Countdown to War

How long before the US/Israel and Iran come to blows?

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The countdown has begun. Only a few days separate us from May 2, when the second and most severe stage of American sanctions on Iran comes into force.

The Trump Administration wants to halt all of Iran’s oil exports, which amounted to 1.7 million barrels per day in March and has lifted the waivers it granted to eight countries  — such as China, India, Turkey and Japan – allowing them to continue to buy Iranian oil. Most of these states oppose the sanctions, and along with Russia, argue that they will destabilise not just the global oil market but the entire Middle East.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stressed that there will be retaliation for the sanctions. He sent a clear message to Trump in English on his Twitter account, stating that Iran would not stand idly by in the face of these “hostile measures” and that they “will not go without a response.”

President Hassan Rohani meanwhile hit out at Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have promised to make up for the absence of Iranian oil from the markets. He said the two states owed their very existence to Iran, as it had refused to back former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s plans to invade them in 1990, and that they had turned themselves into enemies of the Iranian people by backing the American move.

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, for his part, declared during a visit to New York that the US knows that if it wants to have access to the Strait of Hormuz, it will need to talk to the people who protect it, namely Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.


Neither Khamanei nor Rohani elaborated on the nature of Iran’s retaliatory response should its oil exports be halted. They earn the country $44 billion per year, without which it would face a major economic crisis. But we can speculate about some possibilities.

First, Iran could close the Strait of Hormuz and prevent some 18 million barrels of oil per day from being exported through it from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq. The chief of the Revolutionary Guards’ naval force, Commodore Alireza Tangsiri, has warned that Iran will block the waterway if it is prevented from exporting its own oil.

Secondly, Iran could officially withdraw from the nuclear deal and resume uranium enrichment at a faster pace, enabling it to develop a nuclear military capability.

Third, it could unleash the Revolutionary Guard, plus allied groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas and Islamic Jihad), to launch attacks on American and Israeli targets in various parts of the region, and perhaps beyond.

In addition, it could try to close the Bab al-Mandeb Strait at the entrance to the Red Sea, or threaten maritime traffic through it via attacks by its Yemeni Ansarallah (Houthi) allies on American, Israeli or other ships.

Trump has insisted that the Strait of Hormuz is an international waterway that all countries must be free to use, and that closing it would be a violation of international law – as though unilateral sanctions aimed at starving 80 million people into submission are not a violation of that law.

Iran has an institutional state. It also possesses know-how and expertise in every field, a vast cultural heritage, and a formidable military arsenal that is mostly home-made. It cannot be expected to wave a white flag in the face of this US declaration of war aimed at undermining its regime, causing chaos in its territory, threatening its geographic and demographic unity, and impoverishing its people.

The appointment of Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami as commander of the Revolutionary Guard on the same day that Mike Pompeo announced the lifting of the waivers implies that a clear plan for retaliation is in place.  Salami is seen as a member of the hawkish wing that currently has the upper hand in decision-making in Tehran. He has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map if it attacks Iran, advising Israelis to learn to swim so they can escape across the Mediterranean should that happen.

There are many US targets that the Revolutionary Guard could hit in the region. Most obvious are the 5,500 US troops and 30 military bases in Iraq, as well as the 2,000 in northeastern Syria. There are also numerous American air and naval bases in Kuwait, Qatar, the Emirates and Bahrain, in addition to the undeclared bases in Saudi Arabia. They could well become targets for attack if the order to act is given or war breaks out.

Trump is leading the world into a catastrophic war, whose biggest winners are likely to be his country’s supposed ‘foes’, especially Russia. A war would push up oil prices  (which have already risen by 44% to some $65/barrel since the start of this year). Every dollar per barrel price rise provides an extra $4 billion annually to the Russian treasury. This would effectively counter the impact of the US economic sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea.

The biggest losers would be the Arabs – especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for having stood openly in the American trench by promising to make up for any shortfall in Iranian oil. Western European countries, which consume 13 million barrels of oil daily, would also lose out, as the oil price could rise to over $100 per barrel and their economies would suffer.


Trump has become a puppet in the hands of Israel and its lobby in the US. Any war he triggers in the region would be aimed at crowning Israel as its overlord and eternal master, and enabling it to establish its ‘Greater Israel’ on much of its territory – from the Nile to the Euphrates. Arab rulers would be reduced to the status of Watchmen and local mayors who operate on the instructions of Netanyahu or whoever succeeds him. This is why the unveiling of the ‘Deal of the Century’ — — designed by Netanyahu and touted by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner to various Arab regimes – has been postponed until June: i.e. after the probable confrontation with Iran.

In the process, Syria must not be allowed to recover, and Hezbollah must not be allowed a missile capability that can deter further Israeli aggression against Lebanon.

It is Israel, its puppet Trump, and some of their allied Arab rulers, who want this war and are beating the drums for it. They will have to bear the consequences. We maintain that they will emerge defeated. The Arabs, having sunk into the deepest depths of humiliation and subservience, do not have as much to lose.

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