Iran Threatens To Close the Strait of Hormuz

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Yves here.  A map of the Strait of Hormuz and environs seemed a useful addition. The danger, as the article insinuates, is that if things got that far, a conflict over the Strait of Hormuz would escalate into a full-scale conflagration.

By Dr. Cyril Widdershoven, a long-time observer of the global energy market. Presently, he holds several advisory positions with international think tanks in the Middle East and energy sectors in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Originally published at OilPrice

Strait of Hormuz map

An old doomsday scenario has been revived again by Iranian officials.

Iranian president Rouhani stated on Tuesday in Bern, Switzerland that his country could block the Strait of Hormuz for all Arab shipping traffic if Washington fully implements its zero oil export targets for Iran in the coming months.

Rouhani, who is currently on a lobbying mission in Europe in an effort to salvage the JCPOA deal (the Iran nuclear deal) and mitigate U.S. sanctions, seems to be have been pushed by hardliners to increase threats against Iran’s neighbors.

Rouhani, considered by European politicians to be a reformist, appears to be showing a hardline streak that is nearer the strategy of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Khamenei has already been pushing for a direct confrontation with the U.S. and the Arab Alliance.

Several hours after Rouhani made his statement, Major-General Qassem Soleimani, one of the leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), told the press that the IRGC is fully prepared to implement any action ordered by Rouhani or Khamenei. Soleimani, well-known for his direct involvement in the Syrian civil war and the set up of Iraqi Shi’a militias, has a reputation for taking strong and direct military action if needed. No direct threats were made, but the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the main thoroughfare of the Arabian/Persian Gulf region, is of strategic importance to all. At present, according to the Energy Information Agency (, more than 17 million bpd of crude oil and products travel through the strait every day. If taking into account that all of Qatar’s LNG exports are also going through it, the importance is clear.

The Iranian threat to close the Strait is not new. During the so-called Tanker War (1980-88) Iran was also threatening to block or even permanently close it. Western naval forces have been able to prevent that outcome, but a large amount of tankers and transport vessels have been impacted during that period. In the last decade, several military confrontations have occurred, largely between U.S. Navy vessels patrolling the Arabian Gulf and IRGC light navy vessels. The latter however have become a major threat to maritime traffic in the area, as they are not very easy to spot and can travel with relatively high speed. The capabilities of the IRGC Naval Forces (IRGCNF) should not be underestimated in this particular area. The IRGCNF has around 25,000 personnel and in combination with the regular Iranian Navy they have seven frigates and 32 fast-attack missile craft which form the core of its surface fleet, all armed with the C-802 Noor long-range anti-ship missile. More threatening are the possibilities of the large flotilla of small craft, ranging from offshore patrol boats to armed motorboats and dhows, intended for coastal service and for mounting swarm attacks in the Strait of Hormuz. The IRGCNF task force is based largely in and around the Strait of Hormuz. Its bases are located in the Persian Gulf.

A confrontation between the Arab OPEC members, led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and Iran is far from impossible. The Shi’a regime is under enormous pressure at present. With the JCPOA agreement on its last legs, the Iranian government needs to save face and is expected to increase pressure on its regional neighbors in a response to Trump’s threats. Since May, when the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA, all countries that previously bought Iranian oil have been asked to end their dealings with the Khamenei regime.

Washington has repeated in recent days that no oil should leave Iran after November 4, as the full package of sanctions will come into effect. Asian customers are already leaving Iran, although China is still officially stating that it will not end its Iranian oil imports and operations. NATO member Turkey has also openly defied the U.S. sanction threats by stating that it will continue to import oil and gas from Iran.

Military assessments have shown that a closure of the Strait of Hormuz is possible. An attack on several vessels at the same time in the Strait would close it for a prolonged period of time. Analysts, however, expect that with the military means available to Arab states and Western navies in the area, a full closure would only last for around a month. If a full-blown war breaks out, removal of the offending vessels would be dealt with reasonably quick. Still, the threat of such a direct confrontation, and a possible unforeseen fall-out, significantly raises the geopolitical risk in energy markets.

By using the hardline approach, Rouhani, with Khamenei and the IRGC in the background, has shown the world the possible negative outcome if the U.S. does implement full sanctions. Tehran is using the carrot-and-the-stick approach. Offering increased European investment in Iran’s upstream and downstream sectors will help finance the country’s struggling economy while giving foreign investors tempting oil opportunities. At the same time, by keeping 100 percent compliance in place, Iran could ensure downward pressure on oil prices in the coming months, which is good for European consumers. Iran is painting a doomsday scenario involving the removal of 100 percent of its crude oil and gas exports, which would cause huge supply shortages in the coming months.

