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Why War With Iran is Not a Rational Strategy for Saudi Arabia

Image Source: Turkish Flame – Public Domain

The navy of the Former United States has a base in Bahrain, a majority-Shi’ite, Sunni-ruled, state. It is a base first controlled by the British in 1936 when Britain still had an empire. Just above the base is the oil port, Ras Tanura, a facility the United States built during the second World War and through which most of Saudi Arabian oil flows. That is why the naval base is where it is. By locating a fleet in Bahrain, the Former US grips Saudi Arabia by the throat. It controls whether or not oil flows from Ras Tanura. And since the world needs this oil to maintain breakneck industrialism, it has the world by the throat as well.

Ostensibly, this fleet protects Ras Tanura from whatever. But technology has made the fleet obsolete. In all out war with Iran the ships could not stand a barrage of land to sea missiles. Deadly drones and cavitating torpedoes in large numbers would overwhelm any defenses. Within the first few hours it would be a smoking pile of metal filled with the corpses of American sailors. Although the fleet could close Ras Tanura if there were no war, it could not protect it in war.

The fleet, like much of the rest of the Former United States military, is a tripwire. If Iran attacks it, the story goes, that will be a New Pearl Harbor and the American population will suddenly throw off its apathy and redevelop a taste for war. So the fleet, with the sailors, is actually offered up as a sacrifice in the hopes of producing yet another “New Pearl Harbor.”

After Roosevelt maneuvered to create the first Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbors became a habit-forming drug. The Entity, always looking for war, needed a spanking-new Pearl Harbor to whip the population into war frenzy. Like in a gunfight in a western, the bad guy has to shoot first. Gulf of Tonkin? Heigh de ho! 9/11? Whoop de do! The idea is to pretend that the enemy launched a surprise attack while you were innocently going about your business. Will it work again? I’m dubious. Drugs tend to have less effect the more you use them. And once you have seen a few false flags you develop a jaundiced view. Just the willingness to maneuver to sacrifice some of your citizens to concoct a New Pearl Harbor is a sign of cultural bankruptcy.

But this time, there is Ras Tanura. The water is very shallow near Ras Tanura and the Saudis have created sand islands in deeper water to service the huge VLCC tankers. These islands are covered by oil storage facilities, row after row of large cylindrical oil storage tanks on artificial islands impossible to protect. And then there are the pipelines that feed them. Ras Tanura is at least as vulnerable as the fleet in Bahrain. No doubt an attack on Ras Tanura would also be a trip wire, but if you attack one you might as well attack the other. There can only be one trip wire.

If such a war began, even before the first shot was fired, oil flow through the Straits of Hormuz would cease. No one would insure the sitting-duck VLCC tankers and their hundred-plus million dollar cargoes in a war zone. But the destruction of Ras Tanura would mean that even when the war ended Saudi Arabia’s oil revenue would be diminished radically, possibly forever.

Back in the day the Saudi man in the street had it pretty good. In the seventies the dole provided somewhere in the neighborhood of $25,000. But that is long gone, except in memory. Saudi Arabia has one of the fastest growing populations in the world. Since then the Saudi man in the street has fallen into poverty. If Saudi oil revenue stopped, immiseration of the Saudi population would increase dramatically. “Instability” would be the descriptive euphemism.

Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, affectionately known as MbS in the families of those he has butchered, is the Saudi Crown Prince and de facto ruler of the country. He has kidnapped and extorted billions of dollars from other members of the royal family. I have no idea what these other members think about this high-handed lightening of their pockets, but it is hard to imagine that they liked it. MbS must fear that the royal family will not remain unified behind him if the country is destabilized and power potentially in the streets. I don’t think chopping up Kashoggi made him too many friends among journalists, other than the capons masquerading as such. How uneasy would MsB’s head rest if he lost Ras Tanura? With turmoil in the street and disgruntled royal Sheikhs to whom some relatives in the military might be loyal, the Saudi crown would lie “uneasy” on MbS’s head.

65 Kilometers from Ras Tanura is the city of Qatif. Qatif is an ancient city with a rich history. It was once the main port in the Persian Gulf and is home to a large hostile Shi’ite population that has a long and bloody history with the Saudi rulers. It also supplies more than half the work force in the oil industry in the neighborhood, especially at Ras Tanura. In more or less constant rebellion since 2010, the Shi’a are not likely to flock to the aid of MbS. “After the Iraqi government crackdown in 1973, several Shi’ites fled to Qom, Iran, among them Sheikh Hassan al-Saffar, the most prominent Saudi Shi’ite political figure and the architect of Shi’ite political activism in Saudi Arabia.” Having fled from Qatif to Iraq to escape the Saudis he had to flee again. Iran gave him refuge, educated him and protected him from Saudi and Iraqi malevolence. . He now lives in Qatif again. Israa al-Ghomgham, the nearly-beheaded female protester is also from Qatif.

Saudi Arabia needs the Shi’ites in Qatif, who are hostile to them, to produce its oil. They can’t just wipe out the rebellion. But as soon as war breaks out, Iran can attack Ras Tanura. What will this population do? Iraq shows that the Former United States is unrestrained in its barbarism in victory. Why wouldn’t Iran attack Ras Tanura? Once you are in a war with the Entity nothing can be gained by restraint. What will this population that runs the Saudi oil industry do? I don’t know and I suspect, neither does MbS. Does he imagine the war will leave Ras Tanura untouched? Will the Shi’ite workers, lead by a man who spent most of his childhood and young adulthood in Iran, which gave him sanctuary when he fled Sunni persecution, remaining as they are now? Does MbS count on the dazzle of a New Pearl Harbor to galvanize inhabitants of the Former United States into saving them by forcing this Shi’a population to remain loyal and run their gas station in the midst of a war with Iran? Good luck. What macabre joke could be a better recipe for disaster? Given the vulnerability of Ras Tanura and the fragile political situation, Saudi support for a war with Iran is irrational to the point of being imbecilic.

Saudi Arabia is the jewel of dollar hegemony-– the restriction of the sale of oil to dollar contracts that allows the Former United States to borrow without repaying. Dollar hegemony is now disintegrating, and even Saudi Arabia is looking to escape it. Given Ras Tanura’s vulnerability and Saudi Arabia’s instability, war with Iran is an irrational choice for Saudi Arabia. MbS might be acting irrationally, but on the other hand, the fleet in Bahrain, useless in a war with Iran, controls Ras Tanura. Is it possible that the Former United States now threatens Ras Tanura with the fleet and thus forces Saudi Arabia to support dollar hegemony, buy tons of American weapons, and claim to want war with Iran? To speculate wildly, is the threat of a war with Iran a pretext to reassert The Entity’s control over Saudi Arabia?

Of course the most plausible explanation is that all these tools-of-fools are out of their collective gourd.

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Michael Doliner studied with Hannah Arendt at the University of Chicago and has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He can be reached at: planeofexistence@gmail.com.

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