Troubled Waters in the Persian Gulf

A string of recent U.N. and European Union sanctions have had a debilitating effect on the Iranian economy.  The Iranian ruling regime has repeatedly warned that further sanctions, particularly those aimed at their oil industry will result in the closure of the Strait of Hormuz by the Iranian Navy.  The strait, a critical choke point for nearly 40% of the world’s crude oil, has often been the subject of threats from the Iranian regime and military.  However, concerns over Iran’s actions are at an all time high after members of the European Union agreed to a fresh round of sanctions, aimed at Iran’s nuclear program, which would include a trade embargo on Iranian oil.

In response to the proposed sanctions, lawmaker Mohammad Ismail Kowarsi, deputy head of Iran’s Committee on National Security, proclaimed that the Strait “would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way.”  Another lawmaker, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh declared that not only was closure increasingly probable, but such a move was well within Iran’s sovereign rights.

Such heated language has gotten the attention of many in Washington including the United States Navy.  While the Navy usually has one carrier task force in the Persian Gulf, it currently has two of its nuclear powered, Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS John C. Stennis, patrolling these increasingly hostile waters.

While the saber rattling is a cause for concern, it seems incredibly unlikely that Iran would be foolish enough to actually close the Strait.  According to a Washington Post article, nearly 80% of Iran’s oil revenue comes from oil exports.  By closing the straight, Iran would effectively subjugate its citizens to a life of poverty and economic disarray.  Moreover, such a brazen move would most certainly result in a military response by the United States, European nations, and Israel.

In light of the proposed E.U. sanctions, and the vitriol coming from Iran, is there legitimate cause for concern regarding the Strait of Hormuz and our supply of crude oil from the Middle East?  Should the United States increase its naval presence in the Persian Gulf or proceed with the status quo and avoid possible confrontations?  Can Iran afford, both economically and politically, to force a closure of the Strait?

For more info:

Washington Post—Iranian Lawmakers Step Up Threats

Gizmodo—Two Supercarriers in the Strait

One comment

  1. I agree in that I don’t think Iran would actually close the Strait. As mentioned, the costs would definitely outweigh the benefits to Iran if they were to implement this course of action. Additionally, even though these sanctions are hurting the Iranian economy, they are not stopping Iran from enriching uranium. Iran has recently said that it was beginning enrichment at a new facility south of Tehran. And if the sanctions are not getting Iran to change its uranium enrichment policies, what are they accomplishing? It seems unlikely that Iran is going to negotiate on uranium enrichment without use of military force from the international community. Which brings me to my next point: I can only see sanctions as being a precursory step towards military intervention. Hopefully, these sanctions will get Iran to come back to the negotiating table regarding uranium enrichment, but the way the situation is playing out, I think it is going to take a lot more than sanctions to get Iran to change its policies.

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