The Dire Straits: Crisis in the Strait of Hormuz Threatens to
Lead to a Confrontation
By Nadav Eyal
The reason is simple and very
frightening. The Americans do not understand whether the Iranians understand
them. The key words here are “credible threat.”
Translated by Viktoria
Edited by Steven Stenzler
To the West, it’s not clear whether Iran is really
about to close the Strait. To Tehran, it’s not
clear whether the U.S.
is going to respond with force. This way, a dangerous escalation is generated
that could roll downhill.
Stories of espionage and
assassination are always more fascinating than a faraway sea-lane and seemingly
dry data on oil traffic; however, the reason for a potential war between the
West and Iran is not hiding in the debris of the blown-up car of the scientist from
the Natanz nuclear facility. This elimination, for
all its dramatic descriptions in the Israeli and world media, is only a small
detonator hooked up to a huge explosive charge.
It has contributed and
continues to contribute to escalation in the dire straits with Iran, but the
real story is not in the intelligence plots, but rather in the strategic steps.
The genuine story of the aggravation in the course of the last weeks is in the
blue and deep waters of Hormuz, the oxygen tube of
the global economy.
spot where 17 million barrels of oil are transferred daily – 20 percent of the
world oil consumption, 40 percent of the oil transported by sea. There’s no
more important strategic nexus for global energy security, and this very point
is under severe threat.
The Regime Feels Choked
It started out small. A
legislator in the Iranian Majlis (parliament) aired a
statement apropos obstructing the strait as a trial balloon. The West mocked.
At first, it looked like a slip of the tongue or the absurd expression of a
junior governmental official and populist; if to draw an analogy with us – sort
of an empty bluff of Gilad Erdan
or Faina Kirshenbaum for the sake of primaries.
Nevertheless, the global markets talked back immediately, and violently. Oil
It does not matter so much whether Tehran examined the idea by means of its
being flown in the air or adopted it in the wake of the effective response of
the markets. What does matter is that within a short time, the Islamic Republic
embraced a new approach to handling the nuclear crisis. A quote of one
parliamentarian has turned into a mantra, perhaps, a strategy: on December 27,
the vice president Rahimi said that "If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil,
not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz." On December 28, Iran’s Navy chief has informed that "Iran has total control over the strategic water
way…Closing the Strait of Hormuz
is very easy [for Iranian naval forces]."
events are taking place simultaneously. The sanctions employed by the U.S. and European Union let out the blood of Iran’s economy:
the Iranian currency has weakened over the past months by 40 percent; long
queues are stretching in the banks, people are withdrawing their money. The
true unemployment, behind the lies of the regime, stands at 20 percent at
least; the prices in the country are steadily soaring, and the currency un use is the American dollar, ironically enough.
Yesterday, in another act of
panic, the government prohibited the use of foreign currencies throughout Iran. In
concert, international institutions and companies are severing their ties with
their Iranian counterparts, public and private.
The Americans are acting with unprecedented energy and thoroughness. They
assigned the Treasury Secretary Geithner to Japan and a special envoy to South Korea,
going through country after country in order to strangle the Iranians. They
have success. The fear of getting on the American black list produces an
effective trade ban on the Iranians.
The Americans Have Grown Anxious
The regime feels the
suffocation, and alongside, it experiences the campaign of sabotage and
assassinations that undermines the fundamental sense of security in the
Republic. At the same time, the assessments go on increasingly fearing a
possible Israeli attack or the strengthening of the sanctions. This rapid
deterioration is [developing] even before the Europeans are to gather next week
in order to solemnly announce the oil embargo. Since the Islamic revolution, Iran has not
been more isolated, and the regime has not been under such a grave threat. The
game now is about the highest stakes.
