Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? – While Iran’s hostile behavior in the world’s most strategic oil chokepoint is nothing new, the recent uptick in attacks carried out by its affiliates is cause for concern.
Just this week, a U.S. destroyer was forced to employ its Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) for the first time since December, when a Houthi-launched cruise missile came within one mile of the vessel.
Tehran is clearly feeling emboldened following Hamas’ October 7 massacre in Israel, making the Strait of Hormuz a vulnerable target.
Roughly one-fifth of the world’s seaborne-traded crude oil passes through the Strait daily. If anything, Tehran recognizes it can disrupt the global economy with the arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), missiles and rockets its proxy groups throughout the region possess.
But does Iran have the ability to close the Strait of Hormuz, create a global economic crisis, and raise oil prices?
A History of Incidents in the Strait of Hormuz:
The Strait of Hormuz has been threatened by Iranian forces for years.
Back in 2019, four oil tankers were attacked off the port of Fujairah. Two of these tankers were owned by Saudi Arabia while the others by the United Arab Emirates. The port of Fujairah itself is home to the exit point of the Adcop pipeline, which enables Riyadh to bypass the strait and export its oil directly to the Arabian Sea. In addition to tanker attacks, Tehran has also harassed U.S. Naval vessels with other ships and even airframes over the years.
A U.S. Navy statement said that since 2021, Iran had “harassed, attacked or seized nearly 20 internationally flagged vessels.” In 2023, an Iranian-state news outlet considered to be the mouthpiece for the regime voiced its support of blocking off the Strait of Hormuz from international vessels.
In the report, it is argued that the nations which have sanctioned Tehran should be punished and prohibited from entering the strategic waterway.
What Is Iran Capable of in the Strait?
Some analysts have argued that Iran has been preparing to launch such a blockade for many, many years. While Tehran may not possess the conventional Naval and aerial capabilities of its Western counterparts, it has strengthened its unique asymmetric warfare capabilities.
During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s, the maritime choke point first became an area of conflict. During this “tanker war,” each side attempted to sink the other’s energy exports. While ships are not much more difficult to sink, Tehran could certainly disrupt the flow in the strait.
Another consequence Iran has to grapple with in terms of trying to close down the Strait is China. According to the Navy Times, at least 76% of crude oil passing through the strategic chokepoint is destined for Asian markets, including Beijing. As one of Tehran’s sole remaining allies, it would not be in China’s best interest for the strait to fully close.
As Iran’s proxy groups continue to launch barrages targeting U.S. assets in the Persian Gulf, the Biden administration must respond effectively in order to limit Tehran’s hostile behavior.
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