Tactics and Strategy at the Strait of Hormuz

Afonso de Albuquerque arrived at the Indian Ocean in 1506, commanding a squadron of five war vessels integrated in Tristão da Cunha's Armada. In the summer of 1507, after the conquest of Socotra, the Armada's main objective, Afonso de Albuquerque departed on his own, commanding a fleet of six vessels and 500 marines to take the easternmost island at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, called by local folk Hormuz. Defeating a garrison of 15 000 men with his artillery, Albuquerque took Hormuz and commissioned the construction of a fortress. This island would eventually lend its name to one of the most important choke-points of the Indian Ocean, at the time the principal commercial pathway of commodities from Asia to Europe. Afonso de Albuquerque had brought with him from Lisbon a sealed letter appointing him as Vice-King to the East Indies, replacing Francisco de Almeida, whose strict naval prowess policy didn't impress the territory-hungry King. A period of indecision ensued, with most naval officers in the region initially refusing Albuquerque's rule and Hormuz was lost. In 1515, in his final days as Vice-King, Afonso de Albuquerque stormed Hormuz once again, taking it for good without military resistance. The fortress that stands to this day was finally completed, sealing the command over the commerce in the region. Beyond fortresses, the Portuguese left another lasting mark of their presence in Persia, which is the name of the currency, the rial.

After the Portuguese came the Persians, and then the English. The importance of the fortress waned, but that of the Strait of Hormuz itself, if anything, has only increased. Commodities flow in the opposite way these days, but unlike the luxury and exoticism of the past, today these are vital inputs to the world economy.


About a month ago, when Iranian officials started venting the idea of closing the Strait of Hormuz to commercial traffic, Western media was prompt in reviewing the events of 1981. At that time, Iranian forces mined the Strait and engaged commercial vessels with rubber speedboats in what was largely seen as a pathetic attempt to control the area. The media seems to think that Iranian officials are talking about using similar tactics today. In reality, the military technology deployed by Iran in the region is completely different today, creating a strategic scenario totally different from that of 30 years ago.

According to the EIA, 17 million barrels of petroleum crossed the Strait of Hormuz each day during 2011. This makes up almost 40% of the international petroleum market, clearly the most important choke-point of the world for this commodity; on average 28 oil tankers cross the Strait every day, half of them empty and inbound, the other half outbound. Adding to petroleum is liquified natural gas (LNG), exported by Qatar and the UAE ; over 6 million tones of LNG cross the Strait every month, about 25% of the international market. All of this traffic takes place very close to Iranian waters and shores.

Iran is a very large country, with an area of almost 1 700 000 km2, more than Spain, France, Italy, and Germany combined. To its south, Iran has a coast almost 1700 km long, which makes up all the north shores of the Persian Gulf (hence the name) and the Gulf of Oman. Along this coast lie numerous islands of assorted sizes, including Levan, Hendorabi, Kish, Forur, Sirri, Abu Masa, the Tunb twins, Qeshm, Hengrn, Lark, and of course, Hormuz. All these islands are found west of the Strait, Hormuz being effectively the eastern most of them all. Qeshm is by far the largest of these islands, with 1490 km2, larger than all the other islands together. Contrary to what its name suggests, the narrowest section of the Strait is along the southeastern shores of Qeshm, between the smaller islands of Hengrn and Lark. Between Lark and the smaller isles of Oman, there are less than 40 km of water. Sovereignty over the Strait waters is divided by Iran and Oman. The northern half is shallower and less suitable for large vessel navigation. Being deeper, the Omani half provides for the narrow naval corridors that make up what has been for centuries one of the world's most important commercial routes.

The Strait of Hormuz. Source: Wikipaedia.

This post tries to portray the economic and military chessboard around the Strait of Hormuz today. In the first section, I try to gather the main characteristics of Iran's economy and how it may be impacted by the sanctions being imposed today; a second section dives into the military technology Iran has to act upon the Strait; and in a third section I'll draw several hypothetical strategic scenarios that may develop in the region.

Part I – Iran's Economy

In this section I'll look into Iran's economy and try to understand the possible consequences of the sanctions imposed recently by the US, and to be followed shortly by the EU. This analysis doesn't pretend to be in any way a thorough account of Iran's socio-economic fabric, but simply a collection of points that are relevant in the present crisis. The data presented here were collected mostly from Wikipaedia and the World Factbook.

First of all, it is important to situate Iran in the world economic map. The country has a population of 78 million, and in 2010 its GDP increased to 400 G$. This puts Iran into the top 30 economies of the world, although in terms of GDP per capita, with a nominal figure of 6 250 $/cap/a, it is within the middle of world rank, on par with countries like Serbia and Belarus; though well ahead of China, for instance. Using purchasing power parity figures, Iran looks quite different; with some 12 000 PPP GDP/cap/a, it figures ahead of Brasil and not far from European states like Romania or Bulgaria. An important aspect about Iran is that unlike most of its oil exporting neighbours, it seems to have almost finished its population transition, with the growth rate slowly but steadily in decline since the 1980s; presently at 1.1 %/a.

Iran's population growth rate. Source: Google.

Iran is a hybrid economy, with half of it spread over a diversified portfolio of private enterprises, and the other half subject to centralized planning. The country is presently in the middle of a very ambitious five-year plan ending in 2015. This plan aims at two large goals: to become self sufficient, and to shift the focus of exports from petroleum to industrial goods and gas. This includes investment in ore mining and an increase of steel and cement production; the petrochemical industry should double in size and the rail network largely expand. The famous energy subsidies (more ahead) are to be completely phased out, in order to force a competitive hike of local industries. Iranian leaders have a big vision for their country: a modernized industrial economy that transforms abundant energy into value-added goods for export.

The analysis of Iran's budget is quite difficult, given the contradictory data available. The World Factbook figures are 110 G$ for revenues (27% of GDP) and 90 G$ for expenses (22% of GDP); in Wikipaedia the revenue figure is put at 500 G$, which would come at 125% of GDP. Also from Wikipaedia, it can be learnt that revenues from oil exports stand at about 60 $/b, multiplying this by 2.2 Mb/d and 365 days it amounts to 50 G$ for the yearly oil revenue; a plausible figure that's 45% of the budget revenue and 55% of expenses. Gas itself doesn't seem to contribute in any relevant way to the budget, though internal consumption is about 75% of production; what happens to the remaining 25%, I couldn't determine. But the most intriguing aspect about Iran's budget is the energy subsidies. Wikipaedia quotes a dead link to Iran Daily that claims that this figure was 84 G$ in 2008, including oil products, gas and electricity, implying that over 90% of expenses are used for this purpose (this could be referring to lost revenue instead, but even then it would be too high).

Looking at the trade balance, Iran runs an yearly surplus of 28 G$, about 7% of GDP. Exports in 2010 were worth around 84 G$, of which 80% was crude petroleum and 4% petrochemicals. The largest buyers of these goods were China (16%), India (13%), and Japan (12%), in what seems to be a fairly wide portfolio of export partners. Imports in 2010 amounted to 59 G$, of which about half were industrial raw materials and a third capital goods. The largest sources of these goods by a good margin were the UAE and China, with 15% each; again, the portfolio of import partners is quite wide, with certain European states showing some relevance, especially Germany (10%) and Italy (5%). Beyond the countries mentioned, Iran also has important commercial relations with South Korea, both on imports and exports. A contradictory account was given days ago by the Tehran Times, claiming that the non-oil trade balance will be at zero next year. This latter claim would imply an expansion of non-oil exports close to 70 G$, from 17 G$ in 2010.

Although Wikipaedia presents a round figure of 100 G$ for the total foreign currency reserves held by Iran, the World Factbook presents a relatively lower figure - 75 G$ at the end of 2010, and a declining trend from over 80 G$ in 2008. This is one of the important points where the information available is diverse, though the declining trend helps explaining the rapid devaluation of the rial since last summer.

As stated above, Iran consumes most of the gas it produces, primarily to generate electricity in relatively inefficient thermal plants. The 2010 – 2015 economic plan obviously intends to change this with the development of a nuclear park, freeing this gas for export. Adding to this is a rapid expansion of production in the South Pars field, by which Iran intends to multiply by five its oil and gas revenues, to 250 G$/year in 2015. Undoubtedly an ambitious figure, especially considering that sovereignty over parts of this mammoth field is still in dispute, especially in the border with Kuwait.

In another important sector, that of agriculture, Iran appears quite healthy. Long term programming since the 1979 revolution has slowly fostered an increase in the country's food output, underpinned by a shift from subsistence to industrial agriculture and the construction of dams that widened the irrigated area. Today Iran produces about 90% of the foodstuff it consumes and has recently become a net exporter of wheat. It imports mostly rice, and since its exports (fruits, nuts, animal hides, spices) are more valuable, it could even be running an agricultural trade surplus, though I haven't found hard data to confirm this.

As a final relevant characteristic, I'd like to point to Iran's parallel economy, which accounts for 30% of the foreign trade, according to Wikipaedia. This implies huge revenues missed every year by the government, but more than that, points to corruption mechanisms deeply installed in state institutions. At this distance, and without hard data, I'll avoid diving further into this subject, though this may have an important impact on the final outcome of Iran's present economic plan.

Sanctions impact

Up to this point the most visible consequence of the tensions with NATO around the nuclear programme has been the devaluation of the national currency, the rial. The currency underwent a steady decline in 2011 that has accelerated since August; so far it has lost half of its value. Investors and common folk flocked to foreign currency and gold, even exchanging hard assets for liquidity. Between August and December, the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) alone sold 40 tons of gold. In the weeks before Christmas, when the US Congress approved the new batch of sanctions, the CBI apparently lost the ability to supply US dollars, likely due to a stock rupture of greenback bills. A bank run ensued, and in the days before Christmas folk piled in to the CBI branches in Tehran to exchange their money for gold. In three days, five tons of gold were sold and the price of this metal at independent exchange offices clearly exceeded the values in international markets. The Iranian government was very close to losing control during this time, something largely missed by the western media. I found this information well documented on a metals exchange forum, that in the meantime has mysteriously been removed from the public domain. The CBI stopped selling cash gold on 23 December, possibly due to a coin stock rupture, and now only offers four months futures contracts. Soon after, the government outlawed the exchange of rials for foreign currencies or gold.

The driver behind this devaluation of the rial is the perceived impact on the state's budget, with a decline in revenues from oil exports. In fact, the amount of oil Iran presently exports to non aligned countries is not that large. A rough estimate points to 500 kb/d to China and India combined, while the remainder is relatively scattered. Especially if Korea and Japan join the US and the EU in these sanctions, it could become effectively impossible for Iran to export most of its surplus oil, even temporarily. Government spending will certainly come under strain, affecting investments and likely the famous subsidies. Given the amount of foreign currency reserves it holds, Iran should in theory be able to sustain a de facto budget deficit for some time. But it is the vision of the erosion of the budget that is undermining the rial, as investors do not believe present leaders and/or institutions will be able to deal with this crisis and avoid the eventual exhaustion of foreign currency. Imports are also at stake, with scattered news reporting consequences for other sectors of the economy; as an example, Iranian airplanes have recently been having difficulties in getting refueled abroad. Nevertheless, given Iran's relative independence in certain sectors, daily life might not be subject to major constraints (i.e. empty shelves), provided the rial is brought under control.

In the longer term, these sanctions have another outcome: the impairment of the present economic plan. More than investment, the transformation of Iran into an industrial economy will certainly require the OECD markets to export the resulting products - in the first place, gas. The import of certain technologies and industrial goods only available from the West will also be affected, further impacting the modernization plan. Even if healthy commercial relations with other Asian nations survive, those are for the most part economies going through a similar process of industrial modernization, and in all likelihood will not be receptive to the same sort of products they export themselves. In essence Iran may endure but cannot permanently afford these sorts of sanctions, as they create a state in which Iranian institutions are forced to take serious measures.

Part II – Iran's tactical options around the Strait of Hormuz

In this part I'll go through several technologies that seem relevant in the military chessboard of the region; though somewhat long, this list isn't exhaustive. I've no access to military intelligence, hence consider this a picture with many blanks to fill. Besides that, it is important to note that the weapons industry today uses many of the marketing tactics used by civilian industries, so the information they release to the public should never be taken as complete or totally accurate. And finally, many of the weapons here described were never used in combat (and I hope they never will), which only adds to the uncertainty of the information appearing in the public domain.

II.I Anti-Ship Missiles

The most important weapons Iran has in the region are its anti-ship missiles, a plethora of technologies that allow for remote targeting of sea vessels without much exposure. The following paragraphs run down from smaller to largest.

C-701 and derivatives
These are small air to surface missiles developed in China to target small vessels, with less than 200 tones displacement. They are subsonic and have a short operational range, no more than 20 km, but its low flight altitude, less than 20 meters, and the continuous development of its guiding system guarantee a high rate of accuracy, over 95%. China seems to produce a special version with an upgraded guidance system of this missile for the external market called C-703. Iran itself produces internally another version developed to be launched from ground vehicles (and possibly sea vessels), called the Kowsar. With further upgrades to its guidance system, Iranian officials have claimed it can resist electronic interference. Due to its short range, this family of missiles need some sort of exposure to be deployed outside Iran's borders; even in the Strait, they must be either fired from the air or from small sea vessels. This requires some degree of air supremacy for a sustainable usage during a military conflict.

A Kowsar was likely the weapon used by the Hezbollah to hit the INS Hanit, ten nautical miles (18 km) off Beirut in 2006. The Israeli corvette (over 1000 tons displacement) was severely damaged but remained afloat: with propulsion systems partially functioning, it was able to retreat to safety and head back to Israel for repairs. A controversial aspect about this event was the fact that the automatic missile defence system on board the corvette was switched off, thus it remains unknown how resilient the Kowsar is to this sort of defence.

C-704 and Nasr-1
This is the big brother to the C-701, with a similar top speed, cruise altitude, and accuracy. The main difference is its size, capable of transporting a warhead of 130 kg, four times that of the C-701, thus able to menace sea vessels up to 4000 tones of displacement. Another difference is a higher range, over 30 km, thus able to hit targets in Omani waters from land based launchers. Their main strength seems to be their low cost compared to other weapons able to target similar vessels. The number of units Iran has acquired from China is not public.

In 2008, Iran successfully tested a home made missile called Nasr-1 that seems to be an upgrade of the C-704, with a larger warhead (150 kg) and a slightly longer range. Iranian officials have since then been quoted in the press saying Iran is presently mass producing these missiles; how many it may have produced already is an open question. Further tests have followed, always presented to the press as a success.

The relevance of this class of short range missiles is its numbers; though I couldn't track down a precise figure, some reports pointed to an arsenal over 300 units at the beginning of the century, before both the Nasr-1 and the Kowsar went into production.

C-601 and other Silkworm class missiles
This was a class of very large missiles developed in China from original Soviet designs. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Chinese sold them to both sides and they were used in several important actions during the conflict. In general, these missiles carry half tonne warheads and have operational ranges in excess of 150 km. The C-601 was the air launched class of this family that was also used by Iran against Iraq. Earlier versions were not very accurate (about 70% hit probability) and today wouldn't have much chance against modern defence systems. China kept supplying these missiles and an upgraded version, the C-201, to the Middle East; in 1988 sales of these weapons to Iran officially stopped, but Iran has today the capabilities to produce them. I haven't found information on numbers and more importantly, on what technological upgrades Iran may have introduced. In any case, the original Silkworm version is a weapon that is quite able to hit commercial vessels or other unprotected civilian targets, like it successfully did during the Iran-Iraq war.

C-802 and Noor
The C-802 is a high-range, high-accuracy missile developed in China. It is a two stage rocket that detaches part of the fuselage containing the take-off fuel at cruise speed. Cruising speed is just under Mach 1 (the speed of sound) and the autopilot can lower cruise altitude below ten meters if the sea isn't rough. It is highly resilient to electronic interference and has a low radar signature; accuracy is reported in excess of 98%. It carries a 165 kg warhead capable of piercing warship armour. This missile is also thought capable of targeting large vessels, even larger than those targeted by the C-704. With a range of 200 km, this is clearly a fierce weapon, providing its owner serious military projection.

Iran ordered 150 C-802 from China in 1991. Shipping eventually stopped in 1996 under the pressure of the US with only 60 units delivered, a move that attests to the relevance of this weapon. Though they can be deployed from air, sea, or land, it is thought that Iran has all its C-802 in mobile land launchers, spread around the shores of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

In spite of the suspension of deliveries from China, Iran was able to develop its own version of this missile, called Noor, possibly introducing further developments. Numbers are unknown, but this weapon has been in production for several years; at least one successful test was reported by the press in 2006. This is one of the tactical questions of the Strait of Hormuz: how many Noor missiles Iran has and how accurate they are. Even so, the 60 C-802s are enough of a menace by themselves.

An Iranian warship firing a Noor missile. Source: MidEastSecurity.co.uk.

SS-N-22 Moskit
This is the most important sea warfare weapon Iran has. Originally called Moskit, it was designed at the end of the Cold War by the USSR specifically to avoid NATO anti-missile defences. First of all it is very fast, cruising at Mach 3 at high altitude and Mach 2.2 near the surface; at maximum speed this missile can cross the Strait of Hormuz from coast to coast in less than one minute. Secondly, it is capable of executing random changes of direction when closing the target, thus making it very difficult for automatic defences to calculate its trajectory. This is a large missile, weighing 4.5 tones, capable of transporting a warhead of 320 kg; its range is reported differently from different sources but modern versions seem to reach more than 100 km. This technology was inherited by Russia, who has continued their development, producing more advanced versions. This family of missiles is usually referenced as the deadliest naval weapon in existence, with an accuracy rate over 99%.

Visiting Moscow in 2001, the Iranian Defence Minister requested a demonstration of these missiles and was impressed enough to order an undisclosed amount. Apart from this, information is scant, though speculation abounds. Iran certainly has this weapon, but in what quantities and exactly which version is not public. Was the order in 2001 the only one, or has Iran continued to buy these missiles? Has Iran acquired older or modern versions, in particular the upgraded Yukhon?

In the first years of the last decade, when it became known Russia was selling these missiles to China, India, and Iran, there was speculation that NATO had no effective defence against them. This known for more than two decades at the time, NATO surely has had the time to study ways to defend itself against these weapons. Nevertheless, NATO has never faced such missiles in combat and considering the close distances in the Strait, and the possibility of Iran using several of them in a simultaneous attack, the hypothesis of relevant damage inflicted in the event they are ever employed seems reasonable.

