Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Beowulf Strategy, Part 2

The centerpiece of the Beowulf Strategy (12/23) for Iraq is trust. Now that we have freed the Iraqi people from the rule of Saddam and his thugs, helped to create a fledgling democracy and trained the Iraq military, it is time to get out of their way. The Iraqis themselves need to deal with the radical elements who continue to use terrorism as a means to overthrow the elected government and seize control.

The Iraq Sunnis are either going to turn on the radicals among them or face the kind of repression they long imposed on the Iraq Shiites and Kurds. Of course the Saudi Arabians will be upset. An op-ed by Nawaf Obaid in The Washington Post outlined likely Saudi actions if the United States withdraws from Iraq. The Saudis would support Sunnis in Iraq and then manipulate the oil market to strangle the Iranian economy. Of course Saudi money is already supporting Sunni forces in Iraq, according to the Associated Press. Thus the Saudis continue to be part of the problem rather than the solution. President Bush needs to tell the House of Saud that their days of fermenting unrest in the region are finis.

Now it is time to deal with Iran. While the world frets about the Iranian theocrazies developing a nuclear arsenal, they are busy creating mischief in Iraq and in Lebanon using a combination of homegrown terrorists and Hezbollah. And if they do acquire nukes, giving them to Hezbollah to use against Israel would be a natural.

In a preemptive move, Iran has threatened to cut off oil tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz (40% of the world’s supply) if the UN should be foolish enough to impose sanctions on the Islamic Republic. “We have the power to halt oil supply,” a senior Iranian official warned the European Union, “down to the last drop.” Iran and Hezbollah together represent the globe’s most dangerous terrorist threat.

The Pentagon's assessment of the war was recently released. It states that the Iranian government sees an unprecedented opportunity to bring Iraq into its sphere of influence. Iran also seeks to ensure that the political, economic, and human casualty costs of the war will deter future U.S. intervention in the region.

England PM Tony Blair wrapped up a Middle East tour last week with a blunt speech about the struggle between moderates and extremists, labeling Iran the main obstacle to peace. “There is a monumental struggle going on worldwide between those who believe in democracy and moderation, and forces of reaction and extremism,” Blair said.

Furthermore, there are “elements of the government of Iran, openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process; trying to turn out a democratic government in Lebanon; flaunting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine - at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability; and yet a large part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't deadly serious.”

Enter Part 2 of the Beowulf Strategy.

A paper by Arthur Herman in Commentary magazine (November, 2006) presents the military option, excerpted here.

To put it briefly, the Islamic Republic has its hand on the throttle of the world’s economic engine: the stretch of ocean at the mouth of the Persian Gulf known as the Straits of Hormuz, which are only 21 miles wide at their narrowest point. Through this waterway, every day, pass roughly 40 percent of the world’s crude oil, including two-thirds of the oil from Saudi Arabia. By 2025, according to Energy Department estimates, fully 60 percent of the world’s oil exports will be moved through this vital chokepoint.

But—and herein lies a fruitful irony—Iran’s economic existence itself relies on free passage through those very Straits. Almost 90 percent of the mullahs’ oil assets are located either in the Gulf. So is the nuclear reactor that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr. Virtually every Iranian well or production platform depends on access to the Gulf if Iran’s oil is to reach buyers. Which brings us to the military option.

It begins with the United States Navy organizing convoys and re-flagging ships to protect them against Iranian attacks. When the Iranian navy attacks, the U.S. warships take them out. Then teams of SEALS seize the Iranian oil platforms.

Do you think we could not do it? Well, we did it once already in 1986-88, as the Iran-Iraq war threatened to spill over into the Gulf and interrupt vital oil traffic. The entire operation, the largest naval engagement since World War II, not only secured the Gulf, it also compelled Iraq and Iran to wind down their decade-long war.

This time Herman suggests that the U.S. deployment in the Gulf of Oman include minesweepers, a carrier strike group’s guided-missile destroyers, an Aegis-class cruiser, and anti-submarine assets, with the rest of the carrier group remaining in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. Navy could also deploy a fleet of unmanned airplanes and submarines to keep watch above and below against any Iranian missile threat to our flotilla.

Our next step would be to declare a halt to all shipments of Iranian oil while guaranteeing the safety of tankers carrying non-Iranian oil and the oil platforms of other Gulf States. We would insure this guarantee by launching an air campaign to destroy Iran’s air-defense system, its air-force bases and communications systems, and finally its missile sites along the Gulf coast. At that point the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another.

Above all, the air attack would concentrate on Iran’s gasoline refineries. Though Iran is a huge oil exporter, it imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. This alone would render impossible any major countermoves by the Iranian army.

With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces would seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf. North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized. Kargh Island, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields, could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.

The entire operation could be over in a month and since it would take place offshore, there would be no need to engage the Iranian army. It and the Revolutionary Guards would be left stranded, out of action and out of gas.

Currently Iran exports 2.5 million barrels of oil a day. Yet according to a recent report in Forbes, new sources of oil around the world will have boosted total production by 2 million barrels a day this year, and next year by 3 million barrels a day. Thus other producers (including Iranian platforms in American hands) can take up the slack. The real loser would be Iran itself. Crude oil is its only industry, making up 85 percent of its exports and providing 65 percent of the state budget. With its wells held hostage, the country’s economy could enter free fall.

The Islamist regime in Tehran is indeed hated, and also radically unstable. In this connection, it is important to bear in mind that Iran is rent by ethnic divisions and rivalries as fierce as those that divide Iraq. Almost half of Iran’s population is made up of Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, Arabs, and Turkomans. And most of these minorities are Sunni, unlike the Persians, who are Shiites. Thus, Iran is a country ripe for revolution. Bye, bye Mullahs. So long Ahmadinejad, or whatever your name is.


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