As tensions between Washington and Tehran rise exponentially over the case of a purported assassination plot against Saudi Arabiaâs ambassador to the U.S., some American politicians are calling for military action.
Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King told CNN that the âflagrant and notoriousâ plot meant that, âWe should not be... automatically saying we're not going to have military action.â
Saudi Arabia has also weighed in on the issue. Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence services and previously Riyadhâs ambassador to Washington said, âThe burden of proof is overwhelming, and clearly shows official Iranian responsibility for this. Somebody in Iran will have to pay the price.â
If conflict does arise between Iran and Saudi Arabia and/or the United States, there are three issues to consider.
First, given Chinaâs close relationship with Iran, which provides its third largest source of oil imports after Saudi Arabia and Angola, Beijing is likely to veto any U.S. appeals to the UN Security Council, as is the Russian Federation, which also has close bilateral ties with Iran and many personnel deployed at Iranâs Bushehr nuclear reactor, who would be maimed or killed in any aerial strike on Iranâs nuclear facilities.
Secondly, If the United States does decide to âgo it aloneâ it already has formidable military assets deployed in the Persian Gulf, from the U.S. Navyâs Fifth Fleet deployed in Bahrain to the U.S. Air Forceâs access to Qatarâs al-Udaid airbase.
But as in 2003 with Iraq, Washington can forget about using its aerial assets at Turkeyâs massive Incirlik airbase to open a northwestern front against Iran. Last month Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Turkish and Iranian militaries are cooperating in intelligence sharing and gearing up to escalate their joint operations against the Kurds in Iraq. In an interview with CNN on 25 September Erdogan said, âI am speaking very frankly. Unless Turkey is attacked, we will never allow Iran to be attacked from the Turkish territory.â
It is also unlikely that Washington could somehow convince NATO to participate, as Turkey hosts the allianceâs second strongest military, even if Washington might try to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizationâs charter, which states, âThe Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.â A thwarted assassination attempt would not seem to fit the criteria of an âarmed attack.â
Third, given that Saudi Arabia and Iran are respectively OPECâs number one and two producers, if Iran subsequently decided after being attacked to interfere with tanker traffic through the Straits of Hormuz at the southern end of the Persian Gulf, where 40 percent of the worldâs oil tankers sail, then oil prices would rise dramatically.
Accordingly, Iranian wargamers must be breathing a sigh of relief that their northern maritime border, the Caspian, is effectively barred to outside naval forces.
When the USSR collapsed in December 1991, the Soviet Union and Iran effectively divided the Caspian between them. Since then, while four states have replaced the USSR- Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan, sharing a coastline with Iran, geography remains geography.
The Caspian is an endorheic sea â all rivers flow into it, with no egress to the open ocean. The sole entry to the Caspian is the Volga-Don Canal, under the Russian Federationâs sovereign control.
Accordingly, should events become difficult, unlike the Persian Gulf, Iran knows that no external naval forces will be entering the Caspian for military operations.
The major naval force on the Caspian currently is the Russian navy, with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan barely able to field any ships at all.
Accordingly, if relations between Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. lead to conflict, expect the operations to occur in the south of the country.
And oil prices to soar through the stratosphere.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com