A Moskit missile. Source: Tactical Missiles Coorporation.

Khalij Fars ballistic missile
When this post was discussed at the EuropeanTribune, some folk raised the question of Iran having anti-ship ballistic missiles. Such is indeed the case, as about one year ago, a tactical missile named Khalij Fars (farsi for Persian Gulf) was presented to the press with nothing short of a spectacular demonstration. It carries a 650 kg warhead, has a maximum speed in excess of Mach 3, and a maximum range of 300 km. A missile this large on a ballistic trajectory should be relatively easy to defend against; during the Gulf War in 1991, NATO achieved a good deal of success against Scud missiles, which can reach speeds in excess of Mach 5. The only menace they may pose is when fired at close range targets, providing a short time window for defences to be deployed.

Apart from these air borne missiles Iran also possesses torpedoes worth writing about.

Hoot torpedo
This is another weapon that attests to Iran's abilities to produce warfare material. The Hoot is a supercavitating torpedo, meaning that it travels through water inside a gas bubble, thus greatly reducing attrition. It is much faster than any torpedo used by NATO, able to reach speeds of 200 knots, which should make it more difficult to defend against. It greatly resembles the Shkval, a defensive torpedo developed in the old Soviet Union that is still produced today by Russia; but in this case, there are no reports of Iran having ever acquired the original. Claiming to have developed a totally independent design, Iran has successfully tested these home built torpedoes in recent years, always as offensive weapons. Notwithstanding its impressive speed, uncertainty remains as to the effectiveness of these torpedoes. Its range should be relatively small and should be noisy enough to be identified right from launch. As with all weapons produced by Iran, the main threat may be in the numbers available.

II.II Navy

Part of Iran's anti-ship weapons require some sort of naval vessel to be employed far from the shore. Iran's navy thus is another important piece of the puzzle.

Most of Iran's submersible fleet is composed of midget submarines. This class of vessel was originally thought to be used for infiltration operations, but in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf they acquire different purposes. Their small size, first of all, allows them to be manoeuvred in the shallow northern shores of the Gulf, and secondly, makes them harder to detect by sonar. Iran has in recent years built 17 Ghadir class submarines that are capable of deploying Hoot torpedoes. To these, add four old Yugo class submarines built in North Korea from a Yugoslavian design. In the shallow waters of Iran, these small vessels should be hard to detect and able to deploy mines and torpedoes without being immediately detected.

Iran acquired 3 Kilo class submarines from Russia in the early 1990s. These are about twice the size of the Ghadir, and conceived specifically for anti-ship operations in shallow waters. They are built with special tiles that distort and absorb sound, making it harder to detect by sonar at long distance.

An Iranian Ghadir class submarine. Source: The Asian Defense.

Missile Ships
These are small and fast attack ships, conceived for near shore operations. Iran has ten Houdong class vessels built in China and capable of carrying eight large size missiles. In the late 1970s, Iran ordered 12 Kaman class gunboats, of which ten are still in service. In recent years Iran was able to build four copycat versions named internally as the Sina class gunboat. These 14 smaller vessels carry four mid size anti-ship missile launchers each.

These are very small vessels carrying two torpedo tubes. In order to be effective, they have to get relatively close to their targets, thus largely exposing them to enemy fire. They rely on their high speed to be successful, both in approaching the target and retreating back to safety. Iran has over 70 Peykaap class vessels, partially of its own making and another 10 Tir class units. Both of these models are reported to have maximum speeds in excess of 50 knots (over 90 km/h). A newer version, the Peykaap-II, has been fitted with two missile launchers.

In 2010, Iran introduced 12 attack speedboats inspired by sports competition vessels capable of crossing the waters at some 70 knots (about 130 km/h). Called Zolfaqhar, beyond torpedoes, they can carry two small launchers to deploy Kowsar class missiles. Iranian officials have told the press that mass production of this class of speedboat started in 2011; the exact numbers the navy may have at this stage is unknown.

An Iranian Peykaap class speedboat armed with missile launchers. Source: Fars News Agency.

Other vessels
Iran has several larger vessels that can also deploy anti-ship missiles. They are themselves relatively easy targets, hence their role in an armed conflict is uncertain. In recent years, Iran has built three frigates, reverse engineered from three others bought from the UK before the revolution; to these add three corvettes acquired in the 1960s. It has also 6 coastal patrol ships (3 recently built and 3 legacy from the pre-revolution), 2 mine-layers, 14 hover-crafts and over 20 amphibious vehicles. It also has over 80 inshore patrol ships of assorted sizes and makes, of which some classes are made in Iran.

II.III Air Force

Anti-ship missiles can also be deployed from the air and Iran has quite a long list of aircraft able to do so. Apart from this, the Air Force may also have a crucial role in protecting Iran's navy and shores from NATO's air power. Following is a very condensed list by category:

  • Air superiority - 60 or more jet fighters, of which 25 MiG-29 recently updated, 25 or more F-14 Tomcat and 10 Mirage F1.

  • Multirole - over 150 jet fighters, of which 140 are 1960s F-4 and F-5 plus an unknown number of domestically developed Saeqeh (a copy of the F-5).

  • Interception - 20 Chengdu J-7 jet fighters.

  • Close air support - 13 Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters.

  • Ground-attack - 32 Sukhoi Su-24 plus an unknown number of Azarakhsh (the first attempt by Iran to copy the F-5, in development since 1997).

  • Helicopters - over 50 of assorted designs and purposes, mostly built in US before the Revolution.

An Azarakhsh type jet fighter in flight. Source: IranDefence.net.

Apart from these there are also some noteworthy models:

  • Chengdu J-10 - This is a state of the art multi-role jet fighter developed in recent years by China. With a maximum speed over Mach 2, operational range of some 2500 km and highly manoeuvrable, it is a jet fighter perfectly able to engage NATO fighters like the F-18 on equal footing. In the realm of non-stealth, manned aircraft, this is one of the best options in terms of technology for the money in the market today. Iran acquired two squadrons (24 units) that were delivered between 2008 and 2010. Iran's Air Force made a major leap with this acquisition.

  • Chengdu/PAC JF-17 Thunder - This is a multi-role jet fighter developed by China to fulfil specific requirements of the Pakistani Air Force. With an operational rage of 1300 km and a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 it is not as powerful as the J-10 but much cheaper. Nevertheless it is able to face modern NATO aircraft, especially in defensive missions. Iran ordered an undisclosed number of these jet fighters from the Chengdu company in 2003. Due to the specificity of its requirements, Chengdu renamed this version the FC-1. Production started in 2006 and from then on little is known.

  • Sukhoi Su-30 - The Su-30 was born as a Soviet counterpart to the F15E Strike Eagle; developed at the end of the Cold War, it was conceived primarily for air interdiction missions. With a range over 3 000 km and top speed of Mach 2, this is a jet fighter capable of engaging any other modern military aircraft. Years ago news emerged in Israel that Iran had ordered 250 of these jet fighters from Russia, a deal that would increase to 2 G$; this was never confirmed and such high figures would likely have attracted much more attention. In 2008, Israeli journalists again claimed to have observed a squadron of Su-30 jets in operations during war games in Iran, a claim once more unconfirmed. Though it doesn't seem likely Iran has hundreds of these aircraft, it seems possible that jet fighters may be among all the warfare material it has been acquiring from Russia. In case Iran possesses any relevant numbers, say two squadrons, it becomes an entirely different military power in the region. This is one of the great mysteries in the chessboard of the Strait of Hormuz.

A Chengdu J-10 in flight. Source: Air Power Australia.

II.IV Anti-air defences

Completing the list of relevant weapons are Iran's anti-air defences. These may determine how well Iran can protect its military assets in the shores of the Persian and Oman gulfs.

Mersad, Shahin and Shalamche
With another well-advertised public demonstration, Iranian officials announced the serial production of the Mersad defence system in 2010. It is a fully digital radar and control system coupled to a missile launch pad, firing the Shahin missile. This missile is also produced in Iran, being an upgraded version of the US made Hawk missile, with a higher and longer range and a top speed of Mach 2.6. Development of this system has been continuous and during 2011, a new version of the missile was successfully tested. Called Shalamche, it has a top speed of Mach 3 and a range of 40 km; it can hit a target 30 km away in less than 30 seconds. Deliveries of the Shalamche to Iran's Army started last September.

A Shahin missile being fired from a Mersad launching pod. Source: ArmyRecognition.com.

S-300 and Bavar-323
The S-300 is a state-of-the-art air defence system initially developed by the USSR in the 1970s. It was inherited by Russia, who kept developing, upgrading, and selling it to a multitude of clients worldwide. This system is basically a semi-trailer truck transporting radar, a firing control sub-system, and a set of surface-to-air-missiles. Modern-day versions can follow up to 100 targets, either jets or cruise missiles and engage 12 simultaneously in a radius of 150 km. After much speculation about a possible deal between Iran and Russia, in 2009 officials from both sides confirmed that deliveries of the system would start soon. One year later, Russia suspended all weapons sales to Iran as a consequence of a United Nations resolution, and the delivery wasn't completed. How many were delivered, if at all, isn't public, but it certainly was an insufficient number for Iran immediately started the development of its own version. Iran later claimed to have acquired further units from Belarus and another unidentified second-hand seller. Speculation exists also on a possible acquisition from Libya.

In the wake of the débâcle with the original deal, Iran made the development of a similar system a national design, involving top civilian and military scientists. Building on its experience with short to medium range systems Iran was able to complete the first prototype of the Bavar-323 last year. Up to the moment serial production hasn't been announced.

S-200 and Fajr-8
Another ancient system developed in the USSR, inherited by Russia, sold to Iran and now replicated there. Russia has been continuously developing the system that is composed of radar, a control system, and a static missile rail. In modern versions it fires a 7 ton missile with a range of 300 km, a maximum flight altitude of 40 km, and is capable of flying at 7 times the speed of sound. Iran reportedly has 30 missile rails of this version, thought I couldn't determine if it also possesses modern versions of the missiles. In any case, Iran has been producing for years its own version, the Fajr-8, for which little to no information is available, apart from it being an upgrade to the original S-200. These missiles were highly thought of in an epoch when high-altitude nuclear bombers were the main strategic weapon a military power could have. In the narrow scenario of the Strait, they may never have an important role, but may provide Iran the ability to defend itself from air attack at high altitude.

Beyond these, Iran possesses a further host of surface-to-air missiles, some acquired from Russia and China, and others developed internally. They range from small, portable anti-helicopter anti-aircraft rockets to large, long range, anti-cruise missile systems. Operational numbers are unknown for most of these. At the European Tribune some fellow bloggers pointed out that the Iranian Air Force lacks any sort of airborne early warning system (basically an aircraft carrying a radar), which is today considered an essential component of anti-air defence infrastructure. How determinant this may be in the theatre of the Strait is an open question, but if Iran will ever come to face a large scale conflict, this will certainly be a disadvantage.

II.V Summary

The larger part of Iran's military technology is outdated, with several pre-revolution legacy systems still in service. Iran has learnt through the years how to reverse engineer and replicate these technologies to the point where it now possesses very relevant numbers of weapons ready to use. These homegrown technologies are often publicly displayed in war games and are much celebrated by armed forces officials and politicians alike. Some of these weapons are effectively dangerous, like the midget submarines operating in shallow waters. Others, like the missile armed speedboats, are weapons whose particular effectiveness is largely unknown. These simpler technologies are menacing much more for their numbers than anything else. They probably give Iran the ability to sustain a military conflict around the Strait for some time.

And then there are the many state-of-the-art weapons acquired from Russia and China in recent years. Regarding these, the information available to the public is scant, sometimes even contradictory, as most arms deals have been shrouded in secrecy. The numbers and accuracy of these technologies are unknown in most cases, preventing a clear image of Iran's true military power. Is this uncertainty just part of an attempt by Iran to project an image of military power larger than what it actually has? Or is it part of the acquisition strategy to protect sensible deals that could raise objections from the West? In any case, the few weapons known for certain to be owned by Iran, like the Moskit missile, the S-300 air defence system, or the J-10 jet fighter are enough to discredit any idea of immediate superiority by NATO over Iran.

Naval Forces around the Strait of Hormuz, click for full size. Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Part III – Strategic Scenarios

Can an armed conflict erupt in the Strait of Hormuz? How can it come about? How wide can it develop? For how long can it disrupt commercial traffic? In this part, I formulate four different strategic scenarios that contemplate these questions, though not precisely answering them.

Scenario I – Direct engagement from Iran on commercial vessels at the Strait.

In this scenario Iran would employ one of its many seaborne weapons to either attack or block the way of oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf. This could be done by torpedoing the vessel or targeting it with a small missile; alternatively, Iran could simply deploy some if its navy close to the commercial routes and emit a warning that every ship trying to cross the Strait would be sunk. The effect on oil prices would be immediate in the second case, even without firing a single a shot. It would be a sheer powerful defiance by Iran, aiming to guarantee that economic sanctions affect every major player in the region.

This would certainly force an intervention by NATO forces in the region, a scenario that could develop in two different ways. If NATO opts simply for defending navigation across the Strait, then the multitude of weapons Iran has would likely guarantee a long period of tension, with random attacks on both commercial and military vessels in the Strait. The economic consequences for the Asian importers would be dire and a worldwide recession would ensue. Otherwise, NATO could opt for a large scale operation to bring down Iran's military capacities around the Strait. This would then resemble Scenarios II and III, whose outcome is not clear, especially in terms of the conflict time span.

I find this scenario the least likely of all. This would not only be an attack on oil importers, it would be above all be an attack on the major oil exporters around the Gulf. Iran has little interest in going at odds with its neighbours, especially in the case of the UAE, with whom it maintains a close economic relationship. Apart from the Emirates, Iran shares maritime oil and gas resources with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, that are in some cases are already under joint development. And of course there is Iraq, with which Iran shares a long border that was the stage for a long and deadly conflict in the 1980s; certainly it is in no one's interest to revive such tensions. A bold action like the one proposed in this scenario would require a totally desperate internal situation in Iran, and even so, Scenario II would be more plausible.

Scenario II – Direct engagement from Iran on military vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Instead of attacking or menacing commercial vessels, Iran could opt for an engagement on NATO's naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The effect on oil prices would be about the same as in scenario I, but without the sense of a direct attack on Iran's neighbours. This sort of engagement could come about as a consequence of some minor incident, such as a NATO vessel entering Iran's waters or an Iranian aircraft or ship being hit. An incident like this can easily be faked if needed, but unfortunately, the growing tension and the bellicose discourse around the Strait can also provide for a real episode where at least one of the players feels compelled to larger actions.

Invariably this scenario would lead to a large scale conflict, not only in the Strait but extending at the very least to Iran's long southern coastline. The outcome of such hypothetical conflict is elusive, but one thing is certain given Iran's profuse weaponry and extensive territory, it can hardly be swift. Many uncertainties remain in surmising the correct power balance in the Persian Gulf at this moment. Is Iran's wide range of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes capable of imposing damages on NATO's fleet? Not only is the effectiveness of weapons like the Russian Moskit unknown, but the outcome of a wide simultaneous engagement with a multitude of anti-ship weapons on NATO's vessels is also not clear. In the worst case, NATO's fleet may be forced back to its naval bases in Bahrain and the UAE, and to operate solely from the Gulf of Oman. If something like this would ever happen, oil shipments across the Strait would be certainly affected for a long period of time, and the impact on the world economy would be devastating.

A second question is Iran's capabilities in air defence. Can NATO project its air prowess as it did in the Balkans, Iraq, or Libya? NATO will certainly face a sort of opposition it never did before, both in the number and in the technology of anti-air missiles retained today by Iran. In addition to this, if Iran effectively possesses relevant numbers of modern-day jet fighters, then air dominance over Iran becomes completely uncertain. Nevertheless, NATO retains technology that Iran has no known counter measures against, especially state-of-the-art stealth aircraft built in the US. Hence it is certain that in case of such a large scale military conflict, NATO can continuously target military objectives in Iran, eventually eroding its operational capabilities. The question is how long such conflict can last to menace oil shipments across the Strait. Stabilization of the region could require a sort of military commitment NATO has never been forced into before. How could this play out with a ramping oil price conflated with the ongoing economic environment is hard to envision.

Though I find this scenario more plausible than scenario I, it still remains quite remote. Iran's government still has other options to explore before finding itself in a desperate situation where military action becomes attractive.

Scenario III – Military engagement by NATO on Iran

In such a scenario, NATO would opt for a pre-emptive attack on Iran, targeting both Iran's nuclear facilities and military assets around the Strait. This scenario has been spun both in Israel and the US, especially since Iran has threatened to close the Strait in retaliation against the hardening of economic sanctions. While it has been largely dismissed by the wider political spectrum, it should be noted that from a strict military perspective this is the conflict scenario that could be less costly for NATO members. Taking the initiative, it could guarantee the shortest disruption possible to the flow of oil through the Strait. Most of this oil (85%) feeds Asia; NATO members are already on course to phase out Iranian oil imports and the strategic oil reserves coordinated by the IEA would provide the means to accommodate the economic impact for some time.

The first problem with this strategy is if NATO is not able to promptly achieve air superiority over Iran, in such case not being able to tame the country's menace to the oil flow in the Strait in a timely manner. As stated before, this largely depends on the numbers of modern aircraft and air defences Iran effectively possesses. If a relevant resistance to NATO's air power is achieved, then a situation similar to the worst case of scenario II could develop.

Finally, in the event a wider military conflict develops between NATO and Iran, the much bigger question arises of how other military powers may react. In recent months, military officials from both China and Russia have made it clear they wouldn't remain passive in the face of such conflict. This discourse may be an important deterrent to this scenario or any wider conflict in consequence of scenarios I or II.

With the information I could gather, it seems to me this option is risky (or at least uncertain) enough for NATO not to take it at this stage. It should remain a remote hypothesis, at least as long as real evidence of a military nuclear programme in Iran doesn't come about. Finally, I should point out that considering Iran's vast arsenal, a lone attack by Israel seems highly unlikely, at least with conventional weapons.

