Can Iran block the Hormuz Strait?


What a fiasco!! Within 48 hours, Iran threatens the USA, its neighbors and the world ... the USA responds with a stiff warning ... Iran backs down! Its president takes a big stand, and his military commanders pronounce their support and declare readiness to turn words into actions. Then, just as swiftly, his office clarifies that he does not mean what he says, and he says what he does not mean! However, his commanders still insist otherwise. That is typical Iranian bravado and contradiction—empty threats and sneaky actions.

Here’s the story: During a visit to Switzerland, Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, hinted last Tuesday that Tehran could obstruct oil exports from neighboring countries if sanctions were imposed on Iranian oil exports.

His threat was later backed up by General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force, the international section of the Revolutionary Guards. On Wednesday, the notorious terrorist sent an open letter to his president declaring and affirming the Guards’ readiness “to implement a policy that hinders regional oil exports if the United States bans Iranian oil sales.”

Within 48 hours, a swift response came from the spokesperson of the US Central Command. “The USA and its allies in the region are ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” he announced last Thursday in an email to Reuters.

Sensing a strong US reaction, Iran quickly backed off. Hours later, MP Hashmatullah Flahat Bisha, Head of the Iranian Parliamentary Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy, clarified that Rouhani “did not mean, by these words, to close the Strait of Hormuz.”

MP Bisha also stressed that Iran does not intend to violate international treaties, adding that: “American actions against Iran is an example of Washington’s lack of respect for international treaties.”

The issue was not of concern to the USA and its regional allies alone. Up to 40 percent of world oil sea shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz, which provides the only sea passage from the Arabian Gulf to the open ocean. At its narrowest, the strait has a width of 29 nautical miles (54 km).

Key markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond would be devastated if Iran were to carry out its warnings. It has made numerous threats in the past 40 years to do so, especially during its war with neighboring Iraq (1980-1988).

On 18 April 1988, the US Navy waged a one-day battle against Iranian forces in and around the strait, according to Wikipedia. The battle, dubbed Operation Praying Mantis by the US, was launched in retaliation for the USS Samuel B. Roberts striking a mine laid in the channel by Iran on 14 April. US forces sank one frigate, one gunboat, and up to six armed speedboats, as well as seriously damaging a second frigate.

Iran is also threatening to close another strategic sea gate. The Bab el-Mandeb is the strait connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and around 40 percent of cargo between Europe and East Asia and Africa passes through it. Iran’s militias in Yemen, Houthis, are attacking ships in international Red Sea waterways with Iranian missiles and threatening to close the strait.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration tolerated such policies and actions. Not only did the Revolutionary Guards and Iranian navy threaten international shipping routes in the Arabian Gulf, they also dared to attack the US navy and take American marines hostages. Worse, the US Administration ransomed them with hand-delivered billions of dollars. Such appeasements sent the wrong message to Iran’s leaders, who took them as a sign of weakness and a green light to play the role they have always sought - Mideast bogeyman.

It seems the mullahs in Tehran have not yet realized that there is a new “sheriff in town”. With all the change in the White House, some captains in the Mother Ship still push the envelope in an attempt to test American resolve. The European and Russian weak response is encouraging. It is noticeable that the Iranian president and his bogeymen dared to threaten the world supply of oil during a “peace” tour in Europe to salvage the nuclear treaty. Instead of undercutting US accusations by pretending to be a peaceful nation, they threatened to attack oil-producing neighbors and block the shipment of oil to world markets. Tellingly, the affected nations include closed Iranian allies, Iraq and Qatar. With a friend like Iran you never need an enemy!

Be aware Europe, Russia and China: Iran is a beast you must starve. If you don’t, you are next. The recently uncovered Iranian terrorist cells of diplomats in France, Holland, Belgium and Germany are a sure sign of things to come. Daesh may be phasing out ... but the Revolutionary Guards are increasingly in!

— Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at: Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi