Iranian military in the Strait of Hormuz 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Fars News/Hamed Jafarnejad)
A mere 54 kilometers wide at its narrowest point and dotted with tiny islands,
the Strait of Hormuz has turned into something of a powder keg, just waiting to
explode. The only question is who will light it on fire.
Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean, the strait is used to transport about a
fifth of the world’s oil on a daily basis, and the popular assessment within the
IDF is that Iran – which borders the channel to the north and east – has the
ability to shut it down if it so chooses.
Barak: Tougher sanctions needed for Iran to change course
Iran says sanctions to fail, repeats Hormuz threat
The question then would be:
The US has taken a clear approach – some Israelis wished this week
that such American resolve would carry over to Iran’s nuclear program – claiming
that it will use military force, if needed, to reopen the sea
Defense officials said Tuesday that while Iran will continue to
threaten to close the strait, it most likely will not do so, in order to avoid
providing US President Barack Obama with the justification to launch a strike
against Iran and its nuclear facilities.
Already under attack by
political opponents for his economic policies, Obama is unlikely to initiate a
war with Iran that would lead to a spike in worldwide oil prices. While the
price of gas in the US would significantly increase, his popularity would
If, however, Iran closes the strait or attacks the USS Abraham
Lincoln aircraft carrier that sailed through the channel and into the Persian
Gulf on Sunday, Obama would receive the justification he needs to attack Iran,
even in this election year.
While Iran has threatened to close the strait
a number of times in recent years, the last time it actually tried to disrupt
shipping was during its eight-year war with Iraq.
In 1988, toward the end
of the war, an Iranian mine exploded under the USS Samuel B. Roberts,
nearly sinking the frigate. This prompted the Reagan administration to launch
Operation Praying Mantis, in which the US Navy carried out a series of
retaliatory strikes against Iranian oil platforms and naval vessels.
recent years, Iran has increased its arsenal of naval mines and is believed to
be capable of lining the strait with them, a move that would prevent the flow of
oil from the Gulf to the West.
In addition, Iran has a number of naval
bases along its southern coast where it stations its submarines – including a
number of Russian-made Kilo-class vessels – which it could use to attack oil
tankers. With insurance premiums already at relatively high levels, the sinking
of an oil tanker would be akin to closing the strait, since the price of oil
would almost immediately skyrocket.
Israel is currently on the sidelines
of the ongoing conflict being played out by Iran and the US. The oil embargo
passed by the European Union on Monday was exactly as Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu described – a move in the right direction – but still far from enough
to motivate Israel to move its military option to the back burner.
if Israel believed the Iranian oil embargo on its own was enough to deter Iran,
it would not explicitly say so, since Israel wants the world to continue
escalating its actions against the regime in Tehran.
This has been
Israel’s strategy since the end of last year, when in the run-up to the
International Atomic Energy Agency’s damning report on Iran’s nuclear program,
it began beating the war drums in an effort to get the world to enforce tougher
So far, this strategy has worked, but the lingering question –
whether the sanctions that have passed will suffice – will still take time to