Analysis: Something Stopped Trump From Striking Iran, and It Wasn’t 150 Lives

U.S. president says he aborted an attack on Iran out of concern for civilians, but his real fear is what one attack could spiral into

  Zvi Bar’el | Haaretz

U.S. President Donald Trump’s flip-flopping over three days may be the most important calming signal that the Middle East has received recently. It was said that all the major ingredients that could justify an American military offensive against Iran had come together.

Things had come to a boil in the Persian Gulf when Saudi, Japanese and other tanker ships were damaged in naval attacks. Without decisive proof, Iran was suggested as the culprit. And Yemini Houthis fired missiles into Saudi Arabia – into Jizan province and at an airfield in Abha – prompting battle cries against Iran.     

Iran has shortened the period in which it will step up its enrichment of uranium and thereby violate the nuclear deal. The heads of the Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards have threatened that, despite their desire to avoid a violent confrontation, they wouldn’t hesitate to hit American targets if Iran were attacked. Tensions peaked with Iran’s downing of an American drone last week.

The legitimization for an attack was now ripe, a bank of Iranian targets was assembled and the order to deploy American forces was given. But all of a sudden, nothing. It was back to square one.

On a closer look, the two justifications for carrying out a U.S. attack were flimsy. “Circumstantial proof” is insufficient to launch a strike that in the blink of an eye could spiral into a regional war. The downing of the drone got caught up between American claims that the aircraft had been over international waters and the Iranians’ assertions that the drone had violated their airspace.

Such proof is often used by Israel to justify attacks on Hamas on a scale that doesn’t affect the Middle East as a whole. But this isn’t sufficient for a world power that has to take into account the possibility that its close allies could be hit. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, at least publicly, said they didn’t want a war in the Gulf.

Israeli defense officials have said Iran could employ its branches in Lebanon and Syria, either in response to an attack on it or to put pressure on Washington. Only the Israeli government remained silent, instead they should have adopted the Saudi stance because Israeli targets are also on the Iranians’ hit-list.

Trump explained his decision not to attack was a desire to avoid killing 150 Iranians. Such a humanitarian explanation would have been heartwarming if it hadn’t come from the president still arming the Saudi military that’s killing thousands in Yemen. This is also the president who wasn’t upset that thousands of Syrian and Iranian civilians were hit in American attacks during the war against the Islamic State. It’s also the president who’s incapable of showing concern for the masses of migrants seeking to enter the United States from Mexico.

In any event, hadn’t the estimate of 150 dead in a U.S. strike been known before the decision to attack was made? The American intelligence services should be given credit for being able to estimate the number of fatalities in such an attack, but it would be interesting to know when such casualties stopped being unavoidable collateral damage and became a humanitarian disaster that Washington couldn’t tolerate.

The important thing, however, isn’t simply Trump’s decision-making process, if the way he tosses around orders can be deemed a process. It’s the consequences of his most recent decision on the confrontation zone in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

The U.S. administration has a vision and aspirations vis-à-vis Iran, but it lacks a strategy to bring them about. The sanctions that Trump has imposed are among the harshest that the country has known, but eight months after being put in place, they still haven’t made Iran succumb.

In their regular interpretations, analysts have been able to point out the huge losses that the Iranians have been sustaining, the exodus of companies that could invest in the country and the fact that most of Iran’s oil customers have stopped buying from the Islamic Republic. But what’s lacking is information or an estimate on how long Iran can survive under such harsh conditions.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein continued to function for more than a decade under a sanctions regime that was harsher than that currently imposed on Iran, and Saddam’s regime was ultimately only defeated on the battlefield. There is no proof that the Iranian regime will act any differently, but the Trump administration has presented no practical strategy for a situation in which Iran sticks to its policy and refuses to negotiate a new nuclear agreement. Is the United States prepared to resort to all-out war to bring down the Iranian regime?

Iran’s decision to exceed the limitations of the current nuclear agreement appear to give the United States and the Western signatories to the agreement grounds to attack Iran. But such concerted action would require a consensus among these countries.

