Iran — A War has Begun

A war has begun in Iran; a com­bi­na­tion of covert action, eco­nom­ic sanc­tions, polit­i­cal iso­la­tion and the threat of mil­i­tary pre-emp­tion have not just crip­pled the Iran­ian econ­o­my but have check­mat­ed Iran’s war wag­ing poten­tial. The threat of unleash­ing an asym­met­ric con­flict is more pres­sure tac­tics than a cred­i­ble denial strat­e­gy. Crit­i­cal aspect is assess­ing Iran’s abil­i­ty to close the Gulf as threat­ened peri­od­i­cal­ly. Iran and espe­cial­ly the naval ele­ments of its Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, has sought to devel­op a unique denial naval force based large­ly upon flotil­las of fast, attack crafts backed up by a vari­ety of crafts capa­ble of lay­ing mines, con­ven­tion­al and midget sub­marines. These are sup­port­ed by shore-based anti-ship­ping mis­siles, air­craft, rock­ets and artillery all with rudi­men­ta­ry com­mand and con­trol. How­ev­er they are not equipped mate­ri­al­ly nor tech­no­log­i­cal­ly for any sus­tained denial oper­a­tions when up against US and coali­tion forces. What they could achieve is dis­rup­tion through low lev­el spo­radic attacks on ship­ping. Whether Iran has the polit­i­cal sagac­i­ty to cope with the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion with­out giv­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for the US to take recourse to arms is a moot ques­tion. And what of the strat­e­gy of despair: ter­ror?

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On the morn­ing of 29 Novem­ber 2010 the Iran­ian nuclear physi­cist Majid Shahri­ari was work­ing his way on Artesh Street in cen­tral Tehran when a motor­cy­cle pulled up along­side his sedan, stuck a metal­lic object and sped away. With­in moments a shaped charge tore through the door and left the sci­en­tist a man­gled mass of flesh. The sci­en­tist died instant­ly. Some twen­ty kilo­me­tres north­ward and a few min­utes lat­er in the foothills of the Alborz Moun­tains close to the Pas-e-Qaleh neigh­bour­hood anoth­er motor­cy­clist drove up to the car of Fer­ey­doun Abbasi Davani and placed his explo­sive, only this time the vic­tim man­aged to get out of the car to safe­ty before the bomb went off. Abbasi was a lead­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile sci­en­tist. It was also the same day that Iran­ian Pres­i­dent Ahmadine­jad admit­ted that soft­ware that con­trolled high speed cen­trifuges used to enrich ura­ni­um for nuclear reac­tor fuel and (pos­si­bly) to weapon grade lev­els had been dam­aged in cyber attacks.

Wars through the ages occur when the estab­lished order is chal­lenged and this chal­lenge is resist­ed; and as Clause­witz so one-dimen­sion­al­ly put it “wars take place main­ly for the defend­er”. But the trig­ger has var­ied from dec­la­ra­tion to direct mil­i­tary action and some­times more insid­i­ous­ly through covert action or by polit­i­cal rid­dance. In each case, empires and dis­pen­sa­tions had fall­en through ero­sion of the found­ing canon, that of oblig­a­tion of the cit­i­zen­ry. Some­times this occurs rapid­ly due to sheer weight of an inter­ven­ing pow­er or due to a slow­er process of exhaus­tion of inter­nal ener­gies. The nature of war that we are cur­rent­ly wit­ness to in Iran does not read­i­ly fall into any mould. Covert action, cyber attacks and polit­i­cal alien­ation suf­fi­cient­ly rein­forced by eco­nom­ic sanc­tions and intru­sive nuclear inspec­tions on the one hand, has unleashed glob­al­ly dis­rup­tive nation­al­ism on the oth­er. Poten­tial­ly a far more dan­ger­ous effect is what nations over the last cen­tu­ry have turned to, the strat­e­gy of despair: ter­ror­ism.

