How to Neutralise the Iranian Threat

Another month, another threat from the Iranians to close the Straits of Hormuz and predictably everyone is wetting their pants, discussing them in grave tones and generally taking them much more serioiusly than they deserve, but if we are at all serious about countering the threat then there is a simple wonder weapon to do so;

a Saudi Aramco pipeline under construction
a Saudi Aramco pipeline under construction

No carriers, no jets, no tanks.

Then, when the nutjobs in the Iranian government are looking for concessions on their nuclear programme and try sabre rattling yet again they would have to deal with China given that the majority of Eastbound traffic is to the Far East.

The key to neutralising Iran as a threat to world oil and gas supplies is simply to make them irrelevant by avoiding the Straits, the, the next time they mention the Straits we can all just have a jolly good laugh and give them the phone number to the Chinese embassy.

Have a look at this from earlier in the year if you get chance

https://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2011/05/uk-security-needs-%e2%80%93-food-trade-and-energy/

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DominicJ
December 30, 2011 6:16 pm

but everytime i suggest pipes going west, everyone looks at me like, well, normal….

The other extreme, for every dollar you closing the straights cost, we will cause ten dollars to yours, on top of that, we’ll blow your kids up.

James
James
December 30, 2011 6:34 pm

“…given that the majority of Eastbound traffic is to the East.”

No sh*t, TD?

Addressing your wider point and no longer being facetious, there may however be some merit in opening up a pipeline from the inner Gulf-based facilities to a new mega-terminal on the Omani coast, perhaps Salalah. Salalah doesn’t look too blockadable just on a map recce. Perhaps someone more familiar with the area and oil industry may know if this is possible, or indeed has even been done.

John Hartley
John Hartley
December 30, 2011 6:42 pm

Since the Iraq invasion of 2003, it has been obvious that the UK needs to be energy independent of the Middle East. Our glorious overpaid politicians have just sat on their hands.
Much talk of new nuclear & clean coal power stations but no action. Same for Lancashire shale gas. Not even new deeper gas & oil platforms in the North Sea.

James
James
December 30, 2011 7:14 pm

@ John Hatrley,

2% of the UK’s oil and gas comes from the ME. Nearly 50% from Norway, the bulk of the rest from Africa. We haven’t really got a problem directly with ME supplies, but we would inevitably get caught up in the global financial fallout of a sustained blockade.

The US imports about 30% of its’ oil and gas from the ME. As TD notes above, the bulk of ME oil and gas goes eastwards to Asia.

solomon
solomon
December 30, 2011 7:34 pm

what a pacifist dream session.

if you think the Strait of Hormuz is vulnerable then imagine a pipeline to Europe!

every terrorist or market manipulator on the planet will be sending guys to it to cause markets to spike.

once again, i am sad to see that there is a definite anti-Royal Navy bias here. what you need is a strong Navy to defend your interests. the UK no longer has that and won’t for at least 10 years….if you’re lucky and plans don’t change with a new Administration.

an underfunded Navy is causing the UK to shrink from its responsibilities.

a sad state of affairs for a proud people.

Brian Black
Brian Black
December 30, 2011 7:37 pm

Who we get our oil from at the moment is irrelevant to the risk to our supply. It’s a global oil market – even if we didn’t get a single drop of oil from the Middle East, if the rest of the world couldn’t get Middle Eastern oil, then we would have to compete with the rest of the world for whatever’s left. Iran has, and wants to expand, its own overland exports east and into Asia – minimizing its own vulnerability to closure of the straits.

TD, see also the Abu Dhabi crude oil pipeline.

x
x
December 30, 2011 7:47 pm

Sustained blockade? :)

The biggest problem is could the markets with stand even a minor oil shock of even a couple of days duration on top of all the other problems.

Militarily it is a non-story.

DominicJ
December 30, 2011 7:48 pm

james
if saudi goes down, norway will tell us to whistle when we try and enforce our futures contracts at a tenth of the market price.

Soloman
saudi has two coasts, one east, one west.
Why not go west?

Bb
a us carrier could and would knock out irans overland pipes in an afternoon if it got that far.

James
James
December 30, 2011 9:23 pm

@ TD (and any other pipeline experts),

why are pipelines always shown being dug into a trench? Seems nugatory to me, at least in empty desert areas. Raised pipelines are much easier to monitor, and to repair. Easier to attack, of course, but trading visibility for repairability the benefit seems with repairability. It’s also got to be much cheaper and faster to lay pipeline with concrete risers every 50 yards than digging a trench.

Just curious.

