January 4, 2007
Iran Strategies 6: Preparing For the "Herman Option?"
We haven't had an installment of this popular (hah) series since April. (And I haven't noticed anyone screaming for its return...) But with the publication in November's Commentary of an article by historian Arthur Herman describing a new strategy for settling Iran's hash, I decided it was a good time to dust off the concept.
Our previous posts in the series are:
- Iran Strategies 1: the Guillotine Gambit
- Iran Strategies 2: Beachhead Bingo, and
- Iran Strategies 3: Re-examining the "Default Assault"
- Iran Strategies 4: the Econostrike
- Iran Strategies 5: the Joint-Stike Attack
Today, Reuters reports that the Navy has just sent a second carrier battle group (CBG), the USS John Stennis, into "the Gulf," presumably the Persian Gulf. This CBG joins that of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which entered the PG last month.
The second carrier, while adding relatively few service members to the region, is valuable as a symbol of America's increased presence in the Gulf, military analysts said.
...But they miss the point like Emily Litella. It's not the number of "service members" that counts, but the fact that between those two CBGs, we've added 180 fixed-wing and rotary aircraft to the Persian Gulf.
Take a moment to look at this map of the Persian Gulf:
Iran: Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz
The narrow pinch of the Strait of Hormuz on the far right of the Gulf -- about 20 miles wide, with two 1-mile wide sea lanes for tanker traffic -- controls delivery of about a quarter of the entire world's daily oil production. It is staggeringly important to the entire world.
The biggest fear about Iran is that, in response to an attack on their nuclear development sites, they might strike back with a catastrophic terrorist attack in the strait: Iran, Hezbollah, or both could attack an oil supertanker at the narrowest part of the strait, sinking the huge ship and sealing the passage for perhaps years... and as a serendipitous side effect, causing the worst environmental disaster in human history (I'm sure the Iranian mullahs lose sleep over that one).
There is reason to fear this option: the Iranians themselves have practically boasted about it. In Arthur Herman's Commentary piece linked above, he notes this quite matter of factly:
In April of this year, as if to drive the point home, Iranian armed forces staged elaborate war games in the Gulf, test-firing a series of new anti-ship missiles capable of devastating any tanker or unwary warship. In the boast of one Iranian admiral, April’s “Holy Prophet war games” showed what could be expected by anyone daring to violate Iran’s interests in the Gulf. A further demonstration of resolve occurred in August, when Iran fired on and then occupied a Rumanian-owned oil platform ostensibly in a dispute over ownership rights; in truth, the action was intended to show Western companies—including Halliburton, which had won a contract for constructing facilities in the Gulf—exactly which power is in charge there.
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.
As Herman notes, "contingency" plans are just that, and may never come to fruition; but clearly, Iran is thinking along these lines. And why not? How could they more seriously hurt the West than to shut off the black gold (Teheran tea) that we depend upon? (I'm sure the mullahs have followed with great glee the GOP's bootless efforts to open up a teensy-tiny fraction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to clean, modern oil extraction... along with the Gulf of Mexico and the California coast; the efforts were of course thwarted by the then-minority Democrats, who were rewarded for their intransigence by being voted into the majority.)
But on the other hand, as the saying goes, "a plan betrayed is a plan denied." The Persian Gulf is a two-edged scimitar. Herman again:
Every country in Western Europe and Asia, including those that complain most bitterly about American policy in the Middle East, depends on the steady maintenance of the global economic order that runs on Middle Eastern oil.
But -- and herein lies a fruitful irony -- so does Iran itself. Almost 90 percent of the mullahs’ oil assets are located either in or near the Gulf. So is the nuclear reactor that Russia is building for Iran at Bushehr. Virtually every Iranian well or production platform depends on access to the Gulf if Iran’s oil is to reach buyers. Hence, the same Straits by means of which Iran intends to lever itself into a position of global power present the West with its own point of leverage to reduce Iran’s power -- and to keep it reduced for at least as long as the country’s political institutions remain unprepared to enter the modern world.
On a nutshell, Iran thinks of the PG as the lever by which it will move the world; but in reality, to a truly modern nation such as the United States, the Gulf is the lever by which the rest of the world will move Iran.
Herman suggests a seven-point plan to break the logjam with Iran:
- Announce that we will not tolerate any nation interfering with the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz;
- Back that threat up by sending at least a carrier battle group (CBG) to the Persian Gulf, along with anti-submarine ships and planes (the latter are routinely carried on carriers), minesweepers, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System-equipped cruisers and destroyers, UAVs, and our own submarines;
- Declare a one-country blockade of all of Iran's oil shipments out -- and gasonline shipments in; a complete freeze-out. Everyone else gets to ship freely through the strait... just not Iran;
- Launch a "comprehensive air campaign" against Iran's air defenses, air bases, communications grid, and missile sites along the PG;
- Continue the campaign against the nuclear sites and all supporting infrastructure, including roads, bridges, power plants that serve the nuclear development centers at Natanz and Bushehr, and so forth;
- Finally, and most important, continue the campaign to take out all of Iran's gasoline refineries.
Herman points out the critical choke-point for Iran and the focus of this campaign:
It is still insufficiently appreciated that Iran, a huge oil exporter, imports nearly 40 percent of its gasoline from foreign sources, including the Gulf states. With its refineries gone and its storage facilities destroyed, Iran’s cars, trucks, buses, planes, tanks, and other military hardware would run dry in a matter of weeks or even days. This alone would render impossible any major countermoves by the Iranian army. (For its part, the Iranian navy is aging and decrepit, and its biggest asset, three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines, should and could be destroyed before leaving port.)
