“An attack on, say, Ras Tanura, an important oil processing centre in Saudi Arabia, could remove up to 4m barrels a day from the market and overnight send the price of oil well above $100 a barrel. Such a sharp disruption could last up to a year and could lead within weeks to the meltdown of the Japanese economy, due to its almost total dependence on imports, and before long to the collapse of other industrialized economies.”
Robert McFarlane and James Woolsey,
Former NSA advisor and Director of the CIA, Financial Times, January 24, 2006
The President of Iran has proclaimed repeatedly that any attack by the U.S. and Israel (which are now seen largely as one by the Muslim World) would lead to full-scale Iranian resistance. Like any intelligent strategist, he does not spell out what counterattacks they would make, but he states calmly and strongly that Iran has all the power needed to resist any attacks or invasion. Anyone who carefully considers the many “powers” that Iran has to counter-attack can see that they have many powerful economic and military weapons that could have as much destructive power as nuclear weapons. In fact, their economic weapons are immensely more powerful than any weapons of mass destruction they might be able to develop and deliver, and the economic weapons would not necessarily have great blowback effects on Iran, as nuclear weapons would.
The NSC advisor to Reagan and the director of the CIA under Clinton (1993—95) give one powerful example of what a small, conventional attack by Iran on oil from one point in Saudi Arabia could do. The Iranians have a great many excellent short and intermediate surface-to-surface missiles imported from China. One well-placed missile might knock out Ras Tanura’s oil shipment facility. But they would use a good number to make sure. They can also knock out Saudi Arabia’s other important shipment points in the Persian Gulf and on the eastern side. They could do the same for the oil emirates that are now part of the U.S. Imperial Centcom. confederation run from Qatar and D.C. (I am using realistic, descriptive titles, not the Agit-Speak propaganda terms the U.S. uses. The Persian Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia are in fact colonies of the U.S. in the same way hundreds of the supposedly “independent” states of India were independent of the British Raj in India. They are “independent” in name and as long as they do what they know they are required by the Empire to do — send us oil and docilely go along with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and so on. The U.S. Central Command was moved from Tampa to Qatar to symbolize the U.S. command of the pseudo-independent colonies of the Empire.)
They do not even have to attack these other Muslim states. They can declare a U.N.-sanctioned defensive war against the attackers, in accord with all U.N. and other treaties, call on the U.N. to support their legal, defensive war, then declare a wartime emergency allowing them to legally shut down their coastal waters to all attackers and their allies. They can then shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which at its narrowest point is only 35 miles wide, so old-fashioned missiles, Exocets, or whatever can knock out any oil super-tankers trying to run their wartime economic blockade. The first super-tanker to go up in flames will lead immediately to prohibitive insurance rates for the entire War Zone, which will send oil prices sky high. They can also mine the Strait, attack it with low-flying planes and fast, small boats, and clog it with flammable gas and oil. They can also attack shipping at any point along their long coast with the Gulf.
They do no even have to take these measures. If for any reason (see below) they cannot do so or choose not to do so, an attack on them will lead to a shutdown of their vast oil and gas exports to the global economy (but probably not to their ally, China). This would have roughly the same effect as knocking out Ras Tanura. Energy prices would sky-rocket immediately worldwide.
If for any reason the Japanese economy plunges because of high energy costs, it might have to sell its $800 billion in U.S. dollar reserves, mainly U.S. bonds. That would send U.S. rates sky-high. Ditto for China with its $800 billion in dollar reserves and many other nations with lesser amounts — Korea, Taiwan, also totally dependent on imported oil and gas.
The U.S. is aware of this. Every analyst in the CIA, DIA, ONI, NSA, and beyond has certainly told them so. Previous military war games and strategic analyses have concluded, therefore, that the U.S. has no good military options against Iran. Their economic power is of nuclear proportions. Their conventional power to shut down the Persian Gulf and maybe exports beyond that are vastly greater than the shutting down of a mere 4m bd of oil by shutting down Ras Tanura. MacFarlane and Woolsey may just be pointing out to the world what is obvious to any political economist or military analyst. Or they may be trying to make sure Bush, Cheney and the other people at DOD and in the White House who find it hard to read larger reports get the big news.
I’m sure Cheney and Rumsfeld have gotten this news. (Bush may still be out to lunch. I have no way of knowing, since everything he says implies he has not gotten the news, but it’s hard to believe anyone could be that totally ignorant of the simple truths the analysts are reporting.) Therefore, if there is an attack on Iran it will probably be an all-out U.S. attack with massive air and space weapons. This will not be a pin-point attack such as the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear power plant. The attackers would have to assume they can absorb the huge losses from shutting down the Iranian oil and gas, but no one would think they could absorb the costs of shutting down the Gulf. The Iranians know the U.S. will attack massively to knock out all the command and control assets, all of their air and missile forces, all of their big artillery, and boats. The Iranians have already built deep-underground, hardened facilities for at least one huge nuclear plant and probably more. (This facility is like the US Norad control center in Cheyenne Mountain.) They most likely are using hardened, underground facilities to protect their missile and air forces. The U.S. attack will have to be immense to get all of these and it seems very unlikely they can do it, unless they begin with tactical nuclear weapons of the sort the Bush people have been developing for exactly these purposes of hitting hardened, underground facilities.
Attacking Iran would probably be an Economic Doomsday Scenario. No reasonable person would do it. But that is what I and a vast number of other people, some in the CIA, were screaming when the U.S. invaded, annihilated, and got stuck catastrophically in Iraq. The Bush people have produced catastrophes over and over again at home and around the world. They literally turned the world against the U.S. and seem to think that’s great. They do not reason as we human beings do. They may push onward to the Economic Doomsday hoping it will trigger that Armageddon and Second Coming Bush seems so anxious to see during his three remaining years in absolute power.
Jack D. Douglas [send him mail] is a retired professor of sociology from the University of California at San Diego. He has published widely on all major aspects of human beings, most notably The Myth of the Welfare State.