Another post to help people scared of the Iran - US situation. For most people the personal risk is zero. Short summary: Trump seems to have ordered a strike on selected Iranian facilities - and then backed down at the last minute after attempting a diplomatic phone call with Iran and talking to a couple of Iranian officials. He says he did it becaue he was told at the last minute that it would kill about 150 people in Iran which is not proportionate for shooting down an unarmed drone. He may also have been influenced by reports that powerful national leaders in Iran were angry at the drone shooting and didn’t order it.

Such a strike would be a major thing for him to do and he is being widely criticized by the democrats. Others such as Germany’s Angela Merckel are taking a positive line, saying they welcome reports that he decided against it.

US doesn’t have the forces in the area to invade Iran, the extra few thousand are not nearly enough, and Trump doesn’t want a major war to break out on his watch. What he wants is a new nuclear deal with Iran that improves in some way over Obama’s deal, and to stop them sponsoring shia terrorism.

Nor does Iran want a major war, it just wants to sell its oil and steel to Europe and Asia, as it has been hard hit economically by the US sanctions. There is nobody else major likely to join in on either side, Europe do not agree with the US on withdrawing from the Iran deal, Russia would never directly support Iran in a military fashion against the US, and there is no way this even remotely resembles conditions for a world war.

If he did order a strike against Iran it would lead to heightened tension and probably more incidents - but such things do not automatically spiral into war. E.g. the “tanker war” in the 1980s between the US and Iran (during the war between Iran and Iraq) didn’t spiral into a war between US and Iran. Pakistan downing an Indian fighter pilot didn’t spiral into war.

This is another article I'm writing to support people we help in the Facebook Doomsday Debunked group, that find us because they get scared, sometimes to the point of suicide, by such stories. Do share this with your friends if you find it useful, as they may be panicking too.

NO PERSONAL RISK FOR MOST PEOPLE

You do not need to worry about this at all on a personal level unless you happen to live in Iran and work at a military installation or nuclear research facility or nuclear reactor there, or if you are in the US military working in the Gulf area. There isn't really any personal risk for sailors in the region at present because the oil tanker attacks are done in a way that don't kill or injure anyone. There is no risk ever of WWIII or of Iran targeting Europe or the US. If you are in Iran the main risk is economic - the effects on food prices of the sanctions.

If you live in Europe or the US, Iran is not going to fire rockets at you. Its missiles are limited to 2000 km by a UN resolution that it has kept to, and it hasn’t got the reach to hit the US. Europe is on its side in this dispute. Also, unlike North Korea, it has never had any interest in threatening any of us directly.

There is no risk at all of nuclear war or WWIII. The Daily Express cries “World War 3” a dozen times a year.

They may seem to be respectable papers because they often show up high in Google News search results. For some search phrases the entire front page is taken up by sensationalist nonsense from the Daily Express or other similar papers like The Sun. But they are not. Here are some example headlines from the past:

In that context you can now understand how to take a story like this:

These stories simply should not feature in Google News IMHO. They are just rubbish. See our petition:

SO WHAT IS THE REAL PERSONAL RISK?

Unlike the tanker wars, the attacks are done in ways that do not endanger human lives using the more sophisticated limpet mines. Also though these mines are designed to be attached below the waterline to sink the ship, it’s clear the aim is symbolic rather to sink the ships as they attach them above the water line so that there is plenty of time to evacuate and no risk of an oil spill.

So, currently at least, there doesn’t seem to be a significant personal risk for the sailors, though there is a financial hit for owners of the vessels - the insurance premiums have gone way up for oil tankers transiting the strait, up to $185,000 for supertankers War Risk Insurance Premiums Surge for Oil Tanker Owners After Gulf Attacks

Ships are responding by going through the strait at high speed - normally they would go slowly to save on fuel costs - and going through it in daytime instead of at night. Of roughly 2,000 companies transporting oil through the strait, only two have halted operations. Oil Shippers Continue Sailing Through Strait of Hormuz - with Heightened Security

Then there is a small risk for planes that fly over the area in case they get mistaken for military missions, a very unlikely risk. However, there is a warning in place. There were several civilian planes in the area at the time of the attack.

If the US did a limited strike on Iran there would be increased risk for US military personnel in the middle East of retaliatory strikes from Iran sympathetic or sponsored shia militia. That’s probably the main reason the US sent more military personnel to the region, to help protect you, if you are in the US military in the region.

If it ever did escalate to something more the risk is mainly for US naval vessels in the area, it would have to be an unlikely and very major escalation for Iran to target Israel or Saudi Arabia directly.

If you live in Iran then the US is not going to target the civilian population. The only risk would be if you work in one of the surface to air missile installations or a nuclear research facility or some other facility that would be the target of a limited military strike. Not if you live in an Iranian city or rural area.

