by Tom Shackleford
The first article in this series discussed the looming specter of war with Iran. To understand why a completely unnecessary war is such a strong possibility, let’s take a look at each of the nations that would be involved.
The Israelis are in a much more desperate predicament than they were less than ten years ago. They’d anticipated that bringing down Assad would create a fractious situation in Syria that would be favorable to them in a few key ways. First, the destruction of a strong, secular Syrian state would allow Israel to formally annex the Golan Heights, which it has been occupying for decades. Second, a chaotic and divided Syria would be unable to offer real resistance to any of Israel’s other actions. Third, and most importantly, the ability of Hezbollah to operate and receive supplies from Iran would be severely disrupted. It would also be forced to battle Sunni jihadists in a chaotic, post-government Syria rather than oppose Israel.
Back in 2006, Hezbollah showed itself capable of withstanding the Israeli military. Now, it is a better equipped and seasoned fighting force. It is the primary threat to Israel’s security. For instance, back in 2016 an ammonia plant was constructed in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Hezbollah cheerfully pointed out that they looked forward to blowing it up the next time hostilities commenced, since it would have an effect similar to a nuclear explosion and kill tens of thousands. The Israelis quickly realized that this was well within its capabilities. The plant was shut down.
There’s a lot of propaganda about Iran nuking Israel, but that’s about as likely to happen as mutual annihilation between the US and Russia. If Iran acquired nuclear weapons capability, then it would probably be years down the road. The practical effect would be to inhibit Israel’s ability to act in an aggressive manner, since overt military action is rarely carried out by other nations against nuclear powers. Hezbollah is the real, immediate threat to Israel’s safety, especially if the Iranians are able to keep helping them upgrade missile capabilities. The prospect of Hezbollah unleashing an effective barrage on their northern population centers probably keeps a lot of Israeli security officials awake at night. They can’t neutralize this threat without separating Hezbollah from its source of support, Iran.
Netanyahu recently declared that Hezbollah “wouldn’t last a day without Iran.” He’s probably right because they need a lot of funding and equipment. Most ominously, the Jerusalem Post recently reported his pronouncement that Israel must “act now against Iran.” The Israelis are still conducting airstrikes in Syria based on evidence about as credible as the Trump Administration’s claim that Assad was gassing children. This is a hot war, not a topic of speculation. When Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared that Israel “will not allow the Shi’ite Axis to establish Syria as its forefront base,” he meant it.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia is senile and near death. His favorite son, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, has rapidly consolidated power and stepped over thousands of more senior princes in the House of Saud. Many of his uncles were accustomed to being at the center of power when their fathers held the throne. The sheer size of the Saudi royal family and the tribal balancing act it must also maintain makes the situation very complicated for any outsider to really develop a clear picture. However, it’s plain to see that the money is running out. This is why MBS imprisoned a bunch of his wealthiest and most recalcitrant relatives at the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh. He needs to extort money from them to keep the country running. It’s a risky move to outrage the family, but when you’re broke, you’re broke.
Saudi Arabia maintains the laughably spurious claim that its oil reserves are unchanged since the 1980’s even though they’ve pumped a couple hundred billion barrels since then. Worse still, the desert kingdom’s rapidly diminishing fossil water aquifers are becoming too salty to drink. Desalinating seawater for drinking is enormously expensive. Moving forward, The Saudi government will have to provide most of the water for its rapidly growing population in this manner. It’s highly doubtful that they can make a transition away from oil. At the some point in the future, Saudi Arabia will probably collapse. But, if MBS doesn’t want that to happen fast, he needs the price of oil to at least double very soon so that he can cover his budgets without borrowing additional foreign money.
The prospect of Iran being able to fully utilize its huge oil reserves will make that more difficult. That could be one reason why Saudi Arabia has been engaging in such strident rhetoric against Iran lately. Last month, it claimed to have intercepted a missile fired at Riyadh from Yemen by Houthis rebels. The Saudis labeled it “a blatant act of aggression” by Iran that could be grounds for war. Last month, MBS summoned Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri to Saudi Arabia, essentially held him hostage, and forced him to resign for being too tolerant of Hezbollah. Like their Israeli partners, the Saudis are terrified of Hezbollah because of its popularity among their Shi’a minority, who reside mainly in the Eastern Province along with most of the oil.
