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Iran doesn’t want war. They want rumors of war.

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Today’s escalation of attacks in the Gulf of Oman in which Iran is being accused of attacking two oil tankers, possibly with torpedoes, should draw serious concern from those who rely on oil imports or exports, which is essentially everyone. If Iran continues down this path, the United States and others will have no choice but to protect the oil infrastructure in the Middle East or risk an oil-price-driving situation similar to the “tanker war” of the 1980s between Iran and Iraq.

This is a different time. The dozens of oil tankers sunk back then drove prices higher from a very low point just as we’re at a low point today, but the markets react more quickly than they did back then. This quick reaction time means quick panics can take place as stock prices are available instantaneously. A major attack can send oil prices upward in a hurry.

But there’s a silver lining to this problem. Just as they can rise rapidly, they can also stabilize rapidly as well for the same reasons.

There’s another major difference today. America isn’t nearly as dependent on oil imports. In fact, our current status puts us at nearly being a net oil exporter. Back in the 1980s, skyrocketing oil import prices would have crippled us. Today, a global oil crisis would not dramatically affect us directly once certain countermeasures were put into place. But that wouldn’t stop us from acting because the effects it would have on the rest of the world, including allies and trade partners, would be much higher. We would be harmed indirectly.

Iran is testing the waters. Their attacks last month on four smaller tankers and the proxy’s drone attack on a Saudi pipeline were designed to see how the world and the economy would respond. The response has been condemnation and significant temporary rising oil prices, but more importantly the rumors of war are increasing. This is Iran’s primary goal.

Their militaristic regime is accustomed to operating from the shadows. They will continue to do so and deny involvement in the attacks, knowing they won’t be believed. This is intentional. They want the world to fear escalation. They want the EU, Russia, China, and regional powers to try to intervene before a full-blown Gulf war ensues. When they’re at the center of attention, they’re able to negotiate. Rumors of war are their invitations to bring everyone other than the United States to the negotiating table.

Once there, they will try to turn the world against us.

It’s imperative that we maintain a firm but steady hand on the wheel. Escalation by Iran is unacceptable, but if we start firing weapons without clear justification, Iran will point fingers at us as being the aggressors. And it will work. Let’s not underestimate the desire to hate the United States nor the sympathy that has been manufactured for those who are considered to be our victims, particularly in the Muslim world. The United Nations fears nothing more than to antagonize its Muslim members. This is why they regularly condemn Israel and the United States while ignoring much worse atrocities committed by Islamic-run states.

We must remain diligent, firm, and cautious. Iran is playing a dangerous game because they feel they have nothing to lose. We have to correct their false thinking and fight their false narrative on the world stage.

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