Fiction that was as close as you could get to pre-revolution realities
October 14, 2002
This fictional story titled "The Coming Oil War: How the Shah Will Win the
World" by Paul E. Erdman appeared
in New York magazine on December 2, 1974, less than five years before the
1979 revolution, and seven years before the Iran-Iraq war. In 1976, Edrman
published a book based on the same story, The
Crash of 79. (If there is a mistake in the layout,
please send an email)
It was a day perfectly set against the background of
tranquil, moral Switzerland -- the perfect place to plan a war...
First, he bought himself $1.1-billion worth of nuclear reactors
from France; not for the plutonium, but for the energy, he said, which seemed a bit
peculiar to some observers at the time, since if there was anything that Iran definitely
did not need -- holding, as it did,the fourth-largest known oil reserves in the world
-- it was more energy.
Then, in a great act of generosity, he lent Britain $2 billion
to keep that island afloat financially, and promised that more would be available
if the need arose.And, under the leadership of Harold Wilson, of course that need
arose. With the result that Her Majesty's government in London suddenly found itself
in hock to His Majesty's government in Teheran. England, the protector of the peace
in the Middle East for two centuries, now suddenly found itself a client state of
Iran. Then the shahanshah bought 25 per cent of that grand old company of the Ruhr,
Fried Krupp Hflttenwerk. It was only a matter of time before he took over complete
Old Hitler buffs thought they had spotted a trend developing,
but nobody paid attention to them, even when the shah, in a further act of generosity,
offered to bail out a little company in the United States that made the type of toys
that Reza Pahlavi liked to play with warplanes. It seemed that, next to the Pentagon,
the shah was Grumman's largest customer. It further seemed that he was very worried
about getting delivery of 80-odd F-l4 interceptors on time from Grumman. Because
he needed them for the War of 1976.
As it turned out, he got them right on schedule, plus 70
more Phantoms from McDonnell Douglas, a number of which were equipped with nuclear
bomb racks. Now he was in a position to make the Persian Gulf an Iranian lake, and
have the entire world at his mercy thereafter. But first he had to convince his big
brother to the north, the Soviet Union, that all this was a great idea -- and also
attend to a few other details. That's why he went to Switzerland.
On February 13, 1976, the shah of Iran arrived quietly in
Zurich. As usual, he moved into the Dolder Grand Hotel; it was close to the clinic
where he had his annual medical checkup. His entourage was not large: his young wife,
Farah Diba, their children, her lady-in-waiting, his aide-de-camp, and about twenty
security men. Few people took notice of them. It was, after all, the shah's twelfth
consecutive winter visit to Switzerland. On February 18, apparently in good health,
he and his family left by private jet for St. Moritz.
Just before takeoff, two men, who had arrived at Kloten
airport from Teheran just an hour earlier, joined the flight. The shah was at the
controls of the jet most of the way, but turned the plane over to the Swiss pilot
before landing. The shah knew the small airport at Samedan: it was squeezed between
the mountains behind Pontresina to the south and those of St. Moritz to the north,
and averaged 1.6 fatal crashes a year. Most of the security men had gone on
ahead the day before in three Mercedes 600's. All three were on the tarmac when the
Lear's engines were turned off.
About twenty minutes later, the shah's party moved through
the gates leading onto the grounds of the Suvretta House on the eastern outskirts
of St. Moritz. In this city, the nouveaux riches stayed at the Palace; those who
inherited wealth or title, or succeeded to both through marriage, stayed at the Suvretta.
The shah, while still married to Soraya in the 1950's, had learned to love skiing
in the Swiss Alps, and also to appreciate the setting of this particular Swiss hotel
with its pine forests and the towering Piz Nair beyond.
But he especially enjoyed the solitude, beyond the rude
stares of German tourists with knapsacks full of leberwurst sandwiches and sauergurken.
In 1968 or 1969, the shah had purchased a villa on the grounds of the Suvretta. It
made things easier for the security men, and it added a further dimension of privacy.
Yet it did not involve sacrificing the superb service and cuisine offered by one
of Europe's finest hostelries. The manager of the Suvretta, Herr R. F. Mueller, flanked
by two assistants standing well to his rear, was waiting outside the main entrance
to the hotel.
The welcome was brief. The window at the back of the first
Mercedes was open not more than one minute while the pleasantries were exchanged.
