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U.S. - Iranian Conflict Affecting Transportation

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By Harry Valentine 01-12-2020 12:34:04

Ongoing tensions between the U.S. and Iran are believed to have contributed to the crash of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 shortly after its departure from Tehran Airport. While former American President Barack Obama sought to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran, his successor has chosen to reject that agreement and this is affecting several transportation sectors.

Introduction

During his term in office, Obama rejected the reasons for America’s invasion of Iraq with several critics having suggested that flawed intelligence information led to the invasion. Since that invasion, ongoing unrest has been occurring across Iraq and Syria, with factions in both nations having obtained support from Iran. 

During that period, China completed the standard gauge railway connection between Tehran and Beijing to form part of the southern route along which trains carry container trade between China and Western Europe, via the railway line through Turkey.

India has expressed interest in building railway line through Iran between Gulf of Oman and Tehran, to connect to the southern railway line into Europe. China has also indicated an interest in connecting pipelines that carry oil and natural gas from Iran to China. Future regional political developments would decide whether an Iran – China oil pipeline would extend into northeastern Iraq for China to import oil via pipeline from both Iran and Iraq. Discussions have also been underway in the region in regard to the Eurasian Canal to transit large vessels between the Black and Caspian Seas.

Regional Rainfall

Rainfall occurs mainly during winter to the southeast of the Black Sea and west of the southern Caspian Sea, with prevailing winter winds having traditionally carried moisture from both the Aral Sea and Caspian Sea to the high mountains across eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. That rainfall is crucial to both Syria and Iraq. The decline of the Aral Sea has accelerated evaporation from the Caspian Sea with declining annual rainfall across the Middle Eastern watershed region. Declining water levels in the Caspian Sea have economic implications for nations located around that sea.

Ongoing conflict between America and Iran would likely impede development of the Eurasian Canal. That canal would simultaneously transit ships and transfer large volumes of water from the Black Sea into the Caspian Sea, to maintain Caspian Sea water levels as well as winter regional rainfall. If the canal were built, ships would likely carry trade from Iran across the Black Sea into the Danube River to access European markets. Such a prospect would likely prompt NATO ships to intercept merchant ships sailing across the Black Sea, potentially heightening international tensions.  

Regional Travel

People of Iranian origins live internationally and frequently travel to Iran to visit relatives, as was the case of passengers aboard flight 752. It is likely that Present Donald Trump would be re-elected to serve a second term in office, with potential for continued sanctions on Iran. Future American – Iranian conflict that involves ongoing military activity would likely suspend commercial aviation at Tehran airport. The city of Chalus is located 70 kilometers north of Tehran on the Caspian Sea, with potential for a fast hydrofoil ferry to carry passengers to Baku, Azerbaydzhan and its international airport.

A wing-in-ground affect vehicle would represent the alternative technology capable of carrying passengers at over 200 km/hour over the 500 kilometer distance between Baku and Chalus. It is very unlikely that the government of Azerbaydzhan would either send armaments or approve of transportation of armaments via fast ferry vessel or ground effect vehicle from Baku to Chalus. Combined with an absence of American navy vessels on the Caspian Sea, there would be no reason to fire missiles at fast ferry vessels carrying passengers between Baku and Chalus. 

Future Water Conflict

Plans are underway in Turkey to build 22 dams along the headwaters of both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. With governments in Syria and Iraq embroiled in domestic conflict, neither nation is in any position to oppose Turkey. Ongoing internal conflict in Syria and Iraq provides Turkey with a “window of opportunity” to build new dams, unchallenged. During earlier periods, the southern regions of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were navigable. The reduction in rainfall over the watershed regions of these rivers, combined with dams and increased water usage, now greatly impedes navigation.

A future reduction in water flowing in the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers from Turkey into Syria and Iraq has potential to cause future regional armed conflict. Some American military analysts have theorized that future water shortages would result in future wars, with the Middle East being a location for such future conflict. While there is potential to develop methods to transfer water from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, with additional potential to use technology to increase winter evaporation into prevailing winds, international politics would likely delay development of such methods.

Strait of Hormuz

The number of oil tankers that sail through the Strait of Hormuz has made the waterway the focal area of international political tensions, and the trend is likely to continue for many years into the future. Oil pipelines that bypass the Strait of Hormuz could connect to oil terminals located on the Arabian Sea, with potential to lessen future political tensions. A future resolution of domestic conflict inside Syria and Iraq could result in the reopening of the oil pipeline that connects across Syria between Iraq and the Mediterranean Sea. 

As part of their Great Silk Road initiative, China proposed to build either a road and railway bridge or tunnel between Iran and Oman, at the Strait of Hormuz and with the long-term objective of connecting across the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb into East Africa. However, ongoing international tensions would likely delay such a development for perhaps a decade or more. Likewise, future water related international tensions could adversely affect development of a railway line between Istanbul and Tehran to transit trains carrying containers.

Conclusions

Without international tensions that involved the use of armaments, it is likely that flight 752 would have been uneventful and arrived at its destination. Directly and indirectly, international tensions contributed to the tragedy of flight 752. Flawed intelligence contributed to the invasion of Iraq and the years of subsequent conflict, with reduced future rainfall likely contributing to future conflict involving Syria, Iraq and Turkey. A de-escalation of tensions between the U.S and Iran, also between the U.S. and Russia would be needed in the interest of progress involving the Eurasian Canal and/or water pipeline.

        

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.