Once again, the Americans failed to win a consensus on a sanctions resolution against Iran when the six major powers forgathered in New York this week.
The only provision agreed was to let Iran have another 60 days “to comply with demands to halt its nuclear enrichment work, which can provide fuel for power plants or bombs.”
The two tough clauses put forward by the United States as Paragraphs 3 and 4 were blocked – predictably by the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, but also by France and Germany.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources disclose that Para No. 3 proposes adding many more names to the list of Iranian figures barred from traveling outside Iran and foreign contacts. Para 4 would impose an international insurance embargo on Iran’s exports and imports as well as the aviation, shipping and overland transport companies providing Iran with their services.
If enforced, these clauses have the power to freeze Iran’s trading ties with the outside world and, so the Americans hope, bring the Iranian economy to collapse.
But, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, even if those sanctions were to survive the six-power obstacle course, they would run into a battery of counter-measures which Tehran has been quietly putting in place.
For years (1991-2003), Tehran took careful note of certain world powers’ tricks for busting UN sanctions against Iraq and keeping a defiant Saddam Hussein on his feet.
Iran’s rulers have since developed their own sanctions-busting ruses.
The Iraqi dictator bribed thousands of officials holding key economic, military and technological positions in Europe and Asia to open up markets to forbidden Iraqi oil exports and give him access to banned goods.
The Iranian method is based on their successes in the acquisition of nuclear and missile technology on the black market. Anticipating tough sanctions, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources have discovered they have established thousands of straw companies overseas, capable of supplying all their needs, while also fronting for the Revolutionary Guards’ vast smuggling enterprise.
Smuggling makes the Revolutionary Guards financially independent
By now, the RGs’ constantly expanding smuggling operation is profitable enough to cover their own budget and bankroll the nuclear and missile programs which they have charge of. The Revolutionary Guards have gained the formidable clout of the financially independent, while not neglecting to funnel a part of their treasure to the radical clerics who provide them with religious and therefore political legitimacy.
The RGs are thus running a large-scale smuggling network which straddles continents and is in the processing of seizing control of three of the world’s key trading and oil routes.
With inside information on the network’s covert workings, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources have homed in on one if its choice assets: Oman’s Masandam Peninsula, which encloses the narrow Strait of Hormuz from the south.
The Revolutionary Guards’ have set up a secret smuggling base on this strategic piece of real estate, which commands the 50-km wide entrance to the Persian Gulf, through which up to a quarter of the world’s oil flows.
The Strait touches Iran to the north and this Omani peninsula to the south.
In the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly of March 2, we reported US vice president Dick Cheney’s lightning visit to the principality on Feb. 26 to head a conference of Omani heads of state and military brass with senior US commanders. They were to decide where to position American forces on the western shore of the strait and how best to coordinate US operations with the Omani army, air force and navy.
Now we can further reveal the background leading up to – and confounding – the US-Omani deliberations.
Both their intelligence agencies reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had seized control of the Masandam Peninsula and made it their main smuggling center, with obvious military implications: Before, Iran controlled one shore of the Strait of Hormuz; now it has a military presence on both sides of this Persian Gulf bottleneck.
Oman‘s Musandam Peninsula – a perfect smugglers’ haven
Tehran is therefore in a position to menace the tankers carrying oil from Persian Gulf nations out to Europe and Asia, American naval movements in the Persian Gulf and US military supplies and reinforcements destined for Iraq, as well as potential US troop withdrawals from that embattled country.
Most of all, Iran’s elite RG corps’s strategic planners hit on the Masandam Peninsula as ideal for guaranteeing that all kinds of merchandize reach Iran free of inspection.
Its topography and geography are tailor-made for a smugglers’ wayside station or military base.
From its northern tip at Ras Musandam, the peninsula’s coastline is made up of cliffs as tall as 800ft, interspersed with many small inlets, some of them good harbors and a few with sand or pebble beaches. Rugged peaks cut through by deep valleys dominate the interior.
The Strait of Hormuz lies between the western and northern edges of the Musandam Peninsula and its offshore islets, and the eastern edge.
Smugglers’ vessels can nestle in Musandam’s hidden coves, its deep valleys are hidden from view from sea or air and the torrid temperatures of up to 52 Celsius degrees keep Omani army and intelligence and their prying eyes at a distance.
As a smugglers’ retreat, the peninsula offers the additional advantages of deep, clear coastal water from the narrowest point of the Strait of Hormuz. Ships and tankers can come in close to shore, unload contraband in hidden harbors and take on illicit cargoes for passage from Hormuz through any of three sea routes: eastward to the Arabian Sea and on to India and Pakistan; westward through the Gulf of Aden to the Indian Ocean and the shores of Africa and Asia; and by circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula through to the Red Sea and Suez Canal – and on to the Atlantic Ocean.
Tehran has been opening up its options to beat international sanctions since shortly after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. It was then the first Revolutionary Guards officers trained for their mission and, masquerading as fishermen, small traders and pearl divers (a defunct calling about which emirate denizens are still sentimental), they moved into Musandam.
First, they settled in the three northern villages of Salib, Kumzar and Gharam (See attached map); gradually they spread out along the coast. It was important to take control of the fishing village of Kumzar at the head of Khawr Kumzar, a bay which lies one mile west of Khawr Maili and is deep enough for big vessels to approach its mouth.
Two other little villages on the northern shore of the bay are convenient for cheap labor and protected storage accommodation for smuggled containers.
Oman refuses to challenge Tehran
After four years of building up their outpost on the Omani peninsula, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards employ thousands of Musandamites and control its entire territory from their command posts in the villages of Filam and Balad Shabus on a small bay in the southwest.
Since no western force has much chance of wresting this smuggling center back from Iran, the US-Omani meeting which Cheney led last month was reduced to a proposal to lay the strategic Musandam to sea and air siege.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report Oman vetoed the plan for two reasons:
1. The emirate has no wish to confront Iran militarily or by any other means, or even demand a reduction in the number of “Iranian nationals” who have invaded the peninsula.
2. There is no reliable way to tell legitimate shipping putting into Musandam from vessels in league with Iranian smugglers, without infringing on freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Revolutionary Guards have extended their highly lucrative smuggling enterprise well beyond the Persian Gulf. They are in the process of building vantage points for control of another mighty international waterway: Egypt’s Suez Canal.
Whereas in Masandam, they commandeered a valuable piece of territory, their more ambitions scheme for Suez rests on local collaborators and fraternal smuggling rings.
More about how this works in the next article.