When it comes to stupidity, the mullahs of Iran have few rivals. They have used Yemeni proxies to attack the Saudi Arabian oil production facilities at Abqaiq in a carefully calibrated strike meant to spur a jump in global oil prices—a crap-shoot bid to bolster revenue for their teetering nation.
Note that this was not an all-out attack, but a measured one, blamed on Yemeni guerrillas (who are financed by the Iranians) so as not to get a full-on war response from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, the United States, and possibly even Israel.
The Iranians have invested heavily in their air defenses after the drubbing they took from the Iraqis in the early 1980s. Iran now possesses some 30 batteries of Russian S-300 class anti-aircraft missiles and large numbers of locally produced, shorter range surface-to-air-missiles, based around the U.S. Hawk systems given to the Shah in the 1970s.
Iran also has a mix of older U.S. F-4 and F-14 fighters, reworked captured Iraqi aircraft and some newer Russian and Chinese fighters.
The combination of missiles and aircraft tend to be placed mostly around their nuclear sites, oil production facilities and large cities.
The primary national vulnerability of Iran isn’t bombing raids, however. It’s cash flow. Given that Iran’s is a one-trick pony economy based on crude oil exports, shipping is Iran’s greatest vulnerability. The Iranians, knowing that the vast majority of oil supertankers belong to other nations who know that those vessels which ultimately bring the cash flow, will not be attacked.
Enter another one-trick pony, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who developed the “little green men” approach.
The trick is to attack an enemy with unmarked tanks and planes, with soldiers in unmarked camouflage uniforms, and without the enemy being able to prove who they are fighting. (Hence “little green men.”) The Russians then claim attackers are “local militias” and in an instant territory is taken and Vlad and his boys are gone, with a shrug of the shoulders and a collective, “Who, me?”
This gem of a methodology was used to great effect against Ukraine, so much so that an alarmed NATO has started calling it “hybrid warfare”: The real-time blend of kinetic political and information warfare.
The Iranians have obviously borrowed the Russians’ trick, using drones sent by the “Yemeni rebels” in retaliation for “Saudi hegemony in Yemen.” Yeah, right.
Two Can Play at That Game
The Iranians can claim a limited win at this game so long as they don’t do anything obvious or large scale.
Moreover, like the amateurs they are, the mullahs are calculating the odds against a conventional war, which they believe would send the West’s economy into oblivion. It is a pretty good calculation.
Except that they are up against an unconventional American administration with more than enough power to crush them at the self-same “little green men” game. Iran neither realizes what new tools the United States possesses nor holds in high regard an American administration that just might be clever enough to use unconventional solutions.
If cash flow is Iran’s jugular, the American Bowie with which to cut it is something called the “Quickstrike ER.”
Quickstrike is the name of a family of air-launched or submarine deployed mines that come in various sizes depending on how big a boom is required to get the enemy’s attention.
The newest variants, the Extended Range (ER) models come with folding wings and GPS kits, which means that they can be launched en masse from 40 miles away or more. Dropped at night or in bad weather, they will land in ports, bays, tributaries, rivers, or deltas within a few yards of their predesignated kill zones with only the noise of their splashes to reveal their presence.
Once activated, the mines will detonate in any programmed combination of pressure, acoustic, or magnetic influence.
What makes the Quickstrike so effective is its “target detection device,” which lets it differentiate an Iranian patrol boat from a tanker or a cargo ship. The mine can also go inert or self-destruct as programmed. But the Iranians won’t know any of that until one of their ships blows up.
How the Scenario Plays Out
Now don’t be surprised if by sheer “coincidence” the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) rebels in Western Iran “somehow” managed to salvage a ship that ran aground carrying several thousand Quickstrike mines.
While mining is an act of war, it is only an act of war if the offended nation can prove another nation sowed them.
Don’t be surprised, too, if by another strange happenstance the very next morning the little green men of PJAK grandly announce the existence of immense minefields around Iranian ports and distribute video of the salvaged sea mines being deployed from their armed rowboats and hot-air balloons.
Reports of Quickstrike ER long-range flying mines dropped by unmarked B-52s at night over international waters and flown by little green men would be hard to prove as there are not a lot of TV news cameras flying around in the dark at 45,000 feet over the Persian Gulf.
In a quirk of timing, at that very moment, the United States would release its oil reserve to all buyers. (President Trump on Sunday, in fact, ordered the boys in Elmwood, Louisiana to be prepared to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. Given that the Bad Orange Man has led us further to energy independence, we can replenish those reserves at our leisure.)
As a result, there will be fewer tankers in the Gulf and in a week or so the Iranian economy would just stop.
The mullahs would be left wondering what to do as the clock runs out on their regime.
Perhaps they would like to divest themselves of their entire nuclear program and give back the billions in cash handed to them by the previous administration? Just a suggestion.