversaries. This has meant they have come out the loser, or simply failed to win, in conflicts in which the balance of forces appeared to them to be very much in their favour.

    It has happened at least four times. It occurred in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 1982, when the turning point was the blowing up of the US Marine barracks in Beirut the following year, in which 241 US military personnel were killed. In the eight-year Iran-Iraq war during 1980-88, the west and the Sunni states of the region backed Saddam Hussein, but it ended in a stalemate. After 2003, the US-British attempt to turn post-Saddam Iraq into an anti-Iranian bastion spectacularly foundered. Similarly, after 2011, the west and states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey tried in vain to get rid of Bashar al-Assad and his regime in Syria – the one Arab state firmly in the Iranian camp.

    Now the same process is under way yet again, and likely to fail for the same reasons as before: the US, along with its local allies, will be fighting not only Iran but whole Shia communities in different countries, mostly in the northern tier of the Middle East between Afghanistan and the Mediterranean.”

    1. Susan the other`

      This post was curious in that it simultaneously emphasized Iranian nationalism and discounted the split between Shia and Sunni factions. It clearly stated that the goal of the US-Israeli push was to control oil. Well, duh. But the most interesting twist was that the post implied that the Iranians had supposedly decided that since this was a grab for Iranian national resources it was not to be smokescreened by a lot of Byzantine explanations about the Sunni – Shia split. It further outlined something that sounds perfectly feasible – that since 2005, after we had surrounded Iran and Little George proclaimed “mission accomplished” – that we had accomplished a strategic goal not of vanquishing Saddam but of surrounding Iran and we left billions of dollars worth of materiel there to maintain an extended siege. So it is logical to accept some of this post. For instance that Iran then decided it was to be a war of attrition against Saudi Arabia because that would undermine the US war for oil, and to use guerrilla terrorists to that end in order to destabilize SA. Something has succeeded in doing just that. It might be Iran’s two big brothers, Russia and China. But the post does not go on to analyze ARAMCO and the obvious American interest, which the US is clearly going to protect. One big question is why SA is rapidly becoming the bad guy; and seems so desperate. It is almost as if we are planning their removal. And the total takeover of ARAMCO in the Gulf.

      1. Susan the other`

        And also the international maneuverings in Venezuela have this same flavor. We are talking with both Russia and China and clearly those talks can only be about one thing – How do we divvy up the vested interests in Venezuelan oil.

    2. sionnach liath

      Judith is exactly correct. There are three reasons the Iranian Shia (not to mention all the other sects) will not give in. They are: the Quran, the Hadiths and the Velayat-e-Faqih, written in the current era but reflecting a seventh century formula for islamic domination of the Dar al-Harb.

      Westerners need to stop interpreting Eastern concepts through our liberal European traditions.

  11. Ignim Brites

    Not sure what to make of this article but the Anglo-American press is not providing much context for the recent ratcheting up of confrontation with Iran.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The MSM is mostly stenographers and right leaning pundits. If no one tells them, they wouldn’t know.

      Also, the DC elites were pretty irked by Obama’s Iran deal. They deferred to Obama and the Europeans who demanded the deal, but I think they live in a world where DC’s enemies are the enemies of the American people who overwhelmingly supported the Iran deal. DC hasn’t come to grips with this.

      1. JBird4049

        …but I think they live in a world where DC’s enemies are the enemies of the American people who overwhelmingly supported the Iran deal. DC hasn’t come to grips with this.

        Yes, because all pain, real blood and death, misery and horror that they cause in fighting what they assume putatively are “the American people’s enemies” are never suffered by them, but only everyone else including the American people; all the financial benefits do go to them so it is all gain and no cost.

  12. Ian Perkins

    Will Lavrov and Wang Yi’s guarantees prevent an Israeli nuclear attack on Iranian facilities, followed by US pledges to fully support Israel’s right to self defence?

  13. WJ

    I would urge great caution and healthy skepticism with regard to this piece. The argument of the author is well-informed on the surface level but there are several “tells” in the analysis that suggest bone-headed or intentionally misleading analysis.

    Here are just two examples:

    1. The Saudi War on Yemen (backed by US and UAE) is simply ignored as a plausible explanatory context for the several “incidents” in question.

    2. The author’s contention that Iran plans to counter US pressure with “a myriad of terrorist strikes and covert operations by a web of *both Shi’ite and Sunni Islamist-jihadist* groups” is ridiculous.

    Sunni Islamist groups–ie. the same sort financed and supported by Saudi Arabia and UAE–are Iran’s existential enemies, not their terrorist subcontractors.

    There are many more problems with the report as instanced by several commentators above. Caveat lector.

    1. Dwight

      The Trump administration will use false claims about Iranian use of Sunni terrorists to invoke the 2001 AUMF.