If this isn’t convincing enough for its rivals, military action in the Arabian Gulf or Persian Region is always another option for Iran. While talking to European media, Rouhani addressed his Arab counterparts. Closing the Strait of Hormuz would be hitting Arab economies extremely hard. The Iranian president just forgot to state that it would be hitting Iran harder, looking at the current economic situation and growing civil unrest in major cities. Still, when all goes bonkers, the military option is normally used to save the day.

U.S. officials already have stated to the press that the U.S. and its regional allies will keep commercial traffic and freedom of navigation in place. As indicated after the OPEC -NOPEC meeting in Vienna, the agreement is signed, but a full confrontation is just waiting to pop up very soon. The current Iranian direct threat is just a wake-up call for all, taking out OPEC’s second largest producer is no easy task.

Another option that has not yet been discussed at all in the mainstream media invlolves Iran’s capabilities in the so-called blue-water arena. At present, Iran’s Navy is already engaged in and around the Bab Al-Mandab strait, between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Since 2013 Tehran has again deployed units to the Red Sea. Officially, this was done to protect Iranian vessels against piracy, but in reality Iranian navy vessels are patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. In 2015, Yemen’s Houthi rebels stated that Iran’s Navy had deployed in the North of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. The reason behind this is to project its power, and threaten to disrupt possible maritime traffic in the area. Iranian officials already have instigated that they will use their naval presence in the area in case of an attack on Iran. The use of its force in the Gulf of Aden/Bab Al Mandeb area is also a threat to its Arab neighbors. A large part of seaborne oil and gas exports from the Gulf region will have to transit through this area to enter the Suez Canal. A two-sided approach to confront its enemies is in the reach of Iran. How effective it will be is unclear, but one effect is for sure, oil export volumes are facing a serious threat and any closure or disturbance of shipping lanes at present will push prices up.

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  1. rjs

    “The Iranian threat to close the Strait is not new.”

    yes, but having Soleimani prepared to impliment it is…

    1. Mark Pontin

      rjs wrote … having Soleimani prepared to impliment it is…

      The Iranians are sending the message that they’ll seriously retaliate if the U.S. is stupid enough to escalate beyond a certain point. Besides all the factors that the Rev Kev enumerates below, the U.S. 5th Fleet — along with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) – is based in Bahrain. Bahrain is 367 miles – less than the distance between LA and San Francisco — from the Strait of Hormuz. If the U.S. escalates, it would be fairly easy for Iranian missiles and even their noisy diesel subs to create a Pearl Harbor-scale historical incident early on.

      The Pentagon knows this. And while people there, like Maddis, may not like Iran, in the past they’ve had enough respect for even Hezbollah, the front end of the Iranian Republican Guard, to not want to get into it with Hezbollah. However stupid Trump, Bolton and the other pols may be, even the most amoral, career-crazed characters at the Pentagon will resist going against Iran.

      A serious tell would be a U.S. carrier group bound for the Gulf. This site here –
      is pretty reliable because a carrier group underway is impossible to hide. There currently aren’t any and the last one in the neighborhood was the USS Carl Vinson back in November, 2017. The USS Carl Vinson just left San Diego on June 18, to participate in the biennial RIMPAC exercises around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

      So between all that and the upcoming U.S. elections, things might get as serious as they’ve been in the past – e.g. plane shootdowns and ship attacks – but no more so. Probably.

      1. vlade

        TBH, a Carrier in the Gulf would be a sitting duck. Carrier heading to the Gulf would be pretty clear sign the US does not expect escalation, unless they are hoping for carrier-scale Gulf of Tonkin incident.

        1. Mark Pontin

          TBH, a Carrier in the Gulf would be a sitting duck.

          You and I know this. There are even Pentagon consultants — Navy ones — who’ve been making this argument since the Falklands War, thirty-six years ago. Yet, much as the French aristocracy fielded mounted knights in heavy armor against men with longbows at Agincourt, Washington remains committed to building carriers — the ultimate big platform weapon system — into the indefinite future. Why? There are two big, fat, obvious points to take on board.

          Firstly, if you want an index of U.S. institutional idiocy, consider the Littoral Combat Ship — supposedly light and fast enough to go in close and support coastal actions, and therefore built out of aluminum, which will burn down to the waterline when hit by a missile. Two of the things have been built at the cost of a billion dollars each, which of course is the first big point. As it is with the carriers.

          Secondly, while the LCS is obviously indefensible, with the carrier the official defense that I heard when I was a journalist ran like this:
          [a] We’d stand the carrier off beyond range of the enemy’s missiles (i.e. outside the Gulf, but still near enough to project power via its aircraft) like the Brits stood their capital ships off beyond range during the Falklands War;

          [b] When I pointed out that since the 1960s the Russians have had the Moskit/Sunburn missile, which is an unstoppable carrier-killer, and that in the 21st century most states have access to similar missile capability, the response I’d get was that the carrier-group’s Aegis anti-missile missile system would stop the missiles.