Then theconvoy of three limousines moved on. Both the windows and the curtains on
the windows at the rear of the second limo remained closed. The third car was wide
open, much to the discomfort of the shah's six bodyguards inside, who were not used
to the air of the Engadin Valley in February, which hovered around the freezing level
even at noon.
The shah and his family had a brief lunch, and by 1:30 were
out on the small practice slope, about 75 meters from the villa. Herr Mueller had
discreetly arranged that they have exclusive use of the tow lift for the afternoon.
Two veteran ski guides were there to assist. A good dozen security men, half on skis,
posted themselves along the slope. The children, of course, protested the need for
spending any warm-up time on what the Swiss term an "idiot hill";
they preferred to move right up to the main slopes of the Piz Nair. But papa remained
firm. At 3:30, as the temperature began to dip radically and patches of ice started
to appear, everyone returned to the lodge. They all had cheese fondue that evening.
Thus ended a typical day in the life of His Imperial Majesty,
the shahanshah of Iran -- devoted husband, dutiful father, sportsman. A day perfectly
set against the background of tranquil, neutral, clean, moral Switzerland. It was,
in fact, the perfect place to plan a war. Which was exactly what the two men who
had remained so secluded in the back seat of the second limousine had been doing
in the south wing of the shah's villa, while the Pahlavi family cavorted in the snow.
They were General Mohammed Khatami, head of Iran's air force,
and Commander Fereydoun Shahandeh, the Iranian air-sea strike chief for the western
part of the Persian Gulf. As military men are prone to do, one of their first acts
upon settling into their St. Moritz billet had been to pin a huge map to the wall.
Its dimensions were illuminating, stretching from India in the east to the Mediterranean
in the West; from the southern perimeters of Russia to the north to as far south
as Yemen and the Sudan.
Both the general and the commander had the appearance of
happy men. And why not? They controlled the biggest and best-trained army in the
Middle East; the largest and most sophisticated air force; a flexible, modern navy.
In addition, Iran possessed the world's most extensive operational military Hovercraft
fleet (British-built SR.N-6's and BH.7's), and an awesome arsenal of missiles, ranging
from the U.S.-built Hawks to the British Rapier to the French Crotale, but its most
dangerous weapon was, of course, the American Phoenix stand-off missile guided
Downhill all the way:
On the first day of his stay in St. Moritz, His Imperial Majesty, accompanied by
his wife, Farah Diba, hotdogs on a practice slope.
Two of his security men observe from a near distance.
To man all this equipment, Iran had an army of 460,000 men (including reserves)
, reputed o be the most efficient fighting force in the Middle East (with the exception
of Israel), thanks in part to the training provided by over 1,000 American military
personnel who were sent to Iran in the early 1970's for that purpose. (The total
military hardware that was at Iran's disposal is shown in the inventory list
on this page.) All the Iranians lacked was a nuclear capability. And they would even
have that, provided the shah pulled off his final deal in St. Moritz. The penultimate
one had to be with the Russians. That was scheduled for the following day.
Around 10 AM. on the morning of February 19, 1976, another limousine came through
the Maloja Pass, which connects the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Ticino,
with the Engadin Valley in the Grisons. This time it was a Fiat, the driver an Italian,
and the two passengers Russians'the minister of defense of the Soviet Union. Marshal
Andrei Grechko, and his interpreter.The trip had originated in Turin, here Grechko
had been spending the week as the guest of Fiat.
The Russians knew that the huge truck plant which Fiat built in Togliattigrad
in the early 1970's was also eminently suitable for manufacturing such items as tanks,
armored personnel carriers, even aircraft frames in a pinch. It required only a conversion
job costing around a billion dollars, and a contractor that had the know-how and
the spare engineering capacity. Fiat had both, thanks to the fact that for decades
it had been one of the major suppliers of arms to NATO, and the further fact that
as a result of Italy's disastrous economic situation, half of Fiat's capacity lay
So Fiat had tendered a bid that at best would cover its overhead. The Russians
knew this, and Grechko had been fully prepared to sign the deal the very first day
in Turin. But Russians never sign anything the first day. So the five-day visit.
This Thursday had been scheduled as Grechko's day off, a day to be spent privately.
enjoying the unique beauty the Alps in winter.