NO RISK OF WWIII OR NUCLEAR WAR

It’s not like Iraq, there is no coalition on the US side, nobody else major likely to join them, Europe is dead set against this whole thing, and everyone else is calling on Trump to de-escalate. And Russia is not going to come in on the Iranian side against the US, except possibly if they sent volunteers as for the Crimea.

Also there is no military objective to achieve in such a war. Neither side could “win” a war against the other.

There is no possibility of nuclear war. Iran doesn’t have nukes. It complied wih the deal which makes it a year away of obtaining the bomb. It is possible it could speed that up but not beyond six months. The US will not use nukes against Iran. The world no longer has the carpet bombing and indiscriminate killing of civilians of e.g. the bombing of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some missions in the Vietnam war, with Protocol I of the Geneva convention from 1977 making it a war crime.

They couldn't use nuclear weapons or carpet bombing to invade. If a mad president was to suggest that, then a general would also refuse. He would be obligated to remind the president of the 4 Basic Principles of the Law of Armed Conflict , on the remote chance he or she receives such an order. See

If he did order a strike against Iran it would lead to heightened tension and probably more incidents - but such things do not automatically spiral into war. E.g. the “tanker war” in the 1980s between the US and Iran (during the war between Iran and Iraq) didn’t spiral into a war between US and Iran. Pakistan downing an Indian fighter pilot didn’t spiral into war. It ended with Pakistan returning the pilot as a peace gesture.

More about this later in this article (section below on WHY IT’S NOT AN INVASION)

DETAILS ABOUT THE STRIKE THAT TRUMP CALLED OFF

It seems to be true. Unlike the Jerusalem Post article, many are reporting it. That Trump ordered the strike and then canceled it. I imagine it would have immediate risks for the US of Iran downing one of their aircraft and capturing the crew, and it would kill Iranians for sure, even in the middle of the night and targeting military installations there would be people there at night, military at least, monitoring them and ready to respond to the US at any time.

This strike would be a very major thing for the US to do and they'd likely get some retaliations from Iranian sponsored militia and more tanker incidents. Seems he ordered the attack, then he phoned Tehran asking to talk to someone there, two officials replied

"Trump said he was against any war with Iran and wanted to talk to Tehran about various issues," one of the two officials said.

"He [Trump] gave a short period of time to get our response but Iran's immediate response was that it is up to Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei to decide about this issue."

The other Iranian official warned that "any attack against Iran will have regional and international consequences".

After that he canceled the attack. He is getting lots of responses from Democrats saying Americans have no appetite for a war with Iran.

Trump 'approved Iran strikes but pulled back' (BBC)

I think Trump is honest about not wanting a major war, but he does sometimes do targeted strikes - in Syria and in Afghanistan. He seems to have thought this would be like that, and then called it off at the last minute, after advice about the number of people who would likely be killed in it, and advice that the drone shoot down doesn't seem to have been authorized at the highest level in Iran and that some of the national leaders there are angry about it.

More details have emerged, Trump says he stopped the attack once he learnt it would kill 150 people which he said is not proportionate.

The order of events according to the New York Times is:

  1. John Bolton and others recommended a strike.
  2. Senator Lindsey Graham urged a strike
  3. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned against it, saying it could endanger American forces and allies in the region.
  4. Trump was told that powerful national leaders in Iran were angry about shooting down the drone, including Qassim Suleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and that the attack on the drone was really a mistake
  5. A lawyer gave Trump the 150-dead casualty estimate
  6. Trump canceled the strike with ten minutes to spare (but not with the planes already in the air)

The US military command say it was in international waters and the Iranians say it was in their airspace.

The Iranians claim it was over Iranian waters

They have released photos of what they claim is debris from the drone

Iran Releases First Photos of Downed US Drone's Debris

There were several civilian planes in the area at the time.

Civilian planes are advised to avoid the area in a warning issued a month ago:

“Although Iran likely has no intention to target civil aircraft, the presence of multiple long-range, advanced anti-aircraft capable weapons in a tense environment poses a possible risk of miscalculation or misidentification, especially during periods of heightened political tension and rhetoric.”

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Germany’s Angela Merkel welcomes reports that Trump decided against immediate miltiary strikes

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokeswoman says Germany welcomes reports that President Donald Trump apparently decided against immediate military strikes in retaliation for Iran’s downing of an American reconnaissance drone.

The spokeswoman was asked on Friday about reports that Trump approved military strikes and then decided against launching them the night before.

Martina Fietz says that “regarding President Trump, I can say that there are numerous statements and indications that the American president would like to avoid a military confrontation and we naturally welcome that.”

Merkel has been calling for both sides to deescalate the tensions in the region and Fietz reiterated that “we welcome any steps that can contribute to de-escalation.” The Latest: EU leaders urge caution over US-Iran escalation

Here are other leaders around the world urging restraint and de-esclation.

