Iran Is Threatening To Block The Strait of Hormuz. The Worrying Thing Is That It Can Trigger A Big War
Mustafa Amin writes from Tehran: This is serious, people: Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in an escalating war of words with the West.
So that you know, the Strait (34km wide) is absolutely vital to the world oil economy. About 17 million barrels of oil a day (20 per cent of world oil trade) pass through it. So just imagine what it would do to the price of oil if it were closed. Yes, it will rocket upwards.
Why has the rhetoric become so strident at present? Well, on July 1, the EU embargo on Iranian oil came into effect as punishment for Iran’s refusal to halt its nuclear programme. Even Kenya has bowed to pressure to halt imports and cancelled an agreement with Iran to import 4 million tonnes. Presumably, the United States and EU will compensate the Kenyan government for having to replace the Iranian oil with much more expensive oil from the Middle East.
According to some estimates, the EU sanctions so far have cost Iran about $10 billion dollars in lost revenue. Oil production is declining and Tehran is finding it difficult to pay for imported goods, especially petrol. (Yes, don’t look surprised, Iran does not produce its own petrol.)
But let’s ask ourselves this: has Iran the military capacity to close the Strait of Hormuz? And the answer would be: yes, it has. How? By placing mines in the waters. In a show of strength, Washington is already sending four minesweepers to the Gulf.
Iran is adamant that it is only enriching uranium for civil nuclear power. It argues that it needs energy generated by nuclear power. This would permit it to export the 600,000 barrels of oil a day which is being used at present to generate electricity. Of course, once Tehran has enriched uranium for civil use, it would be able to enrich it further for nuclear weapons. This is what the US and Israel are determined to prevent happening. They believe that once Tehran has enriched uranium for civil use, it will automatically go for weapons grade uranium. Iran denies this but its protestations fall on deaf ears in Washington and Tel Aviv.
In a recent opinion poll, 63 per cent of Iranians thought that Iran should give up its attempt to acquire nuclear weapons in return for sanctions being lifted. They are clearly beginning to bite.
Washington’s primary aim is to cut off Iran’s main source of foreign currency: the export of oil. Tehran has stated that it will close the Strait of Hormuz if the West attempts to prevent it exporting its crude.
Does Iran want a military confrontation with the West? No. It will do all in its power to prevent war. Tehran is aware that war would devastate the country and would also spill over into other Middle East states. Its main foreign policy concern at present is to ensure that President al Assad’s regime in Syria does not collapse. That conflict may be a long drawn out affair and may eventually suck in Iran, Iraq and Turkey.
The threats emanating from Tehran are all about posturing. However, wars are often triggered by minor incidents and break out even when no side actually wants them. And that is something that both the West and Iran should keep in mind.