have been for decades.
We are not prescient enough to know whether Hersh or Freidman are most likely to be correct, but we do know that hostilities in Iran initiated by either Israel or the US would very likely cause Iran to attempt the closure of the Strait of Hormuz through which between 30% and 40% of the world's oil travels in tankers.
So it is an important question.
What about Israel, afraid for its very existence were Iran to acquire the bomb?
Israel and the Existential Question
Israel has shown its willingness to attack elsewhere in the neighborhood, taking out a suspected nuclear development site in Syria last September 6th. Then, in early June, more than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters engaged in an exercise over the eastern Mediterranean was seen as a rehearsal for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities, while simultaneously signaling to Iran by its aerial refueling maneuvers that Israel has long range capability.
Then came a July 18 op-ed in the New York Times by Benny Morris, an Israeli historian. It
began, “Israel will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months…if the attack fails, the Middle East will almost certainly face a nuclear war”. His thesis is so incendiary that one has to wonder whether Morris was encouraged by the Israeli government, posing as just an informed citizen, to write it as a warning to Iran.
Morris’s reasoning goes like this: while the U.S. is capable of a sustained aerial assault against the dispersed and underground Iranian nuclear sites, in the new atmosphere of rapprochement, perhaps America will demur. In that case, Israel, despite its weaker air armada, “will certainly make the effort”. The best time for this? During the transition period between the U.S. election and January 19, while a supportive U.S. president (and Vice President) is still in office. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, says that, no longer concerned about his political future, George W Bush might be tempted to strike Iran if he thinks Obama is likely to win.
Morris continues, saying that the Iranians would retaliate with missiles fired at Israel, stir their clients Hezbollah and Hamas to action, and re-double their effort to develop a nuclear bomb. That will lead to a posture of mutually assured destruction between the two nations, but, unlike the Cold War standoff between America and Russia, the other side this time has a “fundamentalist, self-sacrificial mindset”. Fearing that deterrence will not work, Israel could opt for a preemptive, nuclear strike.
Is this just posturing, calculated to drive Iran into a deal? Perhaps, but we could not expect to know that, as any threat, to be effective, needs to be credible.
What About Oil?
If you are still with us, why are we taking you down this path?
Even if only Israel attacks, Iran will view the U.S., “the Great Satan”, as an equal belligerent. A standard threat has always been to block the Strait of Hormuz, which this satellite photo shows to be a strategic chokepoint.
The Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf,
a waterway as little as 21 miles wide with Iran looming
over its northern shore
All of the Persian Gulf countries ship their oil – 30% of world supply – through the Strait of Hormuz. There have been threats in the past to do just that: to mine the strait or to sink ships to block its channels, which would have devastating consequences for the world’s economies.
“It is understood that a country would use all possible options against an aggressor if militarily attacked. In that case, Iran would also intensify control of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz”, the commander of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards told a Teheran newspaper. Their Chief of staff Maj. Gen. Hasan Firuzabadi said a month ago that “if the country’s interests are jeopardized in the region, we will not let any ship pass through”.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the U.S. would not let Iran block the Strait of Hormuz. But our ships may be more vulnerable than it is comfortable to admit. First, the strait is reportedly targeted by Iran with anti-ship missiles. Second, with an attack on Iran, nationalism would sweep the country, taking with it the moderates that have long yearned for closer ties with the West. Iran has not produced a cult of suicidal militants as have its Arab neighbors, but yet another attack on a Muslim country could change that. How would a giant aircraft carrier, with its crew of 5,000, defend against a suicide run of a dozen speedboats laden with explosives, following the example of a single boat that blew a hole in the side of the guided missile destroyer Cole in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors?
And if Iran succeeds in blocking the Strait, or causes shippers not to risk their tankers, and over one third of the world’s oil passes through the Strait. The result would be widespread economic chaos.
In this country, it wouldn’t be just a question of higher prices for gasoline. It would bring major shortages of gasoline and diesel in a country whose food is largely delivered over the roads. What stronger message do we need about our vulnerability owing to fossil fuel dependency?
Time to stock up? - Stephen Wilson