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Sanc­tions and the com­ing oil shock

The UN rat­i­fied four rounds of sanc­tions against Iran between 2006 and 2010 in reac­tion to its refusal to halt ura­ni­um enrich­ment and co-oper­ate with the Inter­na­tion­al Atom­ic Ener­gy Agency (IAEA). These sanc­tions include a ban on the sup­ply of heavy weapon­ry and nuclear-relat­ed tech­nol­o­gy to Iran, a block on Iran­ian arms exports and an asset freeze on key indi­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies. Res­o­lu­tion 1929, passed in 2010, man­dates car­go inspec­tions to detect and stop Iran’s acqui­si­tion of illic­it mate­ri­als. The Euro­pean Union (EU) has imposed its own restric­tions on trade in equip­ment which could be used for ura­ni­um enrich­ment and has put in place an asset freeze on a list of 39 indi­vid­u­als and 141 com­pa­nies and organ­i­sa­tions which it believes are help­ing advance the country’s nuclear pro­gramme. On 23 Jan­u­ary 2012, EU approved a ban on imports of Iran­ian crude oil, a freeze of assets belong­ing to the Cen­tral Bank of Iran and a ban on all trade in gold and oth­er pre­cious met­als with the bank and oth­er pub­lic bod­ies. The EU cur­rent­ly buys about 20 per cent of Iran’s oil exports.

This arti­cle is pub­lished with the kind per­mis­sion of “Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) Mag­a­zine” New Del­hi-India

Defence and Security Alert (DSA

The Strait of Hor­muz is one of the most crit­i­cal mar­itime choke­points of the con­tem­po­rary glob­al ener­gy sys­tem. Through its nar­rows (less than 34 miles) close to 18 mbl of oil, a fifth of glob­al con­sump­tion, cours­es through every day along two, 2 mile wide ship­ping lanes car­ried onboard 5,800 hulls (approx) annu­al­ly (all fig­ures sourced from Ener­gy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, USA). The north and east­ern side of the strait is dom­i­nat­ed by the Iran­ian coast­line while the south­ern side by Oman and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. Traf­fic den­si­ty is high and well reg­u­lat­ed, the waters are shal­low and do not favour sub­ma­rine oper­a­tions and the con­strict­ed nature of the sea­way does not sup­port large scale stealth oper­a­tions or large force manoeu­vres. The Gulf nations pro­duce near­ly 30 per cent of glob­al oil while sit­ting on 57 per cent of the world’s crude reserves. It is also the repos­i­to­ry of 45 per cent of proven world gas reserves

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The oth­er economies that are like­ly to take the brunt of denial are Chi­na, Japan and South Korea. In the end analy­sis, restora­tion of oil sup­plies from Libya and Iraq and con­trolled ramp­ing up of Sau­di oil pro­duc­tion serves to sta­bilise prices and for the west­ern mar­kets and replace EU depen­dence on oil sourced from Iran. Con­trol of Libyan and Iraqi oil not only pro­vid­ed the strate­gic log­ic for the recent wars in these two nations, but also presents a con­vinc­ing argu­ment to answer one of the crit­i­cal ele­ments for a pos­si­ble war in Iran. It is there­fore hard­ly any sur­prise that Libya today glob­al­ly exports 1.4 mbl / day and Iraq 2 mbl / day of which 20 per cent goes to the EU which amounts to 6,80,000 bl / day against 4,30,000 bl / day that was com­ing from Iran (all fig­ures in this sec­tion sourced from Glob­al Trade Atlas and Ener­gy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, USA). So as far as ener­gy secu­ri­ty is con­cerned, a war in Iran will raise not only anx­i­ety lev­els amongst the east­ern economies, but will rack these mar­kets through anoth­er oil shock

The USA has long-stand­ing com­pre­hen­sive sanc­tions in place on Iran. Since 1980 the US has imposed suc­ces­sive rounds of sanc­tions, cit­ing what it says is Iran’s sup­port for inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism, human rights vio­la­tions and refusals to co-oper­ate with the IAEA. The US sanc­tions pro­hib­it almost all trade with Iran, mak­ing some excep­tions only for human­i­tar­i­an activ­i­ty. In late Novem­ber 2011 the US, UK and Cana­da announced more bilat­er­al sanc­tions on Iran, in reac­tion to an IAEA report which sug­gest­ed Iran’s nuclear pro­gramme may have a mil­i­tary pur­pose. The US expand­ed sanc­tions to tar­get com­pa­nies that aid Iran’s oil and petro­chem­i­cal indus­tries. Oth­er coun­tries includ­ing Switzer­land, Japan, Aus­tralia and Cana­da have also imposed bilat­er­al sanc­tions on Iran in recent years in response to Iran’s lack of co-oper­a­tion with the IAEA. A US law signed on 31 Decem­ber 2011, imposed new sanc­tions on finan­cial insti­tu­tions deal­ing with Iran’s cen­tral bank. The law is intend­ed to ham­per Tehran’s abil­i­ty to sell oil abroad. A fall in Iran’s oil exports would not only have a big impact on the Iran­ian econ­o­my but its fall out could dri­ve up the glob­al oil price and harm glob­al economies.

