Time was running out for the Soviets. Opportunities to interdict the MPS ships en route to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia had largely been exhausted as dawn broke on 10 July. Submarine attacks on MPSRON 2 and its escorts resulted in the sinking of a US frigate at the cost of two subs. The seven cargo ships packed with equipment and weapons were still undamaged and underway. The group had transited the Strait of Hormuz. The shallow water of the strait essentially ended the Soviet submarine threat to the group. The surviving subs were now repositioning in the Arabian Sea for future operations against the US carrier group and subsequent convoys inbound to Saudi Arabia. There was no opportunity for long range bombers based in the southern Soviet Union to fly down and strike the ships either. The previous day’s incidents with Iran had closed the door to that, and Iraq not yet decided if it would grant permission for Soviet warplanes to use its airspace or not.
MPSRON 2 slipped through the Strait of Hormuz in the dark, for operational reasons, as well as at the request of the Iranian government. While still openly declaring itself to be a neutral party, Tehran was enraged at the attack upon its capital by Soviet warplanes. Although the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini has been largely portrayed as a religious zealot, he was also a shrewd realist. He understood the situation his country was facing with remarkable clarity. Even though the US was the Great Satan, it was the Lesser Satan (Soviet Union) which had hordes of tanks, soldiers, and warplanes in close proximity to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, it made sense for Iran to provide behind-the-back aid to greatest enemy to bring about the defeat of the Soviet Union, which was the greatest threat to the Islamic Republic at the moment. Through backchannel contacts at the Swiss embassy in Tehran, Iranian officials sent word to the United States requesting that the MPS ships travel through the Strait of Hormuz when daylight is at a minimum so that the Iranian government could state with some sincerity that it did not know the US ships were moving through the waterway. Washington wasted little time in agreeing to the request. The US State Department was also keen enough to leave the door open to further discussions with Iran if the situation allowed.
At 0800 RST the MPS ships were less than four hours from their destination. Southern TVD commander concluded, accurately, that unless effective action was taken soon, the 7th MEB’s equipment was going to make port and marry up with the brigade’s marines now waiting in Dhahran. The only remaining tool left to utilize was airpower in Yemen. Strikes by US carrier aircraft on 9 July had damaged a number of airbase facilities, and destroyed over twenty Soviet fighters on the ground and in the air. There were enough warplanes and pilots on hand for a concentrated air effort against Dhahran. Since the MPS ships could not be destroyed at sea, the only realistic option remaining was to render the docks and port facilities unusable and perhaps buy time for Iraq to come to its senses and allow Soviet bombers to establish a corridor through its airspace.
2 Replies to “The Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf: D+1 (10 July, 1987) Part I”
I wonder if Iraq elected not to, if the Soviets would feel “forced” to use the nuclear option.
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I think they would’ve held back on the nuclear option if it weren’t their main theater. They might’ve felt compelled to invade Iraq to establish a base of operations in the future. Risky move on their part, but possible.