- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Iran is threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz. Go ahead, make our day. On Monday, Parviz Sarvari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, said, “Soon we will hold a military maneuver on how to close the Strait of Hormuz. If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure.” Closing the strategically important strait has long been viewed as one of Iran’s trump cards in the give-and-take with the United States and the West.

The impact of a strait crisis is overrated. About 17 percent of the world’s imported oil, or a third of oil transported by sea, goes through the strait. This is significantly less than the percentages from decades past when the Persian Gulf region was the global center of oil exports. Whether the temporary halt of that much oil would have a serious impact is questionable. Past regional crises have not lived up to their billing. There were warnings before Operation Desert Storm that the war would create an oil shock of incalculable consequences. Speculators drove prices up before the conflict in 1990, but in 1991, oil prices declined, even with Kuwait’s oil fields in flames. Similar warnings were heard regarding the disruptions that attended Operation Iraqi Freedom, but there were no gas lines, no chronic oil shortages.

Iran would suffer more than the United States from closing the strait. Iran’s economy is highly dependent on oil exports; closing the strait would cut off most of that trade. Iran wouldn’t be able to import gasoline and other necessary commodities, which some analysts think would be fatal to the regime. In the grand balance, a temporary increase in oil prices in the West would be far less injurious than the near total loss of oil revenue and gasoline in Iran.

It’s not as though Iran could act with impunity. The “close the strait” crisis scenario has been floating around military circles for decades. The U.S. military has been training for that eventuality since the 1980s. Contingency plans have been war-gamed repeatedly and are ready to be implemented immediately. The question is not whether the mullahs could attempt to close the strait, but how much of their navy and air force would be lost in the process. Their ships and submarines would be sunk, their on-shore anti-ship missile batteries would be bombed, their aircraft would be downed, and any small craft in the area would have to vacate immediately or face destruction as part of security measures against attacks like that on the USS Cole in 2000. Special-operations forces would seize their offshore oil derricks, and Marine landing forces would temporarily secure the Iranian side of the strait.

Such a provocative act would give support to those who would argue for a more comprehensive response, such as deep strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities and regime command-and-control centers - which often would include leadership targets as well.

If Iran tried to close the strait, it would be the biggest mistake the mullahs ever made. While they are rattling their scimitars, the question the Islamic regime in Tehran needs to ask itself is: What happens if the United States decides to ban Iranian ships from the strait? If the U.S. Navy closes the Hormuz, it will stay that way.

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