(CNN) Iranian boats attempted to seize British tanker. Quoting,
Five armed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats unsuccessfully tried to seize a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf Wednesday, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident.
(Reuters) Iranian boats ‘harass’ British tanker in the Gulf: U.S. officials. Quoting,
Five boats believed to belong to Iranian Revolutionary Guards approached a British oil tanker in the Gulf on Wednesday and asked it to stop in Iranian waters close by, but withdrew after a British warship warned them, U.S. officials said.
There is an inexplicable difference in wording, highlighted in red. The apparent timidity of the Iranian force should not be assumed as a constant of this problem. Five boats is well short of the swarms Iran has practiced with. This could have been a
- Low level initiative, part of the ethos of the IRGC, in response to nonspecific clerical encouragement.
- Psychological test. In the early years of Somali piracy, active defense was discouraged by the mindset of shippers, insurers, and an overly legalistic EU viewpoint. The Iranian goal: to assess persistence of the attitude.
- Tactical test, though much more cautious than the Dieppe Raid of 1942, to precede a like assault.
If the mullahs direct the IRGC to do what they are chartered to do, which encompasses high casualty tactics, verging on suicide, they may snag a tanker:
- The large size of a tanker creates a baffle, blocking the weapons of an escort positioned on the opposite side from Iranian boats.
- During maneuver of an escort, baffles lasting a few seconds result when a 30mm gun cannot be brought to bear. During this brief interval, when the escort is partly exposed, RPG attacks are possible against an armored gun mount, crew-served weapons, or the bridge.
- The 30mm gun mounts limit how far down the guns can be pointed down, the “depression limit”. So another baffle exists close to the escort.
- Iran planners may consider an attack with simultaneous approaches to both sides of the tanker accompanied by a single escort, to have bearable cost. One half of the force is sacrificed.
- We can assume British forces were on board the tanker. This attempt may have been a probe for information about their deployment.
Dunford’s statement echoes Trump’s caution to distinguish between the nuclear issue, and the “tanker war” issue. Quoting (CNN),
“Escorting in the normal course of events would be done by countries who have the same flag so a ship that is flagged by a particular country would be escorted by that country and I think what the United States can provide is domain awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and then coordination and patrols for other ships that would be in the area would be largely coalition ships.”
The Iranians are doubtless studying this statement, looking for space in which they can operate. It offers Iran local superiority (see Lanchester’s Laws) that could not be achieved against a unified military response. It fails to accord Iran respect for the strength that comes from desperation.
Oil tankers mostly have flags of convenience. With 464 tankers, is the Liberian Navy up to Dunford’s idea? Or the Navy of Panama, with 528 tankers? Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me an oar. In case they’re thinking of chain-sawing a rowboat in two, I have these immortal words of advice from Alfred Thayer Mahan, (which he never said):
Never divide the fleet.