WASHINGTON — An Iraqi air raid this week against Iran's main oil terminal in the Persian Gulf appears to have destroyed one of the facility's main loading jetties, making the attack one of the most successful air operations of the six-year-old war, U.S. officials said Friday.
The officials said that the bombing of Kharg Island on Tuesday confirmed Iraq's air superiority in the war and showed that Iran's U.S.-made anti-aircraft missiles are no longer functioning.
Perhaps most significant over the long run, the attack further damaged Iran's ability to export crude oil, the country's main source of income to finance the war against Iraq.
Kharg Island, in the northern gulf, was once the loading point for almost all of Iran's oil exports. Iraq's air force has attacked it regularly over the last six years, but until recently the raids produced little permanent damage, and the terminal continued to operate.
On Tuesday, however, the Iraqis apparently demolished one of Kharg's two main jetties, the "T-jetty," which faces the Iranian mainland.
"It was a very destructive attack," one official said. "The T-jetty was more or less destroyed."
He said that six aircraft, believed to be French-supplied Mirages, participated in the raid.
An Iraqi military communique Tuesday said that the warplanes attacked Kharg Island in three waves, with 45 minutes between the first bombing run and the last.
Although the initial attack should have alerted Iranian air defenses, U.S. officials said, none of the Iranians' U.S.-made Hawk missile batteries were believed to have fired. The missiles were supplied to Iran by the United States before the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew the pro-American regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
"Even though the Iranians might have been taken unawares at first, the Hawks should have been up and functioning--and they weren't," one official noted.
In part because of the Iraqi attacks on Kharg and other Iranian oil terminals, U.S. experts estimate that Iran is now exporting only slightly more than 1 million barrels of crude oil per day, down from 1.6 million last year.
Khomeini has announced that Iran is preparing a major new offensive against Iraq, and officials here said that U.S. intelligence information confirms that preparation for an attack is under way.
If the offensive succeeds, U.S. analysts believe that Iran may gain a clear advantage in the war. But, if it fails, one official said, "they may consider the costs and decide that they have fewer resources to commit to the war. We don't think they'll simply end the war, but they may decide to scale it down."