Iran’s Bluff?

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Iranian leaders are threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz to international traffic, and on Wednesday the parliament passed a law “forbidding” foreign warships to enter the Persian Gulf.

These moves came as the United States and Europe consider moves that will dramatically increase the economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran – moves that already have caused the Iranian currency to lose more than half of its value, plunging from 10,500 rials to the U.S. dollar last month to around 18,000 rials on Monday, before recovering to around 15,500 on Wednesday.

On Dec. 31, President Obama signed a Defense Authorization bill that includes comprehensive new sanctions against Bank Markazi, Iran’s Central Bank. Existing sanctions against Iranian commercial banks have forced Iran over the past two years to increasingly take payment for its oil exports – the overwhelming hard currency income for the regime – through Bank Markazi.

While loopholes in the legislation exist that Obama has pledged to exploit, the National Iranian American Council – a group that consistently reflects the concerns and policy goals of the Iranian regime – lobbied hard against it.

Most significant among NIAC (and Tehran’s) worries is the potential that “Tehran could find itself unable to execute oil sales,” a NIAC briefing paper warned.

But that is precisely the reason Congress finally took the step of imposing a worldwide ban on Iran’s Central Bank after years of hand-wringing that such a move would drive up oil prices and impinge upon the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.

“Without immediate and serious action, the Islamic Republic of Iran will have a nuclear weapons capability in the near future,” Senator Mark Kirk said when he filed the amendment in November. “As the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, it’s quite likely that the Iranian regime would transfer its nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. And we can be sure that an Iranian bomb will set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East – from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. We must act now or face the consequences of a nuclear Iran.”

So what will Iran really do if push comes to shove? And how will the increased tensions affect the price of oil?

Scenario 1: Iran attempts to close the Strait of Hormuz.

The Iranian navy could attempt to use its Russian-made Kilo-class diesel-electric subs and smaller home-made Ghadir-class boats to torpedo ships entering the narrow sea lanes of the Strait, or try a repeat of its 1988 effort to mine the Strait.

Iranian leaders have made many threats recently that this is what they will do, boasting like drunken sailors that closing the Strait is a simple matter they could undertake with no preparation that would devastate world oil markets and exacerbate the international economic downturn.

But most analysts believe such a move would provide an acceptable excuse for the U.S. Navy to unleash its overwhelming firepower against Iran, sinking the majority of Iran’s major surface ships, knocking out its coastal artillery and anti-shipping missile batteries, and perhaps sinking offshore oil platforms, as during Operation Praying Mantis in April 1988.

“If the Islamic Republic wants to commit suicide, then by all means, close the Strait of Hormuz right away,” the Washington Times editorial page remarked recently.

Consequence: oil prices increase sharply for several days, then drop like a rock. Iran loses.

Scenario 2: Iran uses “swarming” attacks against U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf.

When the USS John C. Stennis or another U.S. carrier attempts to re-enter the Persian Gulf (which the U.S. Navy sometimes refers to as the “Arabian” Gulf), Iran could carry out its threat to attack – not using large surface ships or missile boats, but with swarms of small “go-fast” boats armed with Revolutionary Guards troops and shoulder-launched weapons.

Such attacks could have dramatic success. U.S. planners have been worried about this since at least 2002, when they had to halt a war -gaming exercise after Iranian go-fast boats sank the majority of the U.S. fleet.

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  • davarino

    Or could the admin be pulling back our forces to enable the iranian regime to carry out its mission? You assume the admin/Obama have US interests at heart.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Sanctions will never work and they make us look weak at the same time. The only thing that will work is obliterating the ruling Mullah regime, eradicating their nuclear weapons program, and then getting the hell out of Dodge ASAP

  • maxfactory

    If we flatten or destroy any vestige of the nuclear program in Iran, from the air without ever setting boots on the ground, we're done. If they start up again we can repeat the prescription again every 3 or four years. Let them stew in their own misery…

  • Gary from Jersey

    Mr. Kimmerman is buying the go-fast swarm? We can detect and destroy something this size of a watermelon speeding thousands of miles an hour up in space. Why does he think we can't do that on the open sea to objects traveling a small fraction of those speeds?

  • FriendofGaryCooper

    The U.S. Navy is doing a good thing by pulling its carriers out of harm's way; into the Persian Gulf. Whether or not the U.S. will attack Iran depends on how Iran reacts to continued
    sanctions on their central bank. If Iran was ruled by rational people; they would most likely not do anything; and might even suspend their nuclear program. But…they're not. Very good article.