The Fiat entered the grounds of the Suvretta House. and headed directly for the
shah's villa. The two Russians had barely emerged from the car when General Khatami
and Commander Fereydoun Shahandeh appeared. Four handshakes, a dozen words, and they
disappeared inside. The shah was standing in front of the fireplace in the library
when they entered. He extended a hand to each Russian, and indicated that they would
be seated on the sofa behind a massive wooden coffee table. He himself chose an armchair
on the opposite side.
The two Iranian military men remained standing to the shah's rear. "We shall
speak English," were his first words. Marshal Grechko nodded his agreement,
so the shahanshah continued. "I do appreciate your agreeing to this rather unusual
arrangement. You understand that it would have been impossible for me to come to
Moscow, and very awkward to receive you in Teheran."
"We fully understand, Your Majesty," replied Grechko through his interpreter
and both nodded their heads slightly as the words were beingrepeated. Russians are
as much in awe of royalty as are Americans. "The subject I wish to discuss is
Iraq. It is not the first time that that country has come up in our talks over the
years." Silence from the sofa. "You are, of course, aware that Iraq has
attacked Iran at least a dozen times during the past five years. It is preparing
to attack again, this time on a massive scale," Still silence. "We further
believe that the Americans will use this military conflict as excuse for intervention,
in order -- as they so nicely put it'to 'stabilize' the Middle East."
"How?" asked Grechko through his translator.
"There are 12,000 American military 'advisers' in Saudi Arabia. For yearsthey
have been trying to convince Faisal that Iran, not the United States, is the real
enemy of the Arab people. And what better proof than a major Iranian-Iraqi armed
conflict? Now to answer your question: the Saudi/American armed forces would move
immediately to 'secure their northern flank.' Which means their occupation of the
entire western coast of the Persian Gulf, up to and including Kuwait. But, all this
can be prevented."
"How?" repeated Grechko.
"Very simply, though at great sacrifice to my country. Iran would make a
preemptive strike. Not just against Iraq. We would simultaneously neutralize Kuwait,
Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, as well as the northern tip of Oman. We will have
the entire Persian Gulf -- both sides -- in our hands before the Americans even find
out. After that they, and their friends the Saudis, will be finished in the Middle
The shah paused, and then added six further words: "Provided your country
does not intervene."
"We could not stand idly by," said Grechko immediately. "Iraq is
"But so is Iran. And it is I, only I, who can stop
the Americans from gaining control of the Gulf."
"There are other reasons," continued the shahanshah. "For example,
would it be in your interest if we were forced to suspend shipments of natural gas
to your country, especially now that the second pipeline is in operation?
"Why should you have to do that? We have very firm agreements!"
Grechko was getting angry.
"Because," replied the shah, calmly "if we allow Iraq to attack,
its first target on Iranian soil will be Abadan.The refinery complex there is the
largest in the world, and Iran's prime source of energy. It's within artillery range
of Iraq. But our gas fields are beyond Iraq's reach. I think it should be obvious
that after Abadan is destroyed, we will have to immediately stop all exports of gas.
We will desperately require every cubic foot for domestic consumption." The
shah raised both hands in a gesture of impatience.
"But why should I dwell on circumstances which need not ever develop? With
the agreement of your government, I can prevent such a catastrophe. Then not only
will you have your gas but much more. I will be prepared to enter into a five-year
agreement on shipments of crude oil to the Soviet Union -- at a fixed price. Ten
dollars a barrel. Up to half a billion barrels a year."
"It is too dangerous," said Grechko.
"I am also in a position to lend you an F-l4. Or two,
if you need them."
Now Grechko's eyes flickered. The American F-14 was the
only aircraft superior to the MiG-25, and both planes were planned as the top-performance
interceptors of their respective countries in the 1980's. That Grechko understood.
Let the people back in the Kremlin calculate the gas and oil thing.
"How soon do you need an answer?"
"Within three days."
"And if it is negative?"
"Then you had better find your own way of coping with the Americans."
The shahanshah rose. The audience was over. But Grechko, though also rising, persisted.
"How do you know the Iraqis are about to attack?"