The idea of shutting the
Strait initially emerged
a few weeks ago. The concept was simple: should Iran be unable to sell oil – no one
will get oil. If Iran
is not allowed to sell, it’ll dispatch its fleet and prevent the sale of oil of
the Gulf Emirates, its arch rivals. This would mean economic hysteria: insane
skyrocketing in oil prices and global economic stagnation. Except for the
nuclear bomb, this is apparently the greatest peril that Iran may pose
to world peace.
In a certain sense, it
is a brilliant trick. The constant
equation - stopping the nuclear development or [facing] sanctions - has been
broken: now, we’ve got sanctions versus the disruption of the Strait
of Hormuz. “Iran is ready
for any scenario including sanctions on its oil and it will use its own ways to
confront the threats,” Iranian parliament speaker Larjiani
calmly noted yesterday.
Suddenly, he became Ehud Barak.
The American feedback was
fast: the 5th Fleet gave notice, in a remarkable manner, that
it “won’t tolerate” any disruption of sea navigation in the Strait
of Hormuz. On January 2, the Iranian
Navy launched an extensive drill in the Persian Gulf and the Straits, while Hossein Salami, a senior commander in the Revolutionary
Guards, treated the American warnings dismissively. This epidemic of
intimidations was gradually escalating – and so it does, in practice, during
the recent days.
Just yesterday, three high-ranking Iranian officials have given their piece of
mind on the subject of the Hormuz Strait
closure. “Iran would use any tools to defend its national
interests,” remarked military adviser to the Supreme Leader. Last weekend, Hillary
Clinton loudly declared a blockade of the straits to be a “red line,” and
Friday, the British Prime Minister made it plain that “the whole world would come together” and won’t let them stay closed. In the
middle of the past week, the United
States sent a letter to the Iranians, and
primarily, to the Spiritual Leader Khamenei.
the degree of its urgency and make sure that it was received, it was mailed via
three channels: through the U.N., through the president of Iraq and through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran that represents
the American interests. The letter, in all likelihood, was ultimately threatening, making it clear to the Iranians that Obama’s intention is not to be mistaken. Should the strait
be shut down – [there’ll be] a war.
The Americans Don’t Get
Whether the Iranians Get Them
The Americans are very
eager to explain this over and over to the Iranians. Even if they need to
deliver three letters with three messengers and parade time and again Panetta
and Clinton in front of the media. The reason is simple and very frightening. The
Americans do not understand whether the Iranians understand them. The key words
here are “credible threat.”
It is unclear to the
West whether the Iranians might indeed block the strait or are merely
blustering. To Iran, it is
unclear whether America
is serious. In fact, we have no clue what is clear to them and what is not.
This is how, exactly, miscalculation is created. This is how unexpected
escalation is begot. A misinterpretation leading to a
backlash followed by further escalating, and finally – a war.
Inside of this loaded
space, suddenly barged the liquidation in Tehran
and the perpetual concern about the Israeli strike uncoordinated with Washington. The
Americans, judging by their reactions, got stressed. They did something
extremely rare: elucidated to the Iranians that it’s not them – the hitmen in Tehran.
American Secretary of Defense even admonished. “The United
States was not involved in that kind of
effort. That’s not what the United
States does,” he issued reproachfully. In
parallel, the joint exercise for Israel
and the United States was
cancelled, and the level of security of the U.S.
army bases in the Persian Gulf has been raised.
Obama had a conversation with
Netanyahu, and messages have been put through, designated for the Iranian ears
as well, according to which the White House is not interested in a unilateral
assault by the Israeli Air Force. Usually, this is where there comes a
reassuring, encouraging passage: the messages have been taken in, the tension
has abated. You can’t write down this part for that hasn’t happened yet. But,
there’s a new elephant in the room, and it’s called the Strait
of Hormuz. It disturbs the planet at the
moment no less, and probably, more than the Iranian bomb. Maybe,
actually, not an elephant. A goat. An Iranian goat.
The author is the foreign
news editor of the [Israeli] Channel 10
Original Hebrew article: http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/327/420.html