Nuclear Card Versus Oil Card: Iran and the Oil Conspiracy – OpEd


Notwithstanding the current oil price crisis precipitated by a confluence of economic, political, and geostrategic factors, Iran’s President Dr. Hassan Rouhani has lashed out at the “conspiracy” and “treachery” of certain countries, adding that “Iran and people of the region will not forget such conspiracies.” Representing a much-needed delayed Iranian response to what is widely believed to be a Saudi-led effort in league with the United States to target Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, i.e., three of the hardest hit economies due to the oil price collapse, President Rouhani’s statement to the Cabinet is hopefully the beginning of a systematic countermeasure in this economic warfare, many of which details are still shrouded in secrecy.

As noted by this author in a previous article (The Oil War II and How Iran Can Strike Back), an important prerequisite for an apt Iranian countermeasure is a correct understanding of the nature of this ‘oil war’. Whereas the mainstream Western media has completely shunned the very suggestion of a US-Saudi concert in instigating a new ‘oil war’ similar to the one that was orchestrated by the Ronald Reagan administration during the second half of 1980s, the Iranian media has the responsibility of subjecting the issue to a thorough and in-depth scrutiny in order to get to the bottom of it.

One way to pursue this matter is to adopt a historical approach that does not lose sight of the previous oil war and the attractiveness of recycling it for the sake of undermining several US-Saudi adversaries. We must bear in mind that ‘oil War I’ transpired without any aspect of the US media at the time acknowledging it, much like the situation today. There is also a great deal of deliberate disinformation planted by the government-friendly media to hide the facts of ‘Oil War II’ such as by deflecting attention from the US’s role and complicity with Saudi Arabia by claiming that this is a solely Saudi initiative targeting US boom in shale oil. But, the proponents of this theory ignore the essential fact that the shale oil industry’s main players, who break even at $50 to $60, are not seriously impacted by the steep decline in oil prices, only the marginal players who rely on $80 or more are hurt, constituting around %5 of the industry. This is small sacrifice for the major geopolitical gain harvested by US and Saudi Arabia with respect to Russia, Iran, and Venezuela, i.e., a global axis of resistance to US hegemony.

Another step in confronting the current oil conspiracy is to put in proper perspective the ‘lessons from the past’ that need to be applied in the search for effective countermeasures. One such lesson is the high cost of inaction, which was the case with the Soviet Union, whose leaders were never able to either correctly diagnose the problem nor to come up with a timely solution to protect their oil-dependent economy. Unfortunately, today’s situation is not much different and there is no reaction on the policy level commensurate with the gravity of the situation. In other words, verbal denunciation of the oil conspiracy is not enough and veiled references that do not confront the culprits head on serve little purpose. What is sadly lacking is a full appreciation of the current context of a full-scale economic warfare unilaterally waged by Saudi Arabia with the tacit consent of United States, which in turn requires immediate and proportionate response. At a time when every $10 drop in the price of oil translates into roughly $30 billion dollar loss for Iran, which has set its budget at $100 a barrel, inaction and limited verbal response is insufficient and requires an economic ‘war room’ to map out a comprehensive plan of action. In this ‘theater of conflict’ there are both defensive and counter-offensive assets that need to be put into action, otherwise Iran will simply be at the losing end of the oil war. Essentially, this means relying on all the available ‘cards’ in order to force a retreat by the other side and regaining the oil price’s equilibrium.

The range of Iran’s countermeasure covers a relatively wide spectrum of possibilities and scenarios that each requires a great deal of attention by the policy-makers. Efficient countermeasures are those that roll back the oil conspiracy and defeat its purpose of weakening Iran’s economy. Like a trench warfare that is fought at several trenches simultaneously, this requires the optimal use of publicity, diplomacy, soft power uses, as well as reliance on hard-power, as an essential component of the counter-strategy in the oil war., including the following:

1. Building a powerful coalition and coordinating action with other countries also targeted and victimized by the sinister oil conspiracy;

2. Identifying the weaknesses of the opponents and their maneuvers in the current oil war;

3. Tailoring concrete responses to the various aspects and dimensions of the oil war;

4. Considering the various ‘tool kits’ that can be applied for countermeasures;

5. Thinking ‘outside the box’ and weighing different options, and ‘thinking the unthinkable;

6. Using the ‘nuclear card’ against the ‘oil card’.

Concerning the latter, we must begin by posing the question of what is the proper countermeasure to an economic warfare waged to reduce Iran’s leverage and negotiation power at the table? Clearly, the US wants to exploit the oil price crunch to extract serious nuclear concessions from Iran from a position of strength, the argument being that with Iran’s back against the wall and a struggling economy, Tehran will be more amenable to accept West’s nuclear demands. Assuming safely that this is indeed the case, then an Iranian countermeasure is not to fall in the other side’s trap and negotiate from weakness, but rather to use the ‘chips’ at its disposal, reshuffle the cards so to speak, and strike back by neutralizing the opponent’s game plan. In concrete terms, this means utilizing the nuclear card vis-a-vis the oil card. One feasible scenario would be for Iran to walk out of the nuclear talks and to curtail its cooperation with the UN atomic agency, as a sign of its displeasure with the ‘bad faith’ Western negotiation reflected in the oil war. Withdrawal from the talks will be a major plus in the oil war, by virtue of causing an international jolt and an oil price hike. Playing ‘brinksmanship’, Iran would go on the offensive by demanding an end to the oil war as a precondition for the return to the table. Most likely, such a bold action by Iran will have the desired results, the Saudis will back down, especially if confronted with the prospect of a new Iran-Russia alliance against it in Persian Gulf, and they will ‘de-securitize’ their present oil policy to some extent, optimistically speaking. This will be tantamount to introducing a ‘circuit breaker’ that goes to the heart of the oil conspiracy by calling the culprits’ s bluff and revealing their hands in action. No doubt, the Western media will sound their usual hypocrisies by denying any false role by Washington, which has stood behind a tall wall of denial playing innocent bystander and even a victim (!), but on a broader level in the international community Iran’s decisive response to the oil conspiracy will be understood as a legitimate self-defense.

The Saudis, who are light years behind Iran in nuclear technology, ought to understand that they are playing with fire and neighbors such as Iran and Iraq will not sit idle while they continue with their oil treachery in cohorts with their American ally. In a word, the Iranian reaction must introduce costs to the adversaries behind the oil war, to bear pressure on them, otherwise they will have no incentive to end it.

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is an Iranian-American political scientist and author specializing in Iran’s foreign and nuclear affairs, and author of several books.

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