Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Fun with Iran: Iran "Naval Ambitions"

I think we've covered Iran's desire to control the flow of oil from the Middle East to the world before, but there is an interesting piece at Foreign Affairs by Yoel Guzansky, Iran's Growing Naval Ambitions: Why It Wants Naval Bases in Syria and Yemen that
In late November, Iran made an unusual announcement: it said it was planning to build naval bases in Syria and Yemen, which, as a state-run paper later posited, “could be ten times more efficient than nuclear power.” Although Iran has long striven to establish itself as a leading regional power, and naval outposts have been key to reaching that goal, this was the first time Tehran officially declared its intentions to build such bases beyond its own borders.
That "building bases" part is partially true because there was that time the Greeks beat the expansionist Persians back a couple of thousand years ago.

Ironic, I suppose that it was Greek sea power that played a key role in those Persian defeats, as it appears sea power is back in the Persian - uh- Iranian Islamic Republic Theocracy/Dictatorship vocabulary.

In any event, Mr. Guzansky notes:
The two bases would fit into Iran’s larger plan to expand its reach both regionally and beyond. Tehran is in the process of building up its presence along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, a policy that it also announced in November. “We are building two naval zones and three naval bases on the Makran coasts,” saidRear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian navy, at a press conference in Tehran. “This is in line with our policy of making a return to the sea.” Sayyari highlighted plans to equip the Iranian navy with homegrown surface-to-surface missiles, sea-based drones, and intercept radars.

Sayyari also made mention, and not for the first time, of Iran’s goals outside its regional waters. “Beyond a doubt,” he said, “our naval fleets will, in the near future, circle Africa and cross the Atlantic.” He referred to the waters of East Asia as well. To further this goal, Iran is conducting visits to and joint naval exercises with countries in Africa and Asia. In May 2013, Iran’s navy paid a visit to the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang, and later that year, it sent two warships and a submarine to Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 2014, China reciprocated by sending, for the first time, two ships to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to conduct joint naval exercises, ostensibly focused on antipiracy operations. And in January of this year, Tehran dispatched an Iranian navy destroyer to the Indian port of Visakhapatnam, also to conduct joint naval drills.
See also Missile Attacks Off Yemen and the Iran- Saudi Proxy War for Oil Shipping Chokepoints:
Iran would like to control the Saudi outflow of oil. It can do so by shutting down Saudi access through the Strait of Hormuz except that the Saudi's can also export oil from their west coast on the Red Sea and ship it through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. If the Iranian surrogate Houthis can gain control of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait then Iran could, effectively, throttle Saudi oil flow.
Not to mention controlling much of the oil flow to Europe and, if necessary, to the Far East. Useful bargaining chip, that oil/gas flow, as Russia has found out in its dealing with Western Europe.

Mr. Guzansky makes other excellent points:
A base in Syria, if it ever materializes, would stretch Iran's naval arm to the Mediterranean and strengthen the Iranian military presence near Europe’s shores. It would also help Tehran’s allies in Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria—Hezbollah, Hamas, and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, respectively. A naval base in Syria would enable Iran to transport regular supplies and provide other assistance to Hezbollah without being dependent on overland convoys or aerial transport through Iraq or Turkey. The base would also make Iran less dependent on Sudan. Although Sudan has long served as a port of entry for Iranian weapons into the Mediterranean and Africa, Tehran’s African ally has been changing its policy in recent years and has moved closer to wealthy Saudi Arabia.
If left unchecked, Iran could potentially develop the capacity to threaten crucial shipping lanes in the Caspian Sea and the Indian Ocean. As a result, Iran’s recent announcements of its plans to expand its regional presence to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean could spur cooperation between Israel, which is also seeking to curb Iranian influence, and the Arab world. For its part, the United States under President Barack Obama has shied away from confrontation with Iran in almost all instances. The U.S. Navy has chosen not to counter the increasing provocations in the Persian Gulf by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. As of September 2016, there had been 31 “unsafe encounters” with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, up from 23 in 2015, according to the U.S. Navy. The lack of action is costing Washington its credibility as a counterforce to Tehran.
Of course, while Iran plots its destruction of Israel and its positioning to threaten Europe, the world's energy picture keeps moving which may damage Iran's ability to pay for a meaningful naval expansion. Though with sufficient anti-ship cruise missiles, it seems easier for a land power to push sea forces further out to sea.