At just 32 years old, MBS has shown himself to be remarkably aggressive in a short amount of time. His desperation is understandable given his tenuous position. He’s got a short window to raise oil revenues, cut costs, and fundamentally restructure the backwards kingdom to avert an implosion. It’s not a popular agenda with senior royals accustomed to do things quite differently under conditions that no longer exist. Conflict with Iran will probably make these disgruntled princes hesitant to attempt a coup in order to halt this ambitious project.
The United States
MBS has received the fawning praise of our MSM and developed a close working relationship with Jared Kushner. That should be evidence enough that something bad could be afoot. Perhaps the recent decision by Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem was a ploy to provoke some act of violence by either Hezbollah or Iran that could be used as a pretext for attack. There’s no way that it was done without consulting the Saudis and other key Arab allies and getting their approval, so don’t pay any attention to their protests.
Trump is surrounded by Neocons and other assorted Jews. As with Bush and Obama, they’re likely presenting him with misleading information and a set of policy options all designed to produce a similar outcome no matter which one he chooses. When Trump decided to bomb Syria over completely bogus evidence that Assad was using chemical weapons against his own people, he received effusive praise from the media. Hopefully that wasn’t an instructive experience for him, but it’s doubtful.
It’s hard to speculate from the outside on precisely how US Presidents are conned into approving disastrous foreign aggression. One justification probably fed to them is an assault on the vital Petrodollar System. Saddam wanted to sell his oil for Euros, and Gaddafi wanted to sell it for gold. With Iran poised to conduct most of its trade eastward without dollars, this would probably be one of the reasons sold to Trump.
Does Iran pose a threat to the US? No. Would war with Iran benefit the US? No. Is there any credible pretext? No. Would war be a disaster? Yes. Does all this mean that a war won’t happen? Absolutely not. The same line of inquiry was made by “paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists” like myself prior to the invasion of Iraq. How did that turn out? The reality is that any Saudi-Israeli offensive against Iran would be futile without massive American involvement, which will be discussed in the next article.
The most effective maxim that one can use to make a prediction about a piece of legislation or US foreign policy decision is this: what Israel wants from the US, Israel gets. The consequences to the US are of little relevance.
Russia intervened in Syria to stop the US from further encircling it by knocking off yet another ally and depriving it of a naval base in the Mediterranean. It doesn’t really wish to conduct any further military operations in the Middle East beyond that victory. Israel is striking “Hezbollah” targets in Syria without Russian opposition, because that’s not their fight. Indeed, Putin recently made a surprise visit to Syria and announced the withdrawal of all Russian troops now that Assad’s government is secure. Russia is really the only key player in the situation that could prevent a full-scale war from breaking out.
It is looking to form and lead a new oil cartel that would be much more disciplined and effective at controlling prices than OPEC. Geopolitics are very complicated, especially in the Middle East. Although the Saudis supported the insurgency to topple Assad and thus deployed forces against the Russian military, the two nations have a good relationship. Russia is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, which makes their cooperation crucial for the Saudis to boost oil prices. This prompted MBS to dispatch King Salman to Moscow to bend the knee back in October. The Saudis have also shown their affection in the best way that they know how—by purchasing Russian weapon systems.
The greatest hope of the Russians is for the Saudis to break with decades of strict policy and conduct trade with the emerging Eastern economic sphere (mainly China, their largest customer) in something other than dollars. This is why both the Russians and Chinese have been amassing huge tonnages of gold. In a taste of the new world order to come, China will soon be introducing gold-convertible crude oil futures contracts.
At the moment, Saudi Arabia accepting anything other than dollars for oil is not a possibility. MBS is in an extremely fragile position. He’s well aware that if he pissed off Uncle Sam like that, then he would be gone in a heartbeat. But, in the future many things could be possible.
The Russians have developed a close alliance with the Iranians and sold them military hardware such as the S-300 AA system. They’re looking to make Iran part of the new cartel referenced above. Due to this influence over both Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is now the premier power broker in the Middle East. It also has zero to gain from a fight between these two countries. If someone is willing and able to step in and prevent war, it will be the Russians. That’s why we shouldn’t expect the Russian collusion hysteria to abate, no matter how many embarrassing revelations emerge about its absurd origins. Part 3 of this series will examine the timing of a potential conflict with Iran, and the probable avenues of attack.