          I don’t believe that. But nobody knows. My — and everybody’s fear — was that we’d only know for sure how (in)effective the Aegis missiles were when there was a sunk carrier and the U.S. was threatening to escalate to the thermonuclear level. That’s the other main point.

          1. Bill Smith

            The LCS is a mess but being ‘indefensible’ is not the point of it as many ships are ‘indefensible’. They wanted a ship that could operate in shallower water than the ships the navy had. Clearly they could have done a better job but whatever they came up with would be pretty much ‘indefensible’.

            After all aren’t carriers claimed to be indefensible?

      2. Bill Smith

        What US Navy ships are actually in Bahrain? Almost none so the Pearl Harbor threat is moot. Why would the Iranians use their best subs in the Persian Gulf? Seems to me they would be a bigger threat operating outside the Persian gulf – instead in the Gulf of Oman.

        I don’t see that a carrier bound for the Gulf means much in this context. It’s the Iranian’s threatening to close the straits. It would be due to, basically paperwork shuffled in Washington DC. Right? The US carries out sanctions and the Iranians close the strait. Iran just needs to dump a bunch of mines as a start to do that.

  2. Alex V

    The cynic in me says says the November 4th deadline of the sanctions going into full effect was timed specifically. This gives Republicans a reason for vigorous war mongering in the run up to the elections on the 6th….

    1. Rob P

      That would be a pretty dumb strategy, the main effect will be to push up gas prices a lot right before midterms.

      1. Alex V

        Perhaps. I’m just guessing Bolton cares more about getting his war than gas prices, ultimately.

        1. Jim Haygood

          They don’t call him the death-worshiping bomb walrus for nothing.

          Think of the Israeli children, urges Bolton.

      2. Edward

        On the subject of dumb strategies that involve war, a lobbyist told me before the Iraq invasion that the Democratic leadership was supporting this because they wanted to remove the issue from the next election. They felt the Democrats could compete better against the Republicans on economic issues.

        1. John Wright

          I remember reading that Barbara Boxer (who voted against the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq) advised John Kerry to vote against it.

          He demurred, stating that he had to vote for it because he was going to run for President.

          I suspect Kerry’s cynical political calculation worked against him as an anti-war vote against the the AUMF in Iraq might have made him President when he subsequently ran (and had to explain his supportive vote to a war weary electorate).

          The young John Kerry protested against the Viet Nam war as a returning veteran.

          The older John Kerry cast his pro military action in Iraq vote with an eye on his resume.

          Many things do not improve with age.

  3. The Rev Kev

    I think that the potential threat of what happens if there is a hot war are more extensive than just having the Strait of Hormuz being closed. If you look at that map you can see that Saudi Arabia is just across the Strait. And as luck would have it, Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are mostly in the east which means that they are within close missile range of Iran. Nice oil fields you have there Saudi Arabia. Shame if something happened to it. The United Arab Emirates are also within missile range as well. If both countries think that Patriot batteries will protect them then they must have been disillusioned to find that those Patriots couldn’t even defend against wonky Houthi missiles.
    Then there is the fact that Iran shares a border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Remember how the CIA shipped all those anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and ManPads to the Syrian Jihadists via countries like Saudi Arabia? Be a real shame if captured stock got passed on to the Taliban via all those borders and started targeted US/Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Just these two possibilities show how Iran has a whole range of options to use if it came to a military confrontation. And it should be remembered. If a US/Coalition could not successfully occupy Iraq with a population of 37 million, then how can Iran with a population of 80 million be occupied?
    Another factor is that even if a US/Coalition managed to somehow suppress all those missiles the Iranians are using to guard those Straits, you would never be sure that you got them all. Who really want to risk their oil tankers going down those Straits and wanting to risk that bottleneck beig turned into a flaming sea? The trouble there is no way that there would be a quick campaign possible with everybody home by Christmas. This has the potential of still being fought during the 2020 US elections and I do not think that the US establishment wants to risk that one. What they do want is to strangle Iran economically and turn the place into one of grinding poverty but if pushed too far may go the Sampson option.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        Local kids could also be trained to fire rockets across the water. The straits are not straight and cut into Iran, so there’s a good vantage point for Iran.

      2. Steve H.

        > probably already is.
        >> China is still officially stating that it will not end its Iranian oil imports and operations.

        China’s investment of billions into the deep port of Gwadar should not be discounted. While China has ceded the ocean surface to the US navy, the wei qi way is to surround and not engage directly. By now the Gulf of Oman should be a sensory organ for information critical to Iran, and passive systems are much harder to detect & destroy.

        We’re now three years out from Qiao Liang saying China “thinks that Washington will not fight Beijing for the next ten years”. China doesn’t want the fight (and I mean high explosives, not ‘fighting for’) yet, but they’ve been preparing. And let us not forget the rooster tails on the American fleet fleeing the Persian Gulf in October 2015 when Russia launched cruise missiles at Syria. That was three months after the ‘One Belt, One Road’ speech.

