Faced with emerging threats on two fronts, Saddam Hussein’s perspective shifted on D+22 towards one embedded deeper in realism. Continuing to battle a newly aggressive Iran with one hand tied behind its back was not conducive for the Iraqi military. Holding Iraq was particularly critical, there was little debate on this point. Contending with the United States and its Gulf allies on the other hand, was something Iraq could do without. Even though Saddam was reluctant to admit it aloud, he understood these terms were incontrovertibly linked as far as Washington was concerned. He was also keen to see how much, if any, leeway the United States was willing to extend on Kuwait’s current standing and the increasingly aggressive posture of US forces towards Iraq. In the afternoon, he summoned his foreign minister Tariq Aziz and discussed the subject. Early that evening, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry started to put out quiet feelers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and other players in the region, as well as to the United Nations and Switzerland. In essence, the Iraqi government made it known that it was open to discussions intended to bring an end to the conflict on Iraq’s southern border, as well as the eventual removal of Iraqi military units and influence from Kuwait.
Militarily, Iran was not only active along its western border with Iraq. In the Persian Gulf, Iranian air and naval forces were flexing their muscle, especially in the vicinity of the Strait of Hormuz. Since the start of hostilities, oil tanker and merchant ship traffic in the Gulf had dried up. US and Soviet forces being active in the region and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait had kept the Gulf empty of commercial traffic. Now with the conflict going into its fourth week and the waters around the Gulf having been secured by the US Navy, some shipping companies and neutral nations were making noise about resuming oil shipments.
In Tehran, Iranian leadership was not happy with the prospect of seaborne commerce resuming in the Persian Gulf with the situation standing as it currently did. The Strait of Hormuz was a key chokepoint for oil tankers traveling to and from Kuwait, Dhahran and the United Arab Emirates. In normal times, dozens of ships passed through the strait daily, threading the needle of territorial and international waters with little worry about provoking an aggressive response by Iran. The mullahs in Tehran understood this was not likely to change when peace returned. At least not without action being undertaken by Iran. Action that projected the Islamic Republic’s disgust with the old ways and its refusal to abide by the rules and regulations of pre-war days.
The instruments and men expected to bring about the transformation were either present in or making their way into the littoral waters around the Strait of Hormuz and coastal areas of southern Iran. Warplanes able to carry bombs and missiles capable of damaging or sinking oil tankers. Anti-ship missile batteries arrayed along coast. Warships and vessels capable of laying large numbers of mines, and small, maneuverable gun boats deployed in large numbers around the strait. Tehran’s strategy was built on the universal need for oil and the fact that this war would end at some point. Then commerce would resume. When that time arrived, Iran expected to be in position to control and profit from the movement of oil tankers in and out of the Persian Gulf.
Unfortunately for Tehran, its current preparations were capturing the attention of the United States.