It doesn’t exist at the moment and it’s doubtful that it could be achieved. Some European Union countries are making major efforts, albeit without major success, to create a path to bypass the U.S. sanctions. And Russia and China certainly wouldn’t lend a hand to a war against Iran.

The United States could therefore find itself alone facing both Iran and international antagonism. Granted that the anti-American international coalition that arose following the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear accord hasn’t impressed Trump, but there’s a fundamental difference between diplomacy and war. In any case, even when it comes to such circumstances, Washington doesn’t appear to have a convincing road map.

The dilemma that should guide any military confrontation is whether it should be broken down into a series of attacks designed to “send a message” or whether an assault should be reserved for a last resort that would be applied with full force. In other circumstances, the response to the attacks in the Gulf could have sufficed with surgical, one-time strikes that would send a message.

But the Gulf region could react poorly to narrowly targeted attacks and spiral quickly into a battlefield involving many countries. It appears that this consideration rather than a loss of life among Iranian civilians is what stopped Trump from carrying out his earlier decision.

Israel will certainly tell him that in the process he has raised the threshold for a response and that Iran will interpret the decision as weakness on the part of the United States, because that’s how things are in the Middle East.

From Jerusalem’s standpoint, a twofold opportunity has been missed – Sending Iran a message, and it’s the United States, not Israel, that would send the message. But sending messages isn’t a linear process that assures a desired result. Israel learned that well on other fronts, just as the United States learned its lesson in its own confrontations.

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  • guyaneseonline  On 07/04/2019 at 12:45 am

    Shutting Down the Gulf Oil Trade: All Iran Needs to Do to Destroy the World Economy
    – by Pepe Escobar (Strategic Culture) 22 June 2019
    Posted on June 22, 2019 by xenagoguevicene

    Economics: War is Coming
    Sooner or later the US “maximum pressure” on Iran would inevitably be met by “maximum counter-pressure”. Sparks are ominously bound to fly.

    For the past few days, intelligence circles across Eurasia had been prodding Tehran to consider a quite straightforward scenario. There would be no need to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if Quds Force commander, General Qasem Soleimani, the ultimate Pentagon bête noire, explained in detail, on global media, that Washington simply does not have the military capacity to keep the Strait open.

    As I previously reported, shutting down the Strait of Hormuz would destroy the American economy by detonating the $1.2 quadrillion derivatives market; and that would collapse the world banking system, crushing the world’s $80 trillion GDP and causing an unprecedented depression.

    Soleimani should also state bluntly that Iran may in fact shut down the Strait of Hormuz if the nation is prevented from exporting essential two million barrels of oil a day, mostly to Asia. Exports, which before illegal US sanctions and de facto blockade would normally reach 2.5 million barrels a day, now may be down to only 400,000.

    Soleimani’s intervention would align with consistent signs already coming from the IRGC. The Persian Gulf is being described as an imminent “shooting gallery.” Brigadier General Hossein Salami stressed that Iran’s ballistic missiles are capable of hitting “carriers in the sea” with pinpoint precision. The whole northern border of the Persian Gulf, on Iranian territory, is lined up with anti-ship missiles – as I confirmed with IRGC-related sources.

    We’ll let you know when it’s closed

    Then, it happened.

    Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Baqeri, went straight to the point; “If the Islamic Republic of Iran were determined to prevent export of oil from the Persian Gulf, that determination would be realized in full and announced in public, in view of the power of the country and its Armed Forces.”

    The facts are stark. Tehran simply won’t accept all-out economic war lying down – prevented to export the oil that protects its economic survival. The Strait of Hormuz question has been officially addressed. Now it’s time for the derivatives.

    Presenting detailed derivatives analysis plus military analysis to global media would force the media pack, mostly Western, to go to Warren Buffett to see if it is true. And it is true. Soleimani, according to this scenario, should say as much and recommend that the media go talk to Warren Buffett.

    The extent of a possible derivatives crisis is an uber-taboo theme for the Washington consensus institutions. According to one of my American banking sources, the most accurate figure – $1.2 quadrillion – comes from a Swiss banker, off the record. He should know; the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank of central banks – is in Basle.