Europe is not without options for example
Norway is the world's third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia. In 2012, it accounted for about 31% of all the EU's natural gas imports and 11% of its crude oil imports. Norway also produces a large amount of hydroelectric power which can be exported to the EU in greater quantities if new grid connections are built.
There are several reasons for the "greening" of Germany, not the least of which would seem to be to free it from the clutches of either Russia or the Middle East powers.

Once again, the U.S. domestic production of oil and gas is vital to U.S. interests - see OPEC Fights U.S. Shale Oil, U.S. Shale Oil Hangs in There:
The U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration seems to be sitting pretty on shale:
Does the United States have abundant shale resources?
Yes, the United States has access to significant shale resources. In the Annual Energy Outlook 2014, EIA estimated that the United States has approximately 610 Tcf of technically recoverable shale natural gas resources and 59 billion barrels of technically recoverable tight oil resources. As a result, the United States is ranked second globally after Russia in shale oil resources and is ranked fourth globally after China, Argentina and Algeria in shale natural gas resources.
Nhanks to Mr. Obama, we now seem to be "warehousing" areas of potential development.

You might want to look at National Energy Security Issue: Effects of Cheap Oil
Suppose, for example, Russia decides to cut off natural gas supplies to Europe beginning in late 2016 using that gas as an economic weapon to force the nations dependent on Russian gas to accept Russian claims in the Ukraine or the Baltic States. One way for the West to resist this pressure is to have some assurance that the U.S. and its allies will be able to set into motion a stream of LNG ships carrying gas to replace that of the Russians, ameliorating the gas situation for those affected states. In addition to LNG shipping, a force of air and naval escorts protecting that LNG stream at sea might be required to prevent interference with the flow of gas in competition with that of the Russians.

Or, suppose the Chinese interfere with the flow of gas and oil through the South China Sea sea lanes to Taiwan,South Korea and Japan. Can the U.S. and Canada help mitigate the harm while alternative sea lanes that avoid the South China Sea are developed? Who will protect those shipments and how?

Or, what if Iran or someone else takes the big step of managing to destroy the Saudi oil production - say through using nuclear weapons - can the U.S. and non-Middle East producers step up and provide at least minimal supplies to the world now depending on Middle East oil?
Of course, speaking of naval power, all those shipping lanes would require adequate naval forces to protect them from interruption. Another reason to increase the size of the U.S. and allied naval forces.

UPDATE: Some people find Iran's suggested foreign port concept a "mirage":
Iran is doing enough damage in the Middle East through unconventional methods without requiring a robust navy. That is why an idea floated by a key Iranian military leader to build naval bases in Yemen and Syria makes absolutely no sense.

Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of Iran’s armed forces general staff, suggested last month that Tehran was interested in, “at some point,” establishing naval bases in Yemen and Syria. While such a move would reflect the Islamic Republic’s goal of dominating the region, constructing highly visible and defensible bases far from Iranian shores is not realistic.
I agree that "realism" and Iran's stated goals often vary widely.


  1. Anonymous2:35 AM

    "approximately 610 Tcf of technically recoverable shale natural gas resources and 59 billion barrels of technically recoverable light oil resources."
    So, how long would these amounts of resources last if they were the only supplies we used?

    1. Anonymous3:05 PM

      Oil for all purposes 7 billion barrels a year: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=33&t=6

      Natural Gas 23Tcf a year: https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=33&t=6

      Shale producers have done the most to save Western Civilization the last 8 years.