Saturday, June 28, 2008

Iran Threatens to Close the Gulf

Responding predictably to increasing reports of Israeli readiness to strike their ongoing nuclear activities, Iran is once again threatening the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Although the US gets less than 20% of its crude through the Strait of Hormuz, approximately half of all crude bound for Asia goes through this strategic chokepoint.

Iran would almost certainly attempt this closure if attacked by the Israelis (or us, for that matter). That said, they would find it difficult to keep it closed very long. The US Fifth Fleet and a considerable armada of coalition naval power is already plying the waters in and around the Persian Gulf. Reopening the Strait would take several weeks, and there would be an ongoing threat of guerrilla attacks for an undetermined period thereafter.

I think the Iranians seriously miscalculate their position on this point. Their chief strategic weapon here is the THREAT to close the strait, hoping that it would bring big, industrialized nations to exert pressure on the Israelis not to attack. If we've learned anything from the sixty years of Israel's existence, when they feel threatened, they don't necessarily care what most of the world thinks. And if Iran did close the Strait, while there would likely be initial condemnation of the Israelis, world oil prices would rise precipitously until the Strait was reopened or the supply was made up from other sources. That shock to the global system would quickly reveal Iran's isolation.

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