        While the Saud’s are working out their family disputes they cannot afford to have the petrodollar disabled. But the US is materially capable of weathering energy disruptions better than the EU, which would become even more dependent on Russia. Long term, the petrodollar is gone and climate migrations are coming, so the when of Fortess America could depend on relative and not absolute ‘cui bono, ciu malo’.

        tldr: the fight is inevitable, there’s more than two in the ring, and there’s no referee.

      3. rd

        I doubt if it is mined at this time, but mines would be a logical way to quickly shut the Strait down. A couple of small fast ships dropping mines at night could shut it down very quickly. They could drop mines along the far shore which would force ships towards the Iran side where they would be vulnerable to shore-based anti-ship missiles.

        BTW, the standing NATO minesweeping group is three ships (two Lithuanian and one British). Historically minesweeping is one of the roles carried out by other countries that the US is currently working hard to alienate.

        The US Navy has minesweeping ships stationed in Bahrain.

        Mine sweeping ships generally are not heavily armored to avoid magnetic and acoustic signatures that can trigger mines. So they can struggle in contested waters and would be very vulnerable to anti-ship missiles.

        “Rouhani, considered by European politicians to be a reformist, appears to be showing a hardline streak that is nearer the strategy of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. ”

        Everybody becomes a hardliner when faced with an existential threat, which Trump’s threats are now creating for Iran.

        1. Antifa

          There’s no need to sink any oil tankers to stop all oil shipping. Those tankers don’t sail without full insurance for the cargo, and no maritime insurer will back shipping through the Strait of Hormuz while the Iranians are on the warpath. Hence, no oil tanker.

          1. rd

            That is why a few mines would be very effective. All oil shipping would cease immediately. Because mines can be redeployed very easily, including by air or fishing boats, insurers would probably not be assuaged by naval assurances that mines have been swept.

              1. Lorenzo


                btw is anyone for this to end without escalating much further? I know it sounds unlikely but so does it feel surreal that the worlds foremost oil route be shut down (!) I mean damn.

                Maybe there’s some back-channeling and Trump’s allowed to get away with some cosmetic concessions, meanwhile he’s won both Houses for the Reps because of war scare? (however in the seventh hell that works, it’s my understanding that it does work)

          2. Bill Smith

            In the 1980’s when the Iranians mined the Straits the tankers still moved. What was the insurance deal then? Did it the US pick it up for that part of the trip?

            1. rd

              A few old mines and little in anti-ship missile capability at that time. They have been greatly upgrading both since then. Here is an interesting StratFor series on Iran and the Straits of Hormuz, including the “psychology of mines” from 2009.



              Conventional thinking is that Iran would certainly lose a battle to close the Straits based on the superior US military force.

              However, asymmetrical warfare should never be underestimated as Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and ISIS should have taught us by now. The Iranians have a pretty good handle on how the US would detect and attack facilities – they have had decades to hide key things, so why would they not have?

    1. Redlife 2017

      “If a US/Coalition could not successfully occupy Iraq with a population of 37 million, then how can Iran with a population of 80 million be occupied?”

      Iran is also mostly Persian. Yes, there are Arabs, Armenians, Baluchis, etc., but the vast majority are Persian and are proud to be Persian. Unlike Iraq, where you have a country with 3 groups you can play off each other.

      I visited Iran over 5 years ago and was able to speak to some regular Iranians (English is not uncommon amongst men and women). They will fight to the last man, woman, and child if anyone came into their country. And that’s what the secular ones who hate their government say.

      Every town has lamppost flags showing the pictures of all the young men who died in the Iran-Iraq War. It was humbling to see the generational devastation wrought on that country. Even the youth view that war as a world war, since people from over 25 countries were found to be fighting on the Iraq side ( – Remember the Soviet Union was ALSO on Iraq’s side!). They faced destruction and survived. They view themselves as an ancient, sophisticated people as well as the greatest survivors in the world (all with good reason as they are an amazing people with a rubbish government).

      I do not see this ending well if the US thinks they can put the Iranians into a corner and get compliance. It is an amazingly ahistorical understanding of the geopolitics of Iran. These are the people we should be allying with not Saudi Arabia. But this is the same group who think blundering into Iraq or Syria was a good idea, so I really can’t be surprised.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Kev.

      Just to add that the people living above the main Saudi oil fields, Eastern Province, are mainly Shiites. Shiites are also to be found in the south along the ill defined border with Yemen. Both communities are disaffected and have been for decades, although the BBC, which advertises its “unparalled global expertise” (sic) between news bulletins and other programmes, reckons the Arab Spring caused the restiveness in Saudi Arabia.

      This said, the Saudis and their Pakistani poodles can foment (Sunni) Arab and Baluch disorder in Khuzestan and Sistan / Iranian Baluchistan.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Oh my. I forgot all about the Shiites of the Eastern Provinces. Thanks for correcting that omission.

