Iran’s “October Surprise” for Biden—and the Rest of Us

May 7, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Africa Tags: SudanIranIsraelRed Sea2024 ElectionHamas

Iran’s “October Surprise” for Biden—and the Rest of Us

Iranian meddling in civil-war-plagued Sudan may be directed to threaten Israeli and U.S. access to the Red Sea. 


If Iran provokes an economic crisis this election season, it could be the ultimate “October Surprise” for the Biden campaign.

Iran is encircling Israel and moving to choke off America’s use of the Suez Canal, which funnels much of the world’s oil, gas, and consumer goods. Iran’s strategic moves deserve more attention from the Pentagon and the White House—and both presidential campaigns.


First, let’s look at the map to see Iran’s chessboard moves. On Israel’s southwest border, Iran backs Hamas in Gaza, which currently holds hostages from the United States, Israel, and other nations. On its northwest border, Iran funds Hezbollah, which has been killing or kidnapping Americans since the 1980s and today rains down rockets on Israelis. Due north of Jerusalem, Iran funds, arms, and trains terror groups in Syria. A few miles east of Israel’s capital, in the West Bank, Iran supplies money and munitions.

Now look due south. From Israel’s narrow point on the Red Sea coast, run your eye down to the mouth of the Red Sea. Do you see Yemen to the east and Sudan to the west?

In Yemen, Iran already enjoys functional control of the Houthi rebel forces, which have launched missile and drone strikes on U.S. Navy warships and cargo vessels. Often, these strikes are guided by an Iranian spy ship and by a swarm of Iran-designed drones. In other American presidencies, attacking a U.S. naval vessel meant war. This time, the Biden administration decided to rely on anti-missile defense, preventing a wider war—for now.

On the opposite Red Sea coast lies Port Sudan, home to the Sudanese Army faction that is friendliest to Iran. Sudan’s General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, leader of the country’s military junta, has welcomed visits from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and promoted Islamist ideology strikingly similar to positions staked out by Hamas and Hezbollah. During the latest Sudanese civil war, which pits Iran-backed Sudanese Army factions against the Russian-backed Rapid Response Forces (RSF)—which control the capital of Khartoum—Iran has supplied designs and parts for Mohajer 6 drones. These pilotless vehicles are a rebel air force; Sudan’s real air force is Soviet-made and largely grounded. Thanks to the Iranian drones, the army factions have made gains against the RSF in Omdurman, a city just across the Nile from the capital.

Iran is creating another Hamas in Sudan (Iran already produced a Hamas clone in Iraq, known as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces). In Sudan, this group is known as “Kizan.” That group has ties to Hamas, Hezbollah, and the African branches of Al Qaeda.

If Iran’s allies take Sudan, it will have further tightened its lasso around Israel.

What does that mean for America and the 2024 presidential race?

For the United States, Israel’s urgent requests for U.S.-made missile-inceptors and U.S. military intervention will skyrocket. A few weeks ago, the Biden Administration supplied both to bring down a wave of rockets and drones targeting an Israeli air force base. Now, American stockpiles are running low, and Washington is losing the will to put U.S. pilots in harm’s way. Add to that increased missile and drone attacks on U.S. and allied shipping in the Red Sea, potentially from both coasts (Yemen and Sudan). So, Israel will be calling for help at a time when Washington does not want to answer the phone.

For the Biden White House, the tension between Biden’s pro-Israel supporters and his pro-Palestine supporters will become unbearable. There is no resolution that does not anger the other side.

It could quickly get worse from there. Without the freedom of navigation of the Red Sea, the Suez Canal is essentially worthless. The main conduit for east-west trade will be cut. Oil and gas shipments will have to travel around Africa, which raises costs and slows deliveries. Energy prices in America, which are set in the competitive global market, will climb just as voters go to the polls. Also, supply-chain disruptions will further impact consumers who are reeling from inflation. The public does not have to master the complexities of geopolitics to see the price spike at the checkout register or the gas pump.

Biden’s position on the Ukraine War will also get more costly. Without Suez, Ukraine will find it harder to sell its fertilizer to Asia. Russia is the world’s largest producer of fertilizer. Ukraine was a significant exporter before the war. If Iran lets Russian ships pass while swarming all others, Ukraine will lose a fortune in export revenue. So, Ukraine, too, will be calling for help.

The developing nations will be next. As fertilizer prices climb for them, so do their food prices, raising the risk of food insecurity. America makes enough fertilizer for itself but cannot quickly scale up to meet its needs (even if the EPA and Agriculture Department stepped out of the way).

NATO nations, which rely on oil and gas imports, will also be suffering from high prices and demanding relief. And this year, many European nations (likely including Britain) will hold elections or governing coalition negotiations (including Germany and the Netherlands). Expect anti-establishment parties to win more seats.

In short, price inflation will rage while the world burns. Iran aims to do to Joe Biden what it did to Jimmy Carter.

Still, the Biden administration has countermoves available. It could provide election security and observers for the majority of Sudan’s cities and counties that are not currently controlled by the Rapid Response Forces or the Sudanese Army, as former Sudanese diplomat Mekki Elmograbi suggests. It could also open a non-military international relief center near Port Sudan and distribute food and medicine to non-combatants by helicopter, as the Reagan Administration once did. It could step up counter-terrorist cooperation across the region to capture Iran’s military trainers and drone parts deliveries. Finally, Biden could direct the navy to sink Iran’s spy ship, which relays targeting information on American and allied shipping in the Red Sea.

Iran set a trap for Israel and America. When its jaws clamp shut, who will voters and allies blame?

Richard Miniter is an award-winning investigative journalist and best-selling author. He is the author of a number of New York Times bestselling books: Losing Bin Laden, Shadow War, Mastermind, and Leading From Behind. Miniter has been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Forbes, New Republic, National Review, and others.

Image: Abd Almohimen Sayed /