IXION
December 30, 2011 10:07 pm

Sol

The comedian Marcus Bridgstock does his shtick about religion, he counts the words and the terms used and the carefully slags of all 3 Abrahamic religions in exactly equal terms.

He then points out that within hours and over the next few days he will receive everything from complaints to death threats from practitioners of all three religions saying in in effect that his true agenda and feeling is that he is obviously a supporter of Christianity/Judaism/the Muslim faith (delete 2 as appropriate). And his words were really a carefully worded attack on Christianity /Judaism /the Muslim faith (delete 2 as appropriate).

This blog has the same effect. Propose any change too the status quo, any review of commitments or capabilities and the

‘Ha your showing your true colours you anti RAF/ RN / Army bastard’.

Crowd appear.

This is the first time we’ve been accused of being anti defence though…

You remind me of my cat it’s attitude to life is if you meet ANYTHING: From small furry animals, through kestrels (His favourite food) to Bullocks in size, (including vets)! The best course of action is either bite it’s head off, or threaten to bite it’s head off, IMMEDIATELY.

It saves any trouble with it later..

solomon
solomon
December 31, 2011 12:05 am

no gents you’re wrong. Ixion and TD. you’re both advocating a policy that smacks of impotence at best and worse an appeasement of an enemy instead of a strong reaction to their provocations.

also consider the fact that during the discussion of the Falkland Islands, TD (not meaning to pick on you just disagreeing…) initially indicated that the best course of action would be to simply ignore the Argentinians.

later he wrote a post listing a wish list for the islands.

now we have a belligerent and rogue Iran and the touted solution is again to ignore them.

two states that are acting irresponsibly and the solution is to ignore them.

not trying to start a fight but say it out loud and see if it makes sense.

DominicJ
December 31, 2011 12:17 am

soloman
should i lock my doors, or buy a bigger gun?

We can win a shooting war in the straits, or we can render a blockade of the straits irrelevent.
One is likely to cost quite a bit less than the other.

El Sid
El Sid
December 31, 2011 12:26 am

@TD – it’s already happening, as has been mentioned Abu Dhabi has just built a $3.3bn pipeline to Fujairah (the ADCOP pipeline. The thing is, if you don’t believe Iran would close Hormuz then $3.3bn starts looking like an expensive insurance policy (and ADCOP is the “easiest” pipeline to bypass Hormuz as it is all within the UAE, and only carries up to 1/6 of the oil going through Hormuz). That’s bad enough, now imagine all the politics where the Gulf countries have to pay transit fees to another country and it starts getting really complicated.

And despite all the focus on Hormuz – it’s not really about Hormuz. Hormuz is just one point of vulnerability. With modern missiles it would be trivial for several tonnes of HE to end up in the oilfields of the northern Gulf, or in the processing plants, or in the ports of the Gulf of Oman like Fujairah or wherever. You can send all the pipelines you like to the Red Sea, but they don’t really help if your input has turned Silkworm-shaped.

The main reason for burying pipes is thermal – you get huge temperature changes in the desert air, and freezing conditions plus sludgy Middle East crude is a bad combination. Discouraging unfriendly natives is another reason, plus the difficulty of securing supports in shifting sand.

@James – you’re out of date, we get about 20% of our natural gas from Qatar these days. Specifically, it comes from just a couple of platforms just outside Iranian territorial waters, on a field that is shared with Iran. Those few platforms are well within Silkworm range.

James
James
December 31, 2011 12:52 am

@ El Sid, re out of date. It’s an affliction of age. I bow to your superior knowledge.

When I worked in the Defence industry, your revelations about platforms would have had me immediately working up a Plan (A) – sell CIWS and C-RAM to platform operators, or Plan (B), even more lucrative – set up a managed service for a paramilitary counter-missile force based on lightly converted merchant ships under a flag of convenience, also with CIWS and C-RAM, perhaps ten yards off the 12-mile line. £10 million per successful interception, £10 million per platform up front for being on contract.

Tubby
Tubby
December 31, 2011 7:32 am

Hi Solomon,

Sometimes you need to ignore Iran as they get far more political capital by getting a response from the US Government than they do if you treat them as impotent! Of course the US has the armed forces to ignore about 90% of the world. This logic also applies to the UK and the Falklands, the more we respond like what Argentina has said or done threaten’s UK interests, the easier it is for them to portray us as weak and gain political capital.