Scenario IV – No military action

At this stage, the most likely scenario is for no bellicose action to take place. This scenario has several requirements, but all achievable. In the first place the Iranian government has to stabilize its currency; so far this has been achieved by cracking down on the independent trade of foreign currency and gold, first by disabling the electronic means to do so and then by outlawing such activities. In this regard more will have to happen, as the government has to somehow re-establish public trust in the internal economic system. And then Iran must find ways to continue selling its oil, either by finding alternative importers, like Korea, that are not complying with US sanctions, or by “smuggling” oil to neighbouring countries that then sell it as their own. The fact that about 30% of Iran's foreign trade takes place in the parallel economy can be an important start for this alternative trade. It is unclear what role the joint oil developments in the Persian Gulf may play, but they can provide a further workaround for Iran to maintain its oil revenues.

Iran's economy will be undoubtedly impacted, but as seen in section I, it is rather self-sufficient, especially in agriculture. Some consumer goods may become difficult to get, as it is already happening with consumer electronics, but Iran should be able to provide the basic needs of its people in the short term, and once again seek alternative sources for its imports. It is unlikely that a Persian Spring will start to unfold. That the political system allows for public will to be expressed by voting and direct opposition to the theocratic structure has been a fable, squashed by fierce control of the media and internet. Thus, the political situation may remain relatively intact, facilitating a pure economic strategy from the crisis. If this scenario unfolds, it could simply result in a regionalization of Iran's foreign trade, geographically constraining commercial exchanges to the Middle and Far East. Naturally China can play a major role in this process, and while some officials have been suggesting a compliance with the US line, it is in China's interest to keep Iran somewhat inside its sphere of influence.

The only issue with this scenario is that it doesn't guarantee to the US and NATO that Iran's nuclear programme is halted. On the contrary, the technical advances of Iran's nuclear technology keep on going, as recently announced by President Ahmadinejad. Though no evidence exists that this programme has military ambitions, those countries fearful of such a perspective, especially Israel, may get no reassurances at all from the increased sanctions. Will they rest quietly while Iran proceeds with the programme? This is why the previous three scenarios, though unlikely, are plausible.


The balance of interests around the Strait of Hormuz can be analysed from a Games Theory perspective. All players profit from the trade that passes in both senses through this choke-point, and any disruption has a negative impact on all of them; since they all stand to lose, no player changes strategy and the game remains in equilibrium. The sanctions imposed by the NATO members on Iran menace this equilibrium, as they can eventually translate into an effective disruption of the Strait, closing it to Iran for the large part. NATO has chosen this strategy because it now evaluates the equilibrium as having a negative impact: the hypothetical nuclear menace from Iran. In its turn, if the Iranian foreign trade is seriously impacted, then further disruption to the Strait stops having a negative impact internally, and a strategy change to active disruption becomes profitable because it has negative impacts on other players. NATO has indeed played boldly and it remains to be seen how deep the consequences may be.

For now military action seems a remote hypothesis. Iran still has the ability to keep the Strait open to its ports, in spite of the sanctions. And naturally Iran can always at some point decide to abide by the inspections from the IAEA. Likewise, from the NATO side, military action appears an unlikely scenario, as Iran's prolific military technology seems a deterrent on its own, to which can be added the unpredictable reactions from other major players at the global scale.

If a military conflict ever develops around the Strait of Hormuz on the wake of this new batch of sanctions, it will be a definitive clarification of power over the region. In the three decades following the proclamation of the Carter Doctrine, wars in the region raged for a total of twenty years. NATO imports ever less oil from the Persian Gulf and its economic might has clearly waned during the last decade. Is the Carter Doctrine still affordable these days? Is it even practicable? A military clash at the Strait of Hormuz will certainly answer these questions.

Thanks for the rundown Luis. You seem to have left playing on the other players internal politics out of your analysis. Israel for one is no stranger to timing its actions to get the US response it wants. Most recently the attack on Gaza during GW Bush's lame duck months, which got the US response Israel wanted-none.

We have a presidential election in November--if Israel feels the time running out it may decide to act and drag the US in. Israel seems far more concerned about a nuclear armed Iran than any other player. 1 in 4 to 1 in 5 odds are what is now commonly tossed around the beltway when talking the likelihood of war with Iran. Not much of a shift brings that to a very dicey 50/50

Here's an analysis that posits that Netanyahu may launch a war before the election with the intention of swinging it.

Interesting alright, but then what to make of the nicey-nice on this visit by Netanyahu with Obama?

Thanks for the heads-up Louis. Looking at the situation it appears that Iran just has to be able to defend itself to win the conflict. Any offensive action by Iran would have little in the way of lasting effects, but to block a US/NATO/Israeli attack would have major ramifications globally. An outcome which the BRICs would no doubt be happy with, more-or-less the end of Western global domination.

Could Iran block offensive action by the West and its ominous attack capabilities? By that I mean minimise the effects of an attack so as to leave the Country's trajectory unaltered.

That's an excellent point, Burgundy, and a very real incentive for both Russia and China to supply Iran with their most up-to-date defensive technology, covertly if necessary.

I had not considered that a successful Iranian defence against an US/NATO/Israeli (UNI) attack would essentially be an Iranian "victory" - even if its infrastructure was severely pulverised in the process. Question is what UNI would constitute to be a successful attack - presumably incapacitating the uranium enrichment facilities??

Is there some kind of bizarre, high stakes poker win/win scenario here? Iran's nuclear programme takes a serious battering, and UNI sustains a very heavy nosebleed in the process, sufficient to bring into question its global military hegemony..... each side could claim "victory" of sorts.

I don't think anyone thinks that Iran's military can do anything but sink a tanker or two before they are humiliated by NATO/American forces in the region. Iraq had a much more modern military and was barely a bump in the road. Their technology is 30 years behind which is not a small percentage of effectiveness, it's an exponential difference.

I struggle to understand who is an ally of Iran's. There is some economic posturing by China and N. Korea was a buddy of theirs for a while. Who else?

They can posture all they want, but a military defeat on the gulf would not be beneficial internally or globally for them.

Oh, a technooptimist!!

I think you're forgetting that Iraq was a neutered military force after Desert Storm. Roughly 2/3 of the country was under a no-fly zone. Their air defense network was largely destroyed, except for right around Baghdad. Their air force was also mostly out of commission after Desert Storm. They also lost a lot of armor during the Kuwait debacle (see highway of death as an example).

Iraq was defeated before the first bombs were ever dropped in 2003.

Iran has had nearly a quarter century to build up its defenses since the last major conflict that it was involved in. I clearly don't think they could defeat US/NATO/Israel forces in an encounter in and around the Straits of Hormuz. But I do think they could frustrate the aggressors long enough to cause significant damage to the global economy that would result from major conflict in the area shutting off the flow of oil. And this time would either buy them some negotiating leverage to get a cease fire or could just infuriate US/NATO/Israel so much that they escalate to regime change and total war on Iran, then Russia & China enter stage left. Just my thoughts....

I would put money on near complete destruction of the Iranian Air Force within 36 hours in an all out conflict with the United States. Our stealth assets would have their Air Bases demolished as soon as we can get them there. B2s on target within 15-24 hours anywhere in the world completely loaded with 'smart' bombs. Not to mention a salvo of 80 to 100 cruise missiles. Anything flying will find the F-18 Super Hornet more than formidable. It would take about 36 hours to have F-22 raptors on the ground across the gulf from Iran, tell me what aircraft anywhere in the world that will stand up to those? Techno-optimistic, you can bet your ass I am!

I would put money on near complete destruction of the Iranian Air Force within 36 hours...

You're right, my dear armchair warrior friend, but so what? Do you really think Iran is going to respond conventionally? They'd be fools if they did.

And then what are you going to do? Put boots on the ground to back up air superiority? Send in the marines? Seems like the boys have been taking the hits for more than a few bellicose states-side war hawks in the past few years.

Iran has an Islamic Republican regime in place, yes, however, politically it is a highly complex situation. Iran is a tissue of contradictions - a fairly progressive and secularized population governed by a parliamentary system vetted by mullahs. A regime change is very likely to happen anyway if only events were allowed to take their course. However, there is nothing like an outside threat to keep the natives in line.

What the Iranians want is influence in the region. That's as much a Persian dream as it is a Shi-ite aspiration. And given the fluidity of the Middle East these days, it's not entirely a false hope.

Plus given the volatility of the surrounding Arab world, another conflict will only complicate an already uneasy geopolitical toxic mix. Once started you may manage to win but finding the peace will be far more elusive.

Winning the peace is always harder. Well stated.

The Iran regime may be odious, but they are not completely stupid; and I think you underestimate them. They have will have assessed the situation carefully for years. In the event of a military strike by Israel/US (same thing in this context) Iran knows that the first few hours will be the only time they have to strike back. Their objective will be disrupt oil exports from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq and I would be surprised if those countries onshore and offshore loading facilities were not permanently targeted. Secondly, they will want to inflict a major loss on the US Navy. One of the large aircraft carriers will first prize, but if not, any other reasonably large ship will do. That is why they have the Moskit missiles. These were developed by Russia and China in response to the realisation that could not compete with the US Navy in any other way. Having read about this aspect of Irans strategy for quite a few years I think there is a reasonable chance this will succeed.

Thus although they have no hope of "winning" any military action, they will inflict massive economic damage to the US (and everybody else) and they will score a largely symbolic, but highly effective PR coup through the sinking of one or more US/NATO Navy ships. Then all they have to do is survive; and in their eyes they will have won.

I do not understand this obsession with Irans nuclear ambitions. So what if they become nuclear capable, or nuclear armed? They cannot use the weapon, for if they did they would incur instant obliteration. It might alter the balance of power because Israel/US definitely wouldn't attack them, but that is no bad thing.

Finally, how many countries have the US, Israel or Iran attacked or invaded in the last 300 years? Answer: US many, Israel some, Iran none. I am not sure who to believe in this war of words. Note also the actual Straits are not really relevant.

A bit more cynicism would help address your puzzlement.

First of all, the whole exercise in attacking Iran (either through sanctions or with the military) is a kind of theater meant for public consumption.

It is a huge stage, with the "bad" guys (Iran) who are now "responsible" for "raising the price of oil". While the West is the "good guys" trying to defeat the forces of evil.

It is very simple so that any ordinary person can understand it. The politicians make sure to repeat the basic points in simple language so as to communicate the message to anyone.

The economic damage that the Iranians would inflict on the West is serious but it is (in the eyes of the elite in NY, Washington, London, etc.) far, far preferable to the alternative, which is political power slipping from their grasp as slower economic damage from oil depletion takes effect.

You can choose:

quick economic..... damage, bad, a plunge, a panic, oil shortages. (But the elite can use the seriousness of it and quickness of it for political cover, to retain power, access to their oil, food, etc. They need to be fed to keep you fed! They need to have oil so you can have access to oil! etc.)

slow economic damage....everything comes to a slow halt, the powerful find their power is no more, has lost its context, its very ability to express itself. Alternative powers challenge, I guess these would be all sorts of people on the periphery. Like the tea party taken to the nth degree.

Elites, congregated in cities, need goods and services shipped in constantly, and collectively they must resort to all sorts of ruses, lies, etc. when things aren't going well.

And $4 or $5 /gallon gasoline means things aren't going well. So get narrative going that promotes the flow of goods and services into the city (the center)....

Desperation at its most despicable.

I agree with that Pi, but it is hugely cynical; and smacks of conspiracy too. I think the stage is too big for that level of conspiracy. It might be as simple as containing Israels bellicosity. "Nut-and-Yahoo" and his constituency really are a menace.

It's not really a conspiracy----

The elites cry, "Where would the people be if it were not for our services?" (p. 310 The Entropy Law and the Economic Process)

"The political power of any ruling elite offers the elite the possibility of extolling the value of its services in the eyes of the masses and thus making any increases in its privileges appear "logical"." (p.311)

It will seem completely "logical" when only the government has access to gasoline, or food, or whatever. Of course, they will try to share it, that will be their rallying cry, to help people, like in the case of quantitative easing or lowering interest rates, or whatever. But let's not forget that they will surely get access to theirs first.

They can only do that if they can make sure that the system functions a bit, maybe not like before, but a bit.

They're expecting quite a difficult time, in a way they feel sorry for us all---look at all the people on food stamps, they are not just thrown out to starve on the street.

There is a sad, hopeless quality to it all....

If only we hadn't started down the fossil fuel road....but how could we refuse???

Interesting, "The Entropy Law and the Economic Process".

This is a fascinating and important read for those looking to better understand how capitalism relates to the laws of Thermodynamics.

Our civilisation is basically a huge technical machine for frontrunning entropy, stealing from nature (and causing mass extinction in the process) to enhance our own energy quotient. Economics being the command and control system of this highly complex and intricate contraption. Falling energy availability means complexity cannot be maintained and subsequently the system becomes overwhelmed by entropy and chaos. As you say, as the amount of energy recedes, what remains will be directed to the core. Whatever means available will be used to free the energy from wherever it is for that purpose.

It is interesting how Iran has been isolated from the global system by sanctions, ready for its destruction.

'i don,t think anyone thinks that Iran's military can do anything but sink a tanker or two before they are humiliated by NATO/American forces in the region."
It is a dangerous wishful thinking Brian. Nobody talks about what happens in all out war if oil wells of persian Golf States go in smoke. That would be the end of Western Economy. President Obama is right to say loose talk of war is unwise.

It does seem like there has been a "Waiting for Godot" aspect to a possible attack on Iran from the US or Israel; however, this time it does really look like it is different. Given the statements by Israeli leaders, I don't see how they can unilaterally back down.

Worst oil crisis could lie just ahead

Israel believes Iran's nuclear program is approaching a point of no return beyond which it would be impossible to prevent it developing nuclear weapons. US President Barack Obama is expected to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to defer action in talks in Washington today, to give time for sanctions to have full effect.

Facing an election in November and enjoying the first rays of economic sunshine since the 2008 global financial crisis, Obama does not need a Middle East war and soaring oil prices. However, there is a strong push in Israel for military action.

"If we do not stop Iran now, later on it will be impossible," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says. Israel, which is understood to have its own nuclear weapons, sees a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it would seek nuclear capability if Iran achieved it, adding further uncertainty to the stability of the world's richest oil region. The next three months are the most likely time for an attack as Iranian skies are clearest during the northern spring. Iran has declared it will close the Strait of Hormuz as a first point of retaliation for any Israeli raid.

On Chris Matthews' Sunday morning show on NBC, Bob Woodward, with the Washington Post, said that a senior foreign affairs official in Washington described the current geopolitical environment as the most difficult since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Further to this is Obama's recent comments about being a staunch ally of Israel, etc. (Cnn.. GPS, Sunday). During this program, a leading analyst/reporter from Israel was extensively interviewed. It was stated that Israel has a 9 month window to act, because after this point the nuke program will be too far developed to really slow it down. Furthermore, the pre-emptive strike only delays the development for 18 months to 3 years.

Due to these facts I believe that scenario 2 is the most likely outcome. I wouldn't think NATO would do a pre-emptive strike for optics as much as anything. Israel might strike soon. Iran will retaliate. Then others will bomb the Iranian facilities to hell and back, as well as go after the military infrastructure. This is stupid, and fraught with implications as the article explains, but unless folks step back and allow Iran to be a nuclear power, then someone has to start sawing on the limb we are standing upon.

And birders will see black swans, everywhere.

Question: any signs of military prep beyond navies sailing around the Gulf? I would think that Israel will let enough clues slip that it is going to act. Sat imagry, and other information sources should indicate something is imminent and preparations will be underway...one would think. Can a planned strike really be secret this day and age?


It does seem like the most likely scenario was left out. Israel strikes Iran, Iran retaliates in the Gulf, the US/NATO attacks Iranian Strait forces for the Gulf attack, Iran strikes those ships, Iran/NATO duke it out for a few days, Iran starts to lose and moves to clandestine attacks. Cease fire in a week or two with Iran's conventional forces severely damaged, but then their proxies move to disrupt things. But all Gulf shipping stops while the parties are battling it out, and oil prices are elevated for a few months while we all find out what Iran can do in the way of sabotage.

In the end, Israel is partially successful in setting back the Iranian nuclear program (but at some cost), Iran is damaged but can rally its people in defense of their homeland (they were attacked first, after all), the world economic recovery grinds to a halt because of the oil prices.

In all of that, Israel has the least to lose and the most to gain. But that's been the case for a few years now, and all they've done was damage a few facilities with a computer worm and assassinate a few key scientists.

You can see why the Israelis haven't attacked, however. They can only be partly successful in a strike, and they *will* lose some aircraft to the Iranian air defenses. But they seem to be running out of opportunities and alternatives.

I've never quite followed this scenario. Israel attacks Iran - I can see that. Iran retaliates in the gulf? Why would they do that? It would be irrational, starting a war with the U.S. and the Arab gulf states. Why wouldn't they just try to retaliate against Israel?

Simplistic approach that gives for granted that Iran can have similar strenght and retaliate in the same manner

I tend to think you're correct. However the threat of closing Hormuz puts pressure on the US to prevent Israel from launching an attack. Thus, like the US, Iran puts out that 'all options are on the table.' Also Iran may have difficulty convincing Hezbollah to retaliate as a proxy, as this would bring new suffering directly upon people in Lebanon. And direct Iranian retaliation against Israel would probably be as pithy as Saddam Hussein's Scud attacks in 1991. So Hormuz might be the best option Iran has. And it certainly serves their interests to make everyone believe so.

And of course, Israel has a history of launching strikes on nuclear facilities, e.g. the 1981 attack on Iraq's reactor, which was under construction:


I didn't realize that Iran had previously attacked the same Iraqi site, in 1980.

What is a fact is that Israel has a record of launching strikes on nuclear facilities and not only on Iraq in 1981, but also in Syria few years ago.

But you should not give for granted whatever is written in the very manipulated Wikipedia about an Iranian attack to the nuclear power plant in Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The source you quote (Wikipedia) has several quotes and they are all Western biassed sources or a book titled 'Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States'. Parsi, Trita. Yale University Press, which also lacks credibility, as it quotes even Israeli intelligencie sources (zero credibility for this subjectand most interested party to mix up things and share responsibilities in a criminal bombing).

Nor Iraqi or Iranian sources have ever conceded that Iranians had bombed the Osirak (Tammuz) nuclear power plant. A different story can be found at the 1981 annual report of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission.