        1. ex-PFC Chuck

          And Bahrain is also predominantly Shiite, although ruthlessly ruled by Sunnis. And they’re restive Shiites at that.

      2. Clive

        I always wonder to myself when, on the BBC News Channel, they pan across the alleged newsroom in New Broadcasting House and you see all those desks — rows upon rows of them — where people are sat, or, occasionally, get up and have a wander around, what the heck are they doing there? It can’t be producing news reports because you see the same half a dozen so-called news “stories” stripped endlessly across the schedule throughout the day.

        Every so often we get “business” news, which is someone from a spread betting company piffling on about some rot or other then “a look at the markets”, not, unfortunately, a view of Covenant Garden or something, that would be more interesting, but rather some mysterious figures from world indices and forex rates splayed across the screen like some inscrutable hieroglyphs.

        Then a bit of sport, with a dash of added jingoism.

        Finally, some rally round the flag update on “the forces” with some top brass on the poop deck of an aircraft carrier looking for an F35 (“F35 coming real soon”). Maybe Sophie Rayworth in a tank.

        Or alternatively it’s Jenny Hill from Berlin with something about sausages and Merkel with stock footage of people drinking beer from unfeasibly large glasses wraps it all up apart from a sky diving granny then the weather.

        Is it some kind of comedy, I ask at this point ?

        1. The Rev Kev

          It could be worse. We all could work in one of these places. It would not matter how great a story you found, it would all have to get through the editors who report directly to their owners like with the Murdoch press. The stuff you talk about is just the stuff that gets the editorial nod i.e. pure pap.
          Some of the stuff that I have seen on Australian TV, however, is nothing less than out and out propaganda. I watch some of this stuff and I compare it with what I read on this site or what a commentator chips in with and I wonder what these newsreaders actually are thinking as they read some of these stories. Probably their steady pay packets.

          1. Clive

            I briefly watched ABC a couple of months ago. I thought I’d tuned into The War Channel. How on earth did that happen?

            1. The Rev Kev

              I wish to god I knew. I have seen this creeping in the past decade or more. I suspect that a lot of bad practices are imported from overseas. There are international conferences for conservative political parties so you would have American Republicans, British Conservatives, Australian Coalition, etc. all mixing together and swapping idea and techniques. They even work together when there is an election in their country.
              Just the other day I heard one Coalition member describe another as a “patriot” which you NEVER hear in Oz. Kinda like a Republican describing another Republican as a good Communist. You just never hear it. We even have an ex-Prime Minister that sounds like he could be a good buddy to Mark Rubio running around trying to blow up his own party (currently in power) saying that we should build as many coal power stations as possible because climate change is not real.
              Historically our governments have been ruled by pragmatism and past US governments have labelled us as “socialist” due to adopting such things as single-payer health. The past few years I am noting more and more ideologues going into politics who want to drag the country into their way of thinking whether it is to pick fights with China (our major trade partner) or send the Australian military to the ends of the earth as if they were Mercenaries-r-us. The times they are a changing.

        2. ambrit

          It all reminds me of C S Lewis’ description of H— as a giant bureaucracy. “The Screwtape Letters” were written at the end of WW-2 and still come across as ‘fresh.’

      3. upstater

        Supposedly the KSA funded development of the Pakistani bomb. There probably is some agreement to hand some over (if it hasn’t already been done) for “existential threats” This could turn very bad very fast.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      Iran has lots of options. Their Navy wouldn’t last very long in a hot war but they have lots of asymetric options. They have reverse engineered Russian torpedoes and these could be launched from land or from mini-subs in shallow waters (where they are far harder to detect), making life very difficult for opponents, let alone tankers. They can strike the UAE and much of Saudi Arabia using a wide variety of ballistic missiles. To prevent this, the US would have to strike Iranian territory, and this would cause a massive escalation. In almost any scenario, the Straits would be shut down for many months, and this would be catastrophic for the world economy. Asia would come off worse as they are most dependent on LNG and oil from that region.

      As you say, the great ‘unsaid’ is the Taliban. If Iran decided it was in their interest to supply them with a few dozen trained operators with a few thousand anti-tank missiles and manpads, then its goodbye Kabul.

      1. Felix_47

        The Iranians hate the Taliban and Al Quaeda and ISIS a lot more than we do since we are on Saudi Arabia’s side. They also seem to follow their principles. Don’t forget our allies and proxies in Syria are the headcutters and madmen…..all Sunnis…..although our government does not want to admit it. They would be a lot smarter to trigger a Shiite uprising in Saudi Arabia and shut the country down. The Shiites in Saudi are downtrodden and abused.

      2. Synoia

        One tanker sunk would eliminate the carriage of oil.

        The maritime insurers would not insure the tankers in a war zone.

