Iran has been doing quite a bit of sabre-rattling as of late, especially where the Strait of Hormuz is concerned. Three days ago, Iran commenced naval exercises in the waters around the Persian Gulf, including the Sea of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz. On Wednesday, Iranian Admiral Habibollah Sayyari stated that shutting down the strait would be “very easy” for Iran’s navy.
In recent months, the United States, along with the European Union and some Arab states have been discussing the option of an oil embargo against Iran. According to a Fox News article on the current situation, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi stated on Tuesday that “not even a drop of oil will flow through the Persian Gulf” if Iran’s oil is embargoed.(1) Countering the Iranian rhetoric, Pentagon press secretary George Little stated that any attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz “will not be tolerated.”
(SOAPBOX=ON) Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stated earlier today that the U.S. was in “no position” to be giving Iran orders where the Strait of Hormuz is concerned, and he’s right. We do not own those waters, the Strait of Hormuz is inclusive of territorial waters belonging to Oman and Iran. What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to tell Iran what they can and can’t do in their territorial seas, or engaging in “monkey see, monkey do” diplomacy by answering their incessant yapping with yapping of our own. What we can and should do however, is gain the backing of Oman, Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing states in the region in any possible effort to counter Iran’s attempts to exercise hegemony in the Persian Gulf.
The business and geo-politics of international oil is a very convoluted business indeed. To gain a better understanding of the issues, one has to know where the oil comes from, who’s buying it, where it’s going and how it gets there. For instance, most of our imported oil comes from four places; Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico. The rest of U.S.-imported oil comes from a hodgepodge of places, which include Nigeria, Kuwait, Norway and Angola. As near as I can tell from research done, little to none of our oil comes from Iran.(2) (3)
The main concern for us is not Iranian oil where Hormuz is concerned, it’s oil from other states…mainly Saudi oil. In addition to the fact that Saudi Arabia provided 1,465,000 barrels per day of oil to the U.S. just in September of this year alone, one has to consider how many other nations are importing Saudi-produced oil. What would a blockage of the Strait of Hormuz do to the world economy? Nothing good, that’s for damned sure. But don’t take my word for it, my fine young readers, because evidently someone in the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet agrees;
“…any country that threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations.”
In other words, if Iran shuts down the Strait of Hormuz, they’d be affecting the global economy, and would be acting against the rest of the world. That statement I can agree with, due to the fact that Iran has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the world; they are “the bully on the block that doesn’t play well with others.” They’re the only middle-eastern state that has not fully ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982, which covers the transit of vessels through the strait. (Oman ratified in 1989.)(4)
Just how much of Iran’s posturing and blustering is hot air and how much is substantial, I for one do not know. I’m no expert in the area of geo-political brinksmanship or middle-east policy. What I do know is that we need to be working closely with Saudi Arabia and other nation-states in the region to keep this rogue in check, and not be trying to act unilaterally. We need to follow the recipe for success that we did with Desert Storm. Build a consensus, build a coalition and then take only the requisite action that is proportionate to the threat.
UPDATE, 12/31/11 – Evidently, certain elements within Iran have come to their senses…sort of. The following excerpt is from an Associated Press article earlier today;
“”Discourse about closing the Strait of Hormuz belongs to five years ago. Today’s debate in the Islamic Republic of Iran contains new layers and the time has not come to raise it,” Gen. Masoud Jazayeri said in comments posted Saturday on the Guard’s website, sepahnews.com. Jazayeri did not elaborate.”(5)
My question is, the time has not come to raise what? A dialogue regarding the “new layers” of debate in Iran? I would say that, given the global community’s concern regarding Iran’s nuclear program and their talk to-date of blocking the Strait of Hormuz, that the time for “raising it” came about a few years back! The nice thing about all of this though, is that there is still time for change with Iran. Iran just has to be willing to take those steps. Ahmadinejad needs to back off from all of the “Zionists are taking over the block” rhetoric, all of the “wipe Israel off of the map” yammering, and get his arse to the table with a sense of urgency and honesty. Only then will these issues be put to bed.