The shah's hand motioned to General Khatami. Out of his briefcase came two aerial
photographs, compliments of a camera built by Kodak, as mounted in an aircraft built
by McDonnell Douglas -- a total package for which the shah had paid $15 million in
"This," said Khatami, taking the first photograph and pointing at the
river forming the border between Iraq and Iran where the two countries meet at the
northern tip of the Persian Gulf, "is the Shatt al-Arab River. Note the incredible
concentration of artillery displacements and missile launching sites here, opposite
Abadan, and there, vis-à-vis Khorramshahr."
Khatami presented his second photo. "Now this is the territory immediately
to the north -- the narrow plain between the Tigris and the Iranian border. You can
quite clearly see the armor. Here, ready to move on Ahvaz. There, poised at Dezful.
The idea, obviously, is to sweep cast and then south to secure Abadan and its surrounding
[...] put the photographs aside. "All in all we have counted about 1 ,700
tanks in that corridor east of the Tigris -- 800 1-55's, 450 M-60's, and around 500
BTR-152's. They represent 90 percent of the total tank force Iraq possesses. This
type of concentration has never occurred before. At least half of the Iraqi forces
have always been kept in the north, to contain and destroy the Kurds. Furthermore,
the entire Iraqi Air Force has been on alert since last Wednesday. The army reserves
were recalled last Monday. All this is, of course, quite easy for you to verify."
The marshal spoke: "I shall be leaving Italy for Moscow tomorrow afternoon.
You will hear from us immediately thereafter." Grechko bowed, turned, and left.
Minutes later the shah walked out of the chalet with his wife and children. It was
a perfect day for skiing.
The French began arriving at nine the following morning, in black Citroëns,
of course. The first group was from the Dassault-Breguet Aviation Company, the largest
French aircraft producer. The subject under discussion: the Mirage F l's. In fact,
120 of them.
In addition to the aircraft, the package Dassault hoped to sell included 1,500
Matra R.530 missiles (some with radar, and others with infrared homing heads), as
well as 500 of the new French laser-guided stand-off weapon (its characteristics
being very similar to the American Phoenix), which tested out with a better than
95 per cent hit rate even on targets as small as single armored vehicles, or parked
If accepted, this deal would have major long-term consequences for France. It,
not the United States or Russia, would become the chief supplier of arms to the biggest
single customer for weapons that had ever existed -- the shahanshah.
The French asking price for this initial package was $5.1 billion. They proposed
that 50 per cent be paid on signing, the other half on delivery. The shah, in the
preliminary discussion earlier that year, had indicated he would prefer another mode
of payment. For the shah was very cash-flow-conscious (his cash was earning him 15
per cent per annum at Chase Manhattan in London). He preferred to pay in kind. And
kind, in Iran. means crude Oil.
This was the reason for the second delegation, which arrived at a little ast ten,
only minutes after the Dassault presentation, flip charts and all, had been completed.
The second group was typical of French negotiation teams in that it included a mix
of both private and governmental interests -- in this case. the heads of the Commisariat
the French National Energy Inc., Compagnie Nationale Francaise de Pétrole,and
Gazde France. The deal being offered them? Seven billion barrels of Iranian crude,
over seven years, at a base price of S 11.50 a barrel, to rise at the rate of only
6.5 per cent per annum for the length of the contract. Not as good as the offer to
the Russians, but the French didn't know that.
The second stage of the French-Iranian conference was brief. The French accepted,
without reservation, the shah's proposal. They were prepared to sign on the spot.
But the shah was not. All depended on the outcome of yet a further meeting. But he
merely told both the oil and arms men that his final decision would be given the
following Monday. It would be communicated to them by his ambassador in Paris. They
could now leave. So they left.
It was only after the grounds of the Suvretta had been completely cleared of black
Citroëns that the final delegation arrived. They came in an Alouette military
helicopter provided courtesy of the Swiss government, which had also guaranteed the
complete secrecy of the operation.
This final meeting involved only five men: the shah, his two military advisers, the
personal delegate of Premier Giscard d'Estaing, and the chief of staff of the French
military forces. The shah wasted no time in making his proposal, which, he said,
required only a out or a non.
He wanted to borrow a half-dozen atomic bombs from France. Vie would return them
on December 31, 1976.
"Why this particular date?" asked Giscard's right-hand man.
"Because by then we will have built some of our own," replied the king
The problem was that he, the shahanshah, was under dire threat of nuclear blackmail
right now, in February of 1976, and he could hardly counter such a threat with bombs
that he would not have until the end of the year. Thus the need for this short-term
Were there any possible circumstances under which the French bombs might be used?
