4 thoughts on “The Strait of Hormuz: vital to global energy supplies”

  1. The US suspicion of Iran should never be underestimated and can be traced back to the seizure of the embassy in 1979. Feelings are stronger among Republicans than Democrats. The confinement of the diplomats and the failed rescue mission occurred on President Carter’s watch and I well recall the gloom among the US military in Washington, exacerbated by recent failure in Vietnam, until President Reagan’s determined effort to restore morale with the successful (!) invasion of Grenada. The Republicans have always held the Democrats responsible for the Iranian debacle and President Trump has seized on his Democratic predecessor’s support for the Iran nuclear deal as yet another sign of weakness.
    I agree with James Spencer that the Strait of Hormuz is not easily blocked but the sinking of a giant tanker would be enough to halt traffic into and from the Gulf; insurance cover alone would guarantee this.

  2. The IRI seems to calibrate its response. Thus the STUXNET attack was followed by a SCADA attack on a US dam (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cybersecurity-dam-iran/iranian-hackers-infiltrated-computers-of-small-dam-in-ny-wsj-idUSKBN0U41MD20151221) while the IS attacks in Tehran were followed by BM attacks against IS targets in Syria (https://www.timesofisrael.com/iran-launches-missile-strike-into-syria-for-tehran-attacks/)
    While the IRI might try to block Hormuz (it’s harder than many think), it seems as likely that they would respond to an attack on one of their missile sites with another attack (probably BM), perhaps on one of the recently revealed (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/28/fitness-tracking-app-gives-away-location-of-secret-us-army-bases) US military bases?

  3. Another possible wild card is Israel. If one is looking for a flesh-creeping scenario it is perhaps even more convincing than Washington.
    The temptation to “wag the dog” action is as strong or stronger for Netanyahu, not because of electoral pressures but because of police investigations for corruption https://news.sky.com/story/israeli-pm-netanyahu-hits-out-at-police-chief-amid-corruption-probe-11241090 which are becoming more and more threatening (and which are similar to – potentially graver than – those which landed his predecessor Ehud Olmert in jail).
    The simmering confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria has boiled over with the loss of an Israeli F-16 and Israeli retaliation, so far confined to Syria.
    Israel might calculate that direct military action against Iran would win friends in Washington, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Israel would not be immune to the damage that even very short-term closure of the Straits of Hormuz would do to the world economy, but (unlike Washington, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and much of the rest of the world) has no direct stake in trade through the Straits.

  4. There is nothing in Greg Shapland’s assessment of risk to the Strait of Hormuz with which I would disagree; indeed, it is, in my view, an excellent appraisal. However, in addition to the possibility of Iran pursuing actions which may put the flow of oil through the Strait at risk, I think we should take a step back to consider the possibility that Washington, rather than Tehran, could ‘start something’ which would take us in this direction.
    Last August, top psephologist Nate Silver, writing about Donald Trump’s obsession with his own approval ratings, opined that the US President was probably quite capable of launching a ‘wag the dog’-type event (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wag_the_Dog) to give himself a booster in the run-up to the 2020 general election, or even the 2018 mid-terms if the GOP was languishing in the polls to the point where its majorities were at risk (as appears to be the case in the House despite the narrowing of ‘generic’ polls in the wake of the passing of the tax bill). Silver had in mind some sort of military operation against North Korea.
    I would not personally rule this out, ‘inconceivable’ (to quote, of all people, Steve Bannon) though it may seem to many. But I do wonder if Iran is at least as likely, if not more likely, a target.
    Spurred on by the Saudis, the Israelis and, no doubt, his son-in-law, Trump has promoted Iran to US enemy No 1 in the Middle East following the demise of IS’s caliphate and, as has been well documented on these pages inter alia, seems determined to torpedo the JCPOA, by declining to renew the sanctions waiver which will be on his desk again in the first half of May. Furthermore, although he continues to defend the JCPOA per se, let’s keep in mind that Defence Secretary James Mattis is about as hawkish as they come when Iran is the issue; and that Trump is very likely to recall how a cruise missile attack on one of Bashar al Assad’s airfields last year bumped up his ratings.
    If Trump were, say, to order a cruise missile strike against some element of Iran’s missile programme to give Tehran the ‘bloody nose’ which the Pentagon talks of openly now in the context of Pyongyang, it is very unlikely to cause the Iranians to moderate their regional ambitions and/or stop testing missiles (two of Trump’s specific bugbears); indeed, quite the contrary as the US’s reneging on the JCPOA would undoubtedly strengthen the hardliners in Tehran (at the expense of President Rouhani) potentially giving them more room to push back against the US.
    Furthermore, it is very open to question whether Iran would take such a blow lying down. Which this takes us firmly to Greg’s musing about the possibility of the IRGC trying to threaten the flow of oil through the Strait. But it may yet be the US, rather than Iran, which is effectively behind the deepening of the existing crisis in the region, at least in the first instance.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top

Access provided by the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford