Iran has, historically, had two aces in the hole. The first is the assumed ability to close the Straits of Hormuz to shipping traffic. This report suggests that it’s far from a foregone conclusion. The industrialized world has significant strategic petroleum reserves – the US has about 700 million bbls, or enough to cover imports for almost 2 years. Europe has approximately 90 days, and Japan has 583 million bbls, or about 110 days’ supply. It’s an open question whether the US could sweep the Straits of Hormuz within 90 days, though it’s certain that an Iranian blockade would alienate even the Russians and Chinese.
The second ace is the use of terrorism, both by the Hezbollah and Syria client States and by upping the operational tempo of insurgent attacks on US forces in Iraq. The Asia Times article suggests that Syrian assistance for Iran is less than likely, and Iraq has plausible deniability if the Israeli attack transits Saudi airspace, as seems possible. American ally (and 95% Sunni) UAE diplomat endorsed an attack… this is old news, a product of Sunni-Shi’ite animus, but the UAE’s aggressive demand for the islands in the Gulf is new – as is the impending purchase of a THAAD system (Patriot-3 on steroids) to defend against Iranian IRBM’s even as official denials of the refusal to refuel Iranian aircraft are made.
Iran is fragile, and civil unrest continues. In addition to objections to the irregularities which kept Ahmadinejad in power, tax protests and continuing frustration with official corruption continue to simmer. Given that Iran is a net importer of refined products, the combination of a blockade and a few carefully-aimed JDAMs on key refineries could raise frustration beyond the regime’s ability to control. It’s an open question whether an attack would result in an insurrection as the regime’s impotence was made clear, or if it would result in an upsurge of Iranian patriotism.
Could this be an October surprise?