The velocity and volatility of challenges between Iran and the West (the US) is very fast. This week, Iran’s navy has started military exercises in international waters around and beyond the Strait of Hormuz near the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The drill comes in wake of mounting international pressures concerning the country’s nuclear program and guessings that Iran may be about to block the Strait of Hormuz as a reprisal.
This event has made its impact by influencing the oil price. In my previous article, analysis showed that under certain circumstances Iran has a legal right to block the Strait of Hormuz for reasons of state security.
This article analyses an Iranian military strategy revolving around a decision to block this waterway, without intending to exaggerate Iranian capability or frighten the world. It is just to emphasise that a blockage is not impossible as it is perceived to be in the West. Geopolitically, Iran is well positioned and for this reason a military confrontation between western powers and Iran could prove detrimental to both regional and world stability, and of course, to the world economy. Conclusions reached in this article point to diplomacy as the logical means of resolving the current impasse (a win-win process); with a military confrontation viewed as highly irrational.
The core value of the straits is well known to those familiar with the strategic role of the sea in international relations. It was once said (by a seasoned English sailor) long before the discovery of oil, that if a country controls the world's oceans, it is capable of controlling the world, if a country controls the strategic straits, it is capable of controlling the world's ocean.
Today, oil is one of the most vital commodities making oil-rich regions of strategic interest to international powers. The Middle East and especially its Persian Gulf, forms the world's most important energy source and its only gateway, the Strait of Hormuz, is of vital importanc.
Approximately 40 percent of world oil and most oil of the littoral states of the Persian Gulf - for example, more than 88 percent of Saudi's oil, 98 percent of Iraqi oil, 99 percent of the United Arabic Emirates, and 100 percent of Kuwaiti and Qatari oil, and on average 97 percent of the littoral states' oil - passes through the Strait of Hormuz. In addition, 50 percent of other commodities from Persian Gulf countries also pass through the Strait of Hormuz.
Energy experts believe that if the Strait of Hormuz were to be blocked, the world would face a deficit of around 20 million barrels in oil supply which would double the price of oil. Alternative routes such as the Saudi pipeline to the Red Sea would not meet current demand, and whilst the East Oman and Red Sea are considered to be potential alternative routes for military purposes, realizing this alternative would be extremely costly and time-consuming.
Geographically, The Strait of Hormuz is at least 110 km long (defined according to different sources) with a width of about 35 km in different areas stretching to more than 50 km in other areas. The depth of this waterway varies from 35 to about 100 meters.Accordingly hyper tankers, aircraft carriers, and submarines crossing this strait are faced with many constraints.
In the case of a military confrontation, Iran could adopt two different tactics to block the Strait of Hormuz:
1. Conventional and targeted tactics,
2. Unconventional and blind tactics.
1. Conventional and targeted tactics
Laurelle Atkinson and Dr. Helen W. Dehn contributed by editing this article.
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