Behind the tense, escalating statements issued by senior American defense officials lies a menacing reality emerging in Iran. It is for good reason that the US Navy commander admitted last week that he doesn’t sleep well at night as result of developments in the Hormuz Straits. And when the admiral doesn’t sleep well, while the US secretary of defense sets red lines for the Iranians, we can assume that here too our soldiers sleep with their uniforms and shoes on.
Everybody talks about the spring, because everyone is convinced that Israel will be striking Iran at that time, a move that will ignite the Middle East. The scenario is rather banal and emerges in every defense panel in the global media: This year, the Iranians will complete the task of moving their nuclear project deep underground, and from that moment an aerial strike would be much less effective. Hence, a strike appears to be required as soon as is possible.
However, there is another possibility that is much more realistic, much closer to materializing, and unrelated to an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. This scenario asserts that the ones to first pull the trigger will be the Iranians, against the backdrop of Tehran’s economic chokehold and growing global isolation. Iran is starting to be pushed into a corner in the face of existing pressure, and more so as result of pressures to be exerted very soon.
Tehran’s economic collapse is already around the corner. The regime sees the thousands standing in line at banks these days in order to exchange the local currency for dollars – but there are none. On the black market, the gap already stands at 60%. Nobody can predict the breaking point that would prompt Ahmadinejad to act desperately; the point where the ayatollahs feel threatened enough to resort to a military provocation that would bully the world and exact such high price as to prompt the international community to lift the chokehold.
Israel a junior partner
The naval exercise held recently in the Persian Gulf dealt with, among other things, the closure of the Hormuz Straits. The Iranian Navy commander publically declared that the drill examined the Navy’s deployment in a way that would not allow for unsupervised maritime traffic. The exercise also pertained to the offensive aspects of contending with foreign fleets that sail in the Gulf and may prevent Iran from imposing the blockade.
In other words, the Iranians made clear that one of these days they intend to clash not only with Persian Gulf fleets, but also with the Americans, French and Brits who secure the free flow of oil and in fact stabilize its price. The Iranians threaten to break this formula: Curb the flow of oil and drive prices up to an intolerable level, which would require the world to open the door to Iranian oil and lift the pressure on Tehran.
Suddenly, the scenarios have changed. The explosion will occur not because of an Israeli strike, but rather, as result of panic among Iran’s top brass in the face of the sanctions. The Middle East will see a war over oil, money and goods – not because of a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The Russians grasped this a while ago. Their UN envoy recently said that the greatest threat to global stability is the crisis in the Hormuz Straits. This is one of the reasons the Russians are not excited by the prospect of tighter sanctions.
The first to smell the vapors of war are the Emirates along the Persian Gulf. They will also be the first to be hit. Hence, the oil barons there are in a mad rush to complete the installation of an oil pipeline to Oman’s ports, thereby circumventing the Hormuz Straits. The pipeline and oil terminal project began in 2008 and is slated to end in May of this year, but officials in the Emirates fear it would be too late by then.
We can assume that the meeting of NATO army chiefs to be held this week with a guest in attendance – IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz – will focus on the developing crisis in the Hormuz Straits. Under this scenario, Israel is a junior partner, which is mostly required to stay out.