        I believe the insurance term is “Force Majeure”

        1. Synoia

          What pipeline? There are pipeline from Iraq to the Mediterranean coast. I don’t believe there are any from Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean.

          One has to remember:

          Mechanical Engineers build weapons
          Civil Engineers build Targets

          To escalate a carrier sinking to nuclear war is, I believe a lose/lose proposition. Let say the Iranians sunk a carrier and the US Nuked Tehran.

          The Iranians would not be in a forgiving mood at that point, and it would do little to remove the somewhat irritated Iranians along the northern side of the Persian Gulf. The irritated Iranians would initiate incidents over the impact of irradiated Iranians.

          The US could nuke the Iranian Coast along the Persian Gulf, but, the gulf is not wide, and the result would be poor prospects for the US allies on the South side of the Gulf. In addition one does not know if nuking Shea would provoke a Sunni backlash against “the infidels, the Christian US.”

          One could argue that Christians and Nukes cannot be mentioned in the same sentence.

          1. Bill Smith

            The Saudi’s have recognized the straits problem and built some pipeline capacity to go around it. There is a 4 or 5 million barrels a day pipeline to Yanbu.. Another to Jiddah of about 1 million barrels a day and a third on to Rabigh which is even smaller. All three of these places are on the Red Sea. The Saudis also reopened an old pipeline that goes up into Iraq in 2012. It has a capacity of about 1 million barrels a day I think.

            The UAE is also building a pipeline of about 1 million barrels a day to go around the straits.

            And I thought someone was building a pipeline that would terminate in Oman.

            The point being that if Iran closed the straits some percentage of oil would still flow as it goes around them.

            Your point is that oil pipelines can be attacked. That means that Iran will not only close the straits but attack into the countries that border it to shut down these pipelines. Those counties both have fairly capable airfares that would attack Iranian assets.

            The US wouldn’t need an aircraft carrier anywhere near the Gulf as those counties whose oil was cut off and being attached by Iran would allow the US to operation out of their airbases.

            As to nuclear war in the event that a carrier got sunk? I doubt it.

    4. Ape

      If you want to successfully occupy a society, they must believe you are willing and capable of genocide.

    5. JIm Thomson

      The Prologue of Robert Baer’s “Sleeping With the Devil” outlines a potential scenario of a Shiite attack on the eastern Saudi oil fields. The sub-title is The Doomsday Scenario.
      The book is about the US-Saudi relationship by a retired CIA officer. A very good read and part of trying to understand this entire mess.

    6. TimmyB

      Exactly right. Logic dictates that if Iran is attacked, Iranian missiles will soon thereafter attempt to destroy all of the oil producing capacity selling to Europe, Japan and the US within range of its missiles. This means ships, oil fields, pipeline, ect. Oil prices would skyrocket, plunging the US, Japan and Europe into a deep economic downturn.

      Why people ignore the outcome you provided is beyond me. If I were Iran, I’d do the same if Israel attacked too.

      1. Bill Smith

        Your guess is that nobody will attack the Iranians after they attack the shipping to close the straits?

        In the 1987 Iran attacked about 91 ships in the Gulf. The oil still flowed. On April 18, 1988 the US attacked and severely damaged a number of Iranian ships and bases. After that things started winding down. Then on July 3, 1988 the US shot down that Iranian airliner. Then things really quieted down.

        What are the differences now? Iran: ballistic missiles and subs?

        1. TimmyB

          My guess is that if Iran is attacked, then Iran will attack every oil facility within range of its missiles. Oh, and Iran did NOT attack 91 tankers. Instead, it attacked ships belonging to the enemy it was fighting a hot war with-Iraq. The US Navy patrolled the Straights. Iran wanted to avoid a war with the the US, so it didn’t attack US warships.

          If the US attacks Iran, that entirely changes the dynamic. Instead of trying to avoid war with the US, once a war starts then Iran will try to inflict as much damage as possible on the US. There are many, many ways to harm the US and its interests abroad. Destroying Saudi Arabia’s ability to sell oil to the US and its allies would be the first on anyone’s list.

    7. Procopius

      Just aside from the larger population, I don’t think the Iranian military are going to sit there and quietly allow themselves to be annihilated, the way the Iraqis did, nor to surrender easily, as the Iraqis did. Not to The Great Satan, they’re not. And Israel would get the chance to try the IDF against the upgraded, battle-experienced Hizballah. The people who are anxious for war are not assessing their risks very well. At least the Iranians don’t have nuclear weapons, but the Israelis do, and they have enough crazies that they might use them.

  4. kimyo

    which general should be put in charge of the u.s. military response to iran’s threat?

    the one who won the war in afghanistan? iraq? vietnam? syria?

    surely we have somebody who is up to the task? a ‘best of the best’, ‘with honors’ kinda guy?