The EU’s ban of 23 Jan­u­ary on imports of Iran­ian crude oil, is expect­ed to have a more sig­nif­i­cant impact on the econ­o­my of the Islam­ic Repub­lic, because the EU cur­rent­ly buys about a fifth of Iran’s oil exports. Japan and South Korea, which togeth­er account for 26 per cent of Iran’s oil exports, are non-com­mit­tal as yet. The sanc­tions are designed to bring the Iran­ian econ­o­my to its knees. The grim real­i­ties of its effects are there for all to see as the Rial has dropped close to 70 per cent against the US dol­lar in recent months.

Rus­sia has reject­ed any fur­ther sanc­tions against Iran. Chi­na and India have indi­cat­ed that they do not intend to curb Iran­ian oil imports. Turkey, too, has sig­nalled that it will not adopt any oil embar­go.

Impact of sanc­tions on ener­gy secu­ri­ty

In order that the per­spec­tive is not lost sight of, the read­er must come to grips with what uni­ver­sal sanc­tions will mean to the world par­tic­u­lar­ly in the oil sec­tor and how its denial will influ­ence glob­al ener­gy secu­ri­ty in gen­er­al terms with spe­cif­ic ref­er­ence to the Indi­an sit­u­a­tion. Table 1 below makes a graph­ic state­ment of Iran’s oil export des­ti­na­tions. When viewed against the total world con­sump­tion of 86 mil­lion bar­rels / day (mbl / day), Iran’s exports amount to about 2.5 per cent of glob­al needs. How­ev­er this does not give a whole­some pic­ture of the sit­u­a­tion. The largest con­sumer of oil, the USA, which accounts for over 25 per cent of glob­al con­sump­tion does not import any oil from Iran; and as far as the EU is con­cerned, 20 per cent of Iran’s exports is des­tined to Euro­pean con­sumers of which close to 15 per cent goes to the weak­er economies of Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey for whom alter­na­tive sources are being put in place. The graph­ic, then, makes it amply clear that it will be the east­ern economies that will be sore­ly hit by a denial regime.

India is the world’s 4th largest oil con­sumer at 3.5 mbl / day, which rep­re­sents 4 per cent of glob­al use and the amount that it imports from Iran is 3,44,640 bls / day against a total import of 3 mbls / day which approx­i­mates 11.5 per cent (all sta­tis­tics in this sec­tion are sourced from the US Ener­gy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, Inter­na­tion­al Ener­gy Sta­tis­tics). Giv­en these fig­ures any dis­rup­tion in sup­ply or attempt to find alter­na­tive sources will have seri­ous adverse impact on an already stren­u­ous eco­nom­ic growth to the extent of one to two per cen­t­age points (writer’s esti­mate). The oth­er economies that are like­ly to take the brunt of denial are Chi­na, Japan and South Korea.

In the end analy­sis, restora­tion of oil sup­plies from Libya and Iraq and con­trolled ramp­ing up of Sau­di oil pro­duc­tion serves to sta­bilise prices and for the west­ern mar­kets and replace EU depen­dence on oil sourced from Iran. Con­trol of Libyan and Iraqi oil not only pro­vid­ed the strate­gic log­ic for the recent wars in these two nations, but also presents a con­vinc­ing argu­ment to answer one of the crit­i­cal ele­ments for a pos­si­ble war in Iran. It is there­fore hard­ly any sur­prise that Libya today glob­al­ly exports 1.4 mbl /day and Iraq 2 mbl / day of which 20 per cent goes to the EU which amounts to 6,80,000 bl / day against 4,30,000 bl / day that was com­ing from Iran (all fig­ures in this sec­tion sourced from Glob­al Trade Atlas and Ener­gy Infor­ma­tion Admin­is­tra­tion, USA). So as far as ener­gy secu­ri­ty is con­cerned, a war in Iran will raise not only anx­i­ety lev­els amongst the east­ern economies, but will rack these mar­kets through anoth­er oil shock.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

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