Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, November 25, 2007

  US Navy is stockpiling fuel in Persian Gulf

Many Middle East experts have wondered aloud what point there is to the Annapolis peace conference. It appears destined to achieve nothing significant. One of its main goals, I think, must be to demonstrate that Iranian-backed Hamas can in fact be marginalized. That PR victory would be worth enough to the Saudi regime that they'd send their Foreign Minister to a doomed conference.

Simultaneously, the US military is gearing up for some kind of very large show of force against Iran to occur during the next 90 days. Reuters reported over the weekend that large amounts of fuel are being stockpiled at US naval and air bases in the U.A.E., Qatar, and Diego Garcia (where long-range bombers are based).

In the past, these kinds of arrangements have foretold aggressive military operations or major changes in tactics in the region.

For example, we're told in passing that...

In February, oil industry sources told Reuters [Saudi Arabia] had raised the amount of jet fuel earmarked for the military from 1.5 million barrels last year to close to eight million in 2007.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that this quintupling of jet fuel was linked to plans to rely increasingly on air power in Iraq during 2007. The public was assured by the "surge's" architects that the goal was to win hearts and minds with a more carefully calibrated (yeah) counterinsurgency campaign. Had we known of the Saudi jet fuel deal, we might have surmised that the sophisticated strategy also included bombing a lot more Iraqis than before.

The current stockpiling of jet fuel and marine diesel can only be directed against Iran, however (h/t Cernig):

The U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC) has tendered for four tankers in November to move at least one million barrels of jet and ship fuel between Gulf ports, from Asia to the Gulf and to the Diego Garcia base, tenders seen by Reuters show...

"They have been very active," said a ship industry source, familiar with the MSC tender process, who asked not to be named.

"Out of the multiple charter requirements they issue, they usually do maybe one or two (tankers) a month in the Gulf. They were quiet over the summer months," he said.

The fuel includes JA1 and JP5, the latter used by carrier-based F-18 fighters. The MSC, asked by Reuters for comment, stated that there was "nothing abnormal about current requirements in the Gulf ". But a doubling of fuel tenders is a pretty good working description of "abnormal". Why deny it?

Reuters adds that even more fuel (including JP5) has been requested from Bahrain by the Defense Energy Support Center. And in addition, there's a very unusual arrangement whereby the MSC has chartered a large oil tanker for 90 days (beginning in early December) to carry fuel, including jet fuel, in any number of trips between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"What's most interesting is the time-charter in the Gulf. It's a big ship and here we have a commitment for a lot of movement of fuels, backwards and forwards down to the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman," the Gulf source said.

"This confirms there is going to be a lot of activity, possibly a serious demonstration to Iran that the military means to protect the Hormuz Strait," he said.

Yet the US Navy has been conducting exercises and showing the flag in the Persian Gulf regularly. Last week for example there were two naval groups conducting exercises. Therefore the (more than) doubling of naval fuel supplies appears to herald something more than the ordinary level of pushback against the Iranian military presence in the Gulf.

The stockpiles don't appear to be extensive enough to prepare for an actual attack on Iran, and US public opinion hasn't been prepped adequately anyway (despite increasingly tough talk from Bush & Co. during October). My guess is that there will be some other kind of excessive display of bellicosity during December or January.

It will nearly coincide with the Annapolis peace conference. The US exclusion of Hamas from the conference is seen as a challenge to their base of support in the Arab world:

Palestinian and Israeli analysts expected a weakening of public confidence in Hamas after Arab League foreign ministers voted in Cairo on Friday to attend the summit. A decision yesterday by Syria, Hamas' staunchest Arab ally, to send its Deputy Foreign Minister, was seen as a particularly damaging blow.

But Annapolis is intended also as a blow to Iranian prestige.

Hamas, and beyond it, the specter of Iran is focusing the minds of the Arab states too. Islamist movements like Hamas threaten the hold on power of the regions' authoritarian regimes. Iran's regional aspirations, with or without nuclear weapons, make Saudi Arabia, with a large Shiite minority in its eastern oil-producing region, or Bahrain with a majority Shiite population, extremely nervous. A peace settlement in Palestine would remove one area where Iran can make trouble.

Little surprise that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also denounced the Annapolis conference today.

It's tempting to infer, then, that the administration's bellicose planning now for the Persian Gulf may be intended to demonstrate that it can enforce its threat of "increased isolation" for Iran—to quote Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns from earlier this month.

Bellicose posturing is just the kind of plan that a nut like Dick Cheney would think is going to draw wavering countries over to your own side and increase the isolation of those you are threatening. If you can maneuver Iran into a corner by sitting around confabbing in Annapolis, then you ought to be able to do that much better with Cheney's favored means of diplomacy—military confrontation.

crossposted from

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