Commentary mag on Iran: Let's seize their oil

Never mind the reactors, says author Arthur Herman. Grab ’em by the short hairs by confiscating their black gold.

Exactly what a war-weary America needs in an era of information warfare: a conflict that is, explicitly, all about oiiiiilll.

Our next step would be to declare a halt to all shipments of Iranian oil while guaranteeing the safety of tankers carrying non-Iranian oil and the platforms of other Gulf states. We would then guarantee this guarantee by launching a comprehensive air campaign aimed at destroying Iran’s air-defense system, its air-force bases and communications systems, and finally its missile sites along the Gulf coast. At that point the attack could move to include Iran’s nuclear facilities—not only the “hard” sites but also infrastructure like bridges and tunnels in order to prevent the shifting of critical materials from one to site to another…

The scenario would not end here. With the systematic reduction of Iran’s capacity to respond, an amphibious force of Marines and special-operations forces could seize key Iranian oil assets in the Gulf, the most important of which is a series of 100 offshore wells and platforms built on Iran’s continental shelf. North and South Pars offshore fields, which represent the future of Iran’s oil and natural-gas industry, could also be seized, while Kargh Island at the far western edge of the Persian Gulf, whose terminus pumps the oil from Iran’s most mature and copiously producing fields (Ahwaz, Marun, and Gachsaran, among others), could be rendered virtually useless. By the time the campaign was over, the United States military would be in a position to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch.

We’ve done it before, he notes, towards the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

The ultimate goal? Regime change, by starving the country of oil so completely that it can’t function and its ethnic and religious minorities rise up and rebel.

That the regime in Tehran is indeed hated, and also radically unstable, is a point on which both advocates and opponents of American action can agree. In this connection, it is important to bear in mind that Iran is rent by ethnic divisions and rivalries almost as fierce as those that divide Iraq or such former Soviet republics as Georgia and Russia itself. Almost half of Iran’s population is made up of Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, Arabs, and Turkomans. Unlike the Persians, who are Shiites, most of these minorities are Sunni. Thus, Iran is a country ripe for constitutional overhaul, if not re-federation. Unless the current regime and its backers are willing to change course, decisive military action could open the way for an entirely new Iran.

At Hewitt’s blog, Dean Barnett‘s saying something similar:

WHAT AMERICA HAS TO DO, and what our country has to gird itself for, is a full out assault on Iran with the specific goal of toppling the current Iranian regime. First thing’s first – in this context, the word “cakewalk” will never spring from this modem. Such a war will not be painless for our country. There is an excellent chance that we will be subject to reprisals from Hezbollah on our home turf. There is an even greater likelihood that the war will provide enough of a disruption to the world’s oil supplies that sacrifice on the home front will not be an option and not just the subject of high-minded rhetoric. Our economy will take a hit, and everyone will feel it.

America’s not launching any more first strikes while Bush is president. In 2009, with a fresh face in charge, perhaps. But the crisis of confidence in his leadership just won’t bear the kind of sacrifices Dean has in mind. The political capital isn’t there. As for Herman’s plan, imagine how the Muslim cult of victimhood and its international supporters would react to a punishing American air campaign on Iran followed by an energy crisis so severe that the lights literally go out in Tehran. If the uprising doesn’t come, if the Iranians band together under siege and vow to wait us out until the power comes back on, the moral pressure on the president here and abroad would be so tremendous — particularly given the role oil plays in the plan — that he’d eventually cave. It’d be a staggering moral victory for Iran and a huge loss of American prestige.

Then there’s the possibility of reprisals. Dean imagines Hezbollah hitting us here, but what about U.S. troops in Iraq? The Asia Times considers the possibilities:

There are two possible ways Iran could sever the supply line in response to a US or Israeli attack – seen as one and the same by Iranian officials – on its nuclear facilities: Shi’ite militia loyal to Tehran could be summoned to fight against US forces across the south, while a riskier strategy would have Iranian armored divisions moving into Iraq in an attempt to cut supply lines and turn toward Baghdad…

Today, armed groups such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, which has clashed on and off with coalition forces, and the Badr Organization, the paramilitary wing of the Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), could mobilize and turn supply roads into a “shooting gallery 400-800 miles long”, according to Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East Intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency…

The second option, according to Lind, would be for the Iranian military to deploy forces in sync with a Shi’ite insurrection at the US flank. Armored divisions could move to cut supply lines and then possibly attempt to encircle US troops from the south in a “classic operational maneuver”.

Cutting off their oil eliminates the second option but not the first. For that, Iraq’s Shiites would have to be convinced that we’d win our confrontation with Iran such that they’d be reluctant to attack our flank for fear of later reprisals. But what reason would they have at this point to expect we’d win? We let al-Sadr go and we’d be withdrawing already if anyone other than Bush was president. If you were a Shiite militia leader and America jumped ugly with the mullahs in a contest of wills, who would you bet on?

I do find this part of Herman’s piece interesting, though:

A 30-page document said to issue from the Strategic Studies Center of the Iranian Navy (NDAJA), and drawn up in September or October of last year, features a contingency plan for closing the Hormuz Straits through a combination of anti-ship missiles, coastal artillery, and submarine attacks. The plan calls for the use of Chinese-made mines, Chinese-built missile boats, and more than 1,000 explosive-packed suicide motor boats to decimate any U.S. invasion force before it can so much as enter the Gulf. Iran’s missile units, manned by the regime’s Revolutionary Guards, would be under instruction to take out more than 100 targets around the Gulf rim, including Saudi production and export centers.

Would Iran really want to draw the Saudis and, by extension, the rest of the Sunni world into this unless absolutely necessary? In a standoff with America they’d be counting on them for Muslim solidarity. What do they gain by antagonizing them?

Anyway, food for thought.

Meanwhile, Elie Wiesel says the hour’s late.