The Iraqis knew that France had finally given up to the pressure of the Israelis and retired the radioactive materials, despite the protests of the Iraqis, few hours before the Israeli attack, of a reactor that had already gone into cricitity.

Khomeini, this evil of the 80's (then, the good guy for Western powers was Saddam Hussein and Khomeini was the bad guy), had given instructions to the few pilots he did not purge (most of them were suspicious, as they had all been trained in the US or by US officials) not to attack by any means the holy places in Iraq (Kerbella, Kufa, Najaf and Samarra). Saddam, in knowing that, piled troops and weaponry in these cities. He also gave severe instructions not to bomb hydropower plants, as they could have caused a big disaster in the big Mesopotamian plains, where most people live in the banks. He also kept the basorah civilians free from heavy shelling, once he had recovered the lands close to the Shatt el Arab channel and had the city within the reach of the 155 mm shells and could have flattened the second biggest city in Iraq. He only accepted as the last resort to respond, during the so called "war of cities" the exchange of Scud missiles on civilian population, after having resisted for months without retaliation to criminal bombardments of civilians from the Saddam Hussein side. And I believe that no one in his real mind would have bombed a nuclear power plant 100 Km form his border in the direction of the dominant winds, in knowing that had already passed criticity (already loaded, totally or partially). And Iranians did not have the political pressure the Israelis had to force French to retire the fissile material from the site.

I was living in Baghdad these days. What I heard in the Iraqi news is that a jet fighter had been shot down in the vicinity of the Tammuz nuclear power plant. And despite they were in war with Iran, with almost daily air raid early waring systems and bombings of military and industrial facilties (I repeat, Khomeini had given instructions not to touch the civilians as much as it was possible), I still remember very clearly that they identified the plane in the radio as Israeli (in fact from what they called these days the Zionist entity). Whether this plane was painted with the iranian flags or not is irrelevant. But it is much more likely that this was an Israeli survey trip to the nuclear power plant than an Iranian attack. The nuclear power plant was

Even more, the nuclear power Iraqi plant was heavily protected by guided missiles (French made) and manual and semiautomatic antiaircraft artillery, positioned even in the remaining walls of the Seleucia ruins, just opposite to the plant at the other side of the Tigris river. The attack took probably place, because one more line of defence was being added these days: captive huge balloons, like in London in the WWII. That was probably the accelerator to this decision.

Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant is upwind of the Saudi oil fields and Qatar's gas fields. it would be a major global disaster if there was a significant release of radioactivity from Bushehr as the prevailing wind patterns would cover most of the oil and gas rich western parts of the Persian Gulf.

By my calculation the oil exports of the Persian Gulf Represent 56% of the high to medium EROI oil exports of the world.

From Wikipedia Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant:

Leaders from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have expressed fears that a serious nuclear accident at the Bushehr plant would spread radiation throughout the region. Bushehr is closer to six Arab capitals (Kuwait City, Riyadh, Manama, Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat) than it is to Tehran.

I wonder why this piece is about "NATO". Iran is out-of-area fro NATO and I do not see agreement in Europe for a strike against Iran.

It will be the U.S. and Israel that will be involved. NATO is unlikely to be part of any conflict with Iran.

I would lay good money down that the UK would be involved, hiding under the NATO flag, to give the US a token level of political cover. The US would drag in as many NATO partners as it could bully at the time.

This conflict does feel like a game of prisoner's dilemma, where an attack by either side results in everyone losing, but the first to strike loses less.

Iran of course could never hope to defeat the US militarily, but that does not mean the same as a political or economic defeat. The US main intention must surely be to constrain Iran's political and economic impact in the area. A nuclear Iran would no longer be frightened of a nuclear Israel, because Israel could not accept even the possibility of a nuclear counter attack from Iran. However, this does not seem a imminent possibility , and the sanctions in any case do not seem to be harming either the Iranian nuclear programme, or the ruling elite's grip on power.

I guess the economic sanctions are the end in themselves, and the nuclear gesturing are simply the cover. The US has no intention of attacking or letting Israel attack, it simply wants to do what it can to cripple the Iranian economy and slow its acquisition of missiles and other weapons which could neutralise this US gunboat blockade.

A few years ago, the US ran a semi-public simulated war game in the straits, where the US commanders underestimated mass suicide attack from Iranian speedboats, and suffered heavy 'casualties'. I am sure they've reviewed their tactics since then, but all commanders fight the last war, not the current one.

The US has no intention of attacking or letting Israel attack

Not certain that we have ever been able to veto what Israel decides to do in it's own neighborhood. Maybe you have inside information...I don't.

I would lay good money down that the UK would be involved, hiding under the NATO flag

The UK could get involved without being under the NATO flag, as it did in Iraq.


Wouldn't everyone be dragged into this? Wouldn't Iran shoot back at everything floating including NATO member warships? And if most of this oil is heading to Asia users, wouldn't they be dragged in to this as well?

It kind of looks like this is a proxy fight between east and west. China would like an armed and dangerous Iran, wouldn't they? I don't know...I am asking?

Cheers, Paulo

The areas have nothing to do with the political and military intentions.

Turkey belongs to NATO and is several thousand miles from North Atlantic. Israel has been admitted to play in the European sport leagues (i.e. basketball) and is absolutely outside of Europe.

The name is an alibi. Everything is so distorted.

MoonofA is correct. The relevant actor is the US. The US would seek neither military participation nor diplomatic approval from other NATO powers if a war started. For any action to take place officially under NATO auspices, the NATO nations would have to vote, and obtaining consensus could be difficult. IF any non-US NATO ships (especially oil tankers) happened to be attacked by Iran, which would be pretty coincidental, that would not necessarily trigger action by the NATO command without a diplomatic discussion. Meanwhile any war would already be under way.

Interesting and informative analysis. I'd like to point out a couple of short-comings though.

First, you discuss the economic effects of sanctions in Iran, but not the economic effects of your scenarios. Should Iran actually try to close the strait it would commit the equivalent of economic seppuku.

Secondly, I think you've overstated the relative capabilities of the US and Iran. Iran would lose - and lose badly - in any conflict with the US. For example, air dominance over Iran would not be uncertain at all - it would be one of the first military objectives and would be achieved quickly. Iran's antiquated air defense system and fighters could not cope. A few Mig-29's don't amount to much.

Similarly, Iran's anti-ship missile force sounds impressive on paper. But these weapons don't exist in isolation. All these systems require targeting data in order to effectively employ - especially beyond the horizon where visible targeting is not possible. Iran's methods for getting that targeting data would be quickly attrited. Iran can certainly fire off missiles in a general direction where they think US ships are and hope for the best, but that is as much a threat to the thousands of dhows and civilian ships in the crowded gulf as it is to the US Navy. In fact, that's what happened in the INS Hanit attack. Two missiles were fired - one missed, kept going and eventually locked on to an Egyptian freighter and sank it. In a crowded maritime environment without good targeting data and the ability to identify radar contacts, these anti-ship missiles become indiscriminate weapons that lose much of their wartime effectiveness.

In short, Iran should want to avoid a conflict with the US and I think they understand US capabilities. In any war they would quickly find themselves without an Air Force, without an air defense force, without a Navy and without effective military command-and-control. Iran could effectively close the strait for some period of time, but that would be a phyrric victory. Within a week or two Iran would find that the strait will open to everyone but Iran.

You bring up some very good points about targeting, Tanstaafl. I think the question that remains open until actual conflict happens, is just how long it would take the US to achieve air superiority. It could easily be a week or two, but I can also see the possibility (although remote) of Iran frustrating US efforts and maintaining some sort of defensive capability for a couple of months. I think that is the absolute best case scenario for Iran and then they would have to hope that China and Russia come to their rescue (hopefully through diplomatic means).

Getting back to your targeting points, I have wondered about Iran's capabilities and motivations to hit stationary targets that they already have coordinates for. One scenario that I have wondered about is, what if US/NATO/Israel attacks and Iran takes it as an existential threat. Not to the country but for the regime. If they felt that way could they deploy a sort of M.A.D. strategy where they throw everything they have at all the crude oil export terminals in the Gulf and destroy a large portion of global export capacity? I know that if it was going to be a brief tit-for-tat encounter in the Straits of Hormuz, Iran wouldn't want to inflame tensions amongst its neighbors; however, if it felt that the US/NATO/Israel forces were coming to take out the regime, they have nothing to lose by attacking all that oil infrastructure and would essentially bring everyone down with them, especially the oil addicted Great Satan....

There is another approach Iran could take, that doesn't seem to be getting discussed.

Instead of attacking US warships, they could just attack a few tankers. Even without anti-ship missiles, some old fashioned guns could easily hit a tanker in the Strait.

Even better would be a "terrorist" attack, that can't be proven to be Iran...

All of these ships are privately owned, and the oil tanker companies will all quickly pull out of the Gulf - imagine what their insurance would be if they decide to continue to operate in a war zone. The US could offer "protection", but they can't force the oil tanker companies to sail through the Straits.

It's almost like the German Uboat strategy in WW2 - you don;t need to take out the opposing navy, you just need to stop the commercial shipping.
I think after the first tanker is hit, the rest will pull out - who wants to be a sitting duck?

Then the US military is left with the quandry of what to do - they might try to do a full court press and take out Iran's navy and air defences, and all through this time, there is no oil passing through.

And even when they are done, and try to re-open the straits, what if the oil tankers say no? All that would be needed is one follow up hit on a tanker, and the companies would sit on their hands.

Meanwhile the US is, again, put in the position of being the world's policeman, expending its own blood and treasure so everyone can have oil...

"There is another approach Iran could take, that doesn't seem to be getting discussed.

Instead of attacking US warships, they could just attack a few tankers. Even without anti-ship missiles, some old fashioned guns could easily hit a tanker in the Strait."

Nasr-1 is a domestically-manufactured Iranian short range anti ship missile

Such a scenario would likely be more effective than a direct military confrontation. If the attack could not be directly blamed on Iran, there would be much less cover for a killing attack by the US on Iran's military assets. Simply reducing the tanker traffic would achieve a massive increase in world oil prices, which would undermine the rest of the world's oil based economies.

If Iran's nuclear fuel enrichment plant(s) were attacked by Israel or the US, they might be able to respond by slowing the inbound traffic of empty tankers. For example, they might use some of their naval assets to stop and "inspect" tankers on the inbound leg of the trip. If the "inspections" were conducted within the shipping channel, which is rather narrow, a traffic backup would cut the number of ships entering the Gulf on a daily basis, to perhaps as much as half the usual number. With such a scenario, a shooting war would not result and the slowdown could continue for months. As I recall, the US has claimed the right to inspect vessels in the Gulf to search for banned cargo, so why would the Iranians not be legally able to claim the right to perform similar "inspections". Iran might even gain, since their flagged tankers could be exempted from the inspections, thus their exports to Asia could continue and they could benefit from any increase in the world price of oil. Now suppose that it starts with an incident in which an empty Iranian tanker which suddenly explodes in the Straits, sending the ship to the bottom, thus the Iranians could claim that their tankers were threatened and begin the inspections.

For another alternative, after an attack on their soil, the Iranians might institute a convoy system, limiting the number of tankers allowed in their waters and escorting those slowly thru the area. Such a tactic would be rather like the "highway patrol blitz" which used to appear on the California freeways when I lived there. Lots of cops concentrated in an area, cruising slowly to keep the traffic moving within the speed limit. A rolling blockade, which wouldn't completely stop traffic, only limit the speed and number of tankers...

E. Swanson

For Iran to inspect ships in the shipping lane in the Straight of Hormuz, they must enter Oman waters.

I suspect any major slowing of traffic would be considered an act of war by the US, which might respond accordingly. Such a strategy is risky.

not sure I agree with this but the authors believe Iran really doesn't have the military capability to do much damage to SA's oil production

Title: A Crude Threat :The Limits of an Iranian Missile Campaign against Saudi Arabian Oil
Author: Shifrinson, Joshua R. Itzkowitz; Priebe, Miranda
Department: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Political Science
Publisher: MIT Press
Issue Date: 2011-07
Abstract: The United States and its Persian Gulf allies have been increasingly concerned with the growing size and complexity of Iran's ballistic missile programs. At a time when the United States and its allies remain locked in a standoff with Iran over the latter's nuclear program, states around the Persian Gulf fear that Iran would retaliate for an attack on its nuclear program by launching missiles at regional oil installations and other strategic targets. An examination of the threat posed by Iran's missiles to Saudi Arabian oil installations, based on an assessment of Iran's missile capabilities, a detailed analysis of Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure, and a simulated missile campaign against the network using known Iranian weapons, finds no evidence of a significant Iranian missile threat to Saudi infrastructure. These findings cast doubt on one aspect of the Iranian threat to Persian Gulf oil while offering an analytic framework for understanding developments in the Iranian missile arsenal and the vulnerability of oil infrastructure to conventional attack.


Mining the Strait would close it, they are quite sophisticated being able to sit on the bottom. Iran's mine deployment capabilities would have to be one of the first targets. Minesweepers would need to escort shipping. The threat alone would be troublesome.
http://milit.ru/mines.htm I don't know if Iran has any of these. I wonder if NATO does?

Yes the MIT report is well written and very interesting. Unfortunately it assumes that Iran would arm it's missiles with a single large warhead. We know that Iran developed cluster warheads for its missiles years ago. If they set the warhead to release the 1000 cluster bombs as soon as the missile enters a ballistic trajectory only 20 seconds into its flight, then there is no known ABM system short of an airborne laser which could neutralise the missiles. If three or more missiles are launched simultaneously - as was demonstrated by Iran during military exercises - then even the Airborne Laser under ideal cloudless conditions is likely to be ineffective.

Worse still, by my calculations 56% of the high to medium EROI global oil exports are sourced from the Persian Gulf.

I cover some of these and other related issues in my article
Iran – The Strategic master plan

Iran – The Strategic master plan:

Beyond provoking Iran there is little evidence of a coherent master strategy.

Maybe the strategy is to get more concessions from Iran during negotiations.

page 4:
Although at its narrowest it is only wide enough for two supertankers to pass each other. A single tanker sunk sideways at this point may block Hormuz for months.

Reference please. From World Oil Transit Chokepoints, EIA, December 30, 2011, I find:

At its narrowest point, the Strait is 21 miles wide, but the width of the shipping lane in either direction is only two miles, separated by a two-mile buffer zone.

"ULCC Jahre Viking, is the largest vessel in the world. The supertanker is 458 metres (1504 feet) in length and 69 m (226 ft) wide." 14 of these laying sideways would be needed to block the 4 mile wide shipping lane at its narrowest spot. This ignores the depth of the sea because ships sunk to the bottom would be out of the way. A stranded floating ship would provide cover for other ships to pass because it would block cruise missiles. It would not stay in place and probably would end up stuck outside of the shipping lane after drifting into shallow water. Many missiles or sea mines are required to sink an oil tanker. During a conflict, Oman might allow ships to pass closer to its shore.

Maybe the strategy is to get more concessions from Iran during negotiations.

Yes, you are quite correct, it was a foolish assertion on my part, since your statement is the obvious conclusion from the content of my article. You are also correct about the tanker not blocking the straight, that will teach me for putting in a item without checking my facts. Well spotted on both points.

I suspect the OECD is also trying to curtailed the rapid expansion of Iranian power in the region. Peak oil and the rapid decline is peak net energy combined with the collapse of Saudi/Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) domestic food and water supplies is rapidly transferring relative power to Iran. Due to the increasing concentration of the remaining high EROI oil in the Persian Gulf if the OECD/NATO let Iran grow unchecked their survival would rapidly be dependent on the whims of those in power in Iran. Hence the need to curtail Iranian power.

Unfortunately this is a difficult balancing act, too little pressure and control rapidly shifts to Iran, too much pressure and it's game over for the world. The pressure and the challenge will only grow as the EROI of oil production and volume of oil exports drop. I would not like to be the ones trying to manage this balancing act.

To some extent this is made easier because to "win" Iran just has to sit back and watch the OECD go through energy collapse. The problem for Iran is that the OECD and others provide food for the GCC. If there is no food in the GCC the 40 Million people in the Gulf states will try to emigrate to Iran. In 2010 Iran effectively single handedly bailed out the GCC and Egypt with exports of 2.5 million metric tonnes of wheat, but at eye watering pressure for the government. I very much doubly that Iran either could or would want to do so on an indefinite basis. As one of the few countries which would be relatively self sufficient even in 10-20 years Iran may end up with up to a quarter of a billion people trying to emigrate there from the whole region.

With such large undefended borders I doubt that Iran could prevent or survive that. In a counter intuitive way it is the rapid catastrophic collapse of Iran's strategic rivals in the OECD/GCC which is the main pressure on Iran to negotiate or face going down with everyone else. Being the last self sufficient country in the region is a serious threat when your borders can not be successfully guarded and you have hungry neighbours.

Written by peakoilBob:
To some extent this is made easier because to "win" Iran just has to sit back and watch the OECD go through energy collapse.

Being a significant crude oil exporter, Iran is not immune from energy collapse. Their economy is dependent on the revenue from exported crude oil which will be lost as their exports approach zero and their production becomes insufficient to satisfy their domestic demand. Iranian crop yield will likely be adversely affected by climate change especially because the country lies in an arid part of the world. M.J. Amiri and S.S. Eslamian, 2010. Investigation of Climate Change in Iran. Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 3: 208-216. I am not convinced their natural gas production could compensate for these factors.

Thank you for the link to the article on Iran's climate. It is very interesting, when I visited Tehran in 2010, water quality in Tehran was already becoming a problem. Tehran is situated on the arid Iranian plateau.

As for the rest of the country in 2010 Iran exported 2.5 million metric tonnes of wheat. Iran is also major import, processing and distribution point for food product exports for the whole region. Iran maintains significant grain stockpile to deal with drought etc. Lets not forget that Iran is five times the size of the UK and has some very large areas that are both wet and agriculturally productive. Assuming population growth can be halted then Iran may remain self sufficient in food. There are potentially much greater threats to Iranian and regional food production which you have failed to notice and which I will not mention here.

Iran is currently not only self sufficient in but also an exporter of food, energy, raw materials and manufactured products. There is no doubt that the lack of trade would be painful for Iran. It is important to remember that if Iran was force to become fully self sufficient it is one of the few countries in the world capable of doing so. Years of sanctions have made Iran one of the most self sufficient countries on earth. This is made possible by the domestic availability of oil, gas, coal, iron ore, phosphates etc.

