Is Closing the Strait of Hormuz an Empty Threat?
Iran’s elaborate naval drills last month culminated with the threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz, through which about one-third of all global seaborne oil is exported. This threat has preemptively sent oil prices up bit and would cause them to skyrocket if the closure goes into effect. The threat was made in response to the passage of stricter US sanctions on Iran, which were passed New Year’s Eve, and new European Union sanctions that are beginning to take effect.
The threat of closing the Strait is a serious economic concern; however the Iranian regime often threatens much more extreme actions than it is willing to actually take. This is likely the case now, as the US and the UK both stated that they wouldn’tpreemptively strike Iranian forces but that the closure of the Strait would be reason enough to engage militarily. Furthermore, former CIA Director Michael Hayden predicted that even though Iran tends to dominate the foreign policy debate, national security officials have not been viewing the closing of the Strait of Hormuz as a serious threat.
So why would Iran threaten to close the Strait if most experts agree that it wouldn’t actually carry through with the threat? Although Iranian President Ahmadinejad admitted in November that the sanctions imposed by the West over the past few years have been crippling, the explanation of his public outrage over new sanctions might be more complicated. The Iranian regime has a tendency to direct domestic conversation to international fear-mongering around election season, as the economic conditions of the average Iranian remain dismal (legislative elections are to be held this March).
The response of the Western powers to the potential closing of the Strait, including the possibility of military action if Iran carries through with its threat, is just as important as Ahmadinejad’s actions. Check back on RACblog to see how the situation progresses.
Photo courtesy of Ebrahim Noroozi/AFP/Getty Images