  • Stephen_Brady

    The Kilo is a good boat, very quiet, and good qualities. Unfortunately for them, the Persian Gulf is shallow, and with every ship and helo pounding the water with active sonar, any Kilo that ventures out of port will be put on the bottom in short order.

    And concerning the fast boats, I was under the impression that US Navy vessels still had guns? This doesn't take into consideration F/A-a8s which can go a little faster than 80 knots, and gunships. Is the Navy not being allowed to adapt to threats to it?

    • CanadConserv

      And wouldn't drones and helicopters above be able to take out any approaching "fast boats?"

      • Stephen_Brady

        I would think so, and long before naval guns would have to open fire. Also, regarding Iran's submarines, the other elements include aircraft laying miles of passive and active sonobouoys, with the ability to attack those subs with torpedoes.

  • BLJ

    Like I have stated before I wish those SOB's would try to attack. It would give us a chance to get some long overdue payback. Our Navy would make mincemeat out of them.

    Those diaper heads in charge know this. They talk the talk but don't walk the walk.

    • http://www.boycottscotland.com Edward

      RIGHT ON BLJ!

      The Islamic Republic of Iran needs to be punished.

      It's LONG overdue.

      Plus there is an opposition in Persia that would love help from the West to overthrow the ayatoolahs who have made Persia a living hell.

  • Cuda

    Every time the Insanians open their mouths, they prove how delusional they are. They are the only ones who believe their empty bluster.

  • http://www.pdmi.org Arash Irandoost

    Mr. Timmerman is on the money. Regime in Iran is in crises. Best weapon is to choke the terrorist mullahs financially. 80% of their revenues are derived from oil. The US must pull out to safe waters and not allow Iran to sell a barrel of oil. Arab countries disgusted with Iran and the threat posed by them will increase their oil production to make up for any lost oil. With Iran not being able to meet its financial obligation, there will be mass desertion. Already IRGC and Basij are telling us they want to desert and defect. They are looking for the right time. Iran is in crises and wants war to consolidate its power inside. With weakened Iran. The opposition will take care of the rest-much like Syria. Waiting and buying Iran time as suggested by Iran lobby (NIAC)- will enable the mullahs build the bomb-and you think we have problems now!!!!

  • Irandissident

    Whenever you want to assess IRI military strategy, you have to think "asymmetric". In Iran's case, this means, missiles, terrorism, naval mischief and pipeline/oil field disruptions. Even if or when they do deploy their naval power, they will use it in a "guerrilla" manner, only in a large scale. The reason is that they lack self confidence even when they roar.

    However, this does not mean that they are bluffing. We all remember weaker forces confronting the American might, thinking they could beat it on their own turf or terms. Saddam was one example.
    We also remember how the IRI ejected the US from Lebanon in the early 1980s ( During Reagan mind you!) and succeeded to take over much of Iraq during Bush and Obama.

    The IRI may "reasonably" think therefore, that it can defeat the US again, under certain conditions, particularly considering the weak and sometimes sympathetic American administration. What are these conditions?

    Iran which owned Bahrain until 1971, is still able to stage mass uprisings within yards of the parked US fleet. I agree with Timmerman therefore, when he says perhaps the Stennis was just moved out of harm's way.
    The IRI can fire hundreds of missiles at regional oil installations thinking it will gain the support of all the oil hungry nations and force a stalemate of a new arrangement in the Persian Gulf.
    The IRI can wage large scale terrorism in the neighborhood ( Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palesinian areas,…) as well as INSIDE the US where they are thought to have huge terrorist and espionage networks.
    Then they might think the US will never invade the Northern shores of the Hormoz Straights, and the IRI can sit there and fire missiles at the straights, after lunch and high noon prayers every day.

    Please note that both the IRI and the US, have agreed to resume nuclear "negotiations" perhaps in Turkey, any day now; in which case the Hormoz Straights affair may well be part of this diplomacy; however, we remember that while successive US administrations thought they had air tight policies on Iran, in the end it was usually the Islamic Republic which forced the US into military confrontations as well as diplomatic affairs. The US almost never had the initiative in either arena, because of its dubious "tolerance" for the Islamc Republic, like a father tolerating his son's mischief.