Saying all that I agree with your overall belief that you have raised in previous posts on different threads that the UK has cut all its armed forces to far, if I was in charge we would have defence spending nearer 3%, with a roughly 20% increase in the Army and re-capitalisation with proven vehicles regardless of their country of origin (no more bespoke UK only options – sorry industry), the RAF would get 1:1 replacement for the Tornado with the F-35C and significantly more rotary and fixed wing transport capabilities along with an enlarged ISTAR capability, and the RN would get 2 carriers, a new LHP and I would have an immediate purchase of frigates as a high priority (likely a FREMM a year until 2020 from either France or Italy, followed by one a year until 2030 from UK yards), plus I would double even possible triple the MARS programme.

Tubby
Tubby
December 31, 2011 7:32 am

Hi Solomon,

Sometimes you need to ignore Iran as they get far more political capital by getting a response from the US Government than they do if you treat them as impotent! Of course the US has the armed forces to ignore about 90% of the world. This logic also applies to the UK and the Falklands, the more we respond like what Argentina has said or done threaten’s UK interests, the easier it is for them to portray us as weak and gain political capital.

Saying all that I agree with your overall belief that you have raised in previous posts on different threads that the UK has cut all its armed forces to far, if I was in charge we would have defence spending nearer 3%, with a roughly 20% increase in the Army and re-capitalisation with proven vehicles regardless of their country of origin (no more bespoke UK only options – sorry industry), the RAF would get 1:1 replacement for the Tornado with the F-35C and significantly more rotary and fixed wing transport capabilities along with an enlarged ISTAR capability, and the RN would get 2 carriers, a new LHP and I would have an immediate purchase of frigates as a high priority (likely a FREMM a year until 2020 from either France or Italy, followed by one a year until 2030 from UK yards), plus I would double even possible triple the MARS programme.

McZ
McZ
December 31, 2011 1:37 pm

I wonder where this pipeline should be built.

Iraq is already or will be in a half year either a iranian satellite or – even worse – caught in another civil war.

Saudi-Arabia is the sole blank point on the map regarding the Arabian spring. There is a better than 50/50 chance, that this will change in 2012.

The only rational reaction to an endangered external energy supply is to revive domestic sources.

If the UK had 30% forrests and only 50% where subject to active, environmentally friendly and sustainable forestry, we would be able to heat our homes from a carbon-neutral source (lookup ‘wood pellet’). If we invest in energy saving schemes, we could avoid more than 50% of our energy input. If we simply had a top-runner-approach, we could save 20-30% in electricity in one stroke.

And the best part: all you need is legislation, not a single pound needs to be taken from the budget.

DominicJ
December 31, 2011 2:10 pm

McZ
A Pipelibne from east to King Abdullah Economic City, or Jedah, or even North through Jordan and Israel would be completely beyond Iran to effect.

Theres no way the UK could heat itself from coppiced woodlands without a concurrant “Passivhaus”isation project.

Brian Black
Brian Black
December 31, 2011 3:21 pm

I saw a tv programme a while back that showed part of the Milford Haven gas pipelines getting thrown into a ditch. I think they could manage about a quarter mile a day. That’s a high pressure steel pipe, I assume an oil line is pretty similar.

Here you go, James.
http://www.ndt-ed.org/AboutNDT/SelectedApplications/PipelineInspection/art02.html
They inspect the pipe and welds when it’s first laid, then periodically chuck one of these pigs down the hole.

STV
STV
January 1, 2012 3:35 pm

RE: the article,
I’m sceptical about whether there would be many Arab nations willing to go with the pipe idea.

I should point out that the pipeline between Egypt, Israel and Jordan was attacked 10 times in the last few months of last year forcing Egypt to lower prices and spend more on security.

I think a pipeline across Saudi Arabia would experience the same problems but the larger potential scale of the problem is concerning. So to is the idea of it heading to the red sea.

With Egypt looking like it’s going to return an Islamist government I wouldn’t want to bet on the future stability of the area.

I’d prefer a pipeline through Oman, a friendly nation and an easier area for security to manage. It would also be a better placement for east-west trading.

The other thing we can do is look at switching some of our contracts over from Arab countries to alternative sources. Canada, Israel, and our own oils shale might be good future sources of energy that provide us with better energy security and location than some of our current middle eastern contracts.

Chris.B.
January 1, 2012 11:56 pm

I remember my time on the unemployment line. I gave the lady my book with the jobs in it that I’d applied for and she looked stunned. She commented that it was nice to see one filled out properly for a change. This, after I’d spent the day worrying if I’d done enough.

I guess their are bad apples, but fundamentally it’s a system whereby one can only get off it thanks to the decision of someone other than themselves. You can apply for 50 jobs a day, but if nobody will employ the person then he or she has no choice but to remain on the benefits, the decision is out of their hands.

