The last ten days have seen a shift in US President Barack Obama’s negative position on military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
Saudi King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have been informed that Obama is in the process of “reconsideration.” His aides amplified this with a couple of ifs: If the state of nuclear diplomacy between the six world powers and Iran remains unchanged – that is, inert; and if the Syrian crisis remains unresolved, the US president will reach a final decision on the use of force against Iran in the first half of October – three and a half months hence.
In private conversations, high-ranking Saudi princes, some connected to military and intelligence circles, were confiding last week to Western and Arab visitors to Riyadh their certainty that, at last, the US and maybe Israel would soon resort to military action against Iran, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources.
“It is already decided,” one prince told a visiting European official. But what if President Obama changed his mind? The prince replied: “Anything can happen, of course. But this time we’re sure the American decision to attack is final and we are already making appropriate preparations. The question now isn’t if the Americans will attack Iran, but when,” he said.
He was less sure about whether the US operation would take place before or after the US presidential election on November 6.
The pipeline bypassing Hormuz is up and running
Saudi preparations, our sources say, are going forward on two tracks (click on the map to enlarge):
1. The defense of government, military and oil targets. These focus on guarding the two main Saudi oil exporting terminals at Ras Tanura on the Persian Gulf coast and Abqaiq on the Red Sea against the contingency of Iranian reprisals for a US attack by missile strikes on the two terminals and raids by Iranian special forces trained in sabotage tactics.
2. A Saudi counterattack on Iranian targets. Their air, naval and special operations units will stand ready to hit back at strategic targets within Iran if Saudi territory comes under Iranian attack.
Strongly tying in with these preparations was the announcement Wednesday, June 27, by
Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammad al-Sharqi, ruler of Fujairah that the Habshan-Fujairah pipeline which bypasses the Strait of Hormuz goes into operation this month.
Fujairah is one of the princedoms making up the seven United Arab Emirates. The UAE has built the pipeline to pump most of its oil exports from the east coast terminals to Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman, away from the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint controlled by Tehran.
It has an initial capacity of 1.5mn bpd rising to 1.8mn bpd, which represents the bulk of the UAE's current production of around 2.5mn bpd, Sheikh Hamad said.
A palpable sense of anticipation was also reported this week by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources among US ground, naval and air forces stationed in the Middle East.
Iran is too rich to be deterred by new sanctions
The die is cast, the Saudis believe, because US and European oil sanctions, presented by Washington as the ultimate weapon for bringing Iran to heel by choking off funding for its nuclear program, have completely missed their aim. Iran is flush with cash and has plenty put by to keep its nuclear projects rolling forward in the face of international penalties.
Internal US administration reports reveal that the soaring oil prices of recent years were a bonanza that filled Tehran’s pockets.
Even after the recent leveling-out of prices, their revenues still stand at “only” four times the August 2002 volume.
Last August, prior to the latest rounds of sanctions, the International Monetary Fund estimated Iran would earn $104 billion from its oil exports in 2012-2013. That figure is four and-a-half times the Islamic republic’s 2002-2003 receipts of $23 billion.
Even if export volumes were to drop by half and prices plummeted to $50 per barrel, Iran’s inflation-adjusted oil earnings would still be higher than they were a decade ago.
The Saudis conclude that the failure of sanctions has left only one way open to halt Iran’s momentum toward a nuclear bomb and that is a military offensive.
Will a US-Israel maneuver be a launching-pad against Iran?
The impression of an operation’s imminence was also gained by American Jewish leaders during recent visits to the White House. In the last DEBKA-Net-Weekly issue (No. 546 from June 22), we reported that President Obama has been inviting Jewish leaders to visit him in the Oval Office in an effort to stanch the loss of Jewish support and Jewish contributions draining away from his election campaign.
Like the Saudi princes, the Jewish leaders came away with a strong sense that the president had made up his mind to attack Iran.
Israel and the US are set to conduct their largest ever military exercise in October, according to a report published in Israel Monday, June 25, which instantly caught the eye in Tehran and Riyadh.
The maneuver will feature 3,000 American and thousands of Israeli troops, advanced anti-missile defense systems and other measures for countering simultaneous fire from Iran and Syria. The drill will simulate this fire, with tens if not hundreds of rockets and missiles filling the air.
The commander of the 3rd Air Force, Lt.-Gen. Craig A. Franklin, was in Israel to establish a joint planning committee with IDF to coordinate the details of the exercise.
Israel will test its upgraded Arrow 2 defense system, while the US will deploy the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System and PAC-3 Patriot air defense platforms.
The drill is codenamed Dress Rehearsal. The Iranians and Saudis are convinced by the name that the exercise will be the opening shot of the attack on Iran in October.