Of course not! You could not fight and win a nuclear war with only six bombs! He
needed them only to be able to honestly counter a probable Iraqi-Soviet nuclear bluff.
If he could not, the chances were very high indeed that Iran would become yet another
satellite within the Soviet orbit. Such was obviously not in France's interest, especially
now when Iran was about to develop into France's largest single export market on
the one hand, while guaranteeing France's future petroleum supply on the other. N'est-ce
The two Frenchmen demurred from offering any opinion whatsoever. But they did guarantee
that the shah's thoughts would be communicated to Paris forthwith. 'This time it
was the shah's guests who rose first. You must grant the French at least one thing:
they understand upmanship.
So by noon of that Friday, February 20, the shah was once again alone with his generals.
But by this point he had had enough of them. He'd also had enough of skiing. So he
dismissed his military aides, ignored his family. strolled out of the chalet, and
disappeared into the north wing of the Suvretta House.
He always reserved 40 rooms there during his sojourns in St. Moritz for his entourage,
security men, communications people, hangers-on. It also served, rumor had it, as
the shah's indoor-winter-sports center. More specifically, it was suggested that
the shah had an ongoing penchant for dark-haired German girls, along Soraya lines,
and that he maintained a fairly sizable stable of such in the north wing. And why
not? The Old Testament is full of emperors and kings who did the same thing: Solomon,
David, Ahasuerus, to name but a few. And the shah was a great believer in tradition
-- in the obligation of tradition.
Thus it was that the shah only emerged once again into the
daylight around 2 P.M. that Sunday. He returned to the chalet just in time to receive
two messages: a da from Moscow, a oui from Paris. Now he could return
to Teheran and start his war.
Iranians on the way to Conquest
The Two-Day War began at 6:30 A.M. on Sunday, February 29, 1976. The shah's
astrologer had approved of this date, and his court historians had concurred. No
ruler, to their knowledge. had ever chosen an intercalary day to begin a war. And
it was the reestablishment of an empire -- the ancient Sassanid
Empire -- that was at stake.
Two days to rebuild an Empire
Iran defeats Iraq and sweeps the Persian Gulf in a blitzkrieg
that starts with air strikes on Iraqi airfields and bases. These are followed by
Hovercraft encirclement of Iraqi tanks that face Iranian armor between the cities
of Dez Jul and Ahvaz. The victorious Iranians then move down the Arabian coast, capturing
Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Dubai, and Oman. The inset map shows the extent of the ancient
Sassanid Empire -- Persia's period of greatest expansion, and inspiration of the
The king of kings was 56, and before he
died he intended that the glory of ancient Persia be restored. See larger
His first move was right out of the Israeli book: 100 Phantoms, equipped with
their Phoenix stand-off missiles, made low-level dawn raids on all eight major Iraqi
military bases. Iraq at this time had 30 MiG-23's, 90 MiG-2 l's, 30 MiG-17's, and
36 dId British-made Hunters. All but 33 of these aircraft were destroyed on the ground
before the sun was up, thanks to the remarkable accuracy of the Phoenixes and to
the skill of the Iranian pilots, all of whom had been schooled by the United States
The second air strike was directed at Umm Qasr, the port city just off the Iraqi-Kuwait
border, where the Russians had built a naval base for the Iraqis, designed to guard
the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab River. One hundred and twenty Northrop F-S's leveled
the place within an hour. By 7:30 A.M. battalion after battalion of Iranian troops
were being landed by helicopter. It was a walkover.
The third strike, in which both Phantoms and F-S's were employed, was the most massive
of all. It was directed at the artillery and missile sites just across the Shatt
al-Arab from Abadan and Khorramshahr. A great deal of napalm was used -- with devastating
The Iranian Air Force had proved itself the most efficient in the entire Middle East,
exceeding even the Israeli performance of a few years back in terms of turnaround
time and operational techniques.
The key tactical move, however, first began around 9 A.M. after all three air-strike
operations had proved successful. Military historians today refer to it as "the
Shatt al-Arab end run." It was conceived and implemented by
Commander Fereydoun Shahandeh as the first full military offensive based primarily
upon the use of Hovercrafts.