This is why I’d like to see a greater focus on generating minimum wage, low skill jobs where jobseekers are just as qualified as anybody else, and indeed their lack of recent work means their wage demands are irrelevant. Like most low level retail for example.

El Sid
El Sid
January 6, 2012 4:12 am

Phil has been at the Pentagon, and has been playing good cop over Iran, emphasising economics over military action :

http://defensetech.org/2012/01/05/uk-talks-kinda-tough-on-iran/

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
January 6, 2012 9:41 am

Hi STV, RE
“I think a pipeline across Saudi Arabia would experience the same problems but the larger potential scale of the problem is concerning. So to is the idea of it heading to the red sea.”

I would not discount the value of these pipelines
– S.Arabia has a $22bn contract with France for extensive surveillance build-up (officially for their borders, I would bet the pipelines are at least an equal priority)
– terminals are more vulnerable (and take much longer to repair) than a pipeline; surely worth having some of them outside the reach of neighbour’s missiles

Monty
January 12, 2012 3:47 pm

Long-term, desert pipelines across the UAE will of course counter any Iranian threats; however, the situation is escalating now and is likely to reach crisis point before such pipelines start pumping. Only yesterday, a leading nuclear scientist was assassinated – an act that Iran may regard this as an overt act of war.

In the short term, closing the straits of Hormuz would cause the price of crude oil to shoot up to around $200 a barrel. Even before that happens – and it is looking increasingly likely that it will – we are taking active measures to boycott Iranian oil. Either way, reducing our dependency on Iran crude is likely to result in petrol price hikes and even an actual shortage of supplies to UK and EU forecourts, especially if oil tankers from other Arab providers are confined to port or sunk en route to Europe.

If,or perhaps I should say when, Iran closes the Straights of Hormuz, the US Navy would almost certainly ride the gauntlet to keep sea lanes open open. Oil tankers would be invited to pass through the straits under US protection and combat aircraft would be deployed to protect said ships. Clearly, this would lead to open conflict between Iran and the West. Despite Iran possessing almost 1,000 combat aircraft and an Army of 14 divisions, they would be no match for allied air power, although it might take several weeks to effectively neutralise Iran’s offensive military capability.

Once we openly attack Iran, we will create a determined enemy who will use whatever means at his disposal to destroy us. That may include promoting a terrorist Jihad at home, attacking innocents and so on. In particular, if I was Iran, I would be doing everything possible to detonate a nuke on US soil. That is a doomsday scenario for both Iran and the USA. We want to cut the head off the snake before it becomes venomous. What I mean is, that we might well find ourselves embroiled in a conflict where we have no choice but to institute regime change, and which may or may not entail us invading and occupying the region.

Destroying Iran’s armed forces and successfully installing a new regime both appear to be ‘doable’ – and we’ve learned something about how to achieve this since 9/11. This would not be a war against the beleaguered Iranian people most of whom dislike the Ayatollahs as much as Western Governments do, so the avoidance of ‘collateral damage’ would be paramount.

President Obama may even believe that prosecuting a war against Iran will improve his chances of re-election. What is certain is that any attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz by Iran will create uncertainty and worry. US and EU governments have already been forced to commit considerable financial and military resources to counter the threat posed by this situation. If we go ‘hot’, heaven knows how much more we would need to spend to achieve the necessary political and military objectives to achieve stability and peace in the region? How much force we would need to use and for how long are impossible to predict. But further pressure on our economies at this time would destroy market confidence and drive global stock indices down. These factors would undoubtedly impede economic recovery or push us back into recession.

You have to ask yourself what is going through the minds of Iran’s government? Why start a war you can’t win? Perhaps they think they can win or that we will back down from imposing sanctions designed to halt their nuclear programme. (We are about as likely to do that as Iran is to actually stop developing nuclear weapons.) Maybe Iran is rattling our cage because they are much closer to possessing a bomb than we realise.

The table stakes rise exponentially once Iran has nuclear weapons, it can back-up its threats with real destructive force – and in a way that might indeed force us to take a step back. There were no WMDs in Iraq. There are none yet in Iran. It seems very unlikely that the West will let Iran get close to building an H-bomb, let alone Israel.

Right now, things are ramping-up very quickly. As an Army man, I wish we had more ships and planes.

Brian Black
Brian Black
January 12, 2012 4:25 pm

Hi STV. There is a major east to west oil pipeline across Saudi, to the Red Sea port of Yanuba.

Chris.B.
January 13, 2012 3:36 am

I don’t want to go off before TD publishes an article that he has in the works, but suffice to say that we’re nowhere as reliant on oil from the Middle East as people think.