As for oil, when I was in Tehran in 2010 the effectiveness of the new underground rail and high priority bus lane was apparent. The planed ending of fuel subsidies could make Iran the lone exception to the Export Land Model. I suspect Iran could survive on just 25% of its current oil production. Since oil is a depleting resource eventually the high EROI resources will be exhausted. The point is, under current publicly known assumptions Iran will be the last man standing as the supplies of high EROI oil run out.

If the OECD - which is the world largest food exporting group - suffers an energy collapse then much of the world and especially Iran's neighbours risk a food collapse. Being the last self sufficient country in the region is a serious threat when your borders can not be successfully guarded and you have hungry neighbours. Not just in the GCC, imagine what will happen on Iran's border with Pakistan if Pakistan suffers an energy and food crisis. I have spent the last few years trying to explain this challenge to the Iranian government. Before the Iranian embassy in London closed I was there almost every week. I also discussed some of these issues privately with the Iranian deputy foreign minister when he visited London last year.

I have been reading the Oil Drum but not contributing since 2005 and was formally in the Peak Oil Doomer camp. While within the known laws of physics it is not possible to prevent the decline of EROI from depleting oil fields or any finite resource, it is possible to cheat. Ironically the initial support for the projects to help the OECD resolve the peak oil/EROI decline was provided by Iran, before the involvement of other international governments and organisations.

Unfortunately I am currently unable to provide any further information on projects designed to resolve the peak oil/EROI decline challenge. What I can say is that supplies of currently worthless low EROI fossil fuels are abundant both in Iran and globally. If all goes well I hope to be able to more openly explain the newly emerging reality within 1-2 years.

But what would be acceptable in an unprovoked attack by the US against Iran? Some limited strikes may be acceptable, but the degradation of Iran's military in an unprovoked act of aggression by the US? I don't think they could go that far without severe geopolitical trouble.

If Iran cannot be goaded into doing something stupid, like attacking, then the military options for the US become more limited. I'd suspect in such a situation that a casus belli would be provided, probably by Israel. The recent attacks on Israeli targets in Thailand allegedly by Iranians may well be a warning shot to the US that they'll do whatever it takes.

Iran's best defence is probably to do nothing other than defend targets under direct attack.

Exactly right.As the days went on and US jets and cruise missiles wreaked devastation upon Iranian air-defense and C & C systems, there would be a lot of collateral damage for television to broadcast, a lot of civilians killed.
And what crime would we be accusing them of?
Why would there not be an immediate worldwide revulsion at the unnecessary carnage?
Russia and China would have the moral and legal high ground.
Millions of people worldwide would be in the streets at once.
There are no WMD this time, not even fraudulent accusations of WMD.
People tried to justify the Iraq war with "Saddam gassed the Kurds, his own people", well Iran cannot be fairly accused of being a tyranny. They have an elected and effective government.
As the days went by, the US position would become untenable, intolerable, they would almost be forced to provoke Iran into some immoderate response to deflect attention from their lack of sufficient cause.
Does America want to witness people worldwide cheering the sinking of an American aircraft carrier? That is what we risk.

America doesn't. _Some_ people worldwide do.

Iran will not attack U.S. military installation because they know they will lose. Iran goes after U.S. economic interests in Persian Golf. If( and that is a big IF)we can tolerate economic disaster for unknown periods of time then military aspect of conflict will not be drastic.

Tanstaafl, you make good points on your comment, but as several other commentators, you show an overconfidence on the US Navy that I do not find very useful. Here is a bit of the story of the USS Stark:

The USS Stark was deployed to the Middle East Force in 1984 and 1987. Captain Glenn R. Brindel was the commanding officer during the 1987 deployment. The ship was struck on May 17, 1987, by two Exocet antiship missiles fired from an Iraqi Mirage F1[1][2] (although some believe it to be a Falcon) aircraft during the Iran–Iraq War. The plane had taken off from Shaibah at 8 p.m. and had flown south into the Persian Gulf. The pilot fired the first Exocet missile from a range of 22.5 nautical miles (41.7 km), and the second from 15.5 nautical miles (28.7 km), just about the time Stark issued a standard warning by radio.[3] The frigate did not detect the missiles with radar; warning was given by the lookout only moments before the missiles struck.[4] The first penetrated the port-side hull and failed to detonate, but left flaming rocket fuel in its path. The second entered at almost the same point, and, leaving a 3-by-4-meter gash, exploded in crew quarters. 37 sailors were killed and 21 were injured.[4]

No weapons were fired in defense of Stark. The Phalanx CIWS remained in standby mode, Mark 36 SRBOC countermeasures were not armed, and the attacking Exocet missiles and Mirage aircraft were in a blindspot of the defensive STIR (Separate Target Illumination Radar) fire control system, preventing use of the ship's Standard missiles. The ship failed to maneuver to bring its weapons batteries to bear before the first missile hit.[4]

Luis, I'm glad you brought up overconfidence and the history of the USS Stark. It is a topic I take very personally. In September of 1984 I was a member of a Groom team sent to Bahrain to resolve combat systems technical problems on ships assigned to the 5th Fleet. At the time, I was a young field engineer working on the Phalanx CIWS. I spent two days and one night, at-sea, on the USS Stark resolving a few minor technical issues and providing some OJT for the ships fire control techs. I was berthed in Engineering Berthing, port-side forward. To put it simply, I've slept in the same location, on the same ship, in the same Persian gulf where several years later 37 young sailors died. Hence, I don't take lightly any talk of naval engagements in the Persian Gulf.

The USS Stark incident caused a firestorm of activity in the upper echelons of the Navy. Subsequently, I spent the better part of the next 10 years working on AEGIS ships analyzing intership and intraship electromagnetic compatibility problems between Phalanx CIWS and other high power emitters. As fortunes would have it, in late summer of 1990, I just finished at-sea testing of a modified radar antenna for Phalanx. Within two weeks, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Decisions were made to retrofit the Phalanx radar antennas on every deployed AEGIS Cruiser. Consequently, I got to visit 5 ships in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Mediterranean during Desert Shield and another one during Desert Storm. The work was more complex than just merely replacing radar antennas. It involved some rudimentary performace tests and a comprehensive briefing for the ships Commanding Officer.

I've spent a great deal of time at-sea working complex performance related issues in both single ship and battlegroup scenarios. As mentioned, a good period of that time was spent in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Although it has been over ten years since I've been on a Navy ship, I've kept abreast of some of the newer and improved technologies. None the less, I am fraught with worry about the casualties we might incur, should hostilities break out in the current confrontation with Iran.

There is a more detailed description of the attack on the USS Stark in The Iran-Iraq War: Chapter XIV. THE TANKER WAR AND THE LESSONS OF NAVAL CONFLICT, Anthony H. Cordesman (PDF warning). It also shows what happened when both Iran and Iraq tried to interfere with shipping in the Persian Gulf. It was difficult to locate and identify ships as well as sink oil tankers.

"during the Gulf War in 1991, NATO achieved a good deal of success against Scud missiles"

Actually, the success was mostly propaganda:

"The results of these studies are disturbing. They suggest that the Patriot's intercept rate during the Gulf War was very low. The evidence from these preliminary studies indicates that Patriot's intercept rate could be much lower than ten percent, possibly even zero." (Statement of Theodore A. Postol before the U.S. House Of Representatives Committee on Government Operations, April 7, 1992)

Attempting to hunt them on the ground was equally futile.

This matches my knowledge. During the first Gulf war I witnessed a number (hard to remember exactly how many, but I would guess at 5-6) of Patriot missile engagements with incoming Scuds. In not one case did the Patriot missile succeed. Every time they either missed entirely or hit the fuselage of the Scud. Not once did they pre detonate the Scud warhead. So by using the Patriots we actually caused MORE damage then if we had never fired them. The Patriot warhead would explode a few hundred to thousand feet above the ground and blow itself and the scud fuselage all over the place and then the several hundred pound warhead from the Scud would hit the ground and blow up. I was about 150 yards from one of those Scud impacts one night. It got my attention. I was also told by senior officers that they did not know of a single instance where the Patriots actually succeeded as designed.

The ONLY reason that the Scuds did not caused significant damage was that they were highly inaccurate. If the Iranians have solved that problem (or someone did it for them) then they would become a significant weapon. But only for stationary targets (like refinery and loading terminals perhaps?).


The article said nothing about Patriot anti-missile engagements. Most Scud launchers were destroyed by air to ground attacks, often guided by eyes on the ground.

I am not sure what your point is. Yes, many were destroyed on the ground, and some due to the actions of US Special Forces and British SAS soldiers on the ground guiding in aircraft. But most being destroyed on the ground is certainly not all. Dozens of scuds were successfully launched and some landed 300-400 miles away. I assume you are too young to remember that war as there were many videos and photos of Scuds exploding, Patriots being fired and people dying from both of them in Israel and Saudi Arabia. I have a photo on the wall behind me showing 2 Patriot missiles just after launch streaking across the night sky on their way to meet an incoming Scud. In one famous incident over 20 US soldiers were killed by a Scud which landed on their sleeping quarters in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

The point is that these missiles are difficult to shoot down when they reenter the atmosphere. The rocket motor has long since used up its fuel and the missile is traveling at extreme velocities. Hitting the fuselage does no good at all. If you can aim it you can do damage with it.


?? Neither the author nor I said 'all' Scuds were destroyed. My point was, that whether intended or not, the author said nothing about Patriot intercepts in the Scud reference.


Actually Luis did refer to Patriot missiles just not by name. Whaleoil quoted Luis

"during the Gulf War in 1991, NATO achieved a good deal of success against Scud missiles"

and pointed out that he was incorrect. Knowledge of the conflict would lead one to know that the NATO defense against Scud missiles was via launching Patriot anti-missile missiles. This tactic was a complete failure. I was backing Whaleoil up with my 1st hand experience and via 2nd hand information from senior officers with direct information.

The point in the article that Scud missile type technology would be easy to defend against was what he and I were talking about as that assumption could quite possibly be incorrect. Hitting a missile while not destroying its warhead is not success. Therefore this Iranian capability may be more dangerous than Luis implied. That's all we were talking about.


Thank you for pointing this out guys, I obviously didn't research this issue properly. Neverhteless I'd note out that in the 20 years that have passed since the Gulf Wat the Aegis system has been upgraded. And even if it is still that bad, a ballistic trajectory can be identified from far and provide time to at least try to move out of the way.

Luis, the AEGIS system can easily detect and intercept a ballistic missile at a very long distance by launching SM-2 missiles. The biggest threats are air or sea launched cruise missiles. In small numbers they should also be intercepted by either the Phalanx CIWS or RAM missiles. The Navy's biggest concern is a swarm attack whereby dozens of small boats and aircraft all proceed rapidly toward the same target simultaneously launching missiles and shoulder fired rockets.

Something to consider is that was 20 years ago. Do you still think the patriot or it's successor is going to miss? I was there for gulf 1 and the patriot would cause damage to the incoming scud about 50 percent of the time. Now you can expect a head to head hit at about the same rate.

Too much Ipad wargames, for mi taste.

Has anybody thought here the effects on Iranian population and not only Iranian, but also Afghan, Armenian, Syrian or Iraqi populations, and who knows, even perhaps to Pakistan and India, of an attack on nuclear installations in Iran, loaded with a lot of highly radioactive materials?

I have already mentioned somewhere else in TOD that in June 1981, in the middle of Cold War, MAD and two years before the Star Wars Reagan craziness, Steven A. Fetter y Kosta Tipis published in Scientific American an interesting article titled “Catastrophic Releases of Radioactivity”. They analyzed three possible catastrophic scenarios and concluded that the worst of the nuclear effects was not a conventional explosion of a 1 GW nuclear power plant (Chernobyl or Fukushima, for instance) or the 1 Megaton explosion of a nuclear warhead. The worst of them all was the combination of a nuclear 1 Megaton blast on a 1 GW nuclear power plant.

Well, in many of the manger and trough Western media it has been clearly said that conventional bunker-booster conventional bombs, with high penetration capacities ‘perhaps’ will not suffice to take down the Iranian nuclear installations; thus implying that they may need to use nuclear warheads. They are implying and giving for good the worst possible scenario contemplated by Fetter and Tipis.

And what do we have here? We have plenty of American, Israeli and European citizens happily playing Nintendo strategies on how could they be possibly affected by a possible war with Iran (of course in the sofas of Europe or the States). Apparently, nobody cares about what could happen to tens of perhaps hundreds of millions of innocent citizens in the region if radiation splashes in the worst possible scenario.

And again, we have taken out of focus the main reason: that Western powers need the Iranian oil and everything else for themselves and displace the China, India and Pakistan growing demand and influence in the area. This, together with the growing domestic demand in Iran that is depleting even faster the export capabilities, seem to be the most likely reasons to attack Iran a la Libya or Iraq style, by taking back Iran to the Stone Age, but leaving the oil and gas installations intact, if possible. The excuses of a possible nuclear military use of the Iranians are pathetic.

It is curious that it went almost unnoticed by the manger and trough Western media the solemn declaration of Ali Khamenei saying:
Echoing sentiments expressed in speeches by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr. Salehi (Iranian Foreign minister) denied that the nuclear program had a military purpose, saying Iran would be a stronger country without nuclear arms.
“We do not see any glory, pride or power in the nuclear weapons — quite the opposite,” he said. He added that on the basis of a religious decree by Ayatollah Khamenei, “the production, possession, use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegitimate, futile, harmful, dangerous and prohibited as a great sin.”

Mr. Salehi said the existence of nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world posed “the gravest threat” to sustainable international security.

I have not seen or heard the Pope of Rome doing something similar. Nor the Queen of England, the head of the Anglican Church; nor any religious authority in the States or any rabbi in Israel or including any Muslim Sunni religious leader in Pakistan saying something as categorical and clear.

And it is curious, very curious the reaction. The Western media and many alienated Western citizens had either ignored it, because it does not match well in their mentally harwired programs, or those who have been believing for years that the mandates of the ayatollahs are absolutely complied with in this theocracy (as they are supposed to be fundamentalists; that is people who has certain level of integrity or fundament; like ‘radical’ is a person that goes to the roots, despite the perverted language in the manger and trough media), now will turn immediately and when it comes to a such a clear statement, against the nuclear weapons, we prefer to believe that he is laying to his citizens on what is good and bad for Islam, while giving green light to commit one of the biggest sins for a Muslim: the construction and possession of the atomic bomb. Full cognitive dissonance.

Finally, I have some timid hopes. I had never seen in years in letters to the editors and forums in The New York Times (obviously a quite biased pro Zionist and Israeli lobby media) so many declarations of American citizens asking their government, sort of dumb Goliath, to get rid of the arrogance of the Israeli Hop-o'-My-Thumb, taking Goliath by the balls, while happily jumping with the seven league military boots in direction to Iran.

Think twice, for the benefit of mankind. This is not a Nintendo war game. We are at the crossroads.

Mr. Salehi said the existence of nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world posed “the gravest threat” to sustainable international security.

No doubt and because of our perverse nature those very same weapons also have materially contributed to halting military conflicts between the major players since 1945--a truly long run by modern western standards.

It is very scary. Humans make errors. Things get out of hand fast. My next door neighbor was in the service during the Cuban missile crisis, he said his unit was getting very ready to go hot.

More recently, May 22, 1980 I believe, I had some insight into how touchy the whole 'game' is. Jimmy Carter had just returned from an overfly of the Mt. Saint Helens eruption when I saw him at the airport on the local news. His face was almost drained of life. He said he was not prepared for the scope of the devastation.

The volcanic blast was the equivalent of a 10 megaton explosion if I recall. Of course at the time President Carter had had many powerful people advising him to drop just such a bomb on Iran for some months past--'the US has just lost too much face in the embassy/hostage seizure to let things slide further, we must retaliate and show them who they are messing with' was the cry from the most hawkish corners. I always thought Carter's face showed he had just seen what such an attack truly meant...but I might have been reading in too much...

Yes, "think twice". I think Obama is showing some encouraging signs of thinking this whole thing is a really stupid idea, but he can't exactly just call it off without losing face or getting backstabbed by the more extreme Israel/Zionist lobby. It's a game of chicken, and like that game there is fully the potential for their to be two losers.

Honestly, I fully expect a nuclear action of some sort within my lifetime. The US and Russia seem unlikely to start it, but with bombs in Pakistan, and the construction of bombs actually not being THAT difficult... I expect something bad will happen eventually. I wonder how many nuke disasters I get to see in my lifetime now, what with the reactors shown to be much more fragile and dangerous than we thought before the Fukushima disaster.

Getting back to this particular game with Iran, I wish there was a sane man in the room, who could just say, "Hey guys, let's just not do this, huh? It's just a bad idea". As it is, it may be that any action would be ineffectual anyway - the Iranians have learned over the years from the various attacks on them how to harden their defences, so anything less than a quite nasty war is unlikely to do squat. And should such a thing happen, the damage to the world economy would not look nice. I don't think for even a second that ANYBODY could successfully invade Iran right now, barring WWII style total warfare. That, surely, is not gonna happen.

On the bright side, it looks to me more and more like none of this crap is likely to happen. It's just TOO crazy, and the talk has cooled down somewhat from what it was like not so long ago. Maybe Russia and China will swoop in to save the day by backing Iran openly, making it totally impossible to continue the fiction that this is even slightly a good idea.

The Western media have managed to get everyone worked into a lather about the possibility of a nuclear Iran.

I am more worried about the reality of a nuclear Israel and a nuclear US.

These countries and their leaders are insane/desperate and getting more so.

We would have air superiority in 24 hours. We would have naval superiority in 24 hours. It would be complete humiliation. They know this. Why do you think the world freaked out after the first Gulf War? The press and the rest of the world had been puffing up the Iraqi war machine as a 400,000 man well trained machine with Russia's technology. 7 days later it's all over and the Coalition forces lost 190 from Iraqi combatants. Iraq's loses are in the 20,000 to 35,000 range. There are mass desertions and surrenders. Russia's weapons expertise was proven to be as fraudulent as ever. Most of Iran's weapons come from Russia directly and indirectly.

We always misrepresent the accuracy and damage capabilities of our weapons. It's deliberate.

