Iran and the Straits of Hormuz

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The following article was published  April 24th on  Crosshairs – Military Matters in Review at by Fred Edwards.  I have recently “discovered” Mr. Edwards and believe that he supplies much needed context and insightful analysis of military matters.  This recent article by Mr. Edwards focuses on a possible military response by Iran in the event they are threatened or attacked.   The analysis is sobering.

“On the final day of its three-day war games in the Straits of Hormuz, Iran reportedly stopped and boarded a French and an Italian vessel. On April 24, Iranian state media announced that naval forces from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) boarded the vessels and inspected them to see if they were complying with environmental regulations. Finding no violations, they let the two vessels continue.

In a report the same date, Stratfor, a company that collects and analyzes worldwide political, economic and military intelligence, wrote that if the incident happened, it was a signal from Iran that it was willing to disrupt traffic in the Straits in case it was attacked. The Straits carry some 40 percent of the international oil supply, and Iran routinely threatens to halt shipping there if it is attacked. They could do it only temporarily, Joint Chiefs vice chair Marine Gen. James Cartwright told the Senate Armed Services Committee April 14.

Does such brinkmanship smacks of strategic insanity? Not necessarily. Maybe Iran is warning the United States and its friends that, if they attacked, Iran would create an international financial crisis by closing the Straits even though the shutdown would mean that Iran itself would stop its own oil exports, and imports of almost everything it needs. In other words, Tehran is saying, “Hey, if you try to destroy me, I’ll destroy myself, but I’ll take you all down with me, along with the global financial system.”

But Iran also might be playing the sly fox. As the United States debates about placing sanctions against Iran to pressure it from continuing its nuclear program, the sly fox may simply be saying, “If you think you can hurt me with sanctions, at any time I decide you are squeezing too hard, I’ll just close down the Straits for a few months. Now there’s a sanction for you that will stick.”

The last time Tehran played a similar sort of brinkmanship was on March 23, 2007, when Iranian military forces seized seven British marines and eight sailors. The Brits were aboard two inflatable patrol boats in the northern Persian gulf, boarding merchant vessels, and Iranian officials claimed they were trespassing in Iran’s territorial waters. Before releasing them, the Iranians put them on public display where some “confessed” and apologized for entering Iranian waters.

This time the chips are on the table — or perhaps in the Straits of Hormuz: Iran failed to meet the December deadline for nuclear talks; the United States is deciding which sanctions to apply; and Iran is saying America wouldn’t dare.”

This is certainly high-stakes poker in a troubling part of the world and argues for caution and vigilance.

Richard W. May

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