Iran Moves Missiles To Iraq. What Could Go Wrong?

(Forbes.com)

Michael Lynch

The threat to Saudi oil fields from this move is not great, inasmuch as the fields are located in the Eastern Province and, as such, are already close to Iranian territory.  In fact, the missiles are likely to be further from Saudi oil fields than similar missiles based in Iran.  Of greater concern is the control of the missiles, and especially if they are in the hands of radical militias or Revolutionary Guard members who do not answer directly to the Iranian government.  Yet, while the Iraqi militias are theoretically opposed to the Sunni government in Riyadh, they have so far not shown a desire to undertake violent confrontation and seem unlikely to do so now.

If anything, the Saudi and Iraqi governments seem to be moving towards at least co-existence, and even a degree of cooperation.  And while Iran has apparent control over the missiles (so far), the idea that it would order or encourage an attack on Saudi Arabia by proxies in Iraq seems implausible, short of a major conflict breaking out between the two countries.

Of greater concern is the possibility that a Revolutionary Guard commander might “go rogue” and launch some missiles on his own initiative, either against Israel or Saudi Arabia.  There have been isolated incidents in the Arabian/Persian Gulf of actions by Revolutionary Guards involving U.S. and other vessels, albeit mostly low-level provocations rather than physical attacks.

But another concern stems from Israel’s stance regarding Iranian military assets in position to threaten it.  In the past few years, it has repeatedly attacked Iranian bases and arms shipments in Syria, whether under the direct control of Iran or its proxy, Hezbollah, and it is easy to imagine them doing something similar should Iranian missiles be based in Western Iraq.  However, since these missiles are unlikely to be under control of the Iraqi government, the official response should be muted, as in the case of Syria.  (The Iraqi’s military ability to take direct action against Israel is, at this time, quite limited.)

Needless to say, stories about the potential for heightened military conflict in the Middle East always add to the temperature in the oil market, and could cause a brief spike in prices, but the longer-term implications do not seem as serious.  Any attempt to take military action by domestic militias or even Iranian Revolutionary Guard units would threaten the Iraqi government, which would ultimately crack down on them, thus actually reducing the threat to the country’s stability.

And an Israeli attack would, as mentioned, probably be limited in focus and, while angering the Iraqis, almost certainly wouldn’t lead to anything more than diplomatic protests.  Missiles flying in the Middle East does raise the anxiety level in oil markets, but it’s hard to imagine a serious disruption of oil supply from this move.

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