We still have our bases in Saudi right near the Kuwait border. One aircraft carrier(already in the Gulf) would destroy any Iranian naval vessel or aircraft within a few hundred miles. The gulf is not that big of a playground. There is no place to hide.

The only way to hurt the western world is through terrorism. If Iran wants to explore the nuclear option, it's up to their people to decide. The risks of using it as an offensive weapon are complete destruction by more than just Israel. Pakistan and India are not interested in their posturing either.

If you were an Iranian, would you want to fight for a regime that rigs elections and cannot control the economic problems facing it? Would you believe the rhetoric it has been spouting for 30 years about the great Satan? Or, would you be secretly watching satellite tv, reading the internet, and waiting for the day of change?

Good luck with the religion and saber rattling. It's all a bunch of hot air to keep the ruling elite in power. OMG, sounds just like our upcoming elections in the States. That's SCARY.

Brian, I do not concur with your rosy prediction that we can acheive air and naval superiority in 24 hours. I spent at least 20 years of my civilian career working on ship self defense systems, including time at-sea with the US Navy in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea during Gulf War I. I've also conducted hundreds of simulations of high speed missile attacks on dozens of our warships.

Th US Navy has always been concerned about engagements in the confines of the Straights of Hormuz. Clearly, in the end, we will succeed and shipping will resume. However, don't think that it will be just a matter of days, with minimal US/NATO casualties. I can envision a worst case scenario in which Iran launches a swarm attack against one of our smaller ships resulting in severe damage or sinking of a ship and exensive loss of life.

I'd suggest the target would not be a smaller ship, it would be a carrier - and it would have a relatively high chance of success.

I'd also suggest that oil tankers would be a quick and easy target and that many would be damaged to effectively close the gulf to oil exports. Then an ultimatum would be issued.

I'm also not so sure that Iran wouldn't rush produce a nuke or two. Nothing would cool the heals of an attack like a mushroom cloud.

From a game theory standpoint, this is not a good position. Both sides ratchet up actions on their perceptions of the others actions and there is a bias towards first strike. Nobody is talking about compromise and getting out this mess. Eventually it tilts...

Oh, and to the author, those accuracy numbers for anti-ship missiles - I'd look very closely at where you got them. I don't know of anything that's 99% certain in the military sphere - except Murphy's Law.

Regarding the accuracy numbers for missiles, the percentage refers to the probability of the missile striking within a given distance from the designated target. Every missile is designed to hit within a circle around the aimpoint. This circle is the CEP (Circular Error Probability). For long range ballistic missile the requirement may have a CEP in the 10s of meters, while short range guided missiles will have a much tighter CEP.

In other words, some missiles have a 99% probability of landing in your back yard, while others only have a 90% chance of landing in your back pocket.

Yes, but we are talking anti-ship missiles. No such missile in existence has a 99% probability of getting in the vicinity of its ship target. Certainly not a 99% probability of impacting it.

I'm not even sure if you could get 99% probability of successful launch.

Garyp, I agree with you that no single missile has any significant probability of getting in the vicinity of a target ship. However, the more missiles launched in a very brief timeframe will increase the likeliehood of one of them leaking through the various layers of defense.

As to the likeliehood of launching, it depends on whether the missile needs to acquire the target before launch or whether it is independently launched with the hopes of target acquisition while enroute to the target. In reality, very seldom do missiles have a hardware or systems failure that results in a failure to launch. Guidance system failures are always possible wherein the missile does not even get close to the designated target, although this is not a major problem with current technologies. And then there is the last failure mode in which the warhead fails to detonate, as in the case of one of the Iraqi Exocets that struck the USS Stark in 1987, in the Persian Gulf.

On your first point, yep, that's part of the reason you fire a salvo of two missiles generally - pushes the hit probability up to ~70% if you are lucky. Swarm attacks are something that has never really been tried in anger with anti-ship missiles AFAIK - but would stand a good chance of success, Aegis/Standard or not.

On the second point, there are quite a few more probabilities of failure than that to take into account. The 'failure to launch' element, in the heat of battle can easily be that 1%, particularly for air launch.

BTW you forgot loss of lock and ditching in the sea as valid failure modes for sea skimming missiles - and pretty key in some circumstances. All up I'd hazard a RoM and unclassified value south of 50% probability of success per individual missile.

Put all that together and I'd suggest that anti-ship attacks would concentrate on the carrier, and taking out oil tankers, which are basically sitting ducks. That's unless Iran has had a factory churning out SS-N-22 copies for the last decade...

Oh, Brian. What a simplistic, biased, polarized and earflapped view of the world. If you were American, perhaps you would be able to explain why if the US is a democracy (one man, one vote) every candidate to the presidency of the United States has to devote about ten times more in his/her electoral campaign to the AIPAC and similar, being US Jews about 6-7 millions, than to the black and hispanic minorities, amounting over 75 millions. It is just a 100 times (two orders of magnitude) of deviated, distorted attention for EVERY CANDIDATE, for being a democracy. Or were you talking about a plutocracy (one dollar, one vote)? Poor dumb Goliath, being pulled by the balls by the Little Thumb David, with his seven leagues military boots jumping directly and happily to Iran or to wherever they decide in Jerusalem. Two full days with the host in the White House guest room. Who commands who? Religion and saber rattling, you said? From a country that has printed in his very currency “In God we trust” and that is commanded by a tiny 6 million inhabitants country, in which the religious leaders force women to seat in the back of the buses?

But, but, but... without Israel in place, how are we supposed to bring Jesus back? And we LOVE women... just listen to our major political leader, Rush Limbaugh, last week. Advanced global thinking is an American trait: Here is another, very powerful, popular, well-known, and influential American public figure engaging in tide denial:
As far as appropriate action, our corporate darling, General Motors, contributed heavily to the Heritage Foundation's global warming denial propaganda machine.
These are our leading figures. These are their drives and resulting actions. How can we go wrong?

Perhaps one issue is that Iran may believe that if an attack on them is imminent they have to strike pre-emptively with full force, see WW1 Germany or WW2 Pearl Harbour. I think this is the reason why Obama said 'cool off Israel' publicly. I suspect that if they really believe that they are under threat they won't wait for a standard declaration of war. Their ability to do damage to the opposition in the region will likely decline sharply after the first few hours or days, however if they are able to damage enough NATO assets in the region they can effectively force a stalemate situation to persist for a much longer time.

There seems to be a cultural assumption running through the entire comments thread that Iran is somehow the aggressor, pent-up or otherwise. That Iran's natural inclination is to attack and take belligerent action against all and sundry. And that any action by the West is merely a measured reaction to Iran's violent intentions.

Assuming Iran isn't the mad dog that it's made out to be, then why would they attack anyone if its not in their interest to do so? They essentially win by stalling or rebuffing an attack. Doing anything else would be madness in the face of the military might set against them. Their strategy must be for an asymmetrical conflict which they can only win by denying the strategic goals of the West.

Now it would be interesting to see what strategies they may possibly use to do that.

It could be related to their frequent public assertions that Israel needs to be wiped off the map.

I'm not convinced they'd actually attack, but they sure do sound crazy enough to do so most of the time.

As far as I'm aware they've never made that assertion, frequently or otherwise. But western propaganda has it that they have. However, your view does seem to be typical of people in general.

You sound about right to me in your general diagnosis.
There has always been a lot of this propaganda.
Example: though Sadam actually was a 'loose gun', he was not very significant by 2003, and western propaganda was still needed to provoke the end-game for regime change: "WMD", "Sadam & Al Qaeda", "an attack on Britain in 45 minutes" etc. This kind of guff was described as "insults to our intelligence" by a senior dissenting conservative politician in our UK House of Commons, but in this case the US/Anglo war-fighting factions prevailed.

Given our political power structures it seems we were lucky to get away with it back in the Cold War when by hindsight the biggest threat now appears to have been from a powerful war-fighting faction within US power structures?
Interesting comparisons are now being bandied about in US power circles? WT quote in an early comment above:

On Chris Matthews' Sunday morning show on NBC, Bob Woodward, with the Washington Post, said that a senior foreign affairs official in Washington described the current geopolitical environment as the most difficult since the Cuban Missile Crisis.



note that the "quote" in question was itself a quote -- they are the words of the late Ayatollah Khomenei, the father of the Islamic Revolution. Although he quoted Khomeini to affirm his own position on Zionism, the actual words belong to Khomeini and not Ahmadinejad. Thus, Ahmadinejad has essentially been credited (or blamed) for a quote that is not only unoriginal, but represents a viewpoint already in place well before he ever took office.

So what did Ahmadinejad actually say? To quote his exact words in Farsi:

"Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad."

That passage will mean nothing to most people, but one word might ring a bell: rezhim-e. It is the word "regime," pronounced just like the English word with an extra "eh" sound at the end. Ahmadinejad did not refer to Israel the country or Israel the land mass, but the Israeli regime. This is a vastly significant distinction, as one cannot wipe a regime off the map. Ahmadinejad does not even refer to Israel by name, he instead uses the specific phrase "rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods" (regime occupying Jerusalem).

So this raises the question: what exactly did he want "wiped from the map"? The answer is: nothing. That's because the word "map" was never used. The Persian word for map, "nagsheh" is not contained anywhere in his original Farsi quote, or, for that matter, anywhere in his entire speech. Nor was the Western phrase "wipe out" ever said. Yet we are led to believe that Iran's president threatened to "wipe Israel off the map," despite never having uttered the words "map," "wipe out" or even "Israel."


The full quote translated directly to English:

"The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

Word-by-word translation:

Imam (Khomeini) ghoft (said) een (this) rezhim-e (regime) ishghalgar-e (occupying) qods (Jerusalem) bayad (must) az safheh-ye ruzgar (from page of time) mahv shavad (vanish from).


The inflammatory "wiped off the map" quote was first disseminated not by Iran's enemies, but by Iran itself. The Islamic Republic News Agency, Iran's official propaganda arm, used this phrasing in the English version of some of their news releases covering the World Without Zionism conference. International media including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, *Time* magazine and countless others picked up the IRNA quote and made headlines out of it without verifying its accuracy, and rarely referring to the source. Iran's Foreign Minister soon attempted to clarify the statement, but the quote had a life of its own. Though the IRNA wording was inaccurate and misleading, the media assumed it was true, and besides, it made great copy.

thank you,

"The Imam said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time."

though hardly something that could be viewed as support for the state of Israel, it is far more ethereal and poetic than 'wiped off the map'

the actual statement is much more difficult to fathom...even more so as it purports to say what another said

it certainly does look to be taking the long view

"vanish from the page of time" and "wiped off the map" seem rather similar to me.

Yes. But attributed to what agency. I'm acquirung the capability and will use it, is different from expecting one's religious Diety to do the job for you. Many religious people who have what they consider to be an unholy enemy say things that imply they expect God will someday rectify the situation. I remember a mountain near four corners, called sleeping Ute mountain. This was alleged by the local Indians to be a giant sleeping Indian, who would one day wake up, and kick the whitemen out of the country. Thats the sort of statement, that people have (deliberately or otherwise) taken to mean an intent to attack.

If Iran was a neutral, timid and enlightened country instead of an oppressive religious state conducting a massive arms buildup and supplying Israel's and U.S.'s enemies with weapons, then you would have a point. Several nuclear tipped ballistic missiles are fully capable of delivering Allah's will upon the regime occupying Jerusalem as interpreted by the Iman.

"an oppressive religious state conducting a massive arms buildup"

Sounds like a good description of the US and Israel to me.

The US is not particularly oppressive as major states go, please name five empires that were less so. If you can't do that then at least name five eras where peace and harmony ruled large regions when an empire was not keeping its foot on things.

Never before has such a large region been kept in a more or less orderly fashion, no doubt many necks have been trounced on hard in that process. Could be very interesting if a lot of it became undone at once. Thus far the unravelling is far less serious than instant news bites make it sound, but that could change.

They aren't mad dogs but I suspect they'd have a better chance if it came down to it if they wanted to do maximum damage if they can catch the U.S. by surprise. If they felt war was inevitable then it'd probably be more successful for them to launch a pre-emptive strike on the fleet. They'd garner more international sympathy attacking the U.S. directly than by attacking third party nations civilian fleets and their infrastructure.

I suspect all they'd need to do would be if possible to hit the carrier itself with a couple of torpedoes or even using a suicide midget submarine loaded with explosives to blow up next to the carrier. They don't need to sink it, just force it to withdraw and suspend flight operations. If the carrier is say listing at even 5 degrees it may be enough to curtail or prevent flight operations.

I think their stated strategy, is not to strike first. Given the way Sunni/Shia terrorism has worked, major Sunni attrocities "car bomb kills dozens of Shiites" happen nearly every week (usually in Iraq or Pakistan), and Shiites rarely respond with violence. I think we can reasonably expect an Iranian first strike is unlikely. Clearly for an underdog, who may require international opinion to come to its aid, not striking first would be a good strategy.

Iranian General: We Will Make Pre-emptive Strike If Threatened, Newsmax, 21 Feb 2012:

"We do not wait for enemies to take action against us," said Hejazi, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. "We will use all our means to protect our national interests."

He is Iranian General Mohammed Hejazi.

Is the media lying again?

I thought that a war against Iran would have to be sanctioned by the UN.

Luis, a magnificent piece. Two questions:

1) Could Iran, with its rather clever adoption of asymmetric warfare tactics sink a US carrier?
2) With what seems to be an enlightened policy towards economic and social development, why does Iran continue to confront The West instead of adopting a more neutral line (like China) that would in very short order lead to much greater prosperity for Iranians?

I suspect that a deeper understanding of global historic events and a more mutual understanding of their consequences could be beneficial.


My 2 cents. Iran is in a generational shift. The younger generation is getting mighty tired of the theocratic governmental and is passively resentful of its self congratulatory ways but they will unite with it in the face of American intervention.

So Iran ruling elite are trying everything to provoke America (or Israel) to hit first. Any it must be us who hits first.

Euan, aircraft carriers are our most heavily protected asset. In any potentially hostile environment, the carrier will be surrounded by their escort ships consisting of at least one AEGIS Cruiser, 2 AEGIS Destroyers, and an unknown number of nearby submarines. There will always be some aircraft in the air, whether from the carrier or a nearby landbase. Carriers are immense vessels and it would take multiple strikes by most missiles to cause enough damage to actually sink a carrier. That is not to say that they are immune from a swarm attack causing significant damage. Personally, I'm more concerned about losing a destroyer or an auxilliary vessel.

I bet an enemy would simply take out the flight deck of a carrier to render it a rather large piece of junk - 1000's of miles from home, full of personnel. Could you evac one with choppers? That's a hell of a waste of fuel. A drone aircraft carrier, full of drones would seem a better use of resources.

The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is heavily reinforced steel. It would take multiple detonations, of very large warheads, to have any chance of disabling the launching of aircraft from the multiple catapults. A very well placed detonation near the aft of the deck that disabled the arresting gear might prevent the recovery of aircraft for an extended period of time. Meanwhile, if the propulsion system is still working, the vessel can sail out of harms way.

Again, as I wrote yesterday, our aircraft carriers are heavily defended by multiple layers of defenses. Whil e attacking and causing damage to an aircraft carrier might be a very symbolic victoryfor the Iranians, they would suffer significant losses during the attack. Tactically and strategically, they could accomplish more by disabling or sinking a smaller vessel.

Could an aircraft carrier still function if it were to be suffering a list of 5-10 degrees? I don't think they'd need to take it out necessarily, however preventing flight operations if it came down to it would still be effective.

I read a report of the Hanit, an Israeli vessel struck by an anti-ship missile(it's not really clear which flavor, reports vary)during the Hezbollah conflict in 2006.

Anyhoo, they introduced a great term I hadn't heard before: "mission killed". I believe long before a carrier sunk, it would be considered "mission killed", and withdrawn if possible.

Hi Euan, my comments:

1) I see two ways this could be happen: a) a successful hit by a Khalij Fars missile or b) a successful sea borne human wave. The first is very unlikely to succeed, a ballistic trajectory should be easy to identify at long range. The second is harder to assess, but would require the sacrifice of at least the largest part of Iran's speedboat fleet. It would be a huge PR stunt, but simply closing the Strait would be way easier, without risks and with much more impact on The West.

2) I bet there are folk in Iran asking the same question, just exchanging the positions of the words "The West" and "Iran". I read a good deal of stuff from the Iranian media to write this post, and nowhere I found a confrontational discourse; the head men always talk about defending Iran of "its enemies", not of attacking this or that nation. The West on its part has been interfering with Iran's internal politics one way or the other for 60 years now; distrust of the West has become genetic. As long as Israel keeps sabotaging the Iranian nuclear programme, among other ways by murdering Iranian scientists, there's no way Iran is going to open it to the IAEA. Naturally, the theocratic/authoritarian regime is alien enough to the West to pose a challenge by itself on healthy relations.

I am sure that the calculations going on in the US administration and at the Pentagon have not forgotten that having, by far, the worlds most capable military in NO WAY guarantees success in a conflict with Iran (or any other country). That is obvious from an examination of our past and present conflicts. The chances of success depend on what the objectives are. Not who has the most guns

If the US/Israel choose to take out the Iranian nuclear facilities this will undoubtedly spark a conflict (it matters not whether one thinks such an attack is justified or not). What will be the standard which is used to gauge a "winner" (if that is not a ridiculous question - there will be no winners...just degrees of losers). My guess is which side has suffered the least/most damage to its economy as military losses are not consequential to either side. The US has so many military assets that even the loss of an aircraft carrier has no real military significance and Iran's forces are designed (when one is thinking of conflict with the US/Israel) not to "win" the conflict, but to inflict enough damage that it will have a political impact in the US/Europe and severely disrupt western economies.

A significant disruption of oil supplies transiting the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic economically. The EU economies are in recession right now a number of EU countries would suffer severe disruptions. The US economy is barely growing and under increasing strain due to rising oil prices. A big jump in oil prices and collapsing global economies would almost guarantee ours going down. The longer the Iranians could keep the oil from flowing the greater the economic damage.

