Iran does not want a fight, but Trump and Netanyahu have other ideas
Repeated threats by Iranian leaders – most recently Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – to close the Strait of Hormuz reflect the country’s growing apprehension rather than any desire for war. They are an indirect call on the US administration to sit around the dialogue table to search for solutions.
It is true that in his speech on Sunday, Khamenei reaffirmed the Iranian leadership’s stated conviction that no good can be hoped for from dialogue with the US because it does not implement signed agreements nor respect its signature on them. But Iranian leaders would likely enter into a dialogue if it were an actual option on the table, at least to gain time and stave off the spectre of war for as long as possible.
Iran’s moderate president, Hasan Rohani, has in recent days upped the tenor of his statements warning the US of the consequences that could ensue from imposing any additional sanctions on his country. He described these anticipated sanctions as “playing with fire” which could burn its fingers, declaring that “peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
Rouhani’s threats, in the view of a senior Gulf official versed in its affairs who spoke to Raialyoum, amount to a message to the US and its current president Donald Trump to get reasonable, avoid acting recklessly and to search for other options. Iran, says this official, knows full well that closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which 18 million barrels of oil are shipped daily, would be a casus belliwhich could unite numerous international parties against it in a way that serves the aggressive designs of the US president .
There are three things Iranian leaders fear Trump could do to hurt them and their people.
First, imposing a suffocating economic embargo in the hope of turning the Iranian people against their government and prompting them to support, or at least to not oppose, any US intervention aimed at regime-change.
Secondly, stirring up non-Persian and non-Shia minority groups, along the lines of the Syrian and Iraqi models.
Third, releasing large volumes of oil from it strategic petroleum reserve onto the markets, thus causing prices to plummet to levels that would be devastating for the Iranian economy.
The Iranians cannot be expected to comply with the US’ stated preconditions for any putative dialogue, as this would mean total surrender and permanently abandoning their missile and nuclear ambitions. This is reminiscent of the Iraqi and the dire consequences it had, and can accordingly be ruled out. But if negotiations, which could be dragged out, become an option, especially with the participation of the Europeans, why not?
The Iranians’ problem is that they are dealing with two leaders who, each for his own reasons, are behaving recklessly. The fist is Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who wants to crown his career with a ‘victory’ of sorts that could spare him the fate of his predecessor Ehud Olmert, who ended up in jail convicted of corruption. And the second is Trump, who is facing mounting criticism from broad sections of both the US elite and the public, and thinks that lashing out at Iran might project him as a strong leader.
In 1988-89, the US’ released large quantities of oil from its strategic reserve onto the market and got some of its Gulf allies, especially Kuwait and the UAE, to up their production to the maximum, thus driving oil prices down to below ten dollars per barrel. This led to the collapse of the Iraqi economy, which was just emerging from an eight-year war with Iran, and ultimately prompted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait in the summer of 1990.
If the Iranian leadership were faced with the same scenario, it may feel compelled reluctantly to wage the “mother of all wars” rather than wait for the battle to be carried into its territory, its domestic front to be destabilized, and ‘revolution’ to be fomented among its ethnic and religious minorities, while its oil exports are brought to an almost complete halt. This may be what Khamenei and Rohani were alluding to in their latest remarks.
Iran might not resort to closing the Strait of Hormuz as a first step in response to the imminent American sanctions. It might suffice with releasing mines into the seaways of the Gulf and Red Sea to disrupt international shipping and cause problems for American naval vessels and oil tankers. This would lead to a rise in oil prices and insurance costs, exactly as happened in the 1980s at the height of the Iraq-Iran war.
The region is currently swaying between the ‘mother of peace’ and the ’mother of wars’ due to the existence of an unhinged and erratic US leadership that has turned itself into a tool or puppet of Netanyahu and international Zionism. This means the latter possibility cannot be ruled out.
But Iran is strong and becoming stronger, and has proven exceptionally skilled at reading developments and assessing situations. We do not think it will offer its neck voluntarily to the American and Israeli noose. It will manoeuvre and play for time. But if things reach the point of its oil livelihood being cut off and its people being starved in the hope of toppling the regime, the response may be different — very different indeed.