The idea was tailor-made for the geography of the area. Remember all those Iraqi
tanks in the corridor between the Tigris River and the Iranian border? Well, behind
them -- to the west -- were the swamps of the Tigris-Euphrates delta, impassable
terrain from the military standpoint. Impassable, that is, for every military vehicle
known to man except the Hovercraft, which could move on top of its air cushion across
anything that was reasonably flat -- water, swamp, or beach -- and at a speed of
40 mph., fully loaded.
These remarkable machines (all built for the shah in Britain, the world's leader
in Hovercraft technology) could move an entire armored battalion: in their cavernous
bowels were tanks (Chieftains, also British-built) and armored personnel carriers
(BTR-50's and BTR-60's,of Soviet origin) plus a full complement of military personnel
in the wings and on the upper decks. They had a range of 150 miles. But they could
not move until the naval base at Umm Qasr had been put out of action, and until the
Iraqi fire power on the west bank of the Shatt al-Arab -- the gateway to the Tigris
-- Euphrates delta -- had been eliminated.
By 9 AM, it was. Immediately, the beaches on the Persian Gulf to the east of Abadan
were filled with the howl of Hovercraft engines, as the air
pressure was raised within the skirts beneath the vehicles. By 9:15 all 45 craft
were under way. As these grotesque weapons of war moved around the corner, and up
the Shatt al-Arab channel, the scene resembled a Martian invasion.
Only two hours later, they began opening up their ramps on firm ground to the
rear of the Iraqi forces. At the same time the main body of Iranian panzers, which
had been grouped between Dezful and Ahvaz, began a frontal assault from the east.
It was nothing less than a massacre. Already by early afternoon the vast majority
of the Iraqi forces chose surrender.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger and his chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Brown, were having drinks at a cocktail party,
in Chevy Chase, being thrown by Senator Stennis of Mississippi in honor of himself.
The first hint that something was going on started coming in around 8 P.M. Eastern
Standard Time, on this 29th of February. The word caime from the Aramco communications
center in Riyadh, was sent to the Standard Oil people in New York, and then relayed
to the Pentagon. Since it was a weekend, they sat on it there for a while, and then
some colonel decided that he'd better cover his back just in case. So Schlesinger
was alerted by telephone out at Chevy Chase.
"Goddamned Iraqis," was Schlesinger's comment to Brown after hanging
up, "they've attacked Iran again. But this time in real style, apparently."
Brown did not trust either the defense secretary or Standard Oil, so he immediately
arranged for an aerial reconnaissance sweep of the region. Schlesinger thought he'd
better call Henry. Nancy answered the phone and said Henry was at the office. So
Schlesinger called the State Department.
"You have a problem, James?" was pronounced "Chames."
"Yes. Henry. Apparently Iraq has attacked Iran. And this time the shah's
"We have nothing on this at State"
"It does not surprise me."
Henry did not think that descry comment. "When will you have more,"
"Within the hour."
At the end of that hour, Schlesinger and Brown were on their way to the White
House. Henry, William Simon, and Nelson Rockefeller were in the Oval Office with
the president when they arrived. All were drinking bourbon and branch water, so Schlesinger
and Brown also drank bourbon.
Mr. Ford asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to brief the group. Brown
told of the air strikes around Baghdad, of the destruction of the Soviet-built naval
base at Umm Qasr, and of the Shatt al-Arab end run. He did not consider these developments
unfavorable for the United States. Quite the contrary. Iraq was a client state of
the Soviet Union's. Iran was a client state of the Pentagon's. What was good for
the shah was therefore good for America.
The Hovercraft end-run: Iranian troops debouch front the swamps of the Tigris-Euphrates
delta onto firm ground, having crossed the nearly impassable terrain by means of
Hovercrat -- British-made vehicles that speed along on a self-generated air cushion.
At this point the Iranians are poised to attack the
main concentration of Iraqi tanks front the rear, taking them completely by surprise
and forcing surrender. Triple strike: The war
begins with airborne missile attacks that devastate Iraq's military bases. Iraq's
Russian-built naval base at Umm Qasr is seen here under attack by Iranian troops
brought in by helicopters.
Command indecision: Confronted by confused
reports of hostilities between Iran and Iraq, President Ford meets with the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Stall, General Brown (far left), Vice-President Rockefeller,
Henry Kissinger, and Defense Secretary Schlesinger.