Could secure control over the oil routes be obtained. Surely. But how long would it take to achieve this and what would be the long term costs. Can we AFFORD it?? Or do we acquiesce in their eventually obtaining nuclear weapons and work hard to integrate them into the "club". We gave Israel nuclear weapons, North Korea obtained them despite us, Pakistan obtained them despite us as did India. Is it actually NOT possible for us to live with the risk? If it is not, then some picayune strike against their facilities is stupid. It will not prevent them eventually obtaining the weapons and it will go a long way towards generating other conflicts down the road. If we must not allow this then we must conquer them. Are we prepared for that.

Let's not forget that if we get into a major action over control of the oil routes that by the time it is over the Iranian oil will also be off the market. Even though we might have things under control and the oil flowing again in a few weeks to a couple of months there will still be huge shortages due to the missing Iranian production. So we do not just need to open the oil routes back up we need to control the Iranian oil supplies as well to return to normal.

And let's not forget that a unilateral attack on Iran will not go down well in the Muslim world. There would be big and continuing repercussions from that aspect as well.

The Law of Unintended Consequences needs to be carefully considered.

Does Iran REALLY want to destroy Israel or would they be satisfied by trading the idea (or the rhetoric) of destroying Israel for a more prominent seat on the world stage? Neither people nor Countries frequently take actions which lead to almost certain doom unless they are backed into a corner and have nothing significant to lose. They have lots to lose. So do we.

This is a situation that cries for a diplomatic solution. Not a military one.


Does Iran REALLY want to destroy Israel or would they be satisfied by trading the idea (or the rhetoric) of destroying Israel for a more prominent seat on the world stage?

Of course they do not want to destroy Israel so badly that they would do anything that would risk a nuclear retaliation from Israel or the US. Iran would be happy to achieve 'regime change' in Israel through means of encourage popular uprising by the Palestinians. The portrayal of Iran as messianically bent on actually killing all Israeli Jews is hoary propaganda. (After all, there are still ~25,000 Jews in Iran, including one in the parliment.)

Iran's nuclear program is meant, at its most aggressive, to put it in a position to create a nuclear deterrent. Pakistan probably looms in their consciousness almost as much as Israel or the US. Like all the current nuclear powers, Iran would never be so stupid as to launch a first strike on another nuclear armed power (and Israel, lest we forget, has nuclear weapons).

OTOH, I am increasingly worried that Israel 'really' wants to destroy Iran. And unlike Iran, Israel may think it can get away with a strike without suffering consequences more serious than the rocket barrage from Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war.

There are several things that counteract oil disruptions measured in months:

1. oil tankers in route
2. finished product stocks
3. strategic petroleum reserves in OECD countries
4. rationing of petroleum products

Meanwhile the military is busy conquering Iran.

The economic cost of a halt to shipping from the Persian Gulf that lasted as little as 4 weeks would be catastrophic. That is taking into account all of your items 1-4. Those are a given. They ameliorate the situation somewhat, but not enough to think that the damage would not be catastrophic to world economies.

And if your last comment indicates that you think we actually "should" conquer Iran to take control of their oil you would have to accept right up front that the Iranian oil would be off the market for a couple of years best case. You do realize the level of carnage that would be required to secure a country of that size and population? Not only would the world not allow such a thing to be done it would be impossible to get the American people and the US military to do such a thing.

The US has considerable nuclear superiority and that's all that really matters. Iran would be bombed into submission in rather short order, regardless of the consequences, no matter who does it. Israel is a wag the tail scenario.

And we call ourselves human beings. That's a knee slapper.

Homo the Sap

I am not convinced the U.S. would turn Iranian oil radioactive and essentially remove it from the world market forever by retaliating with a nuclear strike against Iran. Only a few nukes can be detonated without producing a nuclear winter and global crop failure.

Pakistan, India, and Nuclear Winter, UN Dispatch, Alanna Shaikh, December 21, 2009:

As the article points out, “Even the warheads on one missile-carrying submarine could produce enough smoke to create a global environmental disaster.”

Should the following type of people possess nuclear weapons?

Sharia law in action:
74 lashes for women who are "un-Islamically" dressed, July 18, 2010 (warning, graphic)

Don't forget what rules Iran.

Blue Twilight...

Awesome point. And to further that the US is still smarting from the Iranian Hostage Crisis....imho. I believe there is a group of folks who would like nothing more than some payback time. Coupled with religious extremism of the Christian right, the US is a very scary country and the fundamental Muslims are much the same. Pox on both their houses.

Will someone save us from religion? Will someone save us from our leaders who hide in some office?

We all need to be like Partisans and Ghandi. Grind it to a halt. Will an energy crisis do this? Or, will it make it worse?

Remember, whatever happens, the main casualties will be all the families of the young boys killed, and all the struggling folks who pay for the mistakes of their posturing leaders.

That poor woman being buried prior to stoning. The sad thing is that other women will also be throwing stones at her.

What kind of species are we?


Blue Twilight,

More reasoning and less crappy propaganda. Who is this people? I have seen these photos since two o three years in many discussions about how bad and fanatic the Muslims are. They are a farce supposed to be in London. See how they are taken (horizontal, few people behind) etc. to discredit.

It is time of reasoning, rather than bullshitting. The photos need references and links not to lose credibility and you don't provide one. Photoshop is today an evil machine. We are already quite fed up of manipulation by the manger and trough Western media to swallow your own manipulation.

Would you bomb China also for shooting down prisoners and ask the families to pay for the bullet?

come on, this is a more serious blog.

Only a few nukes can be detonated without producing a nuclear winter and global crop failure.

Before embracing that theory, consider that there have been exactly 521 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, with the majority of the energy release in the two years '61-'62. Many of those tests had yields more than order of magnitude larger than any India or Pakistan might detonate with their fission only, ~50kton weapons. Put another way, if Pakistan and India detonated all of their collective ~200 weapons simultaneously the yield would still be smaller than the USSR's largest single detonation at 50,000kton.


The Nuclear winter hypothesis relies mainly upon smoke, so it relies on the target area having a lot of combustables, to create a firestorm. These tests were not done over large cities. Especiall the Tsar Bomba which you mentioned, was detonated over the glacier covered island Novia Zemlya -not much to burn there. I have my doubts about the efficacy of the nuclear winter hypothesis (I suspect it requires several times more blasts), but test shots really don't provide a counterexample.

The nuclear winter hypothesis as originally made decades ago relies on pushing debris up into the stratosphere, which only nuclear weapon and a few volcanoes can hope to do. Firestorms would necessarily come later, well after the detonation, and would not (have not) push debris anywhere near that altitude. The world has seen dozens of firestorms of cities, forests, and 600 simultaneous oil well fires in Kuwait in 1991 as ample evidence of their terrible, but limited, effects. Such events would be terrible enough for the people in that area without adding pseudoscience suitable for no more than a Nat Geo disaster flick.

The effects of smoke from raging fires can be widespread.

Several years ago there was a massive forest fire in Southern California. If I remember correctly, it was the October 2007 California wildfires. One day during this fire the wind shifted and blew smoke to my house. My first observation was a high altitude smoke that turned Sun orange. A few hours later Sun was completely obscured. Then a smokey haze appeared all around. It became difficult to breathe outside. A few hours later the smoke was in my house although it was worse outside.

I was 500 miles away from those fires. It taught me that the smoke from firestorms in the Angeles National Forest caused by a nuclear strike on Los Angeles, California, would impact me and others far from the blast. Because I have seen the effect, I will not casually dismiss the nuclear winter theory. Dozens of nukes destroying oil terminals and nuclear powered ships in the Middle East and cities in Iran, could create a nuclear winter in the northern hemisphere.

Sure forest fires can move smoke down wind hundreds of miles. Those 600 Kuwaiti oil fires from the Gulf war famously smoked up several countries downwind while they burned. The US East coast suffers from MidWest coal plant emissions. None of these have anything in common with the nuclear winter theory. To change anything at the scale of a hemisphere for seasonal periods of time the emission *must* be raised into the stratosphere above water vapor and the weather.

Yes, for long term climate impact, the particulate emissions must be lifted into the stratosphere. The problem is that the fire storm from a nuclear blast is different from that of a forest fire in one major respect. The nuclear blast triggers a fire storm over a large area in a very short time, unlike that of a forest fire, which takes hours or days to burn. Thus, an attack on a city would add a massive amount of smoke and volatilized material into the updraft in a rather brief period. Think of all the wood, plastics, rubber and other materials being instantly vaporized and hoisted to great altitude before there's time for them to burn. The result would be totally different from the usual tropospheric emissions, instead being more like a volcanic eruption, IMHO. Having several such events occur within a period of a few days or weeks would surely result in a cooling event not unlike the eruption of the Toba super volcano...

E. Swanson

I don't see it. The scale difference is many orders of magnitude. Toca supposedly lifted 700 km^3 of ash and 6 billion tons SO2, the energy was 1000x that of large nuclear weapon, so 100,000x that of an Indian weapon. There is simply not enough mass or energy in even a dozen nuked Delhi's and Karachi's.

Here's a link to Alan Robock's latest. Robock is the source of your reference to the estimated effects of Toba. A nuclear exchange involving several mega cities might not equal the impact of a Toba size eruption, but even a volcanic blast 1/100th the magnitude, like that of Tambora or Kuwae, would cause millions of deaths due to crop losses. HERE's MORE of Robock's publications...

E. Swanson

Robock, Turco, and Toon are all part of, or inheritors of, the same group that along with Carl Sagan forecast the Gulf War Kuwaiti oil fires would set off the equivalent of a nuclear winter. This forecast was done not in the literature but on ABC's Nightline in 1991. Sagan later at least admitted to the error, the others never have to my knowledge. As this kind of 'science' offers no falsification tests, but relies instead on models, my acceptance of the theory relies on the trust I decide to give their models based on track record. Robock et al have not earned it.

Sorry, the models have been "tested", using data from the Pinatubo "experiment". Too bad that the denialist don't understand that models are standard tools in science and engineering. Besides, it's not 1991, but perhaps you are still using a 386 computer. You might at least offer some critical comments regarding Robock's latest published results, after I posted a link to his publications page. For example, tell us, where are the errors in Robock's 2008 paper in Physics Today or in his 2007 paper in SCIENCE???

E. Swanson

Too bad that the denialist don't understand that models are standard tools in science and engineering.

Models are great for understanding, but there is no substitute for falsification of hypothesis through test; this is what has made science what it is since Galileo and will continue to be so. Anyone can build a model to look back in time and fit prior events. Don't mistake those references in the "Policy Forum" for peer reviewed science.

Oh sure, would you provide us with a duplicate planet on which to wage a nuclear war in order to "falsify" the hypothesis? I submit that lacking such a test, you (and the other anti-science denialist) will continue to bray that the models can't be tested. But, smaller tests and historical evidence appear to support the AGW hypothesis which the models have simulated. As I mentioned, the Pinatubo eruption was a rather good test of the ACOGCMs which have been used to study climate. The models operate from first principles and thus are not "tuned" to match prior events. I suppose you've not studied the process thru which the models have been constructed. There are several text books on the subject, any one of which you might read, although understanding them might be a strain if you don't have prior course work experience in the atmospheric sciences.

Anyway, take a model which reproduces recent historical climate patterns, then add in some estimated stratospheric loading of carbon soot and other blast products to the models and out pops the result in Robock's papers. The articles I linked to are just summary articles designed for a general audience of scientists, as you note. The background papers are listed on his web site and most are available for direct download...

E. Swanson

Did the oil fires in Kuwait in 1991 create a firestorm? I can not find any reference to a firestorm being created, and all of the photos I have seen, suggest there was no firestorm because the smoke is being blown to the side by wind. Wiki stated that the smoke from the Kuwaiti fires reached a maximum altitude of 6,100 meters. A firestorm has a massive updraft that would eject the smoke much higher.

A firestorm has a massive updraft that would eject the smoke much higher.

Did you have a source in mind? I doubt a firestorm pushes material much higher than 10,000m, if that, otherwise the endless forest fire firestorms would have been pushing globe circling smoke into the stratosphere for eons.

The Chisholm firestorm: observed microstructure, precipitation and lightning activity of a pyro-cumulonimbus, D. Rosenfeld, M. Fromm, J. Trentmann, G. Luderer,*, M. O. Andreae, and R. Servranckx; Atmos. Chem. Phys., 7, 645–659, 2007.

A fire storm that occurred on 28 May 2001 and
devastated the town of Chisholm, ~150 km north of Edmonton,
Alberta, induced a violent fire-invigorated cumulonimbus
cloud. This pyro-cumulonimbus (pyro-Cb) had
overshooting tops of 2.5–3 km above the tropopause, and
injected massive amounts of smoke into the lower stratosphere.

On page 648 it indicates that the energy released from the firestorm over 7 hours was equal to about a 17 Megaton hydrogen bomb. It also states it this way:

The Hiroshima bomb had about 12–15 kT, and therefore the
Chisholm firestorm would be equivalent to about 1200 of
such explosions, at a rate of 3–5 such explosions per minute.

Thanks for the source. That does indeed seem to make the two cases I was looking for - i) the sufficiency energy case, and ii) the altitude case.

Comparing volcanic eruptions to nuclear explosions:

Mount Tambora's eruption in 1815 is estimated at VEI 7 which is about an 800 megaton explosion. "The eruption column reached the stratosphere, an altitude of more than 43 km (27 mi)." It caused the "worst famine of the 19th century."

Krakatoa eruption in 1883 is estimated at VEI 6 which is about a 200 megaton explosion. "Ash was propelled to a height of 80 km (50 mi)" which put it in the stratosphere (6 miles to 30 miles high). "Average global temperatures fell by as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius in the year following the eruption." Crops failed but not as much as in 1815.

Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991 had a VEI of 6. Column height of 34 km (21 miles). Northern hemisphere temperature anomaly -.5 C. No report of global crop failures.

Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980 had a VEI of 5. Column height of 19 km (11 miles). No global temperature anomaly.

Nevado del Ruiz eruption in 1985 had a VEI of 3 (~80 kilotons of TNT). Column height of 27 km (17 miles). No global temperature anomaly.

Judging from volcanic eruptions the detonation of a hydrogen bomb near the ground would easily eject material into the stratosphere. Nuclear explosions accumulating to ~200 megatons of TNT like Krakatoa would be sufficient to cause crop failures in the northern hemisphere by direct injection of dust and ash. As Black_dog wrote, the issue becomes one of the amount of smoke and ash that firestorms would inject into the stratosphere.

I agree that nuclear detonations to ~200 megatons reach the range where nuclear winter theory at least becomes arguable (though I still think implausible). As I said in the beginning, India and Pakistan are short of that point by orders of magnitude. There's no possibility of that size of energy release from their small arsenals (200 weapons total, kilotons each).

You are doing a great job of throwing out disinformation. The largest nuke explosion by the US was Castle Bravo, which was much larger than expected at 15 megatons, less than 1/10 the size you tossed out. Here's a description of some of the effects:

When Bravo was detonated, it formed a fireball almost four and a half miles (roughly 7 km) across within a second. This fireball was visible on Kwajalein atoll over 250 miles (450 km) away. The explosion left a crater 6,500 feet (2,000 m) in diameter and 250 feet (75 m) in depth. The mushroom cloud reached a height of 47,000 feet (14 km) and a diameter of 7 miles (11 km) in about a minute; it then reached a height of 130,000 feet (40 km) and 62 miles (100 km) in diameter in less than 10 minutes and was expanding at more than 100 m/s (360 km/h, 224 mph). As a result of the blast, the cloud contaminated more than seven thousand square miles of the surrounding Pacific Ocean including some of the surrounding small islands like Rongerik, Rongelap and Utirik.

This test and the others in the series were conducted over water, not a land target such as heavily built up city or industrial area. Sorry to say, the effects of a nuke blast won't be anything like a natural forest fire burning over hours or days along a narrow front...

E. Swanson

Give it a rest, ok? As I said earlier, the USSR's "Tsar Bomba" was the largest weapon ever detonated. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba
If you have some disagreement with what I've said, it is easy enough to quote it, then show where I miscued.

Yes, it's a waste of effort to engage in discussion with someone who repeatedly ignores the evidence presented. Neither Robock nor I made any reference to the Soviet "Tsar Bomba" blast, it was you who apparently think it's appropriate to use that as your standard for measuring environmental impacts. Robock analyzed the effects of multiple nuclear explosions of much smaller size. If you had been interested in a serious discussion, you might have looked at the reference I presented, which claimed that there is a difference between the fireball from an air burst and the fires which would result from the detonation. The article even comments that the fires ignited by the detonation's thermal radiation would be extinguished by the subsequent arrival of the shock wave from the blast. A firestorm would follow as other sources of ignition re-ignite the combustible materials within the rubble pile. Such firestorms do not need nuclear blasts, as demonstrated by the firestorms created during bombing raids on Germany and Japan at the end of WW II, such as Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo.

But, you clearly intend to ignore the issues raised, so continued debate is pointless...

E. Swanson

Don't forget what rules Iran.

I hate to burst your bubble BlueTwilight but by the looks of your choice of photos, I'm not sure you know who or what rules Iran.

Iran, even by American standards, is a complex and secularized society. As the article Sex, drugs and Islam points out, Iran's birthrate has fallen off in the last twenty years to be one of the lowest in the world. Prostitution is doing very well thank you very much. Apparently it is seen, particular among affluent and educated women, as a means of upward mobility. Tehran's luxury apartments exceed those of Paris, so obviously many Iranians are opting for the material good life. What's more if you're a transexual there is no better place to be than in Iran. Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except for Thailand.

True, Iran is an Islamic Republic, which means candidates to parliament must be in good standing with the mullahs. And true, the supreme leader is not the president but is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. That said, the politics of the country is not straightforward or simple. For starters, Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad don't like each other.

Unraveling the Iranian Elections: Another step down for Ahmadinejad

If there’s one thing Ray Takeyh made clear in his excellent 2009 book Guardians of the Revolution: Iran in the Age of the Ayatollahs, it was that Iranian politics is a series of paradoxes. The 2012 Iranian legislative election is no different.

As Walter Russell Mead says, this election is basically a “contest among conservatives.” There are at least three main conservative blocs vying for seats, and determining their allegiances is a little more complicated than outside observers might expect. In light of Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad’s very public power struggle, a number of Western media outlets have simplified the election to a battle between Ahmadinejad supporters and Khamenei supporters. This actually understates the division among conservatives.