    2. pjay

      Excellent points. Here is another example:

      “Meanwhile, Tehran’s take on the reports from Sochi was that the US would not abandon the confrontation with Iran but that Russia and the PRC would prevent an Iranian defeat even if there were major setbacks. Under such conditions, Iran could be more assertive, even at a higher risk of escalation.”

      The idea that Russia or China would provide cover for such “escalating” behavior is also ridiculous. However, it does tie together the “Big 3” nicely.

      Like everyone else, I don’t pretend to know what is really going on. But the “grain of salt” warning certainly applies.

      1. WJ

        Yes. That is another “tell.”

        The piece is interesting to me because, while it trades in standard U.S.-Zionist shibboleths regarding Iran and standard U.S.-NATO shibboleths regarding China and Russia (as pointed out by you), the upshot of the piece, as I read it, is nonetheless that the U.S. decision to escalate tensions with Iran is ultimately a bad decision with no good outcome for any of the parties involved.

        There is a gleam of realism in the piece, in other words, that cuts through the ideological smog. To me, this suggests that there is a contingent of the Borg, or Blob, or Deep State, or what have you, that while perfectly willing to sing Israel’s tune most of the time recognizes that doing so with regard to Iran portends such a huge disaster for the U.S. that it needs to be resisted.

        There is another, smaller but more vocal contingent–headed by Bolton and Pompeo themselves–who are clearly willing to sing Israel’s tune even here.

        Recent leaks and reporting suggests to me that a clear division in the Borg has emerged with respect to the Iran adventure, and that Bolton, Pompeo, and their hangers-on are increasingly being resisted at the upper levels of the military.

        This is, all things considered, a good sign. Yet it also tells us that the situation has already almost escalated beyond control.

        1. hemeantwell

          Nice job. As others noted, the MEMRI link to this immediately raises a yellow flag. But it is remarkable that the thrust of the article suggests a cool-down instead of the usual “destroy-them-now-before-they-destroy-us” conclusion.

          Or does it?

          1. hemeantwell

            Worth noting that Sic Semper Tyrannis picked up this NC post and that no one there has dismissed it. Site leaders have not yet commented, however.


            And Moon of Alabama has yet to weigh in.

        2. Mattski

          I find this about as useful as any of the comments as I work through here. The suggestions of Saudi internal and strategic vulnerability are also tantalizing.

  14. jackson

    There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive. The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber. If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense. It is what Iran has done. Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force: some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target. Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses. In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system. It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400. Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s. The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally. The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

    Iran has friends in Europe also. Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal. She is mustering the major European powers. Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome. President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture. In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job. In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

    So there we have it. Nobody wants war with Iran. Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets. Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war. Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission. It won’t. The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton. He wants war. A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans. The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    1. Thomas P

      I don’t trust those air defenses too much, where have they ever performed well? The scary part is where Iran assumes that USA can through repeated air strikes wipe out their missiles. They will from the start find themselves in a “use them or lose them” scenario and may launch everything as response to even a limited US strike, since they can’t know if it is limited or the beginning of a full scale attack, and I doubt Iran is willing to go down without doing everything it can to hurt their enemies. (Possibly excluding Israel which is crazy enough to go nuclear in response).

      1. The Pale Scot

        Iran has the playbook, we wrote it for them, Millennium Challenge 2002.

        Some circumstances will have changed, no carrier is going to go into the Red Sea at the start. But most of the US military is still confident that they can ID mobile targets in real time and hit them with cruise missiles or get close enough to illuminate them with laser targeting. The answer to that is decoys, there isn’t an inexhaustible supply of cruise missiles and J-DAMs. And Iran is 4 times bigger than Iraq, made up of small mountain chains, and the government will have unwavering support from the population. The US needs to keep enough guided weapons in the Pacific theater to maintain credibility. Once those are used up then it’s gravity bombs, which means getting in close.

        The country that fought off Saddam with human wave attacks is not going to have a problem using it’s soldiers as legitimate seeming targets to draw attacking planes into SAM traps. In MC2002 Riper didn’t turn on his radars at all. He was going to wait until troop movements started and target the Ospreys and helos. But he sank the US fleet so quickly they reset the game and MADE Riper turn on his radars so the AF could take them out.

        And Iran will be supplied thru Pakistan by Russia and China. The US is going to conduct air strikes on Pakistan? Yea that will work out well.

        Simply put after 20 yrs of constant war the US military doesn’t have resources to do more than bomb power stations and transportation nodes. It doesn’t have the half a million men to commit. And nothing is going to kill enlisting rates like another endless war in Asia. There would have to be an attack on American soil magnitudes greater than 9/11.

  15. Keith Newman

    To me, the accuracy of the article is less important than its laying out many complicated and interwoven elements regarding a prospective war on Iran. Very interesting indeed. Thanks for the post.

  16. dearieme

    Would even the US establishment be so stupid as to launch an invasion of Iran?