    1. Antifa

      There’s Lt. General Riper, who played the Iranian side in the 2002 Millennium Challenge war games, “killing” 20,000 Navy personnel and “sinking” 16 American warships on the first day, so he knows better than to even start such a bottlenecked battle.

      There’s always General Farnsworth, the great grandson of Colonel Armstrong Custer. Farnsworth has worked for two decades in the Purchasing & Planning wing of the Pentagon — three levels below daylight — but his confidence in an immediate American victory Over There is indubitable.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you.

        Custer’s spawn? Super!

        In similar vein, MI5’s Eliza Manningham Buller is a descendant of Redvers Buller, British commander in the second Boer War, but much more of a realist and moderate.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Redvers Buller? Seriously? I have read a lot about his role in the Zulu War of 1879. Intriguing character being hard-fighting and hard-drinking and yet refused to wear his 1860 China medal on the grounds that it was an unnecessary war. And a descendant of his is head of MI5?

          1. blennylips

            Here’s a little character sketch of Redvers Buller, from “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence“, by Norman Dixon:

            The leading character was the commander-in-chief, General Sir Redvers Buller. According to a contemporary description there could be no finer choice for our South African adventure: ‘There is no stronger commander in the British Army than this remote, almost grimly resolute, completely independent, utterly fearless, steadfast and vigorous man. Big-boned, square-jawed, strong-minded, strong-headed … Smartness … sagacity … administrative capacity … He was born to be a soldier of the very best English type, needless to say the best type of all.
            Unfortunately this assessment was at variance with the facts in all but two particulars. Firstly, he was indeed big. Secondly, though sadly lacking in moral courage, he was undoubtedly brave when it came to physical danger. In this respect, as in many others, he was not unlike Raglan of the Crimean War, and indeed some other commanders of subsequent years.
            Of Sir ‘Reverse’ Buller, as he came to be known by his troops, Rayne Kruger writes: ‘At the risk of marring [the] contemporary description … it should be mentioned that his big bones were particularly well covered, especially in the region of the stomach, and that his square jaw was not especially apparent above a double chin. He had entered the army with no disadvantage, his mother being a Howard and niece of the Duke of Norfolk, and he was very wealthy, which was fortunate in view of his preference for a diet of ample good food and champagne.

            Such examples of the Peter Principle, wherein people are raised to their own level of inefficiency, was never better illustrated than in the case of Sir Redvers Buller, who has been described as ‘a superb major, a mediocre colonel and an abysmal general’. In this case, high-level military incompetence must be laid at the door of heroic leadership, for this was the quality which eventually put him where he could do the most damage to his own side.

      2. Massinissa

        “the great grandson of Colonel Armstrong Custer. ”

        Two problems with this. Firstly, it should be “Colonel George Armstrong Custer”.

        Secondly, and more importantly… Custer had no children.

  5. Expat

    The US response will be that this unprovoked aggression is an act of war, etc. This ignores our own unprovoked act of aggression, the embargo.
    In case any has forgotten, those dastardly Imperialist Japanese launched an “unprovoked” attack on Pearl Harbor because the US put Japan under an embargo.
    Embargoes themselves are not acts of war, but blockades are. But this is all technical blather. The US is attempting to strangle Iran. Iran will attempt to strangle the Gulf Arabs and the US. If Iran starts firing missiles or blockading the straits, the US will attack Iran. Iran will in turn launch attacks on the Gulf states. This could drive oil over $200, perhaps higher.
    If Iran were clever, they would institute some sort of quarantine or inspection in their territorial waters. Indeed, they should claim jurisdiction over the entire strait in the interest of international security (they could certainly find some US document somewhere and just change the names). Then they could stop every ship going in and out and spend a week or so inspecting each one for contraband, disease, etc. This would not be an act of war but would certainly provoke the US into striking first anyway.

    1. vlade

      Iran has already extended its territorial waters to 12 miles, as did Oman. Given that the strait is 29 miles at the narrowest, and that to deal with the amount of shipping, pretty much all of it passes through either Omani or Iranian territorial waters. Technically, Iran/Oman has right to stop any non “innocent” (read unarmed) shipping trough it territorial waters. Not sure what is Omani relationship with the US/Saudis at the moment, wasn’t paying much attention to the Gulf.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Vlade.

        The Omanis would stay out.

        The variation of Islam practiced there is very different to Saudi Wahhabism.

        Also, many foreigners there, not just Muslims, have Omani nationality.

      2. Bill Smith

        Sounds like there are 4 miles in the center? The marked shipping lanes are all on the Oman side of the half way point.

    2. JohnnySacks

      Once the US decides to strike first, we’re going to be on our own. The Saudis will be completely useless as they always were, understandably not wanting to be cannon fodder for US interests. And with most of Europe and Asia relying on gulf oil, our ‘coalition of the willing’ is going to be a bit shy of members.
      But $200 a barrel and the US a solid producer? Seems to be some win-win money to be made for both Raytheon and Exxon-Mobil.