Saudi Arabia is a far more radical and virulent Islamic regime, the home to Wahhabism, but since they are an US ally (and oil broker) that makes them okay diplomatically. It should be noted that this radicalism has come at a price for the US: 19 out of the 21 highjackers on 9-11 were Saudi nationals. And most of the photographs you show are of London protesters who hail from Saudi sponsored Sunni mosques. It should be noted, too, that Iran has elections - and at least appeals to a wider plurality - which is a lot more than can be said about Saudi Arabia whose royal family rules with an iron fist.

Islam is a religion and ideology which does call for a very public role and face. But to disparage Iran by insinuation with provocative photos while leaving out every other regime in the region serves only to undercut the point you're trying to make.

Population Middle East and North Africa.


If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, then Saudi Arabia will get nuclear weapons. Iran becoming a nuclear power might start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The images apply everywhere Sharia Law is enforced.

This obsession to build up nuclear arsenals started first in the United States (leading the opening of the Pandora Box) and was followed by other 10 countries. Today, about 20 countries could have the nuclear weapon within one year, as they have the full control of the three or four main development vectors: precisión mechanics, hardened electronics; ballistic missiles and uranium and plutonium stockpiles. It is already common knowledge, despite the arrogant statements of the last century that only the mighty will control these technologies. And the list will continue to grow, specially in times of difficulties, despite the efforts of the first opening Pandora Boxes, as history shows.

Specifically in the Middile East Israel (6 million citizens )was first, thus threatening all neighbours (200 million Arabs) and encouraging them to follow the Zionist way. So tell those applying the Talion Law to start dismantling and you will have at least one atom of credibility to ask those applying the Sharia Law not to continue building up their own nuclear programs. First things first.

Very sanctimonious of you. After the WWI, WWII sequence can you imagine a major power not building such an arsenal? Certainly a Pandora's Box, but lay out a real world scenario where it doesn't get opened once the tech is achieved. Quite a few countries have nuclear weapons but only a couple have huge nuclear arsenals. There is a difference, though it would not be apparent to any at the receiving end of any single weapon.

And yes the distant outpost of Fort Israel was very convenient and a relatively cheap way for the west to keep it's military foot in a big and very foreign oil producing region. But outposts are abandoned when they outlive their usefulness, that is something of which Israel is well aware...

the distant outpost of Fort Israel was very convenient and a relatively cheap way for the west to keep it's military foot in a big and very foreign oil producing region.

Luke, have you seen documentation for that? I've seen a number of references to this idea on the part of UK and US policymakers, but nothing quite as concrete as I would like.

Nick, would you please share your references?

I suspect there are quite a few people who would like to know more including myself.

If Israel only exists due to OECD support, you may also wish to consider the geopolitical implications of the collapse of high EROI oil exports to the OECD for the future of Israel. By my calculation 56% of the worlds exports of high to medium EROI oil is within 5 minutes flight time of Iran's missile force. If you add the Russian and Kazakhstan oil the OECD could loose control of 85-87% of global high to medium EROI oil exports.

The Iranian government's assertion that it will not allow the existence of an Israeli regime hostile to its interests takes on an interesting meaning.

Well, here's one. I haven't had a chance to watch it, so I'm not sure how good it is:

"Except for the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaigns, the extensive combat operations in the Middle East during World War I have been largely overlooked in documentary programs. Given the historical significance of the Ottoman Empire’s demise in 1918, and the ongoing importance of Middle Eastern oil reserves to Western economies, a close study of this conflict provides two important lessons:

1. The Treaty of Versailles, agreed to by the Western Powers in 1919, paved the way for military and political chaos in the Middle East, which continues to this very day.

2. Oil reserves in the Middle East became an important strategic concern for Western Powers, helping to justify their economic, diplomatic and military interference in the region."


No, no references, I'm just acting as juror constructing a case from incomplete knowledge of the facts (some of which are presented in contradictory fashion). It's just balance sheet way of looking at empire and alliances (which includes the difficult to monetize business concepts of location, goodwill--and 'badwill' ). Over the millenia countless outposts have been abandoned by myriad empires and kingdoms, and alliances are ever shifting as power centers wax and wane. Nothing earth shattering about my initial statement. I did not attempt to quantify the point at which
outposts are abandoned when they outlive their usefulness
that is case by case and sometimes outposts have been supported for too long with detriment to empire.

A mostly self supporting outpost would seem much cheaper to keep than a set of huge single purpose military bases, but I've no inclination to try and run the numbers.

No doubt the big think tanks have done serious work on this subject, but I've never looked for it nor do I have any idea whether or not much of that sort thing would be all that publicly available.

I do have a quibble with part of the summary you linked.
With little regard for cultural, historical, religious and demographic considerations, the West sponsored the creation of several new nations: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Those considerations were generally handled with the idea of grouping as many competing major factions as practicable into each single political entity, thus insuring those entities would long remain internally divided and weak. That was tried and true colonial rule policy, hard to imagine the waning colonial powers of Europe not using it at Versailles.

Written by Pedro Prieto:
So tell those applying the Talion Law to start dismantling and you will have at least one atom of credibility to ask those applying the Sharia Law not to continue building up their own nuclear programs.

Obama, Medvedev Sign Arms Reduction Treaty: 'An Important Milestone for Nuclear Security', April 8, 2010:

The United States and Russia -- the world's two nuclear superpowers -- are pledging to reduce their nuclear arms by a third....

U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe

Reductions have been in progress for decades while Iran moves in the other direction. Perhaps this is so because dictating from a position of weakness is futile. Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran including the armed forces since 1989, is responsible for Iran's military build up. I think he would like nothing more than a return to the glory days of Persian empires extending his rule, Islam and Sharia Law over the rest of the world. He's just not powerful enough to do it, yet.

That is a very biased argument. Reduction of one third of a gigantic stupidity (more than 10,000 nukes in each side) is still a huge stupidity in stockpiles. Nothing to be proud of. It is a much more tactic strategy than real intentions. They are dismantling whatever is disturbing them because degradation of warheads and alike, rather than because a willingness to get rid of the criminal developments of the past.

Those reductions you claim have been going on for decades are a sarcasm. When each party has more than 5,000 warheads in each stockpile (US and Russia), even coming from 10,000 each, telling that Iran is moving in the other direction (so that Russia and the US are good intentioned guys and Khamenei is a terrible dictator) , because somebody presumes that they want to do a handful of warheads is absolutely ridiculous.

I do not know how many times Khamenei would have to say, as a cleric, that designing, building, having it or threat any other with the use of an atomic weapon is one of the gravest sins against Islam. If a cleric of whatever religion says publicly to its people that doing something like this is a terrible sin, apart of being a stupidity, do you still believe he will be having second intentions? Come on, this is more of a liar Western politician than of any religious authority. I sincerely would expect the Pope of Rome, the Queen of England (head of the Anglican Church in Britain) or a rabbi in Israel or a Protestant bishop in the US, or a Sunni ayaltolla in Pakistan or a Buddist or Indi priest in India, saying something similar in public and calling stupid and sinners to all his nationals working in Western nuclear programs, holding these weapons and threatening to use them against others. Just to start placing things in its place.

Khamenei's fatwa dated August 9, 2005, stating no nukes for Iran means nothing because he is also the supreme leader of the Iranian military. Soldiers and leaders use lies as tools. I am far more interested in what the IAEA has to say about the matter after they conduct a full, unfettered inspection of Iran.

What do clerics in Pakistan say??

Or India, for that matter?

Here is Khamenei's website in English: The Office of the Supreme Leader, Sayyid Ali Khamenei.

I note in Islamic movement will bring about global change (2012/02/15), that Khamenei apparently refers to my country as an "arrogant power" and "the enemy."

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei says a sweeping Islamic movement with Iran at its epicenter will ultimately eliminate the domineering materialistic policies of the arrogant powers.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution pointed out that the Islamic Republic of Iran, which basically initiated such a widespread Islamic movement in the region and beyond, will continue on its path.

Ayatollah Khamenei further maintained that Islam has reached a turning point in its immense movement forward, which will bring about highly significant changes in the world and terminate the existing hegemonic power structures.

Clearly he wants to diminish my country and consequently my lifestyle. As is typical with religious zealots he lusts for his ideology (Islam with Sharia Law) to sweep over and conquer the world. He has delusions of grandeur. Alarmingly he is more than a religious zealot with the power of persuasion for he is also the supreme leader of a country and its military that is developing ballistic missiles with a range that encompasses my home. His words are belligerent. This is a man who claims that nuclear weapons are against Islam in part because they would indiscriminately kill women and children, but has no qualm about possessing inaccurate ballistic missiles and closing the Straight of Hormuz producing a similar effect. I do not trust a hypocrite and feel threatened by a sociopath.

Ah, the arrogance of empire.

Like the Brits who griped when American colonists hid behind trees and shot officers.

If Iran really wanted to win this war, their first move would be to blow NYC and DC off the map.

Or better stated, that's what I would do if I were Iranian and wanted to win the war.

For the record, I am a former marijuana smuggler and crossed the border with loads of dope one hundred times before getting caught.

I used to think, man it's a good thing I love my country and wish it no harm.

Those loads could have been bombs instead of dope.

The rule was, you can win a bunch of times but the one time we catch you, you will pay for all your transgressions. Where the bomb is concerned, you turn that rule around. We can catch you a hundred times, but the one time you get through....

We got no business over there and should get the f*** out.


We got no business over there and should get the f*** out.

A view shared by a former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. As early as June of last year,


Dagan's message during a speech Wednesday at Tel Aviv University can be summed up in a single phrase - "military restraint and political initiative." In Dagan's view, Israel must not attack Iran, and it must accept the Arab peace initiative - a simple message that every Israeli can understand.

Neither Mossad nor the US military brass are all that keen on war with Iran. The guys in the trenches are very aware of how messy this could be. Now if only to get the political nutcases off line.

I agree, cowboy. A war with Iran is a really, really stupid idea.

A war with Iran is a really, really stupid idea.

I agree, but as noted up the thread, given the statements by Israeli officials, I don't see how they can unilaterally back down.

Yes, westexas, you are right, but that's akin to the same absurd logic that meant that in August 1914, once mobilization was announced war was unstoppable b/c the train schedules had to be met.

Have we've not learned anything in a century?

...if I recall that 1914 war was going to be over in six weeks...been a while since I've read 'Guns of August' so I could be off a bit

... over at least by Christmas 1914.

well, it only went a tad long...to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918...

...what a slaughter and from what I've read it could have been avoided.

Hi,thanks for the great analysis.
One scenario that's been on my mind for a while,what if Iran buried one or more dirty or crude nuclear mines on the bottom of the straits?
Wouldn't that force the oil importing and exporting countries to rapidly reconsider their strategies?
A permanent closure of the Strait of Hormuz would not only throw a boatload of spanners into the already vain hopes of economic recovery,but the oil exporters would hardly enjoy a major constriction of their dominant currency earner.
Especially when parts of their populations are already fully signed up members to the Arab spring,a rapidly frozen economy might swell their ranks.
It would be a desperate gambit on the part of the Iranians,but given that they're already surrounded militarily and economically,plus their major regional ally Syria is having severe internal problems,desperation may be their best weapon.

They would only need to say they had done that, not actually do it. However, there is a problem there. They are claiming that they are not making nuclear weapons. Now, which is it? Oops!


So far no one has mentioned the Millenium Challenge 2002 wargame, and its rather spectacular outcome.

Red received an ultimatum from Blue, essentially a surrender document, demanding a response within 24 hours. Thus warned of Blue's approach, Red used a fleet of small boats to determine the position of Blue's fleet by the second day of the exercise. In a preemptive strike, Red launched a massive salvo of cruise missiles that overwhelmed the Blue forces' electronic sensors and destroyed sixteen warships. This included one aircraft carrier, ten cruisers and five of six amphibious ships. An equivalent success in a real conflict would have resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 service personnel. Soon after the cruise missile offensive, another significant portion of Blue's navy was "sunk" by an armada of small Red boats, which carried out both conventional and suicide attacks that capitalized on Blue's inability to detect them as well as expected.[1]

At this point, the exercise was suspended, Blue's ships were "re-floated", and the rules of engagement were changed; this was later justified by General Peter Pace as follows: "You kill me in the first day and I sit there for the next 13 days doing nothing, or you put me back to life and you get 13 more days' worth of experiment out of me. Which is a better way to do it?"[2] After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action. After the wargame was restarted, the war game was forced to follow a script drafted to ensure a Blue Force victory. Among the rules imposed by this script, Red Force was ordered to turn on all his anti-aircraft radar in order for them to be destroyed, and Red Force was not allowed to shoot down any of the aircraft bringing Blue Force troops ashore.[3] Van Riper also claimed that exercise officials denied him the opportunity to use his own tactics and ideas against Blue Force, and that they also ordered Red Force not to use certain weapons systems against Blue Force and even ordered that the location of Red Force units to be revealed.[4] This led to accusations that the war game had turned from an honest, open free play test of America's war-fighting capabilities into a rigidly controlled and scripted exercise intended to end in an overwhelming American victory,[3] which meant that "$250 million was wasted".

Due to his criticism regarding the scripted nature of the new exercise, Van Riper resigned his position in the midst of the war game. Van Riper later expressed concern that the war game's purpose had shifted to reinforce existing doctrine and notions of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serve as a learning experience. Van Riper also stated that the war game was rigged so that it appeared to validate the modern, joint-service war-fighting concepts it was supposed to be testing.[4] He was quoted in the ZDF–New York Times documentary The Perfect War[6] as saying that what he saw in MC02 echoed the same view promoted by the Department of Defense under Robert McNamara before and during the Vietnam War, namely that the U.S. military could not and would not be defeated.

When Iranian Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi threatened to cut off oil supply during the 2011–12 Strait of Hormuz dispute, the Christian Science Monitor harked back to this exercise in expressing the opinion that Iran has a well-honed strategy of asymmetric warfare.

I know if I was a mullah I would have paid close attention to that little fiasco, as well as the US military mindset it demonstrated so clearly: "Fight the war we expect you to fight, dammit!"

So far no one has mentioned the Millenium Challenge 2002 wargame, and its rather spectacular outcome.

Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult. - Karl Von Clausewitz

Thank you for sharing this GliderGuider, I wasn't aware of this episode. I would also note that Iran already used what can be called asymmetric warfare tactics in the 1980s against Iraq.

To what extent is population growth a problem in the Middle East?
#1 Population growth - Iran.
#2Population growth - Saudi Arabia.
#3Population growth - West Bank and Gaza.

and looking at it from that angle who looks more desperate, Iran or Israel...more than one wildcard in this deck

If you want to see something really scary, compare Iran against Pakistan (Pakistan now has twice as many people). Then put Russia on the graph and compare the populations (Pakistan has more people than Russia now).

Then switch the view to "Agricultural Land (sq. km.)". Then look at "Renewable internal freshwater resources (billion cubic metres). Which country do you think is going to run out of resources first?

Then keep in mind that Pakistan already has nuclear weapons.

I don't think the population growth in those countries - Iran, SA - is a problem. Look at the fertility rate to see what I mean - 1.6 in Iran.

There are two countries however that are very much on the old Erlich, Malthus doomer track: Pakistan (166M,7th largest) and Nigeria (170M,6th largest).

Look to Nigeria to exceed China's population by ~2060 or undergo some radical changes long before then, pick one.

There has been a population explosion of princes in Saudi Arabia. More than 10,000


I was refering to the not so distant future demographic shift the West Bank and Gaza growth presents to Israel, but no doubt compared to the countries you and Rocky mention, small potatoes--which sadly puts me in mind of 1840s Ireland. Something's got to give somewhere, that seems sure.


Excellent article well researched and presented. And the discussion and findings fit within the title. HOWEVER; Two key elements are missing:

First: The Iranian Central Bank is not under the control of the Rothschild led International Banking Cartel. Over the last 10 years or so we have witnessed the demise of several regimes that were not led by this Cartel. Think Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, among others. 10 years ago there were about 10 or 12 such Central banks. Today there are less than 4 in the developed world, Iran among them.

Second: I believe Iran sealed their fate when they the negotiated for the sale of oil in currencies or gold other than US Petro Dollars. The last two significant countries to do that were Libya and Iraq, and we all remember what happened there.

Therefore, I believe your article should contain at least one more section dealing with these two elements of the equation. And it should also contain a fifth scenario wherein you further discuss and amplify the so called false flag event that precipitates an all out response.

I believe that Iran has crossed the Rubicon. There is no going back in spite of the rhetoric coming out of Washington and elsewhere. Iran will be annihilated, basically wiped off the map as a response to their transgression in the oil markets, all of course, under the guise of stopping their nuclear ambitions.

Country Boy

An extraordinarily well researched piece of Luis ! THX-
I simply feel a bit more oriented .....

"David Cameron has warned that Iran is seeking to build an "inter-continental nuclear weapon" that threatens the west" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/06/iran-building-nuclear-weapon...)

I'm concerned the likelihood of a pre-emptive strike by the west just went up several notches - this is far more than a "faint echo" of the situation in 2002 when we were told by the government and media in the UK that Saddam had the ability to strike western cities with ICBM WMDs with only 45 minutes' warning.... of course, it was a lie and was proven to be such after the event, but it was used as a cassus belli here in the UK

Keep in mind that Iran having a nukular weapon has nothing to do with anything. It is simply an excuse designed to justify the typical actions of an empire. Iran is not under the empire's control so it must be brought under control if possible - there is nothing more to it than that. It is not whether they have a nuclear weapons program, rather it is their mere existence as a large and resource rich nation outside of Washington's control. Decisions as to when and if there will be war will be based solely on whether the empire thinks it will be of net benefit - unless of course someone screws up. Iran's only option is to raise the cost.

Why must people bring all this emotional junk into the picture? They have stuff, we want their stuff, we will take their stuff if we can.

I agree, but the vast majority of the UK population will not accept that as a reason to bomb the crap out of Iran.

It's hilarious (and worrying) that Cameron is rolling out more or less the same claptrap as Blair did 10 years ago, to justify a similar type of action for more or less exactly the same reason (control of oil)......

I wonder how many British people will fall for it again... I also wonder why this story was front page of the (liberal) Guardian, but only made one paragraph on page 17 of (Murdoch's) The Times.... I'd have thought Murdoch would be far more in favour of publicising it.

Perhaps both Murdoch and the Guardian believe that the public won't fall for the same lie twice, hence the relative positioning of the story in their newspapers??