    Do bookies take bets on such things?

    Short of invasion, what other mischief might they get up to?

    Put another way, to what sort of wickedness did Trump accede to avert Mueller’s slow-motion coup succeeding?

  17. Temporarily Sane

    I’d heard about the Houthi drone attack on the Saudi pipeline…they have used drones and ballistic missiles to attack targets in the KSA before. They did little damage and were more symbolic than anything. Despite Saudi and American propaganda claiming otherwise, actual evidence indicates Tehran’s support for the Houthis is pretty much limited to rhetoric and “advice.”

    It also needs to be said that the Houthis, who are regularly called Shia in the western media, are Zaidi which is closer to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence than it is to the Twelver Shia school practiced in Iran. Even the fanatically anti-Shia ISIS for, whom being Shia is punishable by mandatory death, make an exception for Zaidis who, like Sunni Muslims the group considers heretical, can spare themselves by converting to an ISIS approved version of Sunni Islam.

    Unlike other countries in the region Yemen never had a sharp Sunni-Shia split before Al Queda, with Saudi support, took over the southern part of the country. Even today the “buy in” among Sunnis isn’t as widespread as in Iraq or Syria.

    However, as located and translated by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute)

    MEMRI is a notorious propaganda outfit run by a former IDF guy that is known for creatively translating snippets from Arab TVnews and talkshows to give the impression that Muslims are all baby eating anti-Semitic crazies. Anything they publicize needs to be taken with a tablespoon of salt.

    Of course the Saudis blame Iran for the sabotage attacks, but without any credible evidence it’s just the usual ranting from a regime that is theologically very similar to ISIS.

    It is the United States under Trump and his neocon madmen that backed out of the nuclear deal even though Iran was complying 100% and they have been threatening war and trying to provoke and goad Iran into making a move that would give them an excuse to attack them. The responsibility for this mess rests with them and their allies in Israel who have had a hate-on for Iran since 1979. To hear that family blogging family blogger Pompeo crow triumphantly how his sanctions are destroying the Iranian economy and making Iranians suffer is something else, but the media would rather wring its tentacles over one of Trump’s idiotic tweets and try to make this a “both sides should show restraint” issue as if the belligerence and provocation isn’t completely one-sided.

  18. Tom67

    I think what the above commentators leave out is that Iran is under enormous economic pressure. The pressure is indeed so terrible that they have decided to do everything short of war to make the US desist. The following steps are coming:
    1. Unless Europe (which they won´t) starts buying Iranian oil Iran will start to enrich Uranium again. In 60 days to be sure
    2. There will be more attacks that won´t be directly attributable
    Iran will ratchet pressure every which way they can. They have nothing left to lose anymore. It reminds me of Japan in 1940 when the US imposed an oil embargo. It was also either attack or draw back. That is of course the diabolical plan of Bolton. Strangle Iran until they have nothing more to lose.
    The difference to Japan in 1940 though is that Iran has rather limited aims and is quite ready to except certain limits to its reach, as the Uranium agreement has shown. I don´t see how either the US or Iran can get out of the current confrontation.

    1. Edward

      Alistair Cooke has an article discussing the attacks as an Iranian response. I have been wondering if Iran could be behind the tanker attacks. Israel wants an economic war against Iran, and attention focused on Iran and not Israel. But a hot war? Not only would Israel be in danger, but the U.S., which Israel depends on, would also be in trouble. Not that this ever seems to be a consideration for the Israelis, but the U.S. is weakening to the point where it is creating problems for Israel. On the other hand, a war could provide cover to “transfer” Palestinians from the lands Israel wants to annex.

      Last week Trita Parsi, I think, was saying that the mood in Iran is fatigue with perpetual attacks from the U.S., and some feel they just want to get the war over with. His body language seemed to say he was underemphasizing this point.


        1. Edward

          The name should be Alastair Crooke. Thanks for the correction. I linked to the article at the end of the comment.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      About 1500-2000 Americans visit Iran regularly, mainly academics.

      One who went not long ago for a few weeks and traveled freely about said he didn’t see signs of economic distress. Markets were full, shops looked what you’d think would be normally busy, no sign of a spike in business failures. And he spends most of his time in emerging economics, so he has a sense of what a downturn looks like. He said the Iranians appeareded to be weathering the sanctions far better than the Western press would have you believe.

      Only one data point, but this source is no slouch.

    3. DHG

      Could be the start of the Great Tribulation or the wiping away that leads to the declaration of “peace and security”. Either way the end of this entire system is very close at hand.

  19. RBHoughton

    As Machiavelli told us – an external threat unites a country. Those Western NGOs that make their money ingratiating themselves into foreign countries, befriending unhappy residents and using them to destabilise and overthrow their own government, have had their efforts in Iran undone by the gross threats of western powers. Well done chaps.

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