To counter Iran, military may be forced into open-ended deployment, study says

Aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, left, the air-defense destroyer HMS Defender and the guided-missile destroyer USS Farragut transit the Strait of Hormuz with the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf on Nov. 19.Zachary Pearson / AP

But given Iran’s demonstrated ability to hit Saudi oil infrastructure with precision, the U.S. military could be forced to maintain a large force in the region with air and missile defense systems and U.S. naval ships at the ready, the report said. Such a deployment over a period of years would carry a high price tag and derail plans by the Pentagon to shift its focus away from the Middle East to countering China, it said.

The authors concluded that the most likely scenario was a low-intensity, prolonged conflict in which Iran targets oil tankers and oil facilities in the Gulf, but the two sides stop short of triggering an all-out war.

“The biggest cost is you lose the ability to project into Asia or defend the homeland.”

The Sept. 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities, which the U.S. and its allies blamed on Iran, was a strategic watershed as it showed Tehran had much more sophisticated military capabilities than previously assessed by outside governments, the report said.

However, the authors added one major caveat to their oil price estimates — the unpredictability of President Donald Trump.

The oil market analysis in the report was based on the assumption that Trump would behave in a way similar to previous U.S. presidents, who committed the U.S. to safeguarding global oil shipping lanes. But there’s no guarantee Trump would follow that convention, especially given isolationist sentiments in U.S. politics, the authors wrote.

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