India has sent warships to escort Indian tankers

Iran claims this is footage of its shooting down of the drone.

CNN reported it in detail like this:

Click to watch on YouTube

Trump claims that shooting down the drone was likely a mistake by an Iranian general.

Click to watch on YouTube Click to watch on YouTube

This is Nancy Pelosi talking after her classified briefing meeting with Trump.

Click to watch on YouTube

This is a BBC article about it.


BACKGROUND

The background here is that Iran is hard hit by the US sanctions which have stopped just about all its exports including oil and steel which are its main source of income. The trade is with Europe and Asia, with Japan one of its main customers for instance, and billions of dollars of trade with Europe suddenly cut off because the US has prohibited such trade which it can do through the leverage of the US dollar (they are all carried out in US dollars).

The main effect is economic on ordinary Iranians:

Click to watch on YouTube

Also

Click to watch on YouTube

The US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal by changing the rules, saying Iran has to agree to not sponsor international terrorism - that’s not ISIS or 9/11, it’s opposed to both of those - but it has supported Hamaz in the Gaza strip, and it is suspected of supporting many shia militants.

Europe agree on the need to do something about the Iran support of shia militants but it does not agree on withdrawing from the Iran deal saying that Iran has complied with it and it is a hard won deal that took lots of negotiation. They say we need something else on top of it rather than to scrap it. They are doing everything they can to save it.

Europe’s aim continues to be to keep the deal in place and keep the implementation of it. This is a good summary of the current perspective from the UK perspective, as it is reported here:

Click to watch on YouTube

Iran is under a great deal of pressure since the US stopped nearly all its exports a few weeks back and that is why they are setting a deadline for Europe to try to get them to do something about resuming trade, by not exporting its enriched uranium but letting it pile up until it goes over the limit. It has no real appetite for developing a nuclear bomb, especially since Saudi Arabia would likely develop one rapidly if it thought Iran was going to do so. It is a year away from developing a nuclear bomb (some say it might be able to do it in six months).

There is no way that Iran is going to try negotiating a new deal with the US. So we are at a standstill. The Iranian government is not just one entity - there are hardliners and moderates. The moderates are probably playing a waiting game to try to last out the US administration in the hope of a new president in 2020, but it’s hard to do that with almost no exports.

This is from some time back, about the effects on ordinary Iranians, and is the reason there is such urgency to do something about it for Iran.

Click to watch on YouTube

Iran has very little leverage but one thing it can do is to disrupt movement of oil tankers in the Hormuz strait, which carries 30% of the world seaborne trade, and it is doing that to signal to Europe that it wants it to find a way to let it resume oil and steel exports.

The oil flow through the Hormuz strait will mainly affect Asia and Europe, it's not a big deal for the US except indirectly. They have reduced their reliance on OPEC oil a lot

Also the US and its allies have strategic oil reserves enough to compensate for complete closure of the Hormuz strait for eight months.

Moreover, the United States and its allies maintain a network of strategic petroleum reserves to cushion any disruption of supply. Globally, these reserves top 4 billion barrels — enough oil to compensate for a complete closure of the Strait of Hormuz for up to eight months. That’s a more than adequate cushion: Iran cannot completely close the strait, and even pessimistic analyses conclude that the U.S. Navy could reopen the strait in about a month.

Why Iran's oil weapon isn’t that scary

WHY IT’S NOT AN INVASION

The US can’t invade Iran with the forces in the area and experts including a very senior retired brigadier general say they would not be able to do it without engaging the vast majority of US forces worldwide, others say it would require conscription first.

Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmet, former spokesmen for the coalition forces in Iraq, who has been talking to people in the area, says it is clear that nobody wants war, but all are concerned that a mistake that may precipitate a conflict nobody wants.

On whether these 2,500 troops look like an assault force (1,000 on top of 1,500 already there), he says (35 minutes in, Beyond 100 Days in the UK)

“We have over 500,000 american troops. We would probably put a good majority of those into the region if we needed t0 construct assault operations. This is strictly in my view force protection, protecting american facilities, american personnel, american diplomatic personnel, nothing more than that.”

Gil Barndollar, director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest, infantry officer in U.S. Marines in both Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, interviewed by Think Progress says:

“The entire active duty U.S. Army and Marine Corps today totals a bit over 600,000 troops. That is not enough men to invade Iran. Even if you mobilized the entire National Guard and Reserves, you would not feel comfortable invading Iran with a force that size,”

Here is what war with Iran would look like

The general idea of a limited strike is suggested by Alex Vatanka here as reported by Politico.

Alex Vatanka, a senior fellow with the Middle East Institute, said Trump may decide to simply stage a limited military strike on an Iranian target to draw a line in the sand, knowing that he does not need the approval of other nations.

