By Richard Walker
In the event Iran is attacked by the United States or Israel, Iran’s political and military leaders may resort to a “doomsday option,” in which they will close the Strait of Hormuz, described by leading authorities as the most strategic stretch of water on the planet.
At its narrowest the Strait of Hormuz is approximately 22 miles wide, with “traffic lanes” only 4 miles wide, and is the only means by which more than a third of the world’s oil supply finds its way from the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. Try to imagine a waterway, much like a modern highway, enabling tankers to transport 20 million barrels of crude oil daily to global refineries, as well as natural gas and other petroleum products.
A recent announcement by Iran that it was holding military exercises in the strait aimed at practicing a shutdown of the waterway made oil markets jittery. That statement by Iran’s leaders demonstrated to many that, were a shutdown to happen in 2012, oil prices globally would spiral up significantly.
From Iran’s perspective, the country’s leaders are tired of the constant threats from Israel and the United States, and although they would not wish to close the straits, Iran’s military would do so as a matter of its national right of self-defense, given the strait runs along 800 miles of Iran’s coastline. Some senior Iranian security figures have argued UN maritime statutes give Iran the right to seal off the strait if its national interests are put in jeopardy.
There is little doubt a war would require the U.S. government to mount a ground invasion into the Iranian mainland in order to control the shoreline along the Iranian side of the strait. Only in that way could it be sure to eliminate the threat from shore-based missile batteries.
U.S. naval forces would face a serious threat from the Iranian navy and its submarines. Also, if Iran decided to lay several thousand mines in the strait, these would have to be cleared before shipping resumed. Once on the mainland, U.S. forces would have to contend with millions of Iranians, who would take up arms against the invaders. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, Iran could call up as many as 48 million males and females between the ages of 16 and 49.
The truth is, no one knows for sure the level of threat Iran might pose. Iran is four times the size of Iraq. It undoubtedly has a missile capability and shore-based anti-ship weapons that could strike a U.S. carrier fleet at a distance of 200 miles. Some of its anti-ship weapons are of the cruise missile variety. Others are missiles supplied by China and Russia.
If Israel were to independently attack Iran, the Iranian leaders would likely trigger the doomsday option, which would in turn lead to the United States moving into the Strait of Hormuz and occupying Iranian islands. The situation would escalate quickly, and America would quickly be drawn into a full-blown war. That is an outcome Israel and its friends on Capitol Hill might well relish, but would no doubt be catastrophic for the United States.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.