- Court: Tenn. must recognize 3 same-sex marriages
- Russia claims to have downed U.S. drone over Crimea region
- John Daly shoots 90 at PGA Tour event: ‘I’m falling apart’
- Police: Man arrested in West Virginia may be linked to Alexandria killings
- Smile: Equipping cops with body-mounted cameras gains steam in Calif., N.Y.
- Obama to sign bill cutting taxpayer money for party conventions
- Half of Americans worried about second Cold War: poll
- Kermit Gosnell clinic aide who heard aborted baby scream gets 5 to 10 years in prison
- Iraq mulls law to let men marry 8-year-old girls
- Russia sends bombers on 24-hour Arctic patrol
Iran threats churn fears of higher oil prices
Miscalculation could set off conflict
The small boats, minisubs and guerrilla tactics of an Iranian militia pose the greatest threat to oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, where even a single incident would send oil prices spiraling upward, analysts say.
The naval exercises and missile tests with which Tehran greeted the new year may be saber-rattling, but observers worry that a miscalculation by Iran or the West could ratchet up a standoff into open conflict.
Just the heated rhetoric of recent days has driven oil prices higher, as insurance premiums rise and traders seek to hedge against a reduction in global supply that might result from a military confrontation in the Gulf, through which one-sixth of the whole world’s petroleum passes to reach the open seas.
Oil prices jumped 4 percent Tuesday but held steady Wednesday, falling back after a midday spike.
The burgeoning standoff began when Iran’s vice president threatened last week to close the strategically vital waterway if additional international sanctions were imposed on Iran. Tehran also conducted a series of naval exercises and missile tests in the Gulf over the New Year’s weekend.
U.S. officials in turn have pledged to maintain international freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
Behind the rhetoric is a growing wave of international concern about Iran’s nuclear program, and the threat by European and even Gulf countries to join U.S.-led sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and central bank.
The Islamic regime in Tehran is “being subjected to a level of pressure [both domestically and internationally] they’ve never been under before,” said Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke professor of strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Although it is clearly not in Iran’s interest to provoke a U.S. military response, “you can, unfortunately, not rule out the possibility of unintended escalation,” he said.
Mr. Cordesman noted that Iran's militia, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), has decentralized decision-making and a history of independent, aggressive actions against coalition naval forces and international shipping.
Since 2007 and 2008, when Iran reorganized its naval forces, the IRGCN has had the lead role in the Gulf, with Iran’s regular navy relegated largely to a “soft power” role in the waters beyond the Strait of Hormuz, the 34-mile-wide bottleneck at the mouth of the Gulf, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joshua C. Himes said.
“Giving the IRGCN primary responsibility in the Gulf amplifies the natural benefits of a small, fast, unconventional force operating in its own backyard,” Cmdr. Himes wrote in a July assessment of Iranian naval power.
He noted that the militia is emphasizing speed, stealth and numbers over tonnage in its acquisitions, buying minisubs and small, fast boats armed with anti-ship missiles.
Estimates vary, but the IRGCN might have as many as 3,000 small boats, which could be packed with explosives for suicide attacks or deployed in massive “swarm attacks” against much larger and vastly more expensive U.S. or coalition naval vessels.
A 2002 Pentagon war game, playing out a scenario in which the enemy used such tactics against the U.S. Navy in the Gulf, had to be stopped because most of the U.S. fleet was “sunk,” one of the participants, retired Ambassador Robert Oakley, told the Army Times, an independent newspaper, at the time.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
TWT Video Picks
By Tammy Bruce
Sheryl Sandberg, Beyonce are bossy women trying to ban bossy from our vocabulary
- EXCLUSIVE: FBI blocked in corruption probe involving Sens. Reid, Lee
- College group's diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- Deportations come mostly from border, DHS chief says
- Sam Adams beer brewer nixes St. Patrick's parade that won't allow gays
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- MILLER: Law enforcement realizes good people with guns deter crime
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- As Ukraine crisis simmers, U.S. transport planes heading to Poland
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014