    • Stephen_Brady

      I don't necessarily disagree with you (in fact, we agree on most things). However, the Iranians are vulnerable in one place, more than all else. Our "Schwerpunkt" should be Kharg Island, and the mainland pumping stations. Destroy these facilities, in which 70-80% of Iran's oil exports flow, and their economy collapses, overnight. Then, the government collapses, changing everything.

  • Amused

    The Iranian Mullahs may be alot of things , but they are not stupid. A war with the US on any level would devastate their economy , the growing dissatisfaction in the Iranian people which is already near the boiling point , would topple them from power and position , and that is exactly what the Mulklahs fear the most .The US from a distance can inflict devastation on a large scale , while Irans military power is highly limited in range , and no amount of any supposed "terrorist and espionage networks " if they exist at all , in the US , can inflict absolutely no strategic damage . You're right in one respect though , the US would never "invade ANY shore "there …it doesn't have to .The Iranian air force would be wiped out in days if not hours , so too their navy . I guess you forgot what happened the last time Iran tried this .They are good at running their moutjs and empty threats though .

  • WilliamJamesWard

    I wonder how good our intelligence is and just how many spies we have in Iran.
    Who can tip us off to what is really up, in other words will we be prepared or
    just react. Either way hell fire is in store for the Mullahs, if we take losses all
    the worse for them. The entire middle east is in a mess and to allow nuclear
    weapons in the hands of psycho's is out of the question, the quantum leap in
    potential damage is horrific. Thinking on the fact Iran is building ICBM bases
    in Venezuela and proceeding witht he work as fast as is possible does not
    make me big on drawing this out. If it is going to go nasty I hope our field
    commanders have it together and no politicians are going to impede actions.
    William

  • http://www.boycottscotland.com Edward

    Take out the Islamic Republic of Iran NOW – before it's too late.

    Decapitate the Islamist snake ayatollahs.

  • Grenadier

    Swarm attacks in the gulf or straights may have some success – remember the Kamikaze attacks on the fleet off Okinawa in 1945. 30+ US ships sunk, many others including an Essex Class Carrier severely damaged and 5,000 US personnel killed. Do not underestimate the enemy. Iranian leaders are at times irrational. Remember the Iran-Iraq War. They sacrificed thousands of young boys in human was attacks against Iraqi positions Soviet style defensive positions. A nation which will sacrifice its children in mass attacks against a relatively formidable foe is capable of virtually any thing regardless of cost.

  • Grenadier

    Human wave attacks – sorry.

  • Amused

    " go fast boats sink the US fleet " ? Gimme a break !

  • Asher

    Based on Iran's past record as an active promoter of Islamic revolution and terrorism, it is likely that these Radicals would do something crazy by playing games in the Straight of Hormuz….It is going to require some cool heads and actions that could escalate the situation no matter what is done. The blame for Radicals acquiring this kind of boldness lies with politicians, appeasers of Terrorist regimes, and the people that continue to vote for Leftwingers who do not care about America, national security, the people, or the Safety of the World. You have to wonder at the sanity of our elected officals who have allowed so many things to escalate to this point!

  • Amused

    Yea , and just look at what those "appeasers " in the Reagan Administration did ! ARMS TO IRAN ! O h Wait !! The then VP Bush said Reagan " was out of the loop ". And all the while Saddam was gassing Kurds and slaughtering the Sunnis in the South of Iraq .

    • http://www.boycottscotland.com Edward

      Amused, gassing the Kurds, PROOF that Saddam had and USED WMDs.

      Yet the deceitful left, progressively fascist left, proclaim that Saddam had no WMDs. Why? Because Saddam said so, And who wouldn't believe a man of peace like Saddam?

  • Amused

    Who ? Go ask Papa Bush .Go ask Reagan ……lol….must be that "decieptfull right " huh Edward ?
    BTW , Saddam said he had no weapons of mass destruction , we couldn't find any , and so far still haven't ….so go make up another story about those "leftists " , because the mess you see in Iraq today , was not brought about by anyone but GW ……"Mission Accomplished " ……yea right .

  • Irandissident

    Have you looked at the developments since we posted our comments here?

    Americans belonging to the threatened "Stennis" fleet, have rescued Iranian sailors from Somali pirates in the Arabian sea ! How convenient ! The Iranian generals have responded positively to this rescue…

    Now all that remains is to frolick all the way to Turkey for further negotiations , as Iran is given some more time to build its nuclear arsenal, suppress its people in the much anticipated uprising in March ( during the islamic assembly elections) and create a fait accompli scenario with a nuclear test sometime in 2012.