“I think we might get close to a point where he does a limited strike to say, ‘I’m not just bluster,’” Vatanka said, noting that Trump’s electoral base might support such a short-term move. “But so much will depend on Iranian actions, too.”

Iran tests Trump’s desire to actually strike a new deal

The Jerusalem Post went further a few days back, and shared a rumour that the White House was seriously planning this. They say that they are assessing plans for a tactical assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, massive but targeted. They say that Trump does not want this but Pompeo supports it and he may give it the go-ahead.

But nobody else reported this of any credibility.

The worst by way of escalation I’ve seen suggested in any credible source is something like the 1980s tanker war.

That ended with the US having to escort ships through the strait in convoys to protect them from Iran - at the time Iran and Iraq were at war and both targeting tankers in the gulf.

Convoy number 12 in the 1980 tanker war, from The First Tanker War

However it would not be easy to do that today. A Defense official said:

“That would take a lot of ships. A lot of traffic goes through on a regular basis. We’re not in a position now to be able to do that.”

A ‘tanker war’ with Iran would be more complicated than the 1980s version

The BBC have a good article about what the worst case would be like. .

So where might such a conflict go and what would it look like? There are many variables to consider, and it is easier to say what will not happen. The Trump administration may be an implacable foe of the Iranian regime but there is not going to be a full-scale ground invasion of Iran to topple the regime. This is not Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Iran is an altogether more complex challenge both militarily and politically. Some in the White House clearly want regime change. They are likely to be disappointed. So rule out a major land war.

Of course the United States can deliver punishing strikes against Iran's military infrastructure. But Iran has the means to strike back too. It can use a variety of measures from mines, swarming small boat attacks or submarines to disrupt operations in the confined waters of the Gulf. Oil tankers could be attacked forcing the Americans to take steps to protect them too.

Where the US clearly has an extraordinary advantage is in intelligence gathering and situational awareness. But as the downing of the very sophisticated and hugely expensive drone illustrates, there are significant US vulnerabilities too. All Iran may think it needs to do is to damage or sink a few US warships to make the price of this conflict one that Mr Trump will not want to pay.

The most extreme thing the US might do is to first take down the Iranian air defences and damage its armed forces.

The most extreme thing that Iran might do is to try to get its proxies in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere to attack US targets, and Hezbollah, along with Iranian forces in Syria to launch rocket attacks on Israel. It’s aim would be to turn US public opinion against the conflict, and reduce Trump’s chances of re-election by making the Iran war seem a costly mistake, in the hope that another president would lift the sanctions and return to the Iran deal.

For more see What would a US-Iran conflict look like?

WHY IS A US ATTACK ON IRAN SO HARD?

Unlike the Iraq war there is no coalition supporting the US, and Iran is a formidable opponent far harder to attack than Iraq. The US would not be welcomed as “liberators” and there would be shia militants attacking them from behind their own lines, Iran as a country is as big as Western Europe and has twice the population of Iraq, and Iran has the capability to sink US warships and shoot US planes out of the sky.

The thing is Iran has very strong defence - anti-aircraft including road-mobile ones, they claim it was a road-mobile defence system shot down the $130 million high altitude drone, mini subs that can fire torpedoes and cruise missiles that can sink warships (North Korea used a similar mini sub to sink a South Korean warship some years back and that was with a torpedo not a cruise missile), missiles with a range of 2000 km, and a great deal of high tech modern equipment. Not quite up to the US standards but according to one estimate the thirteenth most capable military in the world (though that’s a controversial assessment Forget Those F-35s and Nukes: Is Iran’s Military Stronger Than Israel’s?). Whether that’s true or not, it’s certainly far more capable than Iraq was in the Iraq war.

This in a country with the same area as Western Europe, with the people mainly living in mountains, vast plains the US tanks would need to travel over, the inhabitants would not welcome the US as “liberators”, they would also have shia militant sympathizers behind the lines in neighbouring countries, they are battle hardened, the whole idea of invading such a country with far less forces than for Iraq which was much weaker, with much of the population welcoming liberation, half the population of Iran, far far less capable militarily - it is clearly a no go.

It’s not like Iraq or Libya or even Vietnam, far more of a commitment than that.

And if Trump was to order a mission like that then any general would say that professionally, this is not possible, they would not order their soldiers into a suicide mission which they know they would lose. They would then present him with whatever options are professionally possible. Presumably limited strikes like this are militarily possible as they must have given it the go ahead as something he could order them to do - though I imagine there are also serious risks involved that he would have to consider (such as Iran downing a US aircraft and capturing the crew for instance).

IRANIANS ARE PEOPLE TOO

Iranians are people here - the ordinary folk there who are coping with a severe economic recession. To remind you that we are talking about ordinary decent people here, not pawns on a chessboard, here is a heartening story about some Iranian families working to reverse desertification in Iran.

Click to watch on YouTube

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