James Schlesinger endorsed this statement "without any reservations whatsoever."
It was totally consistent with American policy as initiated by Johnson in 1968, and
continued by the Nixon and Ford administrations ever since.
Kissinger, biting his fingernails more than usual, remained silent. Simon also said
nothing, but seemed to have an "I told you so" look on his face. Only Rockefeller
dissented: "I don't like this one damn bit." (Was Standard Oil telling
Rocky more than it was telling the Pentagon?)
At this juncture, Henry, of course, began to tilt in the direction of Rockefeller.
"Nor do I," he stated, firmly.
Then the president's phone rang. Apparently some new action had started on the gulf.
The C.I.A. would have a full report later. Jerry Ford actually looked relieved after
he hung up. He had hardly wanted to take sides against his friends in the Pentagon,
but he also could not afford to buck Rockefeller-Kissinger. So he said: "Gentlemen,
we need a lot more information about the situation over there before we can decide
anything. Let's meet again first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I want
all of you to get everything you can on what's going on."
Actually, quite a bit was going on. At 6 A.M. on March 1, Middle Eastern time
(which was eight time zones ahead of Washington), the Iranian takeover of Kuwait,
Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Oman began.
The Kuwaiti operation was simple. The Iranian forces, which now completely controlled
the entire southeastern corner of Iraq, simply turned south. By noon Kuwait's 3,000-man
army surrendered. The next place to go was Bahrain. For years, the large and powerful
Iranian minority in Bahrain had been demanding Anschluss with the mother country.
On this March 1, the local Iranians -- who in the meantime had been molded together
in a well-organized and superbly armed paramilitary force -- took the country over.
No more than 100 shots were fired.
The takeover of Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai involved a combination of betrayal from
within and invasion from the sea. In all three sheikdoms there were large numbers
of Iranian immigrants who had brought with them the skills and work ethic necessary
building of a modern economy -- attributes which the local Arab population lacked.
These immigrants, who had been organized along Bahrainian lines, occupied the strategic
military points at dawn. When the Iranian regular troops arrived from the islands
of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tanb, they had very little left to do.
In Oman no invasion was necessary. Starting in 1972, the shah had generously provided
the Omani government with military assistance to help it counter the Dhofar rebels
in the strategic northern tip of Oman, situated between the Persian Gulf and the
Gulf of Oman. By 1976, Iran had 2,000 paratroopers and 60 helicopters in that region.
In addition, the majority of the Omani army there were Baluchis, recruited for the
most part from southern Iran. The paratroopers and Baluchis simply got together and
ran up the Iranian flag.
While all this was happening on the ground, a major redeployment of Iranian air and
sea forces was taking place. It involved a massive shift of equipment to the new
naval/air bases at Bandar Abbas (guarding the mouth of the Persian Gulf from the
west coast of Iran) and especially to Chah Bahar on the Iranian coast, just west
of the Pakistani border. Chah Bahar was by far the largest military base anywhere
in the Indian Ocean. It was built by American contractors in the early 1970's, at
a cost of $1 billion.
By nightfall of March 1, 1976, Iran controlled the entire Persian
Gulf. The Two-Day War was over. Now Iran's forces were poised around the mouth of
the Gulf in anticipation of a challenge from the United States.
When the six men reconvened in the White House early on March 2, it was Bill
Simon who pointed out the enormous gravity of the situation. The shah, he said, now
controlled all the oil in the Middle East, except for that of Saudi Arabia. And there
was little doubt in his mind that the shah could now grab the Ghawani oil fields
(from which Saudi Arabia got 90 per cent of its crude-oil output).
"Okay," said Ford, "how do we respond, General Brown?"
General Brown frowned. "Sir, what exactly did you have in mind?"
"The marines, the navy. I don't care. I just want the shah to pull back. All
the way. And right away."
"Uh, that's going to be a bit difficult. I mean, doing it right away."
"What do you mean?"
"Well actually, sir, we've got nothingin that area. Our closest strike force
would be the Sixth Fleet, I guess. But that's in the Mediterranean, of course. And
the Seventh Fleet's off Formosa right now. If we moved either one, it would be about
a week before we'd be ready to hit the Gulf. But even then I'm not sure we would
want to do it."
