Sunday, May 2, 2010

How the U.S.-Iran War May Start --It May Not Matter Whether the U.S. Military Option Is Off or On the Table


by Lenny Ben-David

A silly back-and-forth took place this week with U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy saying "Military force is an option of last resort. It's off the table in the near term." Then the Pentagon's Press Secretary Geoff Morrell responded, "The president always has at his disposal a full array of options, including use of the military....It is clearly not our preferred course of action, but it has never been, nor is it now, off the table."

Why does everyone assume that only the United States – or Israel, for that matter – is the only one at that famous table with military options? Defense analysts should not ignore the presence of the Iranians at the table and their ability – perhaps even likelihood – of toppling the table by initiating hostilities.

Are the Iranians currently deploying their "assets" in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Caribbean and Venezuela, Lebanon, Sinai, Gaza in preparation for confronting the Big and Little Satans? So it seems.

Is the U.S. ready?

In fact, I bet that if war breaks out, the spark will come from overconfident, Mahdi-inspired, Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The threat of "biting" or even "nibbling" sanctions being imposed could set them off. If one has to find the detonator for the explosion, look for Iranian mischief and miscalculations in the Straits of Hormuz of the Persian/Arabian Gulf.

The Iranians launched this week "Great Prophet V," a three-day military exercise, and if history is any indication, the Guard's fast boats may attempt to play their famous game of chicken with U.S. Navy vessels like they did in January 2008.

This time, the Iranians may have added to their armada a record-breaking fast boat prototype that they got their hands on last year, despite attempts to block and intercept the boat. U.S. analysts believe that the Iranians may have converted the Bradstone Challenger into one of their fast boats which they use to "swarm" enemy sea craft. These fast boats could be equipped with torpedoes, explosives or missiles. Iran announced this week it is testing the Ya Mahdi "ultra-fast" boat. Is it a copy of the Bradstone Challenger?

Considering the extensive damage done to the USS Cole in 2000 in a relatively unsophisticated bombing attack using an inflatable boat, the dangers of swarming fast boats should not be minimized. U.S. helicopters will play an important role in protecting the ships.

The tension is already high in the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz through which 40 percent of the world's oil imports flow. Iran and the United Arab Emirates are feuding over three tiny islands in the Gulf.

Under construction is an oil pipeline across the Arabian Peninsula that will allow ships to avoid the Straits and the Iranian threats at that chokehold. The pipeline will cut across the United Arab Emirates and empty into oil tanks at the Fujayrah terminal on the Gulf of Oman. Fujayrah is already one of the world's largest refueling ("bunkering") points. But that 1.5 million barrels-per-day pipeline will not be ready for another year, according to published reports. Will Iran turn up the heat before then?


Lenny Ben-David Former diplomat. Washington consultant to foreign embassies.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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