The recent attack by Iran on a Saudi oil field is the latest provocation by Iran and is probably the result of the newly imposed sanctions. Long term they will continue until the West – read the U.S., the Gulf Cooperation Council and some of its allies take action to force the Iranian government to stop.
Through its secret police and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the rulers of Iran maintain a vise grip on the country making an internal revolt unlikely. An invasion is off the table because of the potential casualties. Air strikes will have limited effect and will require subsequently larger, more expensive and risky in terms of potential POWs.
The question facing U.S. policy makers is “how does one change the way Iran behaves?” The answer is simple – mine the approaches to Iranian oil loading terminals.
Admittedly, it is an act of war, but recently Iran crossed that threshold with by attacking a Saudi refinery and attached mines to neutral tankers. If one goes back a few years, they’ve fired cruise missiles and rocket propelled grenades, machine guns and laid mines indiscriminately in the Persian Gulf.
Here’s why this will work. Iran has four major oil loading terminals (Bandar-e Eman Khomeini, Jazireh-ye-Khark, Jazireh-ye-Sirri, Jazireh-ye-Qeshm) either close to or outside beyond the 12 mile limit. Their four major ports – Abadan, Bushehr, Kangan and Bandar-Abbas all have oil loading terminals with limited lines of approach.
The strategy is simple. One, lay mines in international waters so that tankers cannot safely dock or leave the terminals. Two, announce the mines have been laid via Notice to Mariners. Three, work out agreements with Iran’s major oil customers to have other Arabian Gulf, European, U.S., Canada, or Indonesian suppliers to provide affordable oil and natural gas. The exceptions would be the PRC, the number one customer for Iranian Oil and North Korea.
The mines could be laid with little risk to U.S. forces via submarine and aircraft. To keep the Iranians from attempting to clear the mines, warships could be stationed nearby.
Once the mines are in place, insurance rates for tankers scheduled to load at Iranian ports will go sky high. Prices on the spot market will spike until oil from alternative suppliers noted above start to reach former Iranian customers.
Iran cannot pump enough oil through its pipeline through Turkey to generate the income the government needs to survive. Its economy will collapse and to survive the government will have to agree to stop sponsoring terrorism and eliminate its nuclear weapons program.
Some countries – Russia, the PRC, and their allies would condemn the act but what could or would they do? The approach actually benefits Russia who can try to sell more oil to those countries that are affected.
This strategy has two significant side benefits. One, it puts extreme pressure on Iran’s second largest customer – North Korea because at best, it has a 45 – 60 day supply of oil. It also puts pressure on its largest customer – the People’s Republic of China and force it to agree to (1) respect international intellectual property agreements; (2) stop currency manipulation and conform to international banking practices and laws; (3) end dumping products on the open market; (4) allow more imports; (5) help force Kim Jong-un to get rid of his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and negotiate a viable, enforceable peace treaty with South Korea.
We (and the Europeans, Japanese and South Koreans) have very credible mine clearing capabilities. Our mines have timers to disable them after a period of time. Once the Iranian regime collapses or agrees to end its nuclear program and stop supporting international terrorism, the mines will be cleared.
It is not if this will work, but if the U.S. has the balls to execute it.