    The key point is it doesn’t matter how the Strait of Hormuz is blocked.

    It could be a false flag. Or it could be because the Iranian government feels it’s going to be attacked and then sinks a cargo ship or two. What matters is the final result; any blocking of the energy flow will lead the price of oil to reach $200 a barrel, $500 or even, according to some Goldman Sachs projections, $1,000.

    Another US banking source explains; “The key in the analysis is what is called notional. They are so far out of the money that they are said to mean nothing. But in a crisis the notional can become real. For example, if I buy a call for a million barrels of oil at $300 a barrel, my cost will not be very great as it is thought to be inconceivable that the price will go that high. That is notional. But if the Strait is closed, that can become a stupendous figure.”

    BIS will only commit, officially, to indicate the total notional amount outstanding for contracts in derivatives markers is an estimated $542.4 trillion. But this is just an estimate.

    The banking source adds, “Even here it is the notional that has meaning. Huge amounts are interest rate derivatives. Most are notional but if oil goes to a thousand dollars a barrel, then this will affect interest rates if 45% of the world’s GDP is oil. This is what is called in business a contingent liability.”

    Goldman Sachs has projected a feasible, possible $1,000 a barrel a few weeks after the Strait of Hormuz being shut down. This figure, times 100 million barrels of oil produced per day, leads us to 45% of the $80 trillion global GDP. It’s self-evident the world economy would collapse based on just that alone.

    War dogs barking mad

    As much as 30% of the world’s oil supply transits the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Wily Persian Gulf traders – who know better – are virtually unanimous; if Tehran was really responsible for the Gulf of Oman tanker incident, oil prices would be going through the roof by now. They aren’t.

    Iran’s territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz amount to 12 nautical miles (22 km). Since 1959, Iran recognizes only non-military naval transit.

    Since 1972, Oman’s territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz also amount to 12 nautical miles. At its narrowest, the width of the Strait is 21 nautical miles (39 km). That means, crucially, that half of the Strait of Hormuz is in Iranian territorial waters, and the other half in Oman’s. There are no “international waters”.

    And that adds to Tehran now openly saying that Iran may decide to close the Strait of Hormuz publicly – and not by stealth.

    Iran’s indirect, asymmetric warfare response to any US adventure will be very painful. Prof. Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran once again reconfirmed, “even a limited strike will be met by a major and disproportionate response.” And that means gloves off, big time; anything from really blowing up tankers to, in Marandi’s words, “Saudi and UAE oil facilities in flames”.

    Hezbollah will launch tens of thousands of missiles against Israel. As Hezbollah’s secretary-general Hasan Nasrallah has been stressing in his speeches, “war on Iran will not remain within that country’s borders, rather it will mean that the entire [Middle East] region will be set ablaze. All of the American forces and interests in the region will be wiped out, and with them the conspirators, first among them Israel and the Saudi ruling family.”

    It’s quite enlightening to pay close attention to what this Israel intel op is saying. The dogs of war though are barking mad.

    Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to CENTCOM in Tampa to discuss “regional security concerns and ongoing operations” with – skeptical – generals, a euphemism for “maxim pressure” eventually leading to war on Iran.

    Iranian diplomacy, discreetly, has already informed the EU – and the Swiss – about their ability to crash the entire world economy. But still that was not enough to remove US sanctions.

    War zone in effect

    As it stands in Trumpland, former CIA Mike “We lied, We cheated, We stole”Pompeo – America’s “top diplomat” – is virtually running the Pentagon. “Acting” secretary Shanahan performed self-immolation. Pompeo continues to actively sell the notion the “intelligence community is convinced” Iran is responsible for the Gulf of Oman tanker incident. Washington is ablaze with rumors of an ominous double bill in the near future; Pompeo as head of the Pentagon and Psycho John Bolton as Secretary of State. That would spell out War.

    Yet even before sparks start to fly, Iran could declare that the Persian Gulf is in a state of war; declare that the Strait of Hormuz is a war zone; and then ban all “hostile” military and civilian traffic in its half of the Strait. Without firing a single shot, no shipping company on the planet would have oil tankers transiting the Persian Gulf.

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