      1. Felix_47

        No Saudi just like no rich American will give his life for his country….in the military. Life is just too good for them….why fight in the desert when you can cool it at a cafe in Munich…..why are all the Syrian men of fighting age in Munich and Hamburg? They don’t want to fight for their country.

        1. sierra7

          Isn’t that what the Kuwaiti leaders did during the “First Persian Gulf War”? They fled to Monaco…….

        2. Procopius

          Can you tell me where you got the word that, “… all the Syrian men of fighting age in Munich and Hamburg?” I seem to see a large body of men called the SAA who are men of fighting age who have spent the last several years fighting for the country they think of as “theirs.”

  6. EoinW

    Considering the restraint Iran has shown regarding Israeli attacks in Syria, it’s safe to assume they want to avoid war at all cost. Don’t expect any acts of aggression from them. Talk of closing the strait is trying to see if there is any spark of independence left in Europe’s political elite. Unfortunately the Europeans only care about money – what they get personally from the US to run their countries and what their corporations get from doing business with America. There just isn’t enough business between Iran and Europe to offset that. Now the more unreasonable Washington becomes the more uncomfortable its allies become, however they will still hold their noses and answer the call to duty. I’m afraid Iran’s courting Europe will produce little to help them. Luckily China and Russia, even Turkey and India, are far more important.

    The nice thing for Iran’s hardliners – assuming the MSM narrative that they are nasty terrorists always looking to cause trouble – is that they don’t need to take aggressive action to start a war. They’ve got America/Israel and that’s the cause of every war in the 21st century. That pairing will decide if and when there is to be a war. Russia and China might have the ability to provoke caution but Iran doesn’t.

    Do not expect any actions from the Iranians to provoke a war. It’s a war they cannot win and they know it. it’s also a war they can’t lose but the price they could pay by surviving might be really horrific. I’m not sure they’d close the strait even in a shooting war because that would risk further escalation. The moment America starts bombing Iran the law of diminishing return kicks in. The US will be looking for any excuse to go nuclear. Therefore I doubt Iranian resistance will be more than defensive. Hopefully Russia is providing them with air defences to be able to shoot down some US planes. Just lay low and ride out the storm. That’s been the philosophy of US/Israeli opponents in the Middle East this decade. It’s why the Russians take so much crap and keep turning the other cheek. They understand that either they lose such a war or, if they are winning they risk the US going nuclear. Iran can’t win a war with America. Iran, however, can inflict unacceptable casualties but then they run the same risk of Washington going nuclear in retaliation. In Asian capitals you have rational players who understand that a nuclear war must be avoided if possible. Thus they avoid any aggressive actions which they fear could lead to such a war. The problem humanity has is that we’re not sure if there are any rational players in Washington or Tel Aviv.

    1. Kilgore Trout

      “The problem humanity has is that we’re not sure if there are any rational players in Washington or Tel Aviv.”
      Given our belief in being an “exceptional nation” hasn’t this been humanity’s problem since the end of WW2?

      1. Synoia

        hasn’t this been humanity’s problem since the end of WW2?

        No. Ask the Indians.

    2. TimmyB

      It is difficult to believe that the US would use nuclear weapons on a country that doesn’t have any. If that ever happened, every country on Earth would seek to acquire nuclear weapons to protect themselves from the US.

  7. Ignacio

    Will the sanctions pull Iran enough to such an escalation? Would other countries (apart from Turkey) thing that this is troubling enough to risk US sanctions and disobey? There has been an escalation in language between the UE and US regarding Iran sanctions but it is still too soon to know what will be the EU position. We migth know after tomorrow’s meeting in Vienna. I don’t know what could happen but be sure the US is running out of “natural allies” by stepping up too much it’s support for Saudi Arab. Trump is inaugurating a new era and it doesn’t look pretty.

  8. Edward

    Iran is now working with Russia. I wonder what discussions are occurring between these countries on this subject?

  9. Bobby Gladd

    I have a relation who is a Marine Corps Major and Osprey pilot. His take on a serious major military conflict: “We are SO not ready.”

      1. Bill Smith

        Lots of hype there – The Russians had a plan to invade the Ukraine! Shocking! Only 1 plan?

  10. RBHoughton

    We have an expectation in the west that sanctions and embargoes are our weapons and no-one else can retaliate against us with them. As this article warns, if Iranian shipments are stopped, the shipments from the southern gulf coast may also be. We already know what can happen when ship-owners scuttle their tankers in the Suez Canal and yet a new generation of officials is willing to take the chance.

    There are two fatuous doctrines that we Poms placed in our foreign policy. One was commercial war and the other was unconditional surrender. We really need to revisit the mindset that supposed either was a good idea. Its about time we tried to compete in negotiations. We may lack skill today but with practice we should be able to sit down with any other country and reach a fair deal.

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