Strait of Hormuz closure ‘nightmare scenario’


Iran is practicing closing the Strait of Hormuz. Why is this significant to U.S. and Israel? In a word: oil.


JTA’s Washington bureau chief Ron Kampeas explained it rather bluntly in August 2008:

Continued dependence on foreign oil subjects the United States to the potential threat of a cut-off in supply. An Iranian blockade of the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the Middle East’s oil must travel, would have immediate and catastrophic consequences.

In July 2008, as Israel weighed the option of a strike on Iran, Kampeas identified the closure of the straits as "the nightmare scenario" that could emerge:

Speculators are now asking whether an Israeli strike on Iran would be limited to nuclear targets or if Israel would try to hit other sites as part of its attack strategy. For example, if Iran’s ports were damaged, the Islamic Republic’s major oil trading partners, such as China, might suffer. That likely would prompt a run on other markets.

Then there’s the question of the Iranian response.

"Would they try to use the leverage they have to cut off their oil flows into the world markets?" Pomfrey asked. "It would cost them, but it does allow them to impose penalties."

The nightmare scenario would be if Iran used its regional military superiority to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, a key passage for oil tankers. That would cut supplies from the other major producers, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf emirates.

"The whole notion that if something happened and Iran was willing to shut down the straits, that would send prices who knows where," [Tom Drennen, an oil markets expert at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York] said.

The late Arno Herzberg surmised an even more dire scenario in his 1984 analysis of the Iran-Iraq War: Iran could booby trap the straits.

Israel and the United States are in a quandry. Any move on the part of Iran towards the south would pave the way for a spread of the Islamic revolution. Regimes in the Gulf states would be threatened by insurgency and face the same fate as the Shah’s regime. Terrorism, Iranian style, would plague the West and endanger whatever property and investments they now have in the Gulf countries.

Most ominous and threatening of all, Iran could decide to mine the Strait of Hormuz, thus creating havoc for the West. The oil tankers which pass through it could be destroyed, or at the very least be easy targets for attack. The flow of oil could be halted. Israel would feel the brunt of a victorious Iran; it could become the target of the fanatical fundamentalist Islamic wrath of Khomeini.

A war cannot be ruled out, and the U.S. could become embroiled in it. The stakes in the outcome would be very high indeed, for Iran, for Israel and for the U.S. and other Western powers. But no matter who would win, Israel would lose in the ensuing Middle East turmoil.

On Dec. 24, 1984, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, an event that the GOP highlighted as part of Reagan’s 1984 Middle East campaign platform:

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which surprised the Carter-Mondale Administration, brought Soviet forces less than 400 miles from the strategic straits of Hormuz.  

I’m no Kampeas, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more about this latest move by Iran in an upcoming GOP debate. 

Recommended from JTA