"Why not, for Christ's sake?"
"Well, the shah has an enormous amount of fire power ready to go against us.
He's got two of our carriers cruising off Char Bahar -- the Kitty Hawk and
the Constellation. They've each got 90 Phantoms on board. Then there's Char
Bahar proper. He's got 80 F-14's there
-- more than we have in all of Europe. And take those missile sites on Abu Musa.
Assuming we could get into the Gulf, I'm not sure we'd get past them."
"You mean to tell me that
we, the United States of America, cannot take on the shah militarily?" thundered
"Well, we could. But our casualty rate would be astronomic. And then there's
something else to think about. In order to get the shah back out of the Gulf, we'd
have to mobilize a type of landing on the scale of Normandy in World War II. With
the exception that our supply lines would not be fifteen miles across the English
Channel, but about 5,000 miles, from Western Europe. I'm not sure that course of
action is to be recommended."
"What course of action is?"
"We'd probably have to go nuclear." One of the president's
aides entered the Oval Office at this point, and handed Henry Kissinger a note.
"It's Ardeshir Zahedi," said Kissinger.
"Who?" asked Ford.
"The Iranian ambassador. He wants to talk to me."
"On the phone?"
"Well, talk to him."
Henry left the room. While he was gone, General Brown
explained that, in his judgment, it would be best to use B-52's from Guam for the
job. The Europeans would get upset, he thought, if any nuclear attack force based
on their territory was used to bluff the shah. Of course, he went on to explain,
the threat of such weaponry would not by any means preclude the necessity of occupying
the Gulf with American troops. Which would require a major naval operation, and,
as he had already pointed out, considerable risk. On the other hand, since the shah
had no means of nuclear retaliation, no doubt he would just give up the moment the
B-52's appeared over Iran.
Then Henry came back in, looking a bit pale.
"Our Iranian friend called just to pass along a little message from the shah.
He wants to assure us that he remains a staunch friend of the United States, and
can now insure stability in the Middle East, an objective which, he says, our two
nations have been jointly pursuing during the past decade. He added a P.S.,"
continued Kissinger. "He wants to calm any fears we might have concerning a
possible attempt by the Soviet Union to take advantage of the situation by trying
to move into the area through nuclear blackmail. Fortunately Iran possesses a quite
adequate nuclear capability, thanks to the help of his two best friends: the French,
who helped him get the bombs, and America, which has provided him such efficient
delivery systems. He sends his best regards to you. Mr. President."
"He'd never use them
against us even if he really had them," stated Schlesinger.
"What do you think, Henry?" asked Ford.
"I don't know him well enough. But I do know somebody
"Bill Rogers. Right after he resigned as secretary
of state, he went to work for the Pahlavi Foundation."
So Henry did. Rogers's answer was slow to come, prudently
worded, but quite clear: the shah probably had nuclear weapons, and if he was threatened
by B-52's and the Sixth Fleet, he'd use them as a last resort. There was a carefully
couched suggestion that an element of irrationality in the shah's character should
not be ignored.
When Henry had finished, somebody muttered: "We should
have given that bastard the Allende treatment years ago." But nobody heard it.
Three hours later a message was on the way to the shahanshah of Iran from the
president of the United States. It expressed the hope that Iran and America would
work as partners toward peace in the Middle East in the future, as they had in the
The next day the shah issued a statement. In it he explained
that the liberation of his fellow Moslems on the Persian Gulf had involved tremendous
financial sacrifices. The Iranian people had a right to just compensation. He went
on to state that it was his intention not only to reconstruct the war-ravaged areas,
but to make them models of the advanced civilization that Iran offered the world.
This would all cost money. Therefore, as of March 3, 1976, the price of Persian Gulf
oil would double.
That did it.
Within two months Italy and Britain were bankrupt. The dollar
had collapsed, along with a few thousand banks. Wall Street lay in ruins. And these
were only the first doinirtoes to fall. The Crash of '76 was inevitably followed
by the Revolution of 1977. the Famine of 1978, the Collapse of Society in 1979 ...
and ultimately, the End of the Industrial Era. Today, in 1984, most survivors say
that it has all been for the good. At least the ones here in California who don't
have to worry about starving or freezing to death. I'm not sure. Sometimes I like
to stop and think back on the old world -- but, right now, the cows need milking.