Contingent upon the completetion of the first six steps, Herman suggests the coup de grâce:
- American special forces would seize all of Iran's offshore wells and pumping stations, from the strait to Kharg Island (the small, unmarked island just off Iran's coast, due east of Kuwait and about 10 o'clock from Bushehr).
Herman concludes that if we did all this, we would able "to control the flow of Iranian oil at the flick of a switch."
I would add an eighth step, per our Iran Strategies 5: the Joint-Stike Attack, linked above:
- Simultaneously with the American attacks above, Israel strikes hard at Hezbollah, crippling that organization with airstrikes and missile attacks.
(This assumes, of course, that we can get Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to stop quaking in his boots long enough to actually order a serious air attack. But against what, exactly? If I may quote myself from last April:
Israel strikes the primary Hezbollah incarnations: both in Gaza and also in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, which snuggles up between the Lebanon Mountains and Syria. Not in Iran; they're too dispersed... it would be needless bombing of civilian targets to no military purpose. But Hezbollah outside Iran, which represents the bigger threat anyway.
Now back to the Reuters story. The first signal that we're prepared to "go for it" would be moving one or two CBGs to the Gulf... which according to Reuters, is exactly what we have done. The next step would be for us to shift anti-submarine, anti-ballistic-missile, and anti-mine forces -- but we likely wouldn't hear about that, since it's too much "into the weeds" for the drive-by media to interest itself in reporting.
But the next step, Phase 1 of the Herman plan, would be very visible indeed: a loud announcement that we intend to defend the Strait of Hormuz against any aggressor, by any means necessary. If that happens, believe me: we'll know about it!
The nice thing about the Herman Option, even as modified by Big Lizards, is that absolutely none of this needs any congressional approval; the president, in his capacity as Commander in Chief, simply orders the forces where he wants them... and under the War Powers Act, he, all by himself, can order them to commence bombing, too. And he can send in the Marines and SF to seize the wells, too.
The benefits would be enormous:
- Iran's economy, already teetering on the brink, might collapse completely;
- This could trigger a widespread rebellion against the mullahs: despite a surge of nationalistic feelings immediately Iran is attacked, when reality sets in -- Iran at the mercy of the Great Satan -- the rage will likely turn against the idiots whose stupid policies got them into this mess;
- Without Iranian money and weaponry, how long will Bashar Assad sit easy on the throne of Syria?
- Without Iranian support, how long can Hezbollah hold out... especially if it was just hammered by Israeli air strikes?
- Without money and munitions from his paymasters in Teheran, how long can Muqtada Sadr remain kingmaker in Iraq?
- If the United States succeeds, in just a few short years, in taking down the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party in Iraq, and finally the ruling mullahs of the most dangerous Moslem country in the world, Iran... this would seriously frighten and dishearten potential jihadis, killing recruitment of terrorists.
Islam is a very "strength" oriented culture: remember Osama bin Laden's parable about backing the "strong horse" over the "weak horse" (it's the complete opposite in Christendom, where Westerners have an inbred impulse to take the part of the underdog in a fight). [Yeah, yeah, I know: "not plane, nor bird, nor even frog -- 'tis only I... Underdog!"] By shining a light upon the pathetic weakness of even the strongest nations in the ummah when up against the liberal democratic West, we can do more to slash interest in jihad than any imaginable amount of international aid, community relations, or Euro-style appeasement.
This is something we could do; as to whether we will do it... well, that's a horse of the second water. But it sure would be nice if Bush would tidy up before leaving, tying up all the loose nuts.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 4, 2007, at the time of 4:45 AM
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The following hissed in response by: Lib-O-Suxion
Gads, it's refreshing to encounter actual tactical and strategic thought. Brilliant work. The pain is incurred when I realize that it'll never be done- by either side. Our politicians just don't have brains or cojones (won't go there with Bella Pelosi). Thanks for letting us know that there are still someout there with the ability to think.
The following hissed in response by: Bill Faith
Excellent post, Dafydd. I added an excerpt and link to OK, so now can we bomb their asses? --- Update 2
The above hissed in response by: Bill Faith at January 4, 2007 9:27 AM
The following hissed in response by: dasbow
It's my understanding that Iran actually has the basics of a Democracy in place, it's just that any freely (well, for Iran, anyway) elected government is still superceded by the Supreme Council of Guardian Mullahs. How many Mullahs and Ah'manutjob types would we need to take out so that reasonable people could take over? It'd be nice if they had to convene to plan their response so we could drop a couple Tommies on their meeting place.
The following hissed in response by: Mark McGilvray
This is a collection of halfway measures that will bring the full wrath of Americas enemies forth. Why fool around:
1) Militarily crush Iran. Decapitate its government and military. Invade the country and rule it under martial law, ala WWII Germany and Japan.
2) Turn Israel loose on Hezbollah and Syria. Let them crush and invade Syria.
3) Tell our detractors to eat s**t.
The following hissed in response by: Davod
What happens when one of the varriers gets hit by an errant Iranian mine or missile, killing maybe 2000 sailors. Do we fight or run?
The following hissed in response by: Davod
Varriers should read carriers.
The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh
What happens when one of the carriers gets hit by an errant Iranian mine or missile, killing maybe 2000 sailors?
Well, they try not to do that sort of thing.
The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh at January 5, 2007 4:52 AM
The following hissed in response by: DaveR
"What happens when one of the carriers gets hit by an errant Iranian mine or missile, killing maybe 2000 sailors?"
In these situations, I think it is best to ask, "What would a Democrat do?". Then do the opposite.
Perhaps we could arrange for John Effen Kerry to single-handedly lead an attack against all those suicide boats, since he is a decorated naval hero. We would just have to pray that they didn't use their deadly rice-a-roni torpedos, because Admiral(jg) Kerry fears only one thing, and that's killer rice.
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